January 2018

Widowhood: Fighting the Stigma of Loneliness

2021-05-17T03:26:28+00:00

Widowhood: Fighting the Stigma of Loneliness by @DWeissWriter #loneliness #widowhood #stigma

Loneliness equals shame. The hardest thing I went through after George died was being lonely. With few friends, no kids, and a family consisting of my elderly dad and step-mom, I’d sit at home at night and think, “Who’d notice if I vanished?’

“I’m alone because my husband died,” became, “I’m alone because no one likes me.” Suddenly, I was back to being an unpopular geek in high school spending my weekend nights with Dr. Demento and an un-opened geometry book.

I get the most writing from people in their second year of widowhood. ”Where did everybody go?” they ask.

Offers of walks and dinners have dried up. Friends have stopped checking in on them. The searing pain is still there but the companionship has vanished. Or maybe the pain has abated enough that we look around and ask, as I did in my second year, “Is this all there is to my ‘new’ life?” I also wrote these really sad articles where people would ask in the comments, “Are you going to be okay?”

Widowhood: Fighting the Stigma of Loneliness by @DWeissWriter #loneliness #widowhood #stigma

I found it so hard to reach out, to tell someone, “I’m lonely. I could use some time with a friend.” Maybe follow that up with, “Do you want to go for brunch this weekend?’

And the predictable answer, “Oh, Thanks but I am just so swamped.” And the extra dollop from the particularly insensitive, “Just get out there!” And let’s not forget those who reel off a list of activities which ostensibly could include another person, but apparently, not you.

We don’t talk about loneliness like it’s an illness. But it seems like one to me.

A big umbrella of an illness with many different causes and varied symptoms.  I started having anxiety attacks at night, hyperventilating because I felt so unbearably alone in my own house.

I drank too much to numb out my feelings. I was angry because I felt so cut off from people. I was a scary driver. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue living. I’d seen my husband through cancer but who cared about me? When a man came along who told me I was beautiful and that he loved me, I let him practically move in with me.

We would suggest, however, that seeking counseling or a bereavement group is usually better than seeking sex right away in order to sort out your feelings.

~ Kubler-Ross and Kessler, On Grief and Grieving

But aside from therapy, they don’t say what you should do. We should be having dialogues on how to help the unbearably lonely. I’m not alone in losing my spouse of many years and feeling alienated. Or thinking I was going out of my skull being alone. Or doing things I wouldn’t have done were I not so desperate for human contact.

Let’s TALK about loneliness

Maybe the dialogue about loneliness could have a part about how to help someone who’s suffered a loss by talking to them. All you have to say is, “I’m sorry. Would you like to get a coffee and talk?” But people don’t seem to know that. I found out later that some people didn’t contact me after George died because they were uncomfortable talking about death. Not knowing what to say, they stayed away.

Being lonely is stigmatizing. People don’t seem to get that when you’re on your own, a simple dinner out can mean the difference between sitting at home lamenting our losses and thinking that this new life too can be good. I wish people reached out instead of shying away when you say you’re widowed, often saying “that’s my worst fear” or “I couldn’t deal with it.”

Widowhood is not contagious. And resilience isn’t something we do in a vacuum.

I’m a writer who spends most of her days alone with an iMac. As the world, or at least California reopens, I’m thinking about (1) how to be less lonely in my own life and (2) how to help people who are lonely.

So, I resolve to:

  1. Reach out more. As a single person, you have to schedule everything. You don’t have someone to drag out the door with you when you want an iced latte or a stroll. I will reach out at least once a week to set something up.
  2. People talk about volunteering as a way to deal with loneliness. I’ve volunteered with a couple of groups and I’m teaching a writing class. I’m also thinking about starting a local grief group, maybe combined with walking and/or coffee.
  3. I will be sharing space with my partner of several years. I’ve lived alone for almost seven years. With no disruptions in my space. Or my decor. Or my meal plan of many, many salads. Wanting something does not mean it will end…It will just be more cluttered.

Now, let’s get to you if you’re feeling lonely:

  1. Try taking a class or joining a group in something that interests you. When George died, I tried joining a synagogue (even though I’m not religious), a car club, Rotary (no one who knows me believes this), and something about connecting with my divine feminine. I tried working at our local bookstore before realizing I’m a curmudgeon. What stuck for me was yoga, writing, and later, hiking. Maybe try one thing a month until you find something that resonates.
  2. If you’ve been procrastinating on dating, stop putting it official that feels right for you. You can meet people in a public place for a drink or coffee, devote an hour, and be on your way. Online dating lets you see a lot of what’s out there. It’s how I met my person. And that did change my life. My handy checklist helps you how to tell if you’re ready to date after loss. But also embrace being single if that’s what’s right for you. Society places far too much emphasis on being partnered. But one isn’t better than the other. It’s living your own truth.

What have you done to cope with loneliness? And if you’re going to start dating again, what can I help you with?

Connect with me on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, or Medium, and be sure to sign up for my newsletter!

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Widowhood: Fighting the Stigma of Loneliness2021-05-17T03:26:28+00:00

October 2017

Tripping on the Path of Widowhood: Living with Emotional Abuse

2017-10-26T15:30:28+00:00

Sunset on an abusive relationship

On July 29th, my boyfriend had a public meltdown and yelled at me. For the very first time I realized:

He’s emotionally abusive.

So, I ended it.

It took the ghost of my late husband George to save me. July 29th was George’s birthday. It was my wake up call, the first time I used the word abusive. It also took a stranger to come to my rescue (but that’s in my next real article so I can’t write about it here).

But even after I’d broken up with my boyfriend, I still took him back for the occasional night or dinner. We’d been together for over two years. I missed him. Not who he was now but the guy who was sweet and sexy and crazy about me when we first started dating. The guy who took me to see Todd Rungren on our second date and Lake Tahoe on our fifth. The one who saved me from the tedium of online dating and the gray haze of widowhood.

But he wasn’t who he used to be. He was angry and depressed. He hated the world and, by extension, himself and me. He wasn’t getting help for his depression.

When I finally broke up with my boyfriend he still wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept coming to my house without calling, refusing to leave when I asked him to. I finally called the police. They hauled him away in handcuffs as he blathered on that it wasn’t his fault. “Alcohol makes people do strange things,” said one of the officers.

I should have ended the relationship far sooner. I saw who he was, but shut my eyes, trying not to see the real him. I was embarrassed to tell you about it. But I have to if I’m going to continue to write about my journey through widowhood. It’s a dark, meandering journey full of holes. Sometimes I fall into one of them and twist an ankle.

Loneliness made me accept the unacceptable. Loneliness plus inertia. When you’re happily partnered, life floats along companionably. Not being alone when you’re single takes work. I spiral through endless text threads to organize a dinner with friends, a movie with the girls, a date with a stranger.

All of which could get cancelled at a moment’s notice. And the date often felt like working a job I never wanted to apply for. I’d come home to stare at my ex-boyfriend’s photo, looking at his almond-shaped green eyes, then almost involuntarily, responding to his texts that he missed me.

And ignoring his texts that I was a jerk for dumping him.

I have no excuse for taking him back time after time. Just a penchant for darkness. If this is what fate has dealt me, let’s go with it. Prematurely dead husband? Yup, time for make-up sex, whiskey and nihilism.

The loneliness of widowhood made me vulnerable to being in an emotionally abusive relationship. Despite my financial security. Despite my great dad and step-mom. Despite my yoga and my girlfriends. Despite my 32 years of having been in a loving marriage. Despite an outward appearance of confidence.

The Signs that I ignored:

Of course there was stuff I noticed, I just chose to ignore it.  Maybe you recognize some of these signs in someone you’ve dated:

1. My boyfriend was negative and unsupportive. Did that make him emotionally abusive? No, but it made him a jerk sometimes. And from there, he sometimes slid into angry and insulting.

2. My girlfriends didn’t like him and kept telling me I could do better. I thought they were being sweet. They were telling me to run.

3. I felt sad and agitated. My instincts knew to end it, but my brain kept rationalizing why I should stay with him. I could help him change. He was just in a bad mood. He loved me in his way.

4. He had addictive behaviors. When he drank, he drank.

5. He couldn’t control himself when he got upset.

If you relate to this post, maybe you’re in, or have been, in a similar situation. Maybe you’ve rationalized that it’s okay. But it isn’t.

We deserve to be treated with kindness.

I should’ve ended it far sooner. But it’s hard. One minute, life’s great with travel plans and hiking meet ups, the next it’s looking around a preternaturally quiet house with only ghosts to talk to.

I tripped on the path of widowhood. Have you? Please share if you know someone who could relate to this post.

Love, Debbie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tripping on the Path of Widowhood: Living with Emotional Abuse2017-10-26T15:30:28+00:00

January 2017

The Women’s March and 6 Tips when You come Home to an Empty House

2017-01-24T16:54:16+00:00
Not my President

My writer’s group at the Women’s March

It’s my first protest!   My writer’s group and I marched  in Walnut Creek, CA, a conservative suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Over 10,000 people filled the streets in “a suburb known more for shopping and restaurants than for protests.”  Someone was handing out signs which is how I wound up holding that one with my writer friend.  We owned that sign. Sort of.

The march was fantastic.  Empowering.  Exciting.  Astonishing in its numbers.  Reassuring that so many people turned out.  Heart-warming in all the different causes represented.

And then the hard part, going home to a house without my George.

That’s one of the hardest parts of this journey, you never know when you’ll be hit by feelings of loss.  My life is fuller than it used to be.  But my house is still empty of its other inhabitant.  And it catches me by surprise sometimes.

My day was busy with attending the march, then attending a memorial for a friend’s mother, I hadn’t made evening plans. But, when coming home to an empty house feels bad, here’s a few suggestions:

5 Tips for Coming Home to an Empty House:

  1.  Having Something to Look Forward to:  I like to have something I’m looking forward to doing at home.  It may just be a series I’m binge-watching (currently Grey’s Anatomy, I missed it the first time round) and something I’m looking forward to eating.  If I want chocolate cake and martinis, they’re waiting for me. (Kale and broccoli, not so much).
  2. Virtually Connecting: I can text or call with friends or family so I don’t feel so alone. A girlfriend and I are planning her birthday party, so when I come home to an empty house and feel lonely,  I can give her my ideas and schedule our next planning meeting.  After the March, I called my step-mom to talk.  She was an activist when she was in medical school (and after), but lacked the stamina for the march.  She was glad to know she’d been there in spirit.
  3. Loving Your Home: Shortly after George died, I remodeled my master bathroom.  Life pretty much sucked at that point, but walking into a beautiful master bath made me feel a teeny bit more hopeful.  I could feel him in the colors and textures I’d chosen.  I had my non-working fireplace resuscitated and converted to gas so I could run it on “Spare the Air” days so the living room felt inviting.  My current splurges are warm things that cheer me up in all this winter darkness.  I’ve been buying blue faux fur pillows and fluffy white area rugs on Overstock.com. (Blushing face emoji.)
  4. Perspective: My old chestnut, but so many women I know would love to have their own space and time to do whatever they want.  I know people who feel ambivalent about their marriages. For a lot of people, being married isn’t necessarily better.  We widowed folk can be grateful (sorry, another chestnut) for the time we did have with the person we loved. It’s another phase, and not one we wanted, but I’m starting to feel like the love we had still lasts in some ways.
  5. Accepting Change:  My poor boyfriend.  Okay, sometimes he’s a problem, but, between you and me and WordPress, sometimes my complaint is that he’s just not George.  George was a born nurturer with awesome manners and a fabulous cook and…etc. We don’t always have to be alone, but we do have to accept that any new person will be different than our first beloveds.  And that is hard.  I was tired after my big day on Saturday and not up for going out. My boyfriend came over with take-out pho to watch a movie. It can be amazing to feel comfortable with someone new. And that can sustain me on nights I’d rather not be alone.  (Or it can make me look forward to a night by myself with Season One of Grey’s).
  6. Scheduling Evening Activities:  I do evening yoga and so do several of my friends, giving me an activity to look forward to. It also helps to have less time to wallow if I’m feeling sad. I scheduled too many evening activities I didn’t enjoy after George died, and those, Rotary Club dinners and a women’s group where I related to very few people, felt worse than staying in. If something doesn’t work, reward yourself for trying.  I also tried a part-time job working in a bookstore. As a cranky introvert, I got along best with the books and checked retail off my list.

Loneliness is one of my big themes. If you have any ways you deal with it, please comment so we can all learn. I got some awesome comments after my last post on why some single women have given up on men AND all the comments were kind.  Thank you so much.

Thee best tweet I saw,  “Thank you Women’s March for taking us from hopeless to empowered when we most needed it.”

Love, Debbie

 

 

 

 

The Women’s March and 6 Tips when You come Home to an Empty House2017-01-24T16:54:16+00:00
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