On my good days, I can look at some of the qualities I’ve seen in myself since my husband died and feel proud of how I’ve handled this pain. For example, I see a lot more strength and resilience in myself now. I see a compassionate person, a sensitive person, and someone wiser who can focus on the bigger picture rather than get angry or stressed out over small matters.
However, on my bad days, I also see things in myself that I have to confess, I’m not proud of. This is hard to admit but I thought I’d write about it today, because I'm guessing I might not be alone.
There has been a story circulating in the media this week about an elderly couple in California who had been married for more than 60 years and died four hours apart. It is a beautiful story and they sound like a lovely family. I want to clarify up front – I don’t begrudge anyone a long and happy life, I’m sure if we had a choice, we would all chose to go this way.
However as I read the various articles about how this couple were so in love, that their love was so strong and pure, they died together because they couldn’t bear to be apart, I felt some strange emotions. The story claims that they were ‘supposed to be together’ and that the man loved his wife so much, that when she passed away, he left with her. It was being hailed as 'the ultimate love story'.
As a young widow who lost my husband after six weeks of marriage, this story just made me feel sad. For a start, I'm jealous – I wish I’d had longer with Dan and that we’d gone together peacefully, at an old age, surrounded by our grand children.
Secondly, I felt like by comparison, I should conclude from this story that that any couple that DOESN’T die together, just didn’t quite love each other as much. Now, I know that is not what was intended. I am aware that my feelings come from a place of hurt and I am over-sensitive to the situation. I also know that the love I have for my husband was pure and strong and could not be questioned, compared or judged. This negative view is not a great way to look at something that was meant to be a happy story. But it is how I felt.
Which then lead me to question what is wrong with me!? I am not an angry, bitter, person, I don’t want to resent the happiness of others. What a terrible way to be. Since Dan’s death I have tried very hard not to wallow too long in self-pity but instead, to focus on the blessings in my life that I can remain grateful for. However, sometimes, now and then, I have a day where I can’t escape the thoughts of ‘this just isn’t fair!!’ and envy is an emotion that I have to work hard to keep in check.
With so many of my friends sharing my early 30’s age bracket, it seems like there’s a new pregnancy or engagement announcement almost every week. I love my friends and don’t expect them to put their lives on hold just because mine came to a grinding halt, but it’s also so hard to keep my sadness in check and be happy for them when I see them celebrating milestones that I am supposed to be sharing with Dan. It really does hurt so much. I remind myself that I can’t compare my situation to others’ and I will have a reason to smile again some day. But it is a constant painful battle. While I'm using every ounce of energy to smile and be supportive in public - because that's what they deserve - in the privacy of my bedroom at night, sometimes I cry and wail and just feel so angry at the world and jealous of my friends.
These are feeling I've heard my widow friends speak about too (cautiously, like they're waiting to be judged or condemned) so I know I'm not the first person to feel this way. It's interesting how we feel such guilt at these emotions, rather than acknowledging the effort we are putting in to attend other people's weddings, baby showers and anniversary celebrations with a smile plastered on our faces. I realised this week that we are walking an impossible road and sometimes I need to give myself a break rather than place the added burden of guilt on my shoulders for how I’m handling it.
I don’t like these feelings and I don’t like being the person who isn’t happy for others. However in my heart I know it’s not a major character flaw that I need to be concerned about. I’m not a bad person. I’m grieving – and that brings with it all kinds of emotions and feelings, mostly negative. I realise it’s ‘natural’ for those of us who’ve had our future and our happiness ripped away to feel upset about it, so I try not to panic too much when the envy creeps in because I’m determined not to let it linger or make me bitter.
Luckily it doesn’t happen very often. The majority of the time I can genuinely feel happy for the people around me who are making the most of their lives and celebrating the love that we all should get to experience. I want to continue to focus on the positives where I can, but I need to be patient with myself on the days that it’s just too difficult.