Q: It’s been a year and my sister thinks I should be over it by now. My sister-in-law agrees with her. They say they miss my husband as much as I do but that wasting my life is not the answer. I know they’re right but I don’t feel like joining the big rowdy girls’ nights that I used to enjoy.
A: A few things:
Firstly, you don’t need to persuade them, you just need to persuade yourself that you get to decide what you want to do.
You also get to decide how much you put up with being told otherwise.
You are allowed to say “no” or “not now” and you are allowed to change the subject.
Next, grief is not a competitive sport. There is no virtue or shame in grieving faster or slower than anyone else and you are not failing to be a team player if you don’t go at the same pace as the rest of the pack. Many would dispute the idea that we ever “get over” the death of someone close to us. But however the feelings are described, the best any of us can do is be honest with ourselves and respect each other’s differences.
Next, living life means accepting some bumps and scrapes and ups and downs along the way, even during a night in or out with old pals. In fact particularly with family or old pals, you know exactly what the ups and downs and bumps and scrapes will be. If you are not up to dealing with them right now, trust your judgment. Sports people do not get back onto the field after an injury, until they know they won’t make the injury worse – no matter what fans, teammates or sponsors say, even if it means missing the Olympics. You are dealing with more than a sports injury.
Next, grief changes our priorities. A night out with the girls might involve much laughter at the expense of romantic partners and that’s the last thing widowed people want to be around. Whether they feel guilty about jokes they made in the past or just don’t want to know about couples, their circumstances have changed. Widowed people certainly need to let of steam or kick back and laugh but maybe in different ways than they did before.
Grief also changes how we see things, as does the loss of a partner. Sometimes the best bit of a night out is discussing it at home afterwards. Without our partner, there’s no motivation. The town we thought we loved feels empty; the music we said we liked was actually a white lie; that couple we visited every summer was just a habit because one of them was a best mate from school but really, everyone has moved on and is just too polite to say so.
Also, your partner dying reminds you that your own time is limited and that too will spur you into making changes. It might be wasting your life if you fitted back into old routines just to please other people. It is not wasting your life if you take your time to work out what’s best for you.
Right now maybe you’d rather save money to invest in paying bills or buying a beach hut. How do you say that to people who regard you as a friend? Without mentioning the beach hut is how.
With luck, some of the old gang will still be your friend as your needs and priorities change and either way, you will make new friends, especially if you pursue the things that feel right for you. Can’t change your family? Maybe, but you can’t let them run your life either.
First published in Widows and Widowers magazine, Issue 11