Welcome to widowhood.
I’m giving you fair warning this journey will be perhaps the crappiest you ever endure.
This journey is difficult regardless of your kind of loss. It may have come as a shock; it may have been expected, regardless of your circumstances, it is beyond painful. No words do the pain any justice. You will be horrifically lonely in a large crowd of people who love you. You will change as a person – you will never be the same.
There are the obvious pitfalls of grieving; sadness, mood swings, deep despair, exhaustion, hopelessness and so much more. These are the things people talk about most often. These are the written about factors, the social norm and the expected.
I’m here today to fill you in on the less talked about part of widowhood. I’m here to let you know that you now live in a glass house of grief.
Here is the crappy part of what I’m about to say….
You will be judged for how you grieve.
Regardless of your kind of loss people are going to tell you that you are doing it wrong, you should be doing it differently, and they know the way (even if they’ve never experienced significant loss) better than you. They will fill you with platitudes, useless comments and countless books you are told that you should read to help you find your path forward.
This is not a reality I enjoy sharing with you because frankly- you’ve lived through enough. However, I feel it is noteworthy because nearly every widow/widower I know (and I know thousands) have experienced this truth. You should not be judged as to how you process your pain – but you will be.
Let me tell you my personal story.
When my husband passed away, I was 36 years old, and I turned all of my energy to fitness. Besides the health and well being of my children my fitness obsessed my entire being. I worked out to find my sanity, to give me hope and to help me make it through just one more day.
I probably worked out more than I should have but it was the only time of the day I felt normal.
It was the only time of the day I didn’t feel like the white elephant in every room.
It was the only time of the day I was not overwhelmed with my new reality.
Yes, I freely admit I over did the exercise, but it truly was my saving grace and exactly what I needed at that tragic point of my life.
For this behavior, I was judged.
In my defense, many of the common things people judge on I wasn’t doing:
I didn’t turn to drinking
I didn’t turn to drugs
I didn’t go out and party hard
My kids were well fed
My kids were clean
My kids were read to and sang to each night
My home was safe
My routine – as regular as it could be, given all I had just endured
Here is where I freely admit that I failed in the eyes of others:
I was TERRIBLE with communication. Honestly, the energy it took to have contact with family members and out of state friends was more than I could bare.
I removed myself from circles that I found painful.
I had a very small threshold for anyone’s bullshit. I didn’t rock my job. I didn’t rock much of anything in my life, but I did survive.
Eventually, that survival led to my own level of thriving. My thriving often looked different than our society would classify as thriving, but for me, I was rocking my life.
My priorities had shifted.
I didn’t care about the big car, the nice house, the designer clothing or the monetary objectives of an ego driven society.
My priorities became about spending time with my kids, giving them every adventure we could experience and creating memories. For the first time in my entire life, I truly felt like I was living my life the way it was intended to be lived. I gave up my corporate job, and I took scary steps to live a big life.
I heard it all during these first few years of grief, from family, friends, and strangers.
I’ve heard that I must not have loved my late husband because of how I was living.
Funny, I thought the way I was living proved how much I loved him – after all he’d have wanted nothing less for our kids and me. He loved life, and by living ours I honor him, and I honor us.
I’ve heard I was a bad mother because of how much time I spent exercising.
Funny, I thought the fact that I was truly taking care of myself made me a smart mother. After all, solo parenting is hard and if exercise gave me peace then good for me. The exercise gave me patience, tolerance, and energy to face the day. Shouldn’t every parent have those daily saving graces?
I’ve heard that I should be laying in bed and grieving his loss more quietly.
Funny, I thought that I was doing a good job as a wife and mother by showing up every day and taking down days when I needed to. It’s called fight or flight and dammit – I chose to fight!
I’ve heard I shouldn’t be blogging about and posting about my feelings.
Funny, I found peace in writing; I often could write things that I could never say. Writing became a secondary form of therapy for me – second only to fitness. Facebook became a place of solace as well because it connected me to thousands of other widows who ‘got it.’ I needed that connection – I needed to feel normal. In fact, needing to feel normal was one of my biggest needs those first two years.
I’ve heard I shouldn’t continue to write about my loss because it’s been six years and I should ‘be over it’ by now.
Funny, I thought by sharing my truth with the world I was open up dialogue on a society that is scared to talk about death and grieving. You never get over a great loss, you absorb it, and it shapes who you are and who you become.
I’ve heard that I should talk about him more, talk about him less, and everything in between.
I learned early on to do what is right for me on this journey. I love to talk about Mitch, and I find peace in saying his name. That’s my choice – inside my glass house, it makes me feel happy not to pretend he never existed. Rather I’ve decided to keep his memory alive and allow it to shape my beautiful future.
Regardless of your loss, you will be judged.
You now live in a glass house.
Every move you make will be questioned, analyzed and stones will be thrown. People don’t expect you to be okay and they look for any reason to say you are not. If you live big, they say you are in shock and out of touch with reality. If you collapse, they say you are weak and can’t be trusted to raise your family.
Is this fair – NO
Is this reality YES
You can expect this behavior from nearly anyone who has never walked your path. They cannot imagine your pain, and they don’t understand how you can function in the midst of it.
Here is where I offer you hope….
You will be judged.
While there is nothing you can do about that reality, please remember that people’s perception of you, and about you is not your reality. You don’t have to accept their judgment, and it does not have to make you bitter or angry at life. Give those who judge you grace and forgive them for what they can’t possibly understand.
That does not mean you have to accept their behavior – I’d suggest a comfortable distance to allow you the time you need as you figure out your steps forward.
Judgment is part of human nature and when you accept that often peoples own insecurities play a large roll in the judgment of others – you make your walls impermeable to their stones.
You define you.
You must walk this road alone and in a way/time that takes you forward.
There is no rulebook to fit all scenarios.
There is no right or wrong direction for those who grieve.
There is no correct time frame.
Own your glass house.
Reinforce your walls for the stones that will inevitably come your way. Don’t let the opinions shape who you are or who you become.
You’ve been asked to rewrite your future without your consent and without your approval. That is not okay but it your reality.
Someday, when you are ready, allow your glass house to be a beacon of light for those who follow in your footsteps, and eventually all people grieve. Just remember to put down the stones when they do.
Break the cycle. Spare the stones.
Michelle Steinke-Baumgard is an author, speaker, fitness coach, mother and remarried widow. After losing her husband Mitch in 2009 she turned to exercise as an outlet for grief and a way to handle stress. Michelle found it so powerful that she eventually quit her corporate job to become a fitness trainer. Since then Michelle has been featured in Fitness Magazine, Shape Magazine, Woman’s Day Magazine, contributed to articles for Prevention Magazine, The Huffington Post, and countless other media outlets. In addition to her virtual training business, Michelle recently launched her own non-profit focused on helping widows and widowers complete bucket list dreams to honor their late spouse while moving boldly into their future.
Pick up a copy of Michelle’s new book on presale, Healthy Healing, and learn how and why fitness matters during life’s hardest moments. https://onefitwidow.com/michelles-book