Monday, January 16, 2017

The pretend world of the Walking Wounded Widows

Some people are shocked by the raw honesty of my posts on losing George. I am a writer. It is what I do. I am gifted or perhaps cursed by an ability to put words to feelings, situations, life. Not all people are so endowed. And my words to me seem inadequate to the task.

Out there in the world, are widows and widowers experiencing what I write about. They do so without fanfare, little acknowledgement of the pain they are in and forced into a desperate silence by a society unwilling and/or unable to see their pain. They carry the pain. It is never going to go away. It may improve. It may be put aside temporarily but it is with them on their journey for the rest of their lives. It is particularly painful for those who loved their spouses. Some did not. (It happens.)

A recent article in the Globe and Mail about "The Widowhood Effect" set me off on this latest bout of grief. It was a brutal article. Not a single thing in it was optimistic in the least. It was in its way, written to explain widows to a public the author obviously felt needed to be educated. And indeed they do. It was not an article any new widow should read however. It gives no hope. It does give statistics and they are grim. See these little statistics quoted below.

I wanted to write the Globe and Mail and tell them, this article did not help. It hurt me. It hurt my hope. It hurt my faith. It hurt my heart. The take-away from the article was simply there was no light at the end of this long dark road. And I guess, we widows are supposed to accept that. I am feebly refusing to at this point.

I did not write them simply because at the end of the day it did some good bringing home a reality to those who have no idea. And if you have not gone through it, there REALLY is NOTHING you can say, other than to be there. You cannot possibly know.

The sad reality is, it is likely for those who are married or in long-term relationships, that it will be something you WILL go through. You can only hope that it is when you are both older, wiser, content, ready to say good-bye. I wish this for you. I didn't have that. I'm considered one of the "young" widows the Globe and Mail article refers to as having such dark statistics more pronounced. It is one thing to know you have maybe a few more years without ever hearing the sound of your loved one singing in the shower, or laughing with you, or speaking that secret language you develop together. But to face a long life yet and know you have to do it without those arms around you, without that wit and comfort and wisdom. It is brutal. That is all I have to say about this grief thing. It is brutal.

It's why I say always hold your loved ones close. Always.

I believed it must be different for those who are fortunate to have children. But then I often hear about how it is sometimes even more lonely for a widow or widower with children. Expectations on both sides seem to fail miserably. "you can't possibly understand what I'm going through" versus "you should be doing this for yourself to get better/you should be over this by now." The "get better" part is the rough one. It's not a disease. It's a life sentence you learn to live inside.

And the young, they move on. They have busy lives. We raise them to leave us. And so they do. That is the role and the result of good parenting. Widows do what they can to protect them from their own pain. It seems hard for them to stop being parents no matter how old they are. They protect their children until the day they die I suspect. I, being childless, do not know if this is the right thing or the wrong thing to do.

Grief is not something that widows seem to be able to explain enough to their families so they pretend a lot. A very lot. So their children will be happy. So they won't be left alone because they are such bad company. So they can protect their children from seeing a parent's vulnerability. They agree to a lot. When they don't want to. It's a pretend world. The wounded walking. 

Perhaps I think, it is best I never had children. My little dog will do.

"The widowed are two and a half times more likely to die of suicide in the first year of widowhood than the general population. We are, in fact, more likely to died of many causes: heart attacks, car accidents, cancer, many seemingly random afflictions that are not so random after all. There's a name for this in the scientific literature: the widowhood effect." This was based on a paper from 1986, and "40 years of research confirms it."

"Widowhood is associated with 22-per-cent higher risk of death compared to the married population. The effect is most pronounced among younger widows and widowers, defined as those in their 40s and 50s.

"On average a widow loses 75 per cent of her support base after the loss of a spouse, including loss of support from family and friends."

"For 15 years, psychiatrists at the University of Washington set out to study stressful life events and the ways they contribute to illness. For 15 years they studied 5,000 patients. At the end of the study period, death of a spouse topped their list of cataclysmic life events. The authors assigned it a value of 100. Far behind in second place, with 73 points, was divorce. Nearly 50 years have passed and the results still stand. (This surprised me as I thought the loss of a child would be worse, but apparently not)

"The stress of losing a spouse permeates every part of one's body, affecting each cell and manifesting tremendous physiological changes. Cortisol levels rise and sleep is disrupted. Heart rate and blood pressure increases. Your white blood cells become less effective, your cells begin to falter in their responsibilities, your immune system weakens and you fall prey to countless illnesses that, under normal circumstances, would be held at bay."

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