Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Upcoming Holidays and the Table for Five

"Are you okay?"

As a widow, you know there are about fifty different ways to answer that question. 

The nice I-don't-want-you-to-worry-about-me way:  Of course I am!  Why wouldn't I be?  The I'm-so-tired-I-don't-have-the-energy-to-bullshit way:  No.  I'm not.  But don't ask me why because I just don't want to explain it AGAIN.  Then there is the I'm-bitter-and-I'm-not-going-to-hide-it way:

Hell, no.  Would you be okay if you were me?

But the people around us aren't mind-readers and most of the people we love are actually asking because they care.  And when my mother asked me that question this week, I couldn't help but be honest.

"Not really.  I'm pretty tired."

And then she asked a very intuitive question.

"Are you lonely?"

Now, for many of us...this is a no-brainer.  Of COURSE we're lonely.  But, the truth is, that so many of us do such a great job of masking it that the people around us have no clue how truly painful our situations are.  I gave my parents a glimpse of that this summer when my basement flooded and in tears I said to them, "You guys have no idea how lucky you are to have each other."

Even though I have been widowed for six years and feel that I lead a very full life, there are definite moments of loneliness.  I recently had one widow email me and explain in detail how much she missed the comforting touch of her husband, something that I completely understood.  Because even though I know I have friends I can call to come over and hang out with's not the same.

Not by a long shot.

I think I get this way every year.  I know it's because the holidays are looming before me and that's a lonely time for a lot of people.  I keep busy and there are many things that I find joy in during the months of November and December.  But there are specific moments when...well...

I HATE IT.  Like, "take my widowhood outside and want to beat the shit out of it" hate it.

"Yes, Mom.  I am lonely."

And then I said something that surprised her.  And I was kind of surprised that she was surprised.

"I hate being the fifth person in everything that we do."

I have a very close family - both of my parents live near me as well as my sister and her family.  And believe one could be more grateful for the support that they have.  I know that when I wake up in the morning, if my world should come to a crashing halt, they will be there for me.

Because they've already proven that.

But I hate being the odd man out.  I hate being that extra seat.  I hate not being part of a twosome.  I hate packing my kids up alone after a family meal at my parents' house and heading home.  I hate that I don't have someone squeezing my hand under the table every once in a while.  And, to be honest, I hate that my sister's husband doesn't have the buddy he once did to hang with him and watch football while the women gossip in the kitchen and cook.

My mother was mortified when I said it.  "Oh, Catherine.  We don't make you feel that way, do we?"

"No one makes me feel that way," I said tearing up.  "It's not an emotion.  It's just a fact.  I'm the extra."

It's sometimes amazing to me, how well I've masked my emotions.  When I asked my dad what he thought of my book, the first thing he said was, "I can't believe how much you went through.  I mean, I knew most of it, but I had no idea the depth of all you were feeling."  His response surprised me a little because I thought they knew everything.

But I guess there's a lot that I keep to myself.

It's funny how I didn't realize that my mom thought I was perfectly comfortable at all of these family functions.  But I guess if I don't tell her and show up is she supposed to know?  There is no quick fix for this and - to use my least favorite phrase - "it is what it is."  It's been six years and do you know what I've realized?

It's okay to be sad.

It's okay to let people in on it.

And it's okay to miss what was.  Because maybe that will help me find what could be.


  1. I will just say that it will be 2 years for me in December and I feel you on this one. Right down to many of the details. Thanks for the post.

    1. Thank you, Anne. I hope you find some peace in the next couple of months. Believe me...I know that's hard!

  2. My husband died two months ago, and you totally nailed how I have been feeling! And I hate the "how are you?" question. Can we just not say that anymore? I never know how to respond. I feel like saying, how much time do you have to listen? One second? okay, I'm good! Thanks for writing this!

    1. yes. My partner died just over 5 weeks ago. "How are you?" is the hardest question to answer (especially when it comes by text). I've realised that generally people don't really want to know, they want you to say you're fine so they don't feel guilty about not being able to help. I am developing a good list of non committal answers. But agree, need to let people in from time to time. Thanks for the blog.

    2. LOL. Answering the question "how are you" entirely depends on how I'm feeling at any given moment. The very bitter widow in me sometimes wants to emerge, but then again...sometimes I don't want to unleash the beast!

      I had never really noticed, before widowhood, how that question has really just become a greeting - no one really expects an honest answer. But when your grief is so raw, what we REALLY want is for someone to ask that question in a way that says they really want to know how we're doing. But very few people do.

      Thank you so much to both of you for your comments. I know that you are both at the beginning of your journeys and I remember very well how difficult that time was. Know that you're not alone - there are plenty of us out there waiting to help you through.

    3. My husband died a little over six months ago, and I too HATE the "How are you?" question. HATE doesn't begin to describe it. Flobiano, I completely agree with you about people not really wanting to know the truth. It's far more convenient for them if you are indeed "okay." I've found that friends want things to get back to normal as quickly as possible; i.e., they want their pal to be the same pal she always was. I find myself getting angry (silently, of course) when I'm with other people. I'd rather be at home alone. Watching everyone go on with their lives, talk about what they ate for dinner and who's doing what in your circle of friends drives me nuts. How can everyone go on with their lives when mine is over? I don't care if that sounds self-pitying. I've had to keep that feeling inside for so long, but there it is. If one more person says, "Life goes on," to me, I may break that silence.

  3. I love how you say exactly how we widows feel. Please do not stop writing! I looked forward to your post! No one could ever know the pain & loneliness unless god forbid they have to go through it themselves. My husband passed away 2 1/2 yrs ago and the loneliness away from him is horrible. I miss everything we were to each other & yes his favorite holiday of course is Christmas! So, yes I know how you feel about the holidays and feeling like the fifth wheel & people asking how I am doing! Plus, I hear You are so strong! No, I just will not have a meltdown in front of anyone! Night time is the worst because he is not there! Widowhood sucks! And, that is saying it nicely!

    1. This is such a hard time of the year for all of us because it's all so centered around family and the magic of the season. While I can get through the holidays pretty well, I will say the "magical" part of it left me years ago. I've gotten into the habit of planning special events for the kids and I. It's hard because it's just us now, but it keeps me so busy that I fall into bed every night exhausted.

      Thinking of you and hope you find some peace in the next few months.

  4. " many of us do such a great job of masking it that the people around us have no clue how truly painful our situations are." That's a very incisive observation. And we mask it (if we can) because we don't want to make other people uncomfortable, even family members. How many people, even family, really want to know the crushingly painful details? They care, but this isn't something that you can understand vicariously. You either know or you don't. One year next month.

    1. I just don't think it's possible to know the depth of all we go through unless you've been through it. If we were to explain to the people we know what we go through daily...we would definitely be labeled the "Debbie Downers" of our social circle. That's why my widow friends (online and personal) have become so important to me. They never tire of hearing how hard something is and I don't have to go into detail...if I just say "this day was so hard" they know how TRULY difficult it was.

      Thinking of you with your one year coming up. Try to take care of yourself the best you can.

  5. I just came upon your blog and thank goodness! You've put into words many things I've felt for years. I'm going on almost 12 years a widow! yikees! I can relate to so much you've said. Percentage wise, have more good days that bad, but as only widows understands, that doesn't mean anything when it's lonely and emptiness overtakes me. Thank you, and I look forward to reading more of your posts. You're a great writer!

  6. Oh, man, this is exactly how I feel now! I was always the odd one out before I got married, and was so happy when I had my own partner for family events. Now that my husband is gone all-too-soon I'm right back there being the odd one. The one sleeping on the cot, or feeling left out when couples retreat together to escape the frenzy of the holidays.

    One saving sweet moment was that my mother kept setting tables for nine, which is what our family numbers were when my husband joined the family (six adults, and three kids). I love her for that.

  7. 21 months and four days...I hate the question "How are you?"-especially when my mother asks it. I become a child again and I burst into tears, which I despise because once the shell cracks it takes days to put it back together and I am fragile and weak and exhausted! I stay the strong public girl for as long as I can because no one really wants to know the true answer and they wouldn't understand it anyway. That's why this group is such a source of strength. Thank you from the bottom of my broken heart!

  8. Just over 6 months. I absolutely hate the "how are you?" question since the snark in me wants to retort with "how the HELL do you think?" Feel free to substitute much stronger language. I usually avoid really answering it since I never know to actually respond and the truth would freak people out. General answers usually do the trick, like 'as well as can be expected' or 'up and down,' but then a friend asked where my thoughts go when I am down - is severely depressed and suicidal down enough for you??? So annoying. I get that everyone is impatient for me to shape up and get back to normal and that everybody else could have supposedly handled this so much better than I am - yada yada. Quit asking me that damn question - it is personal and I have no desire to discuss it! My other pet peeve is the cheesy 'journey' word. This is and was not exactly a journey. I did not go anywhere and quit my job to become a patient advocate/home hospice caretaker. Or how about when others think they are an expert because they lost a parent, or one of their parents has been though this? I can only hope I was not ever this clueless when my friends were going through traumatic situations.