March 23, 2011

"Long-married couples develop a certain rhythm, gravity, and coloration to the annual cycle..."

"... and so those first twelve months of widowhood propose at every turn a terrible choice: between doing the same as last year, only this time by yourself, or deliberately not doing the same as last year, and thereby perhaps feeling even more by yourself. That first year contains many stations of the cross. For instance, learning to return to a silent, empty house...."

56 comments:

Jason (the commenter) said...

Don't make yourself a martyr to sorrow.

The Crack Emcee said...

The same applies to divorce.

And Jason, I mean you no harm in saying this, but shut up.

That kind of talk is probably the most useless and cruel dogma I've had to endure. Sorrow is what it is, and you pretending, or trying to force it to be otherwise - for someone else - just makes you almost Nazi-like in my eyes, and I don't want you to be that, so just shut up.

edutcher said...

Sometimes there is no solution.

Just time.

vbspurs said...

Joan Didion had been married to John Gregory Dunne for forty years when he died in mid-sentence while on his second pre-dinner whisky in December 2003.

If only I had the stamina of Clark Gable /
Raising a glass before the Christmas toast /
I didn't stop at two when was I able /
With two, I saw the Holy Ghost.

[With apologies to Dorothy Parker]

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coketown said...

"The heart of the wise is in the house of sorrow. The heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

Grief and despair are necessary components of the human experience. We would be hollow without it. It's a modern conceit that a life without sorrow is a noble goal.

rhhardin said...

I hear word-processor hum.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The same applies to divorce.

Yes it does.

Nobody answers when I call your name.


VW: evilo. How do it know?

gail said...

Grieving a loss, either through death or divorce, is a unique transition for each individual. It may last days, weeks, months, and yes, years before the survivor can again find a reason to live and take part in life. The length of the process has nothing to do with how much love you had for the person lost; nor how much strength and faith the survivor has.

There is no template for the grieving process. Words spoken in compassion may unexpectedly produce deep, unexplainable pain to the person grieving; the best words may be the ones not spoken. Having someone willing to listen, without offering suggestions, is the greatest gift and love given to a grieving soul.

bearing said...

I liked this line:

"...where Smith planted only annuals, she replants with nothing but perennials, asking the nurseryman for “anything that requires a minimum of work and is guaranteed to survive.”

Which is the problem confronting the widow: how to survive that first year, how to turn into a perennial."

David said...

For years my wife died in 1996, I had a recurrent, vivid dream of discovering that she was actually still alive, living alone in a different city, and wondering why I was ignoring her. A most horrible dream. I remarried in 2005, very happily. I still have the dream, but far less frequently.

Time covers the wound, but it never heals fully.

And Jason (kindly), Crack is right. It's always personal.

edutcher said...

vbspurs said...

Joan Didion had been married to John Gregory Dunne for forty years when he died in mid-sentence while on his second pre-dinner whisky in December 2003.

If only I had the stamina of Clark Gable /
Raising a glass before the Christmas toast /
I didn't stop at two when was I able /
With two, I saw the Holy Ghost.

[With apologies to Dorothy Parker]


You're a hard woman, Widow Spurs.

The Crack Emcee said...

Vic - I just bought that book up today:

The Year of Magical Thinking

That's wild!

Class factotum said...

I had a recurrent, vivid dream of discovering that she was actually still alive

For years after my dad died, I had vivid dreams that he was in the kitchen, that I could hear his voice. I always woke up and ran into the kitchen, hoping it wasn't a dream.

nana said...

November 20, 2010 my husband of 39 years had emergency surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. It was leaking and by the time he got to surgery it had ruptured. He survived and then fought peneumonia and respiratory failure. For 3 weeks he was sedated and unaware of what was going on. He was on a vent and then had a trac. In all he was in the hospital for 6 weeks. There were times when I thought it would have been easier if he had died but he hung on and when he came out of the sedation he started to fight to get his strength back. 15 weeks later he went back to work, no desk job he is a service technician at a Toyota dealer. I have been through a whole range of emotions and this has not been easy. Sometimes what hurt the most was the lack of concern for how hard this was for me. I have 3 children but only 1 lives close and the rest of my family is spread across the country. I am glad he survived but I understand that people do not want to hear or deal with grief. People say let me know if you need anything but those are just words.

vbspurs said...

@Crack: That's Karl Lagerfeld's favourite recent book. It's actually pretty good. Enjoy, babe.

@Edu: Seeing how you won the other thread with that Libyan Supremo line, I to act fast. :P

@David: Wow, a dream that would've terrified even Kafka.

Jason (the commenter) said...

The Crack Emcee: That kind of talk is probably the most useless and cruel dogma I've had to endure.

Like the people who spout it don't speak from experience. Oh, I'm laughing now!

Milwaukee said...

Right you are DBQ. I figure that at times life is like a mine field: one never knows what song, movie or image is going to trigger powerful emotions. Remember that the people around us carry unseen burdens, and at times we must minister to each other.

This is one where women win. My humble opinion is that in general women manage to handle life's hardship of having to say goodbye before we are ready much better than men do.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

When my daughter was in 9th grade her best friend's younger brother died in a drowning accident.

She asked me what she should or say. It was very tough.

I told her NOT to say anything like "I know how you feel" because you can't possibly know how someone feels at that time and it would be insulting to say something like that. Don't say anything like: "Time heals" and all the other platitudes, because, you don't know....maybe it doesn't, heal...I mean.

My best suggestion was to tell her friend that she would be there for her and to just listen.

No one does sad loss break up grieving songs like George Jones

madAsHell said...

This is why you have children, and keep them close.

This is why homosexuals have gaybys.

No one wants to be alone in the nursing home with no visitors. Eleanor Rigby lost the race.

In the end, you want someone to treat your remains with dignity.

It's a social security program that Jughead Jesus can't nationalize.

Naomi said...

Having kids makes the choices a little simpler. With kids choosing _not_ to celebrate isn't really an option. John loved holidays so we do feel like we're honoring his memory as we celebrate even as we grieve that he isn't with us. The extende family was together for Christmas, his favorite, as a concious decision. We decided we could be sad apart or together but since we were going to be sad anyway it may as well be together.

Naomi said...

Oops. I meant to say having *young* kids simplifys choices. Also *extended* family. Spelling and grammer still elude me.

Beldar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freeman Hunt said...

My father died last fall. (My parents divorced when I was eleven, and after that, I lived with him most of the time. We were very close.) Having now observed the grief of many, I agree with Jason. Doesn't seem good for people to allow grief to swallow them up entirely.

However, since several of us seem to have different opinions, I suppose it is also personal.

Jason (the commenter) said...

The Year of Magical Thinking, I read it and didn't think it was particularly sad. The story of what happened to the author sounded tragic, but she didn't feel anything noteworthy, not the way she wrote it. If anything, it was shocking how little she felt, especially since she had an entire book to try and get her feelings across. Either she got off easy, or she's an awful writer.

Roux said...

Everyone handles grief differently, some are quiet, some cry openly, others laugh. It just depends but for most you grieve the most when a personal moment happens and she's not there. It may be a birthday, holiday or just something you did for her or she did for you.

I remember my mother-in-law saying that she missed him most of all at the end of the day.

ironrailsironweights said...

Joan Didion had been married to John Gregory Dunne for forty years when he died in mid-sentence while on his second pre-dinner whisky in December 2003.

A pathetic lightweight compared to Dylan Thomas, who downed 18 whiskeys before giving up the ghost.

Peter

Bob Ellison said...

Jason said something interesting, and Crack responded like a guy on crack.

Almost Ali said...

Sometimes there is no solution. Just time.

"Time" is a myth.

30yearProf said...

I met her at 20 and married at 22. Now, 45 years later she'll never leave me (she's fine, BTW) because the man I've become is largely the product of her molding. I'm one of her legacies. That's nice because I know that she'll always be with/in me.

Grief is funny. I've known men and women who never got over it and some who moved on within weeks. Those who recovered quickest, in my limited experience, had talked about the issue with their spouses and knew their loved one expected them to "get on with living." I think that permission is a great gift. I've told my wife that 30 days is sufficient and that I expect her to find a new love. She's told me the same.

Knowing that she'll always be with me makes it easier to accept her desire that I re-engage the world. I hope I'll live up to her hopes.

In the meanwhile, I never forget that love has to be earned every day (even if he or she cuts you a bit of slack). Never forget that they are constantly choosing you (and you them).

vbspurs said...

This blog is just made up of good people.

Night, friends,
Victoria

bagoh20 said...

I've never grieved over anything longer than 24 hours. Including being told I had only months to live. Are we really sure we don't choose how we grieve? Some of us just handle it differently. I don't understand the anger, or self righteousness some have about their choice.

If you can't move on, don't get angry at those who do. Life is short. Those moving on are doing the right thing. Wouldn't that be what you would want for someone who was morning over you.

deborah said...

Wolcott on Didion:

" Because of its subject, A Season of Grief will evoke inevitable comparisons to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, but I confess that what I read of Didion's memoir put me off--it read to me as literary and mannered in Didion's characteristic mode of stylized neurasthenia, a performance piece on the page. (That it's being adapted for the stage seems just too perfect.) A Season of Grief has a smaller, more intimate scale, and the emotions, the perceptions, strike me as truer. The passages about birding--how birds thread his thoughts about mortality--have a special luminance."

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/wolcott/2006/04/what-im-reading.html

Chip Ahoy said...

Your remarks are very interesting to me.

If you care to know, here's why.

Carol_Herman said...

I remember my dad saying "It's everyone's lot in life to end up alone. Because people aren't born Siamese Twins."

Yes. Some people are happily married. Even as a kid, though, I thought I could count the happy marriages on one hand.

And, I remember Orson Bean telling a story. He came from Vermont. And, he said "people were reticent." Still, he was walking past a neighbor's house. And, an old man was on the porch, alone. He had just lost his wife of 50 years. So, Orson offered his condolences, and asked "do you miss her much." To which the man replied: "Why, I didn't like her."

traditionalguy said...

I have regularly seen that the death of a life long spouse and companion does more to an elderly survivor than cause depression or loneliness. It often causes a terminal disease from "giving up hope", which has a prognosis of 3 months to live. That is also when a Christian finds out whether or not he/she actually has a faith in seeing the dead spouse again in Heaven. Folks under 70 usually manage to accept the love from others that they need to survive until hope returns. A Church group can help tremendously, and may also lead to finding another companion.

John Lynch said...

Death isn't so bad. It's watching everyone else die.

Bender said...

"we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. . . . Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ they were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Of course he knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were “without God” and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future. In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus (How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing)[1]: so says an epitaph of that period. In this phrase we see in no uncertain terms the point Paul was making. In the same vein he says to the Thessalonians: you must not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Th 4:13). Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. . . . The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life. . . .
"When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of “redemption” which gives a new meaning to his life. But soon he will also realize that the love bestowed upon him cannot by itself resolve the question of his life. It is a love that remains fragile. It can be destroyed by death. The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. This is what it means to say: Jesus Christ has “redeemed” us. Through him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote “first cause” of the world, because his only-begotten Son has become man and of him everyone can say: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
"In this sense it is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12). Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished” (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30)."
-Spe Salvi

Kensington said...

My mother died in the Fall of 2004. I've yet to see my father engage in anything I can easily identify as grieving.

It's unnerving, quite frankly.

Michael K said...

Nana, I understand your feelings. I have operated on many patients (mostly men but not all) with ruptured aneurysms. All the patients I got to the operating table survived. It was always a battle and I remember every one of them. It is the most stringent test of a surgeon. You will read, if you look at the literature, that the mortality is very high, some say 90%. That is bullshit. You had a good surgeon.

The Grand Inquisitor said...

Jason's right.

Crack's response is unfair.

It's OK to accept the challenge of overcoming sorrow. No, you aren't Nazi like for doing this. Yeah, you still suffer. My lost loved ones wanted me to be happy, and that's how I try to remember them. I have a choice in the matter.

Thanks for the insight, Jason.

VanderDouchen said...

It hurts too much and cuts too deep to discuss on this forum. If anyone would like to meet at A1A and talk, we can. But, grief lasts for a good while, and the residual pain lasts forever.

reader_iam said...

It was life-changing when my mother was diagnosed with ALS just a few years ago.

It was life-changing as we went through that.

It was life-changing when she died just over a year ago.

It's been double life-changing for my dad since she died.

It's also been life-changing for various relationships, certainly not limited to but most profoundly with regard to the relationship between my dad and me.

It changed the whole history of it. And a whole number of other relationships.

----

Articles such as this one, while I can still read them (sometimes, not always, often not in whole [though eventually], and too frequently still getting angry, even now, at least in part) and appreciate them and even draw various information from them, now seem to come from a very, very far place. Maybe I'm just not just doing it right! Maybe my family isn't doing it right, in whole or in individuals. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, schmaybe. Whatever.

---

P.S. Life goes on until it doesn't, bottom line. That's it, that's all, so it goes, world without end, amen. Pick up the best from the pieces and go on as best you as you can. Don't let anyone rush you, don't let anyone push you, and mostly ignore everyone except for the tried and true.

/

reader_iam said...

Freeman: I wish I knew you in real life so we could meet for a coffee and we could talk about your reaction to this and also mine. I agree with the not-get-swallowed part, and I now, as I did then, admire you for how you handled the horrible, untimely death of your father. Still--please forgive me for saying so, seriously and sincerely!!--it's not quite an apt analogy (as mine wasn't either--though I will say my parents were married for decades and were entwined, mostly to the exclusion of others, for good and ill, until the day she died).

Milwaukee said...

So this old couple, he was 97 and she was 92, went before a judge to get a divorce. The judge looked at them and said "You're 97 years-old and 92 years-old, and you've been married 75 years. Why would you be getting a divorce now?" The husband sort of shifted his weight and said "Well, your Honor, we waiting for the children to die."

Reason #4 for writing poetry: "It is cold and lonely here, a) without you or b) with you."

Before my separation and eventual divorce I saw an article about health, and it said a man in a loving relationship would heal much faster from heart surgery than a man who was not. I finally perceived that my ex-wife really didn't like me very much, which she did admit. The advice I've received is that it can take 3 to 5 years to emotionally recover from a divorce. In some ways divorce is harder to recover from than death of a beloved spouse. I marvel at men and women who divorce and are remarried in less than a year. A good marriage is a wonderful thing, and just like the movies, they can fulfill each other. But then we have Anna Karena: "Happy families are all alike. Unhappy families all find their own way to be unhappy."

Time doesn't heal all wounds: it gives us time to grow strong enough to deal with those wounds, which do require attending. The problem with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is the sufferers have forgotten how to forget. My health is definitely better since the divorce. I'm sure that my parents will each have a hard time surviving the loss of the other. I can not imagine how they, married at 20 and 17, will do after 62 years of marriage.

Rich B said...

My wife insists that I outlive her. That takes care of it for her.

Fred4Pres said...

bagoh20 said...
I've never grieved over anything longer than 24 hours. Including being told I had only months to live.


Everyone is different I guess.

mrs whatsit said...

Since grieving is so personal, it seems to me that the most important thing is never to criticize or direct somebody else on how to grieve -- none of this "Shouldn't you be over it by now?" or, on the other hand, "Why haven't you cried yet? Don't you care??" or for that matter, "Don't make yourself a martyr to sorrow." These are decisions we make for OURSELVES, depending who we are, what the lost person was to us, how we handle adversity, all kinds of profoundly personal things -- we can't possibly make them for others and it's the worst kind of narrow-minded arrogance to think that we can.

For my part, I don't think I would ever be able to forgive a friend or relation who presumed to instruct me that I was somehow grieving "wrong," nor would I ever trust that person again -- even if I were only grieving for my dog.

ken in sc said...

Crack is right about divorce. In purely selfish terms, divorce can be worse than the death of a spouse. In divorce, not only do you lose your best friend, your most loved one, your identity as a couple, any children, but a man loses half or more of his property. Plus no one feels sorry for him. No one brings him potato salad, or casseroles. No one gathers around to console him. He is strictly on his own.

bagoh20 said...

"it can take 3 to 5 years to emotionally recover from a divorce. "

So I guess those Hollywood celebrities really are special, superhuman even.

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

Nana's post, and so many others here, really impacted me, but none made me nod in recognition so much as Kensington's simple:

My mother died in the Fall of 2004. I've yet to see my father engage in anything I can easily identify as grieving.

It's unnerving, quite frankly.


My father and his mother had a very close relationship. I remember their political discussions after dinenr as some of the most instructional, high-level discourse I've ever witnessed (he, liberal; she, conservative). She loved him, but treated my father like a little boy, e.g., always sending him a £5 note by post as his Christmas present, just like when he was a teen.

To our astonishment, when she passed, he never ever mentioned her name again.

And one gets the sense it's not one of those "mentioning her is too painful for me, so I demur", but "whew, what a release".

It actually rattled me (and my mother).

Cheers,
Victoria

The Crack Emcee said...

I am going to say this one more time and I hope, this time, those of you fucking wimps who haven't gotten it will prick up your ears so it'll be clear:

I am not a man who hates my wife - I LOVE my wife (present tense) - but until you jackasses decide to do something, anything, even one fucking thing, about the rampant cultism that pervades our society, my hands are tied (as they have been from the beginning of my ordeal and as the families of the dead have discovered as well) so I am left with nothing but grieving. Not every day. Not all the time. But it's there, and it will not go away. And I blame EVERYONE. Even myself, sometimes.

"Don't make yourself a martyr to sorrow."? Fuck you. Fuck all of you. I am one man against a set of protected beliefs many of you worship, whether you know it or not. Are you doing ANYTHING to change that? Are you helping to convict the killers or dispel the falsehoods? No, and you never have, so don't you dare tell me how to deal with any of it. You are part of it. Your advice, unless I ask for it, is just more of the same. The only thing I'm grateful for is having the strength not to kill myself. I am a martyr to what is right. Sorrow is a real human emotion. To deny it is to deny our humanity, and only Nazis insist otherwise. Only Nazis do a lot of things. NewAge is the belief system of the Nazis. And NewAgers are great at "moving on".

Which is all that Jason is endorsing.

Legosn Eggos said...

My mother just lost my father 2 weeks ago, a 59-year marriage of devotion and respect, best friends, 6 children, 48 years in the same house, and a large family that adores them. She is outwardly doing as well as a new widow could, I think -- strong, getting out for a change after caring for him for years and staying by his side -- but this gives me indications of what is going on inwardly with her, which is anyone's guess that hasn't been through it. This article was exactly what I needed to better understand, Althouse. Thank you.

The Crack Emcee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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