When you become a widow, it’s okay to still laugh. I want other widows to know this, so I repeat, it’s okay to still laugh.
Why am I saying this? Because of several startled looks I’ve received over the past few weeks.
Society has a preconceived notion about widows.
Older widows should be serene, calm, slightly sorrowful but loving grandmothers who speak nostalgically about the ‘old’ days when grandpa was still alive.
Young widows are supposed to weep and mourn, gather their young children around them, then eventually set out on a search for someone new and form the perfect blended family, preferably with a widower that has children of his own.
Middle aged widows are supposed to wear black veils, meet in local boutiques with other widows, have coffee ‘dates’ with the ‘girls’ and spend Sunday afternoons tending to their husband’s graves while telling them about their week.
All widows, young and old, are not allowed to laugh and have fun. After all, how can they? Their soul mate, their love of all loves is gone. They are broken and fragile. They should only respond with sad, wistful smiles at attempts to cheer them up. They should retreat from society and only appear at family functions or attend another funeral to console another widow.
And I fell into that trap, for only a short while thankfully.
For several days after my husband’s death, I had various conversations with friends and family and we would talk and even laugh about some of the quirky memories of my husband and everything was fine. My friends and family understood that even when I was animated and laughing about something that my husband did, I was still grieving his death. It is when I encounter acquaintances and even strangers that the disapproving frowns appear.
For instance, I was talking with our local pharmacist who knew my husband very well. I was picking up prescriptions and as always, there was a line behind me within ear shot.
As the pharmacist rang up my prescriptions, she gave me her condolences, asked when it happened and how I was doing. I answered her and she told me that my husband would be missed as they always had an enjoyable conversation whenever he came in. Soon we were talking about a funny incident that happened the last time my husband was in there. We were laughing about it while I finished my purchase and as I turned to leave, I saw a shocked and disapproving expression on the lady’s face behind me. I could almost hear her thoughts about how callous I was to be laughing and having a lively conversation a mere four days after my husband’s death.
I’ll honestly admit that I felt guilty at that moment and even had the thought that I shouldn’t be laughing and enjoying myself. How could I? After all I was just ripped in half just a few days earlier. I found this happening several times, as people would express shock or disapproval whenever I deviated from how they thought a widow should act. And I even, at times, wondered myself how I could enjoy a TV show or a movie or playing with the pup when my life as I knew it has been destroyed.
But an incident happened to me that snapped me out of my guilt. I was out getting diesel and I met up with an acquaintance who had found out about my husband. She came up and gave me her condolences and I thanked her. She then asked how I was doing and I replied with a friendly smile that I was all right.
She almost did a double take when I smiled and then gave an awkward answer about how she was glad. I wondered if she expected me to break out in tears or something. She then asked what I was doing, if I needed any help. Again, I thanked her and reassured her that I was fine. In fact, I was on my way to the place where I ride and train with my show horse. Show season was starting and I was already behind in my training for it.
She asked me in a disbelieving tone, “You are going to ride your horse today? Didn’t your husband pass a way just last week?”
I must have given her a blank, owlish stare at this because she then leaned in and patted my arm in a patronizing way and said quietly, “You should stay home and mourn right now. It’s the proper thing to do. You shouldn't be jumping back into things so quickly.“
Now this actually ticked me off. But, I could see that she was sincere in her concern so I gave her a weak smile and said that I had to go and thanked her again for her condolences and advice. I almost leapt into my truck and practically burned rubber getting out of there.
What I probably should have done was tell her very politely that going to ride my horse was a way of honoring my husband as he was extremely proud of my riding and fully supportive. He went to every horse show. He not only was the cheering section for me, but for all of the riders from our barn who were showing.
I should also have told her that sitting around my empty house weeping and wailing was not what I needed to do. Yes, I have my moments when I sit and sob my heart out, but not all of the time. I needed friends around me and distractions because if I only sat and thought about it, I was afraid I would sink so far down I would never survive.
I wanted to tell her that I needed to feel normality, to know that there was life after my husband’s death. I needed to be surrounded by people who cared and were supporting but didn’t constantly act mournful and somber.
So yes, I went riding and spent time around my ranch ‘family’ where we not only talked about my husband and cried together a little, but also laughed and talked about other things. And yes, I had a wonderful ‘girls’ night with my nieces where we watched movies and just hung out eating pizza. And yes, I went on Facebook and liked jokes posted by friends and even commented on some. And yes, I did all of this even before my husband’s death certificates were filed.
I want widows to know that there is no time table or rules on when you can go out into the normal world and smile. For some, it may be weeks, for others, it may be days.
I want widows to know that sometimes, during a normal conversation, something will trigger a memory or a thought and you might get choked up and have to take a moment before resuming the conversation. But resuming the conversation is okay. You don’t have to stop and address your grief right then and there. That resuming the normal conversation is not diminishing your sorrow or the memory of your husband.
I want widows to know that resuming outside activities are okay. In fact, the same week that we are having the service for my husband, I will also be going to a four day horse show. Is that being disrespectful to my husband’s memory? Hell no.
I will be sad underneath. I may even cry because he won’t be in the stands watching me. The other of his show ‘girls’ will most likely be sad because he was extremely supportive of them all and we all called him our ‘show husband’ as he took care of all of us. But we will still show, and cheer each other one, and have fun talking and laughing about the inevitable ‘oops’ maneuver that we did in our patterns. And we will also help each other over the sorrow. I know that they will be there for me and will understand if I end up crying through my first pattern. But I will still show all four days and even enjoy it again.
There will always be people who will disapprove of me showing so soon. Just like they disapprove of me laughing and enjoying things so soon after his death.
But it is my belief that to not do so would be what dishonors his memory.
My husband would not want me to spend the rest of my life in sack cloth and ashes because I lost him.
Under the laughter and the fun, a part of me will always be sad, always be missing him desperately and wishing he was there with me. But the rest of me will be enjoying the moment.
And that’s okay.