Telling someone how to grieve after a loss is rather like trying to tell someone how to raise their children -- it's generally unwelcome advice and no one listens anyway. So even after six years, two books and tens of thousands of letters, I never tell anyone how to grieve. I give advice only when asked and even then, my guidance usually falls into one of two categories:
"This worked for me"
"PLEASE don't make the same mistakes that I made."
My approach to grief recovery has always been different and I happily embrace that difference. I further recognize that when you take a slightly unconventional approach to a sensitive subject such as loss, not everyone is going to get what you're doing or how you choose to do it. I also understand that there are a wide variety of ways to facilitate grief recovery and that those dealing with any kind of grief must seek out and avail themselves of whatever is going to best serve their healing journeys.
But what happens when those who I'm sure have good intentions approach your community with a point of view that is polar opposite to what you believe and have been teaching for years?
Moreover, what if that point of view is potentially dangerous to the emotionally fragile?
Talk about a conundrum.
I recently saw posts from a group whose mission statement included philosophies that fly in the face of everything that we have taught for years and continue to teach today. If interpreted correctly, this person or group states that they are "loyal" widowed; so defined as those who consider themselves still married to someone who is no longer here. Conversely, I teach (both in writing and in-person) that after the loss of a spouse, eventually continuing forward with life in all respects is not only OK, it is a right that is earned just by being on earth. I also staunchly believe and maintain that falling in love and/or remarrying does not equal disloyalty or "cheating" -- and that while you can, should and will always love your late spouse, the heart expands infinitely to welcome new love and a new life if you choose it.
I truly do live by the words that I wrote long ago:
"You can honor your past
You can treasure your past
You can love your past
You do not have to LIVE in your past"
You can see the dilemma.
Upon seeing these particular posts, I shot right past being annoyed and went straight to feeling horribly hurt; for my late husband, the life that we led together and for the people we now serve who are being handed one whale of a mixed message.
Remember what I said at the beginning -- I don't tell others how to grieve or how to find their peace during the most devastating times in their lives and I never will. However, I also cannot remain quiet while others disrespectfully question a widowed's love or "loyalty" to a late spouse, simply because a choice was made to move forward into a new life.
To my mind, "loyalty" to a late spouse means keeping their legacy alive. For me, "loyalty" meant raising a daughter to adulthood in a way that would have made her daddy proud. "Loyalty" meant fulfilling Mike's dying requests to "go find love again" and "Use our experience to help others". "Loyalty" means living an abundant life and teaching others how to do the same. In other words, ALS had already claimed Mike's life and I wasn't about to let it claim my life and the lives of our family too.
Is this then considered "disloyalty"?
After nine years of widowhood, I married my wonderful husband, Dave. He not only brought his incredible daughter Michelle into our family (gifting me and my Kendall with a dream-come-true daughter and sister), he also did something that not many men would be willing to do... he went to work alongside me in the widowed community. We have built a fantastic family together and along with our colleagues, we continue our mission of service to and in the bereaved community.
I am not a theologian; however, to the best of my knowledge and no matter the faith, the words in most wedding ceremonies are by and large the same:
"Until death do us part."
Even religions where one marries for "time and eternity" permit the widowed to remarry for their time spent on earth. Furthermore, all religions teach, choose and encourage life. Now, it's important to understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to remain on your own post-loss, if indeed that is your choice. However, remaining alone out of some ill-perceived or imagined "disloyalty" is just plain wrong.
Let there be no question in your mind that anyone who has ever been widowed is now and will always be "loyal" to the love and memory of their late spouse. That will never change. However, I do not buy into the statements that I heard at a support group many years ago, where people were saying things like, "I'm just waiting until it's my time to go," or "I guess I'll be with her soon." Is this really what our late spouses wanted for us? Mine surely didn't and said so, to several people. We are all entitled to everything and anything that life has to offer and we should not have our love or loyalty for late spouses (or our children's love for and loyalty to their absent parent) questioned because we made a choice to grieve, recover, lovingly remember and live forward.
I have chosen the life that I lead today; full of its trials and tribulations, triumphs and celebrations and I teach my daughters to do the same. I have chosen to fully and completely love and embrace Dave and Michelle while remaining steadfast in my love for Mike and the memory of the life that we shared. I have chosen a life in service to others, which in my opinion, is the greatest life that one can lead.
I have indeed chosen life and I strongly encourage anyone who has been touched by the pain of loss in any form to do the same.
Doing so does not make you "disloyal".
This simply makes you alive.
For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com
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