I’ve become selfish since I lost my hubby.
Well, maybe un-empathetic is a better word.
You’re having a bad day at work? At least your hubby didn’t die.
You can’t find a sitter so you have to cancel plans for the concert you’ve waited for all summer? Say thank God your husband isn’t dead.
You got into a fight with your man? At least he’s alive.
“Suck it up, buttercup,” continued to be my mantra for everyone’s problems. In the grand scheme of life, their issues didn’t seem that significant.
Those feelings intensified when I started an online support group for the widowed community. It was like a non-ending episode of “1,000 Ways to Die.” What, you can die doing that? Wow, that can kill you? Why would someone take a life because of that? Why is cancer still a thing?
As I read widow story after widow story, my tolerance for complaints from the non-widowed world got less and less. Oh, your boss pissed you off? Well, the new widow in my group lost her husband to a drunk driver and found out she’s being evicted from her house. THAT is a problem.
You see, when you lose someone, you truly begin to realize what matters in life. It’s not the stress over things that in the long run won’t matter. It’s not the trivial things that we obsess about. Any widow will tell you that the expression “you don’t know the value of a moment until it’s gone” is 100 percent truth. Widows, especially those who lose a spouse unexpectedly as I did, understand firsthand that tomorrow isn’t promised. You think you have time to make up, to take that vacation, to get the relationship back on track, to say I love you one more time… but you don’t. In an instant, life as you know it can be over.
And, although I was supposed to embrace the philosophy that we have to make each day count, I instead used it to stand on my grief soap box and thumb my nose up at everyone who had a problem or felt stressed about a matter where death was not involved. My husband’s death and the deaths of every widow(er) I’d encountered became the barometer for how I responded to every non-widows’ complaints. I’d poke my measuring stick in the ground and shine a light on others’ problems to see how it compared to my loss… to my fellow widows’ losses.
Then, in the midst of telling yet another person that their issues “weren’t that serious,” it hit me! Wasn’t this the same mentality that I had with a friend prior to his suicide? I was young and ignorant. He complained that he was lonely. I didn’t get it. I’m a loner at heart and relish my space and quiet time away from others. Being lonely made no sense. It certainly didn’t seem like a reason to be depressed. So I dismissed his feelings. We were in a college town, surrounded by thousands of other people. He couldn’t possibly be lonely. But there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. By the time I realized the error in my thinking, it was too late. My friend had shot himself.
As someone who only wants to focus on the positives in life, I do a disservice to people by assuming my pain – and those of others who have dealt with a loss – is the standard to which all pain/sadness/problems should be judged.
I have no right to tell anyone their problems aren’t as serious as the widow who buried her spouse at 21 years old. I don’t get to tell them that their sucky day could have been worse if they’d gotten a call that the wife they just saw walk out the door was found unresponsive in the park and couldn’t be resuscitated.
I don’t own grief. I don’t own pain. I don’t own what a bad day looks like. I don’t determine what should be important to other people.
I was never much of a complainer – even before I lost my spouse – but I’ve vented to friends about disagreements with my hubby, I’m sure of it. And, since I didn’t invent widowhood, there was someone who came before me; one who knew the pain of having lost a partner. I’m sure she heard me criticizing my hubby for whatever it was that pissed me off. She saw the angry expressions on our faces. Then, she too thought to herself, “If only she knew that argument isn’t that serious. She should be thankful she even has a husband.”
Now I’m her.
I will absolutely remind others of the fragility of life and importance of embracing each day. How they should be grateful for all the good in their lives and let go of things that are beyond their control. But I’ll also work on being a better listener. Their problem and complaints are just as valid and should be respected. Even if a listening ear is all I have to offer, I will not allow my grief or the grief of widowed friends to make me un-empathetic or apathetic. Oprah once said that everyone needs to feel validated. They need to know: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say matter to you?
I’ve now destroyed my barometer and my measuring stick. Yes, I see you. Yes, I hear you. Yes, what you say matters to me!
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.