I sat up until the early hours of this morning reading about widowers. I wasn’t tired, as I put in last night’s blog I just have too much going on in my head right now, some things are just there and needn’t be and others are and need to be but I don’t want to deal with them. I thought I’d share an excerpt of one of the articles.
I can completely identify with almost all of this.
Grief is madness--ask anyone who's been there. They will tell you it abates with time, but that's a lie. What drowns you in the first year is a force of solitude and helplessness exactly equal in intensity to the love you had for the one who's gone. Equally passionate, equally intimate. The spaces between the stabs of pain grow longer after a while, but they're empty spaces. The cliches of condolence get you back to the office, back to your taxes and the dinner table--and for everyone else's sake, you collaborate. The road of least resistance is paved with the gravel of well-meaning friends, rather like the gravel that cremation leaves.
Paul Monette, Last Watch of the Night
Becoming a widower is a process. And it is a process the surviving partner shares with his loved one. A continuous process, it begins the moment that one is forced to half-consciously accept that you are about to lose someone very close and may not end until even many years later. Widowerhood more or less occurs in three phases. The socially accepted year or so of grief after you've lost your partner is merely the middle period, flanked on one side by a period of widowerhood in which your companion is still alive, and on the other side by a period of widowerhood long after he is dead.
If your partner's death follows a long illness like Cancer or AIDS, during the first phase your partner is still alive. The grieving begins with the various losses his illness starts to impose on your life as your relationship changes from an equal partnership into an unequal dependency. This early grieving is almost always overlooked because of the external distraction caused by dealing with hospitals, labs, doctors, social workers, sometimes ambulances, police, lawyers, various business and governmental bureaucracies, and enormous amounts of data and new routines. Amidst all this, the two of you are forced to renegotiate your partnership contract.
At the same time, something even more subtle, and insidious, is occurring: you are learning to deal with him being gone. If you doubt that, speak to anyone whose loved one has left home for the first time with some minor symptom of AIDS requiring a short stay in the hospital. The fear and panic -- or denial and frozen emotions -- these first week-long hospitalizations cause may seem greatly exaggerated overreactions to others. On the contrary, they are often healthy, early recognitions of the widowed future.
The second phase following a partner's death is when your loss is complete and obvious and this phase also has its hidden dangers. The support network, so useful during your loved one's illness and death, is often suddenly removed at this stage. People you've come to rely on often vanish, incorrectly thinking you have no need for them in your life. Others, hoping to help you, or perhaps feeling guilty about your loss and their helplessness, attempt to push you through your grieving at an unreasonable speed -- perhaps pulling you into a constant chain of social events and distractions, so you won't stay home and mope. This doesn't recognize your special need to be alone more than before, partly to rest from the mental, emotional and sometimes physical exertions you've just gone through, sometimes just for you to try to remember your loved one whose presence in your life is fading so quickly and sadly.
The third phase is the least obvious and least talked about part of widowerhood. Paul Monette again proved himself to be the gay community's bard, describing his extended mourning for two different lovers in painfully eloquent essays in Last Watch of the Night. Long after the world and those around you have ceased to deal with your great loss, you're still stuck with it. Often new information about your loved one, or simmering resentments about his life suddenly surface and must be dealt with. Bills, letters, and legacy details can take a long time to show up and are upsetting or infuriating.
In some cases, the challenge is merely that your partner has so defined your life, that now you are completely thrown on your own, and must redefine who you really are as you did when you were an adolescent. It is a difficult, often harrowing time, yet also a potentially wonderful period and crucial to any further growth in life.
Most likely all people who have buried a spouse remain intimately connected to the deceased and to that relationship long after their conscious mourning has ended. In the last decade an extensive literature has evolved about grief, but until very recently, little or no recognition has been given to the grief of homosexual men who survive the death of a partner or friend.
Intense anger, whether at the unfairness of life, at God, at the cause of death, at the deceased or just being in the unenviable position of having to pick up the pieces and rebuild a life is typical when grieving a lover. When a partner dies, a man has no choice but to become a widower. How actively he accepts or rejects the identity of a widower will determine how he deals with all the angers. Recognizing that there are numerous good reasons to be angry, and expressing and integrating that anger are essential components of adjusting to widowerhood.
This is an excerpt taken from:
Gay Grief and Gay Widowers
by Michael Shernoff, MSW
Published in LGNY, September 1, 1997, Issue 62
1997 Michael Shernoff