Chapter 5 – Dropping the Veil

victorian widow

Congratulation, Ms. Widow; you’ve made it through the first year and then some! In the 19th century, this would be the big moment to switch from heavy, concealing black dresses to heavy, concealing navy blue dresses.  Of course, if it were the 19th century and you were me, you’d be stuck somewhere in Czarist Russia worrying about Cossacks coming to rape and pillage your schtetl, and choosing the right clothes would be the last thing on your mind.  However, I digress.  It’s been over a year, and time for the widow’s guide to provide that gentle push to the next stage of your life.

It’s now time to drop that grieving attitude and march smartly into YOUR NEW LIFE.  Perhaps you are unsure what to do next, or how to act.  Never fear, I, your guide to all things widow, am here to help.  While you’ve spent the past year grieving, I’ve been busy researching the vast multitude of culturally acceptable archetypes for widows. 

After exhaustive research I’ve determined there are very few categories :  Sexy, Not-sexy, and Stuck.  However, don’t despair!  Whichever archetype you select, it’s still up to you to personalize it and make it your own.  Just like those paint sample cards, you can create a whole world of different shades of the same color.  I’ll review the 3 archetypes and even provide a few subtypes for each. 

Sexy Widows

black widow person

Choosing a sexy widow persona means you will still be wearing black, but in a whole new way. 

The sexy widow has been a staple of male imaginations for ages. She’s part of the time-honored misogynistic myth that women fall into three roles: mother, virgin, or whore. The genesis of this role is that once married and introduced to the arts of love by a manly man, some women become so unhinged when their man goes away they still have to have that manly love.   

Black Widow

black widow

No, not that kind – this kind!

dangerous widow

Closely related to the Sexy Widow, the Black Widow is her darker, more dangerous sister.   The Black Widow feeds off men and then destroys them, much as her arachnid namesake does.     

If you want to be a sexy widow, the most important thing is your age.  Don’t even consider this archetype if you are over 50 years of age.  Do not indulge in ice cream and pizza for months on end, as the sexy widow needs to conform to standard ideas of female beauty.

Perhaps becoming a Sexy Widow seems to difficult, or perhaps you have interests in things that don’t involve fulfilling standard stereotypes about women.  If that is the case, you might be interested in the next archetype…

Not-Sexy Widows

Not-sexy is mandatory for anyone over the age of 60.  Of course, this only applies to women; as we all know, the attractiveness of men over 60 is calculable by the equation of income times power, minus age divided by 2.  As a simple check of any media outlet will prove, the outlook for women is considerably grimmer.  Hugh Hefner, who looks more and more like a horror film extra, is married to a 20-something woman; but a woman dating a man 5 years younger is considered a “cougar”. 

If you decide to go the not-sexy route, Grandma or Dowager are both good role models.

Grandma 

Satisfied senior woman with eyeglasses

Adopting the grandma persona frees you from ever having to think about weight.  Think Mrs. Claus, but in in more comfortable clothing.   Grandma-widows get to wear fleece every day, and dressing up means choosing the outfit with a row of small ducks across the front.  Your focus will be on family, and you’ll devote the rest of your life to doting on them. 

Your life will be filled with such exciting hobbies as baking cookies and re-posting treacly bits of homespun wisdom and cat videos on Facebook.

For those without grandkids, a “favorite Aunt” version can be used with relatives and neighbors.

Matron

dowager

Similar to grandma but with sharper edges, the matron becomes the guardian of all that is correct and proper.   Matrons share a lack of any romantic life with Grandmas, but their clothes are less comfortable, which may be why they tend to be cranky. Perhaps the strongest aspect of the Matron role is a general dissatisfaction with anything that occurred since becoming a widow.

Still shopping for an acceptable archetype?  There is only one left, and that is…

The Stuck Widow

stuck

She is the saddest of all.  The stuck widow never progresses.  She remains forever anchored to the past, unwilling or unable to resume a normal life.  Being stuck starts off as the easiest widow persona to adopt.  The gist of it is to never, ever change.  Keep everything in your life exactly the way it was.   Make sure you keep doing the same things over and over again, so the impact of having lost your spouse never goes away.  Focus only on the negative, never on the positive.

Though not technically a widow, Miss Haversham is a great role model for this archetype.

So, there you have the results of my research.   As mentioned, there aren’t a lot of good role models out there.  Personally, I hope to create a new archetype: The Wise Widow.  I want to be someone conversant with the dark side, but who chooses not to live there.  A fully functioning human being capable of being sexy and nurturing, good or bad.  I want the freedom to be any or all of these archetypes but not to be bound by any one of them.  Mostly, I hope to create my own path forward, not adopt one created by someone else.   And I hope you select the same.

Chapter 4: Dating – or how to ruin your mood in a few easy steps 

It’s been almost a year and a half, and I’ve made it through that early period where hope was hard to find and just climbing out of bed was a major accomplishment. I am a survivor. The pain is easing, and I’m starting to feel better; in fact, I was feeling pretty darn good.

stuart_smalley-7943

So, there I was at the start of 2014, finally feeling whole again. Realizing that I was tired of being alone, that I wanted more. It was time to move forward and start facing the next step in life: reentering the world of dating. I was ready, and fully expected that within a few days the phone would start ringing with invitations and offers. Except that… it didn’t.

On to plan B.

Back in late January, I located a few pictures that didn’t include Rick, wrote my dating profile and hit the upload button to an online dating service. Which means, it’s time for another chapter in the Guide for the Recently Widowed, where in my role as guide to all things widow, I will enlighten you on the wonderful world of online dating.

After joining the site I felt great. I was taking control of my life, choosing a new direction, being active instead of reactive. I was on top of the world.

kingoftheworld

I had a fantasy, one so dangerous I tried my best to keep it under lock and key. There would be an email or two, then a decision to meet. There would be instant rapport, that sparkly thing that happens when you are attracted to someone and it’s reciprocated. We’d talk and it would be a great conversation, and at the end, there would be that wonderful feeling that happens when you totally click with someone. We’d move forward slowly, but there would be constant, steady movement forward.

That didn’t happen, of course.

Here’s what has.

Right off the bat, I started receiving winks and nudges or whatever the hell they call them. Mostly these were from men that were hundreds of miles away, despite my stating I wasn’t interested in a long-distance relationship. Some contained messages that were a bit creepy.   Others were just sadly off.

I started viewing profiles, and realized there is money to be made in helping people write these. It’s not that dissimilar to a job interview. A few hints, Mr. and Ms. Widow, on what not to do in your online dating profile:

— Don’t put in pictures where you’re topless (this is addressed to Mr. Widow). Especially when sporting a beer gut.
— Nothing says “I’m stupid and lazy” like a profile rife with misspellings, typos and incorrect word usage. If you don’t get the difference between they’re, their and there, have a friend proof read your profile.
— We’re all adults here, so the expectation of a physical aspect to a relationship is completely rational. But don’t start the conversation with it. That’s just not right.
— Pathetic loneliness or seething anger are not real attractive.

There were the men I contacted who were not interested in me, and vice versa. There were the email exchanges that were creepy or just plain hostile. There was the in-person meeting that was pleasant but completely devoid of interest.

And then… there was the one perfect, wonderful meeting that totally met the fantasy.  He was intelligent, and attractive, and we talked and talked.  At the end we both expressed interest in meeting again.  I left excited, looking forward to what might happen.  Instead, it seemed to lead nowhere.  A few weeks in I realized I was the one initiating all contacts, and decided it was time to ask why.  Then we had another great date; a wonderful conversation where we talked about the hesitation and reticence. His  final words to me were “I’ll call you”.  And that was it.  No more calls, no emails, not even a text.  Yeah, dating sure is fun.

And all that positive feeling of taking charge, of making decisions and restarting my life, of being able to look forward to the future… was gone. Completely, utterly, totally, kaput.

tina-fey-internet-quote-gifBut still, I’d rather be trying and losing than doing nothing. So I’m back in, reviewing those profiles, still hoping for some success.  Or at least a decent date.   And keep in mind, Mr. and Ms. Widow, we will make it through.

Chapter 3: Proper Weight Management

The best way for a newly widowed spouse to show their bereft state is by withdrawing from life, but of course only in ways that are tastefully genteel.  Losing weight is a perfect strategy to gain credential as a widow.  It works on so many levels. Loss of appetite is a subtle metaphor that you are no longer enjoying any of the physical pleasures of life, and abstaining from cooking and dining out reinforces your new status of being alone and a social outcast.  Of course, when you do lose weight, make sure to keep wearing the same clothes.  Do not, and I cannot stress this enough, go out and buy a new pair of skin-tight jeans to show off the weight you just dropped.

Preparing and consuming food is enjoyable.  That is why it is so important to lose weight.  As a newly widowed individual, you should not experience any of the sensuous side of life, and that includes food.   Scarfing down a hot fudge sundae really makes it hard to keep up the image of the grief-stricken widow no longer able to find any pleasure in life.

Helpful tip:  if you’re not losing weight, go out and buy dowdy clothes that are a size larger than you wear.  Choose unattractive styles and colors.

Sadly, this is not happening for me.  During those periods of life when most people lose weight, I gain.  Years ago in college my skinnier girl friends were “too busy to remember to eat” during finals, a concept I found as incomprehensible as the statistics course I took and ended up dropping.  I interwove food with study, parsing out a set number of Oreos for each term paper page and using a trip to the vending machines as a study break.  At the end of each semester, I crammed in both food and knowledge during finals.  One stuck with me longer.  A few years later, pregnant at the same time as my best friend, I watched her spend the first trimester desperately ill and trying not to lose weight.  Me?  I was never so hungry in my life.  I would actually wake up at 2:00am and eat a big bowl of cereal to hold me until breakfast. 

I lost weight the month Rick was in the hospital, when my days were spent drinking coffee and waiting.  When he died and I went home to a dark and lonely house, I filled it with frozen pizza and ice cream.  By the time winter hit I still couldn’t cook but I was baking: sweet rolls, pies, and popcorn.  Now, I realize popcorn is a not a high-calorie item, but I’ve been making maple-bacon, honey-ginger, and chipotle-chocolate popcorn.  Lately I’ve been obsessed with developing a hot fudge sauce recipe, testing batch after batch.  Of course, there’s only one way to test fudge sauce – ice cream.

chocolate-ice-cream-sundae-thumb14396924

The weight I lost last summer was gained back, and then some.

Warning number one came at the end of April.  Last fall I started wearing Rick’s jeans instead of my own.  It was nice to have a part of him close to me, and they were comfortable.  There were 2 pairs I really liked, one loose and comfy, the other just tight enough to look good.  One day, wearing the tight pair, I decided to switch to the looser pair.  Turns out I was already wearing the looser pair.  Uh oh.

Warning number two happened at the end of May.  It was a cold spring here in Wisconsin, so I waited until Memorial Day weekend to swap clothes.  There’s no betterfeeling than pulling those bulky sweaters out of the dresser and replacing them with tanks and Tees.  At least, it seemed great until I decided to try on a few things.  Those capris that fit so comfortably last year no longer buttoned. Cute little tops didn’t look that cute when they were stretched out across my new girth. 

It was time to get serious, and that meant establishing a starting metric for my weight.  Now, many people use scales but I’ve never seen the value in a number that pops up between my toes.

DSCN0973

For many years, I’ve used a wide selection of jeans as my personal weight guide.  Arranged in order, my jeans span every possible weight level from “Damn I look good” to “What the hell happened.”  Last week it was time for the denim scale of fate.  I took out 4 pairs and ceremoniously laid in them in order:  Lucky peanut jeans, the loose pair from Rick, a newer pair of denim stretch skinny legs, and an old pair of Mom jeans. I took a deep breath and then tried on each pair in front of a mirror, with a hand mirror to check the back view.

Turned out I was at the denim stretch level, but not that far from the Mom jeans.  Which means that pretzels at lunch have been replaced with carrot sticks, I’m going to 4 exercise classes a week instead of 2, I’m cutting ice cream down to twice a week, and salads are replacing french fries.   I’ll try the jeans again in a month and see what progress has been made.  Stay tuned…

Chapter 2: For friends and relatives

Chapter 2 of this guide is for friends and relatives.  You, too, have experienced a loss.  This chapter will provide hints for how to interact with the grieving spouse.

As always, I am required by bloggers law to provide notice that this is a work of fiction and certainly not inspired in any way by actual things said to me over the past 8 months.

  1. On finding out that the bereaved partner visits the gravesite on a regular basis, act surprised that the visits are occurring.  When asked why, respond with “You weren’t married that long.”
  2. Tell the surviving spouse that you are so grateful they were willing to take care of the deceased during the final illness, because you were not able to do so.  Use a tone of voice that clearly indicates your belief that the spouse was far less important to the deceased than you were, and that you never expected them to act in a responsible or caring manner toward their life-partner.
  3. If the grieving individual ever tries to talk with you about some part of what she/he is going through, be sure to bring up an anecdote that imparts the message of how miniscule the problems of the grieving friend are in comparison with, you know, something or someone more important.
  4. Be judgmental. When seeing that the grieving person is in a good mood, subtly indicate your surprise that they might just be experiencing happiness during that moment.  If they are in a low mood, act impatient about their inability to snap out of it.
  5. Ask, repeatedly, about the cause of death.  Don’t be satisfied with vague answers; keep pressing for more information, like Mike Wallace after drinking a double-shot espresso.
  6. Make sure everyone knows how sensitive and caring a person you are. When you see the bereaved individual out at a social event, lavish a great deal of attention on them in exactly the same way you’d treat a 3-legged puppy.  Interrupt the person several times to give them big hugs, tell them how sorry you are, and how “brave” they are.  Look at them using the same facial expressions as a Precious Moments figurine.  Make sure you time these moments for when the person is actually having a decent time.
  7. Ask how the person is doing, and then ignore or discount what you are told.
  8. Complain a lot about all the things you dislike in your spouse.  Make a joke about how much you envy your now “single” friend.
  9. Shortly after the funeral start a Facebook conversation about the deceased that impugns them, their life and how they died.  FB is the perfect place to do this as the widow/widower will be sure to see all the back and forth correspondences related to this conversation.
  10. If your relationship was primarily with the deceased individual, assume that no further acknowledgement or contact is needed.  Don’t go to the funeral, don’t send a card, and don’t call.

Chapter 1: A tongue in cheek guide to proper behavior

I’ve decided to write an etiquette guide for the recently widowed. I’ve been struggling with the extreme mood swings that are a normal (or so I’ve been assured) symptom of losing a spouse, and I’ve had concerns over how those mood swings appear to others with whom I interact. That, plus years of insomnia spent watching Law & Order have given me deep insight into human nature and what is considered acceptable behaviors for people in this situation.

Necessary caveat now required for anything meant to be humorous and most especially if the humor is somewhat dark:

Everyone I know has been helpful and supportive through these terribly hard months. In no way am I trying to be disrespectful of the very real difficulties those of us recently widowed face, or of the attempts of friends and colleagues to provide support.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can continue.

Chapter 1: Your Public Face.

There’s a public face to grieving, an expectation of what is considered appropriate and what is not. It’s important for the newly bereaved to understand this so as to meet societal expectations.

This is not Victorian England, and unless you possess wealth on a Kardashian-like level it is just not considered good form to sink too deeply into grief. Spending a month or so at a high-end resort is a fine way to get past emotional turmoil, but calling in sick to work for 3 straight weeks will get you fired.

An inability to manage daily life is considered excessive and wrong, showy even. Adults have responsibilities, and these need to be dealt with. Mourning the death of a spouse will not cut it as a reason for being late in paying bills. That “work family” you were told you had? Don’t even think about asking for more time off, or a lighter schedule after the first month is over. Overt, public expressions of grief are to be avoided at all costs, especially if any noise is involved.

On the other hand, doing too well is considered equally bad form. One of the staples of Law & Order was the surviving spouse coping too successfully. An ability to focus on priorities is a bad thing. How dare you be concerned with collecting the insurance money! Starting any projects or making major purchases, even if they were ones planned before the unfortunate event, should be avoided at all costs.

Worst of all is showing any signs of enjoying life or being capable of positive actions and responses. The grieving spouse needs to be in a constant cloud of despair (quietly and discretely expressed, of course). Public appearances are ideally kept to a minimum, and only to acceptable venues such as grocery stores and dry cleaners.

Acceptable ways to show your grief include losing an extreme amount of weight, staring meaningfully into space on occasion, not washing the kitchen floor, and dressing in dark colors. Unacceptable ways to deal with your spouse dying are any forms of physical contact or even admitting to a desire for dating (for reference, see “Silver Linings Playbook”), appearing to enjoy yourself in public at any time, for any reason, gaining weight or appearing too competent.

A good rule of thumb is to consider a potential activity or action and think to yourself, is this something that will make me feel good in a public, noticeable way? If the answer is yes, do not continue.

When encountering acquaintances who enquire how you are doing, the answer should be some meaningless platitude that relieves the questioner of any need to pry further or otherwise get involved. “Fine”; “As well as could be expected”, “Okay. Slowly moving forward” are all good answers. A long, rambling treatise on your combined anger, despair and grief, punctuated with swearing, crying and screaming, is not. Your answer should be delivered with a downward cast of the eyes but a raised chin, and perhaps a small shoulder shrug. Combing a head tilt with the shoulder shrug is permissible only if you are of Mediterranean or Semitic ancestry.

The goal of these interactions is to make the other person feel they’ve done their job in showing an adequate sense of concern, without in any way making them feel uncomfortable or obligated to intervene further. A sample interaction is:

“Oh, I heard about (fill in name of dead spouse). I’m so sorry. How are you doing?”
“Oh, fine… I guess”. This is delivered with a small, brave smile.
“Well, it must be really hard”
“I just keep moving forward, one day at a time.” Looking down, followed by a shoulder shrug.
“Good for you! Glad to see you’re hangin’ in there.”

Further chapters on acceptable vacation planning, allowable expenditures and when to change your Facebook status will be forthcoming.