From time-to-time, I get emails from people reading my blog. And today was one of those days. It seems that a relatively new widow, Lucy*, found Just Frances last week and has spent several days scouring old posts about widowhood—as well as posts from my old widowhood blog.
But Lucy didn’t find anything on how much of a burden widows are on others, which is what she was really looking for. So she emailed me a couple of days ago to ask for advice**. It was a difficult email to read, and a difficult one to reply to, because I have felt varying degrees of feeling like a burden since my Paul died nearly six years ago. And now that someone else was asking me about it, I had to finally face my own emotions. (Ouch!)
It’s not my place to tell you Lucy’s story, so I’ll stick to mine—knowing that Lucy and I share many similarities in how and why these feelings of being a burden exist. Sadly, I would guess there are many others out there feeling the same way.
My feelings of being a burden began early on in widowhood and were directly related to those people who were very vocal about not wanting to spend time with me until I was “done grieving”. (Yeah, crappy people like that really do exist. Thankfully, not everyone is like that.) As time went on, I knew I was only being invited out with others so that I wasn’t alone. I was dragged out against my will to dine with happy couples… and was left feeling like a sideshow freak because of it.
As Paul’s family and friends reached out to me, I happily (and eagerly) reached back. I needed them, and I think on some levels they also needed me.
But about six months after Paul’s death, a couple of people told me I needed to distance myself from Paul’s family and friends, because it wasn’t fair to them to have the constant reminders of his death. What worse reminder is there, after all, than the grieving widow?
That’s when my feelings of being a burden increased. All of the sudden, I started wondering if my presence was upsetting to others.
As I started to regain my strength, and then again when I first started mulling the idea of dating, it was pointed out once again that I needed to distance myself from Paul’s connections. The reason was simple: It wasn’t fair for them to see me happily living my life. After all, it was a slap in the face for them to see me being happy and trying to find new love, when their beloved brother and friend was gone.
At the same time, I was told that some of Paul’s family and friends were probably only being nice to me because I was his widow. I was causing them more grief because they felt the guilt of having to continue a relationship with me.
Now, I must say that none of Paul’s family or friends have asked me to leave them alone. No one has said they feel I’m a burden or that they are only spending time with me out of guilt. No one has said they don’t want to be my friend because it increases their grief to see me happy.
No, no one has said those things to me. But because others have suggested that some people may feel these things, there is a voice in the back of my mind that wonders if they do.
So when Lucy asked me about feeling like a burden, and wondered if it was just her feeling that way, I had to tell her she’s not alone.
I had to tell Lucy that most people probably didn’t feel she was a burden. But I also had to tell her that no matter how many times people tell her she’s not a burden, she may always wonder if they’re just saying those things to be nice. And I had to tell her that she might find she isolates herself from her strongest supporters because she’s afraid they see her as a burden.
Because with widowhood comes grief. And that brings on a new level of low self-esteem, which brings on a bit of paranoia.
And then I had to admit to Lucy that I don’t know how to make those feelings go away. Not completely, anyhow.
But being open and honest with some of those friends helps. Let them know how you feel, and ask them to help you. Because if they’re a real friend, they won’t think you’re a burden. And if they’re a real friend, they certainly won’t want you to sit around in isolation “just in case” you might become a burden.
And I also had to admit to Lucy that just because I have nearly six years’ experience of widowhood, doesn’t mean I know how to do it. I’m stumbling through this journey just as everyone else does—alone, but hopefully with a bit of support to keep you going.
Oh, and I admitted that I’m not that great at actually telling people how I feel. Even though I know I should! (But let’s face it, it’s easier to give advice than to take it!)
Note: If you’re the family or friend of a grieving widow(er), please know these feelings aren’t because you’ve done or said something wrong (unless you happen to be one of those crappy people). It’s just the way grief processes emotions sometimes. You can reassure the bereft, but they may still feel they’re a burden. Have patience with them and know it will pass.
* That’s a fake name, if you wondered.
** I asked if she would mind me sharing a post about the issue, and she was happy for me to do so.