Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.~Coco Chanel

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“Just wanted to say that was very brave and bold to say you didn’t miss Robert. I’m sure the first time you even thought that, you felt a pang of guilt.”

One of my dearest friends, who was also a very close friend of Robert’s, told me that after a girls get-together where we had been counseling a friend whose relationship had ended (though not in death).  As we were talking about moving on, not knowing what’s around the corner and how the best is yet to come, I heard myself say:  “I don’t miss Robert anymore.” It just came out. Naturally. Effortlessly. Truthfully. Perhaps because Robert was an alcoholic in our last years. Perhaps because I’m incredibly happy now. Maybe there’s more to it. But the unrelenting truth was…is… that I no longer miss my late husband. And yes, it feels awful to say that. Mean. Ugly. Heartless.

But I’m none of those things. What I am is the survivor of our marriage.  And the surviving spouse in a troubled marriage is sometimes left with, well…a less troubled life.  In the wake of the devastating reality of Robert’s death, came waves of peace and calm that I had not known for years.

As time went on, I became accustomed to the new normal.  Eventually, fresh hopes and dreams came to mind. No longer blotted with a failing marriage and an alcoholic mate, my future slowly began to unfold into a wonderful life, one I could scarcely have imagined just a few years ago. A life with a full-time partner not tethered to a scotch bottle.

And yet…guilt has its way with me.

The singer, Dave Grohl, talking about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s death, said, “Guilt is cancer. Guilt will confine you, torture you, destroy you as an artist. It’s a black wall. It’s a thief.”

While I don’t let guilt rob me of my happiness or disrupt my newfound calm, it’s always there. It’s like an eye floater, a tiny moving spot that appears in your field of vision, you glimpse a speck but can’t focus on it. It hovers. It might distract, but it doesn’t impede your vision.

Unfair, unjustifiable and yet seemingly unavoidable, survivor guilt finds its way into the widowed heart. Grief’s inevitable successor.

But eventually we stop grieving.  We stop surviving and start living. I want to be done with guilt.  And so I’m letting go and giving guilt the boot.

 

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Taunting the Living with the Threat of Widowhood

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In today’s mail, an advertisement from a Trusts and Estates attorney:

“Reason to make an estate plan #7?  Elaine, your husband’s next wife.”

The 5×7 glossy postcard featured a woman, smiling up into the camera from beneath the brim of her floppy hat, lifting a glass of red wine, as if ready to toast. Next to her picture, the following list:

  • In the month since your death, has brought “home-cooked” meals to your husband six times
  • Each time she visits, wears a skimpier outfit
  • Can’t wait to redecorate your home, especially that hideous wallpaper
  • Thinks there is no good reason that money earmarked for your children shouldn’t be spent on more important things like jewelry, sports cars, and European spa vacations

Do you want her to get your children’s inheritance?

Estate planning is an excellent idea for everyone.  But do attorneys really need to capitalize on the trepidation of widowhood?

I wonder if there are equally outrageous ads addressing the gender flipside of  the widowed scenario? Are there glossy postcards mailed to not-yet-widowers, featuring a handsome man, his hand outstretched, as if asking the future-widowed-wife onto the dance floor?  The copy might read: ‘How often did you take her dancing? Will he sweep her off her feet…and take all your hard-earned money with him?’

Had I received this advertisement before I became a widow, I imagine I would have laughed and tossed it, finding the crass ad more of a desperate act from a struggling attorney. Now, having been widowed, I find the taunting text offensive.  The blatant scare tactics — your death, your husband’s next wife, and the careless disregard for children and family — are almost comical. Almost.

When I was first widowed, I was very careful about making financial decisions and general safety issues:  I had my brother and sister-in-law accompany me when I bought a new car, and had friends at the house when selling my late husband’s items on craigslist and later hosting a tag sale. Dealing with the death of a loved one is indeed scary. Apparently that’s good news and good business for some.