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Awkward: A conversation in year 6 of widowhood

First grade assignment. (She's a much better writer now.)

You might think I'd end up in fewer awkward conversations at almost seven years after my husband died.

Fewer, yes. But still pretty damn awkward.

It was one tangle and took all of three tense minutes. We were talking about my first husband's artwork.

Me: This is a piece by my late husband.
Random lady: Oh! I'm so sorry for your loss!
Me: It's okay. I mean, it's not okay, but it was almost seven years ago.
RL: Well, how are you doing?
Me: I'm doing okay at this point. It is a comfort that he left such a wonderful legacy as an artist. His work is appreciated by so many people. Of course, we have his work hanging in our home, and we look at it every day. One of my favorite pieces is a giant drawing of a bunny sculpture in the National Gallery gardens. My husband wants to hang it in his office.
RL:  (Puzzled look)
Me:  Well… my new husband. I am remarried.
RL: Oh! I'm so glad for you.

The Bunny -- Cernnunos

Me: (Feeling awkward that this other person was just feeling sad for me a minute ago, but also feeling that it's not fair to let her think that remarriage is what "fixed" the loss. But then, wasn't I just trying to avoid a conversation that included any pity for me? Because it's been seven years and I don't need that any more?)
(Pause while I also realize that I don't want to blurt out, "my new husband isn't what fixed my life. Time and perspective is what made it better.")
(Pause while I wonder if in my head I also insulted my new husband by implying that he isn't a big part of my life, or perhaps that he isn't number one in my life, which he is.)
(Realize that clarifying everything would turn this into a non-casual conversation and a teaching moment that might be better suited to a blog post.)
(A lot of over thinking happens during this long moment when I do not actually say anything.)
Me: Um… thank you. It was seven years ago. (Realize I just made her feel a scootch bad for no good reason.)
(Pause while I silently, without moving, hit myself over the head.)
RL: So you have remarried?
Me: Yes, and we are doing well, thank you -- he and I and my daughter.
RL: Oh, you have a daughter?
Me: Yes, but it is his (points to artwork) daughter….
(Pause while I think, "as if that fucking matters?" and find a way to hit myself again).
(In all this pausing, I am so absorbed with over thinking and trying to find my way out of it that I have no idea what thoughts are occupying her pauses, or what she can see on my face.)
RL: Oh! How old was she when he….. ? Does she remember him?

And then we have that whole OTHER semi-awkward conversation, which didn't need to even start, but which is, at least, familiar and which I sort of have a "spiel" for, which is a balance between a tiny bit of education and reassuring the other person that my life is not one giant trauma. At least, because I've had that conversation so many times, I am safe from over thinking or stumbling any further. I accept that people are curious about this, but I think, do I always have to be someone with history? I could have avoided bringing the whole thing up.

My attitude is such a contrast with the first six months or so, when I felt obliged to tell everyone I met. It came out all the time -- even in a grocery store line --  "my husband died" as if I were saying "awful weather, isn't it?" My personal needs came first; I couldn't have cared less about causing social awkwardness -- it was my truth and 100% of my reality then.

Now, at this stage, my husband still really, truly died (well, my FIRST husband). It shouldn't be ignored -- and it's not acceptable or okay for people to die young or leave a young child behind. And it's important to demonstrate that you can live on and it's valuable to share your testimony. But maybe not every day. It has truly been a while -- this is the first notable awkwardness in probably a year. Most of the time, these days, when I discuss my loss, the context is comfortable and appropriate. This is, in a way, a milestone.

(Another major milestone was the first time I forgot to tell someon...

Yes, it's good to "normalize" these things for other people, but how much did my awkward pauses and unnecessary raising of topics "help" this person understand better?

It wasn't her fault, not one bit. And I appreciate that I have developed "spiel" for part of it. Sometimes, I can balance all these different needs: social, advocacy, personal.

But sometimes I am just tired of having a backstory.

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Comment by Suz on November 10, 2013 at 4:21pm

I think of myself as a "nondater" and a "one time marry-er" but I have to say that all of you that are handling these new relationships, with all their complexity and mixture of feelings, just impress the heck out of me! Wow. I hope you all appreciate what beautiful lives you are living, showing the world that it is possible to love another again. Love and hugs to all of you!

Comment by Soaring Spirits on September 9, 2013 at 5:27pm

LOVE YOU ALL. Thank you. Life is complicated... but worth it. XOX

Comment by smit09 on September 9, 2013 at 4:25am

Oh, Im glad that I creeped on your page and stumbled on this blog.

I am approaching year 2, and my life has moved forward at an extremely rapid pace, one that I am comfortable with and totally happy about, yet... to the random strangers out there its hard to convey both my sadness over the death of my first husband, and the happiness that I am feeling in my new life.  I actually like to pretend that my new life is just my life, without the back story, to avoid the awkward pauses and silences in conversations, but Nathan is very blunt and open with our back story... so I just stand in the back and let the conversation unfold as it will... he is much better at filling in the awkward looks and silences.  

I am just relieved to know that I am not alone in feeling that strange emotion... of wanting to care and love for my late husband publicly, without insulting Nate, ... oh the 'joys' of being widowed.

Comment by Tommi on March 14, 2013 at 6:23pm

Thank you Supa!  I am starting to meet people that have no relation to my married or widowed life.  I I tell them the whole story?  Is it relevant to the matter at hand? they have time to listen to this "spiel"?  (Because it has and still is ongoing when we start talking estate matters). 

Perhaps if we all had barcodes on our foreheads!  :)


Comment by Lori on March 14, 2013 at 10:02am


Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, I so get you, i just want to move somewhere sometimes where no one knows my backstory, where i don't have to explain me. and the thinking, i do that too all the time. I am a champion over explainer and need to heed the words of St. Frances preach the gospel always and when necessary use words.  That is how i should live my life in all ways. Your story helped me more than i can say.

Comment by MrsD on March 14, 2013 at 6:04am
I'm not sure why this would be an awkward conversation. What's so awkward about her feeling sad about something that is sad? Death happens and I don't think we should feel bad talking about it, or bringing it to people's attention. If anyone ever asks about my marital status I will simply tell them that yes, I am married and that my husband is dead. If that makes them uncomfortable it's their problem, not mine.
Comment by only1sue on March 13, 2013 at 2:59pm

My mother-in-law didn't talk about my husband's father to me until after her second husband died.  I think it was out of a kind of loyalty to the man who had helped her raise her kids.  It does mean though that I have no " Grandpa Tommy" stories to tell my kids and grandkids.  That is awkward too.

I don't know if there is a right way of doing all this so whatever you do is fine.  Just deal the best you can.

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