Here’s a topic rarely brought up in Catholic circles. This comes from Tammy Ruiz, a nurse and bereavement coordinator:
What has genuinely surprised me (and the main reason I wanted to write on this topic) is the overbearing sense of expectations I perceive coming from others and how it really hurt me and complicated my healing. I urge you not to do this to others in my circumstance.
I have heard it said that a marriage is like a house with no windows. No matter how close you get, you can never look in. It’s probably a good thing that I can’t discern if it is harder to reflect on the good memories or the bad ones because I wouldn’t share that information anyway. The movie We Bought a Zoo tried to show the pain of young spousal death and I was amused watching it because it didn’t even come close. How a spouse processes the deep grief of loss is profound and extreme and primitive and very, very private. Trust the griever. Trust that she did the hard work whether it took her 5 years or 6 months to face down that dragon. Trust also that he doesn’t owe you any explanations about it.
Living in a situation where gutting pain lurks in every drawer and around every corner is surreal. Imagine how hard it was for me to try to find hope and begin to socialize again, only to be met with the too common reaction — people asking how long it had been since my husbands death.
I eventually realized that my whole life I have heard people make snarky, overreaching, and nosy comments on this subject (alas, it is a societal oddity), but it never hit home because I never imagined myself in this situation.
I always felt I was a really good wife. I was a military spouse for 18 of our 26 years of marriage, with the unavoidable deployments, moves, and hardships that come with it. I was faithful, loyal and devoted. But when people impose their expectations on me, it’s as if they expect me to prove my devotion to my husband all over again, as if none of our life together counted.
While we need to be cautious and protective of widow/ers who may be so fragile and vulnerable that they could be easily victimized (emotionally, financially or otherwise), I have come to see comments like, “What do you mean she is dating? Its only been a year and a half since her husband died!” as extraordinarily harsh to the point of cruelty. How long does a person have to be isolated to prove they were hurt when a spouse died? Do people who say that grasp the magnitude of the inference they are making about the bereaved who are trying to heal and create a life for themselves? I was even afraid to write this column lest someone–anyone–accuse me of not being devoted enough.
So why did I write it?
I wrote it because this is an ideal topic for a Catholic column. Our societal stupidity on this subject is really contrary to our faith teaching, and if we apply actual teachings to this we can nurture hurting people and do better than our society teaches us to do.