12 Myths of Widowhood


by Ellen Camp and Dawn Nargi, Co-founders of The W Connection

Widowhood. It can happen to any married woman. We know …it happened to us. Whether your spouse battles a long illness or dies suddenly, one is never prepared for being a widow. Devastation, loneliness, sadness and loss of direction make widowhood one of the most difficult times in a woman’s life. Of all married women, 75% will be widowed at least once in their lives. Yet, women receive little or no training on how to be a widow. And, there is little offered to assist these women on how to deal with and adapt to the consequences of their loss. As a result, a number of myths prevail.

Myths about widowhood make this time even harder and more confusing. When a woman loses her spouse, friends, family and service professionals want to help, so they give widows advice and guidance. And, since widows are anxious for help to get through this devastating time, they listen. But experience has shown that much of this well-intentioned advice is based on myth instead of reality.

This article identifies the most prevalent myths about widowhood and, more importantly, describes the realities accompanying these myths.

Myth 1: When it comes to grieving, one size fits all

Reality: Different personalities, situations, and life experiences causes everyone to grieve and adapt to loss differently. Lots of different factors come into play: age, the length of a marriage, good/bad marriage, economic situations, children/no children, and career status, just to name a few. One size DOES NOT fit all. A widow’s goal should be to make the best decisions she can based on the circumstances she is facing.

Myth 2: There is a time limit for grieving

Reality: When widows are given time limits to “get over their grief”– be it six months, one year or two years – they feel inadequate and abnormal if they haven’t “gotten over it” in the allotted time.  At some point in the bereavement process, most widows realize that they need to learn new skills to adapt to the new realities of their lives.  This isn’t a time-limited process, but an evolving one, whereby the needs of widows change over time.  Different needs and tasks are relevant at various stages in the widows’ transitions.

Myth 3: You will “move on” or “get over it”

Reality: Widowhood is not a disease, sickness or mental illness. It is a fact of life, and there is no recovering. Women learn to live with it, cope with it and survive it. They learn to integrate this loss into the realities of their new life. With time, there is less frequent crying and less anger, laughter will come back, and focus shifts to the future.

Myth 4: The second year is easier than the first

Reality: As the shock and numbness fade, a widow becomes more clearheaded. She realizes the life that was built for two must now be lived by one. She needs to construct a new identity, and becomes increasingly aware of how many changes she will need to make in her life–and how many challenges she will be facing alone. She realizes that the real work is ahead of her, and that she must rebuild her life.

Myth 5: With time, life returns to “normal”

Reality: Soon after a woman loses her husband, she is typically supported by friends and family. Eventually, though, they must return to their “normal” lives. . After the death of a spouse, widows cannot go back to their lives as they were before. There is no “normal” for a widow. Regardless of age or circumstance, widows all have one thing in common: a woman who has lost her spouse has lost more than a life partner – she has lost her way of life. Widows must learn to incorporate this loss into their lives, and not burden themselves with the expectation that they have to return to “normal.”

Myth 6: Widowhood is reserved for the elderly

Reality: Contrary to popular belief, in the United States the average age of a woman who loses her spouse is 55. One third of those women will lose their spouse before they are 45, leaving many women to raise their children alone.

Myth 7: There is a linear, logical sequence to grieving

Reality: Widows experience many emotional ups and downs during the healing process. There are many days when a widow will feel she has made progress in retaking control of her life and adapting to the new realities of her life. And then, something happens that makes her feel like she is experiencing a major setback – it can evidence itself as a fit of anger, feeling very overwhelmed, or having a severe crying jag. The reason could be an anniversary, a birthday, hearing a special song on the radio, or running into an old friend. The healing process feels like a very crooked path for most widows. Grieving will happen for each woman in her own time, and in her own way.

Myth 8: There is a right way and a wrong way to grieve

Reality: When dealing with the loss of a spouse, there is no playbook. What

works well for one woman may not work at all for another. Widows often look for ways to determine whether they are “doing it right”, or ask themselves, “Should I be doing something I’m not doing?” Widowhood is a time of great self doubt for women, since the loss of their spouse most often results in a feeling of total loss of control over their lives. This is a time when widows need to be very self protective and do those things that feel right to them…not do things that others think they should do.

Myth 9: Time heals all wounds

Reality: A widow does not heal from losing her spouse. She adapts to her new reality. Sadness still exists, she experiences periods of anxiety, and tears come and go. With the passage of time, she gains more control over her emotions and her new life, and gains greater confidence. She has no choice – she must change, she must rebuild. And time helps her do this.

Myth 10: Don’t talk in front of the kids about their father’s death

Reality: When children lose a parent, they grieve and experience many of the same emotions as a grieving adult. The way they respond varies based on their ages, their stages of development, and their personalities. They want guidance about what these feelings mean and how to cope with them, yet may not know how to ask, or may not want to ask for help. Research has shown that there are several crucial factors in helping children cope with the death of a loved one, including the mother’s ability to be there for her children, to recognize that they are mourning, and to provide them with caring support as they deal with the emotions and changes facing them.  This definitely includes talking about the loss and its impact on the family.

Talking with your children about the death of your spouse is especially difficult when you are dealing with your own grief. However, it is during these difficult times that your love and support are especially important to your children. They learn to deal with their grief by watching how you cope. What’s more, helping others deal with their pain can sometimes provide us with a momentary distraction from our own hurts.

Myth 11: Strong widows don’t cry in front of others

Reality: Baloney! The grieving period is a very emotional time. Widows often feel sad, anxious, depressed, angry, guilty, lonely, and afraid –sometimes all at one time! Needless to say they are very vulnerable and feeling raw during these times. Widows do not need the added pressure of trying to hold in their emotions. If they need to cry, then they need to give themselves permission to cry, even in front of others. Hopefully, the people around them will understand. And if not, it‘s not the widow’s problem—it’s the problem of those who are uncomfortable.

Myth 12: Don’t talk about your husband–it only makes things harder

Reality:  The decision of whether or not to talk about her husband is up to the widow.  For some widows, talking about their spouses is part of their healing process.  It is an important way to hold onto a lot of good memories during a time of great sadness and loss.  Widows sometimes feel they are making other people uncomfortable, or that others do not want to hear these stories.  If talking about your spouse is important to you, “just do it”.  There are also some widows who prefer not to talk about their husbands.  Widows need to educate about what is right or wrong for them.

Click to access Breaking%20the%20Myths%20of%20Widowhood.pdf

In My Time Away……

It’s been almost a year since I have written anything on my blog. In this time away I have tried to focus less on grief, but discovered that the loss of a spouse is something that changes you deeply and affects every area of your life. You are not the same person that you were.

Priorities change. What was seemingly most important before becomes meaningless. Things you never thought about become forefront in your mind. Your thinking takes on a deepness that was not there prior to the death of your husband.

Sensitivities become more pronounced. You simply look at things differently. What may not have bothered you before can now make you sit up at attention. For example, you hear a wife complaining that her husband never picks up his sock and how much that irritates her. You want to shake her and say, “Do you not realize how little an issue that really is and just how very blessed you are to have your husband alive, well, and here with you?!”

If you have a personal relationship with God, that changes. Either you tell Him you are done with Him or you for the first time become really REAL with God. You honestly tell Him how you are feeling. If you are angry, you tell Him. If you are overwhelmed, you say so. If you are full of anxiety and fear, you cry out and let Him know. If you don’t know how you can live life alone, you express that. After all, He knows all of these things already because God knows our thoughts and our heart. You aren’t the first widow God has ever dealt with. I am a firstborn child, a people pleaser and a caretaker. So, I thought by voicing my true feelings after the death of my husband that I would be disappointing God. It wasn’t until my Christian psychologist told me that God is big enough to take whatever I could say to Him and still love me that I was able to finally be really REAL with God.

Friendships change. The death of your husband can bring fear to others. They realize the possibility that they, too, could lose their husbands and you are a constant reminder of that. Others aren’t able to see how as a single widowed woman you can now fit into their couples world. Some just need to move on and make new friends.

Responsibilities are totally different. If you have children still living at home, you become the sole financial provider. There is no husband to help carry the load, take care of the house and car maintenance, make financial decisions, balance the checkbook, tweak the monthly budget, etc. You are now in charge of everything alone. A widow living alone is totally and completely in charge of every part of her life.

Your emotional life is depleted. There’s no husband with whom to share your deepest thoughts, new ideas or dreams. Your love life is gone. There is no one to tell you every day that they love you; no one to pray with you about your deepest needs that you would never dare share with anyone else; no one to encourage you and just boost your spirit; no one to put their arm around you and tell you what a great job you are doing and how much they appreciate all that you do for them and for your family.

There are just way too many secondary losses to even name here. Yet, there are new things that you gain after the loss of a husband…..good things.

  1. Newfound confidence that you ARE capable of making good and wise decisions
  2. A renewed and closer relationship with God on a much deeper soul level.
  3. The reality that God is truly right here right now and will never ever leave you.
  4. Ability to look at life from a whole new viewpoint.
  5. A sense that there IS a purpose for you as a widow……a new purpose.
  6. A tenderized heart that now takes time to sense the needs of others.
  7. Ears that listen in a new way and hear more easily the heart of others.
  8. Patience.
  9. A gentleness toward others that you may not have had before.
  10. New strengths that rise up out of the ashes of grief and pain.
  11. Courage to let go of people in your life who don’t want to be a part of it, who aren’t good for you, or are no longer needed.
  12. Courage to let go of things in your life that no longer serve a purpose.
  13. Acceptance of new people and possibilities that God brings into your life.
  14. Wisdom in new areas of your life.
  15. Faith to take the next breath and the next step.

What about you? Perhaps you are newly widowed. I offer HOPE to you. You CAN get through the loss of a spouse. It’s not something that you can run through quickly. You have to have the courage and intentionality to face your grief and take whatever time you need to process through it. Make the decision to be a consistent widow. If it has been several years since the loss of your spouse, determine to take time to retreat, get quiet and simply look for the positive things that have come into your life. Write them down. Think about how very proud your husband would be of how far you have come and what you have been able to accomplish. If you have chosen to be in a personal relationship with God, thank Him for all that He’s brought you through and comfort yourself with the truth that He will never ever leave you or forsake you. He’s in this with you. He’s got your back, front, and both sides. You are not alone.