Grief Is a Process that Keeps on Taking

In a blog a couple of days ago, I mentioned that while our current culture emphasizes inclusivity, it manages to exclude a forgotten segment of our society — widows and widowers, especially older ones. I suppose this makes sense because so many people who embrace inclusivity are young folk, and they cannot even imagine the problems of losing the one person who matters more to you than anyone else and then being left to grow old alone.

The primary sociological problem of being widowed (as opposed to the emotional, spiritual, psychological problems of losing your life mate) is being forcedly single in a coupled world. The “triggers” reminding us of our lonely state are ubiquitous. Ads almost always show couples; even ads geared toward older people show couples. Ads about supporting one another in illness show couples. Books and movies often focus on couples. Songs constantly remind us of the importance of love, that loving someone can give our life meaning, that you’re nobody unless someone loves you.

We are showered with studies proving that sleeping (both literally and euphemistically) with someone enhances your health, that daily hugs make you healthy and strong, that merely being in the room with another person has health benefits. That’s all fine and dandy, but what does that have to do with the bereft? Once you’re alone, you can go weeks, sometimes months, without touching another person. (Did you ever wonder why the elderly like hospitals? People touch them. It’s not as simple as that, of course. Or perhaps it is.)

Many people find that the loss of their spouse creates a ripple of other losses, such as loss of their friends, especially if their friends were other couples. If they were a two-income family, suddenly the income is significantly reduced, and yet they end up paying double for many things such as hotel rooms. The bereft are often left on their own, without the resources they need, but even if that is not the case, they now have all the problems not just of widowhood, but of singlehood.

I recently came across an article that explains why being single is not so great. The article mentions five specific points.

  1. Single people make less than married people for doing the exact same job. Sometimes single people are seen as slackers, even if they’re not and sometimes the boss thinks that the person with a spouse and kids needs more money. The discrepancy can be as much as 27%.
  2. Single people work more. They are not allowed time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, they don’t have as many excuses to take off from work, and of course they are often expected to work holidays and weekends because they don’t have family obligations.
  3. Single people pay more taxes. Married people can file as individuals to get the best tax rate, and more than half of married people get a bonus of up to $1300 a year.
  4. There is a social stigma to being single according to a recent study by Rutgers University. People wonder what’s wrong with you. Single men are considered stupid and dishonest. Single women are more likely to be harassed and treated badly at restaurants.
  5. Worst of all, single people don’t live as long as married folk are more likely to get sick. Married people have better immune systems, they generally have the choice of two insurance plans which gives them the best care, they have a support system (emotional as well as practical), and they have someone to help care for them when they are ill.

So, for all you folks who are lucky to still be married, who have not been forcibly removed from your spouse by death, don’t tell your widowed friends to get over it or to move on. Unlike a gift that keeps on giving, grief is a process that keeps on taking.

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On a brighter note, here is my latest watercolor.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Widow’s March

I have a lot of stuff in my head — no clear ideas or sharp feelings, just stuff. For example, I have conflicting feelings about the woman’s march. It seems like a good idea since solidarity is helpful, but there is a lot of contention over what the march is supposed to accomplish, which is not helpful. Some people say the march is pro-abortion, and so pro-life women are not welcome. Others say the march is for liberals, and so conservative women are not welcome. Others insist it’s about equal pay and equal opportunity, and so anyone is welcome. It seems funny that after all these months of people talking about inclusivity, separating women into various sexes such as lesbian, transgender, and whatever, all of a sudden now there’s just one . . . women. Why can’t it be that way all the time?

What I don’t understand is if this is a march about abortion, are all these women planning on having abortions? And why are there so many abortions? People used to say that there were unwanted pregnancies because of lack of education about pregnancy avoidance, but it seems as if there are more abortions than ever. To my understanding, the new regime is not so much interested in abolishing abortion as in removing federal funding. If this is what women are against — removing the funding — it’s even more mystifying to me. What they are saying is, “my body, my decision, your financial responsibility.”

More of a concern to me than abortion is the whole cultural aspect of women’s ideology. Apparently, one of the airlines used pink lights in the plane to Washington DC as a show of solidarity for the women, but really . . . pink lights? Why does pink still signify women? Pink is a color that is used to reduce aggression and anger. Could it be that’s why the airline used pink lights, not so much as solidarity but to keep the women in line?

See? Stuff.

Talking about cultural aspects of women’s ideology reminds me of the many anti-feminist themes still present in so-called women’s movies and chick lit. Too often the stories are about trying to get the guy to propose, which leaves me to wonder why the women don’t do the damn proposing if they want to get married. There are stories about successful business women who have to learn the importance of love. There are stories about women trying to teach each other how to trap a man. Sometimes, especially in historical romances, there are hints of rape as a prelude to romance. And of course, there are on-line sites that brag they are smart women who love trashy books, books that in no way reflect their own political beliefs.

I’m not really interested in people’s sexuality, so all the talk of inclusivity when it comes to gender and sexual orientation passes me by (though it is nice to know how one’s friends lean in order to understand them better). When you are alone, there is no sexual orientation because orientation connotes a leaning toward, and if there is no one to lean toward there is no orientation. What does concern me personally is the subtle (and not so subtle) exclusion of widows.

Ours is a coupled society, whether the couple is the same sex or different sexes, so a person alone is someone who barely exists. Even worse, there is a vague feeling that it’s your fault for being alone. People quickly forget that you once were coupled, that you once had someone. And now you’re . . . inconvenient. If your friends used to be other couples, you are no longer invited to events, so you try to make new friends, but if the women you like are married, you’re in the same boat as you were before. (People expect widows to become friends with other widows, but this does not solve the problem of exclusivity; it exacerbates it.) If you try to do things on your own, you pay double for a room in a hotel or on a cruise ship. Ads about products for old people show couples. Ads for assisted living places show couples. Ads about supporting one another in illness shows couples. And then there are the ubiquitous articles where a couple who is celebrating their gazillionth wedding anniversary gives advice on how to say together so many years, which always makes me want to scream “You’re still together because one of you didn’t die!”

But some of us are not so lucky. We are left to grow old alone, and a woman (or man) alone is no one’s priority.

None of this “stuff” will change anything, not even for me. Current events only serve to make me feel more alone, more outside the range of what is considered normal life in the twenty-first century. I probably would not be musing about any of these things, but the juxtaposition of the woman’s march (or rather the contentions about the march) along with a blog reader’s question as to whether I had any insight on growing old alone has put all this stuff in my head.

The growing old alone part is no one’s fault, of course. Nor do I expect society, the government,  or even individuals to do anything to solve the problems that will arise for all of us folks sitting alone in our empty rooms. We will do what we have always done since the death of our beloved, take each day as it comes, do what we can to survive, and hope that someday our lives will make sense again.

I’ve never been one for marching or demonstrating in a group, but today I will do a widow’s march. Sort of. I will take a solitary walk, and try to clear the stuffing out of my head.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.