One thing I have learned in my 20+ months of widowhood is that a lot of people feel the need to tell a widow to “move on” with her life. I haven’t come across this personally, but I know an alarming amount of widows and widowers who do experience this. So I’m taking the opportunity to explain, for my fellow wids, why you shouldn’t tell a widow to move on.
First and foremost: a person will never “move on” or “get over” being widowed. It simply does not happen. Instead we like use to the phrase “move forward” or something of that nature. You never get over losing the person you were planning to spend the rest of your life with. Your love for them doesn’t die with them. It lasts forever. Grief last forever, too. It just varies in how loud/acute it is with time. But I can promise you that a widowed person doesn’t go a single day without thinking of and missing their lost love. And that fact doesn’t change even if you do find new love, by the way.
There is the common misconception that if a widow talks about her late spouse, then she must be living in the past and she’s not enjoying her life now. I’m not sure where this misconception comes from. If someone is still happily married and reminisces about the past, why are they not told that they need to enjoy now and not live in the past? Why must widows be silent in remembering the happy times with their loved ones because they are dead? That doesn’t sit well with me. People often treat it like pining over an ex and that isn’t right. Or even if someone reminisces about a lost relative, they’re not told to get over it or move on. But when it’s the person who we loved most that was ripped away from us by death, we mustn’t reminisce? Sorry, I’m not buying that.
And just because you miss your loved one doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy your present situation. And it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for new love, either. I’m happily in a relationship and I talk very openly with my boyfriend about Matt, our past, my grief, and the effect his death has had on me. I even keep pictures of Matt around my apartment. And some people act like that must be challenging for my current boyfriend. Guess what? It isn’t. Because he’s able to acknowledge and understand that Matt was extremely important to me and that I will always love him. He’s kind enough to honor my past and understand that doesn’t mean I dislike the present. My love for Matt doesn’t take away from my love for my boyfriend. There is room for both, and that’s true for any widow out there.
I think that many people struggle to understand how challenging it really is to learn how to live once you lose your spouse. It is a battle for me just to function a lot of the time and I’m even someone who’s done a lot of therapy and rebuilding. I’m someone who puts in an obscene amount of effort to heal in ways that are healthy and have lasting, long term effects. And still, I struggle so much. So to tell someone who is going through this battle that they need to move on, it’s a slap in the face, it’s invalidating, and it’s hurtful.
Each widowed person out there has their own way of dealing with the tragedy that is losing a partner. It takes a long time for that kind of wound to heal, and it always leaves a hefty scar. It can behave like an old sports injury and act up in certain circumstances, too. But that doesn’t mean for one second that we are sitting and stewing in our grief and not moving forward with our lives, no matter how reluctant we are to do so. It is so hard to learn to appreciate a life that you did not ask for. That takes time. Allow widows the time they need. How hard is that?