Sunday, February 27, 2011

Widowhood Blues: Relapse

If you read my blog about widowhood, you may think I've moved on with my life, put the grief behind me and learned to look on the sunny side. That's true...sometimes. Sometimes it's not. This weekend was one of those times when the widowhood blues surfaced again.

The occasion was the Bat Mitzvah of a young cousin. For those of you who don't know, a Bat Mitzvah is not just a party. It's a religious rite of passage, the first time a youngster (age 13, to be exact) is called upon to read from the Torah before the congregation and thus to take his or her place as an adult. It's celebrated over a two-day period, during Friday night and Saturday morning services and yes, then there is a party, usually on Saturday night.

I don't go to services often; it's hard to go alone. Strange, because I'm perfectly comfortable going other places alone--the movies, the symphony. But services are a family thing.

Nevertheless I went. Friday night was easy--it's sort of in for the service and out afterward. I saw some people I knew and stopped for brief chats. You'd think I'd see a lot of acquaintances, but my synagogue is one of the largest in the country. You could go for weeks and see no one you know.

Saturday morning is a much longer service, with the Torah reading as its centerpiece, and then a luncheon. I didn't see a soul I knew at lunch so I sat down at a table with a family who talked to only each other. Therefore I was dreading Saturday night--party time. Who would I sit with? Who would I talk to? Why wasn't Ralph still here? Would I be the only "loner?" I knew I wouldn't, but would I find any other solo partygoers in what would surely be a huge crowd? Bereft of my outgoing husband, what would I talk about--provided I could find someone to talk to. You'd think after more than five years as a widow, I'd have gotten over this. But the entire afternoon the loneliness of loss and the "Why me?" feeling washed over me. I didn't want to venture out. Finally I decided on a compromise: I'd go to the party for a little while and then skip out.

I drove to the party, missed the turned and thought, "I'll go home and tomorrow I'll send a note saying, "Sorry I didn't make it; I got lost." I really wasn't lost, I'd just driven too far down the street where the party was to be held. I forced myself to turn around and drive into the parking lot. Rock music spilled out the door, and I thought, "Oh, God. I'll have a headache, too."

The mother of the Bat Mitzvah girl welcomed me with a hug. "My Dad's over there," she said, pointing. "He's looking for you."

I found her dad and several other cousins I don't see very often. My nerves subsided; I was safe in a circle of relatives. Our thoughtful hosts seated us all together at a table in a quiet spot away from the band. We had lots to talk about--family updates, books, movies, the Oscars, trips. It was a lovely evening.

On the way home I was both pleased and angry with myself. Is being a widow like regressing to middle school--scared about attending a large party with lots of strangers? Or is this the continuation of the grief that pops up over and over again? Did I beat it? I'm not sure. If there hadn't been place cards, would I have wandered to a table and been miserable and lonely? At least I gave myself points for going.

Does this sort of thing happen to you?

And how do you handle it?


Meryl Jaffe, PhD said... [Reply to comment]

Hi Thelma. We all have our good and bad days, and I was so happy to read that you turned around and went back to the party.

Bat and bar Mitzvahs, weddings - are such family events, I am sure it would have been difficult under any circumstance.

Personally, I find the events I dread going to - or am apprehensive about going to - are usually not half as awkward or bad as I envisioned!

Here's to a happier, sunnier day!

All the best,

Jennifer O. said... [Reply to comment]

Though I am not a widower (I'm 32), I still regress to some childhood ways.

When in a group setting with mothers at some school functions, I shut down. It's amazing how people are able to intuit that you don't want to be approached. Even their body shifts away from you.
Sometimes the rare person approaches me anyway, and of course, I have to interact. Most of the time, that approach snaps me out of my self-induced apathy. Sometimes it doesn't.

I marvel at the people who are always "on." How do they do it?

On a side note, I wonder if you've ever read Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking."? It's a wonderful memoir about the author dealing with her husband and collaborator's death.

Anyhow, I'm a new subscriber.

Widow in the Middle said... [Reply to comment]

Great situation to post about! I think this sometimes doesn't relate to widowhood at all. Like there are days I just have a bad day at work due to stress, being over tired, etc. Some events I handle better than others. Some I've left, some I've stayed at. Some I've managed to have a good time and at others I've been downright miserable.

Terrible that that family you sat with was so uncommunicative. I love talking to people I don't know. Also, great that you turned around and attended the party instead of heading back home. I would have felt so proud of myself just for accomplishing that. Bravo.

This Sat. I will be at a show choir competition all day. But I am looking forward to it. I'll bring a book and knitting and even if I sit alone viewing some of the performances, I'm excited about seeing the young people perform and I'm not going to dwell on being there alone. I even might try and start some conversation with the people around me instead of waiting for people to talk to me.


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