Monday, January 9, 2017

You Don't Owe Your Dead Spouse Anything

I wasn't meant to be a widow.

Okay. I know - no one was. I mean, I have yet to meet someone who has lost a spouse and exclaims, "YES! I've finally found my calling!"

But there may be some of us who are better equipped than others.

Anyway, I was thinking in the car yesterday, where I do all of my best thinking, that I really do kind of suck at this. And there's a very specific reason why.

I feel guilty about everything. 

I really do and I always have. I bet on an average day I feel guilty about at least 20 things, most of which are completely beyond my control. This tends to be a problem in several areas.

First, as a kids can play that up all they want to. They don't usually, but they really could. I absolutely hate seeing my kids upset or sad and my natural instinct is to feel bad about it and then rush in and fix it. It takes a ton of effort on my part to absorb my own feelings of guilt in order to be the "tough love" they need in certain situations. What forces me to make my kids eat vegetables they hate and not buy them every little thing they want is that I don't want them to become grown-ups that I don't want to be around.

Relationships. Oh, guilt has gotten me into a few pickles. Almost married to the wrong person and in a relationship far too long because that person knew how to play that guilt to his advantage. I want to fix everything that's wrong so the other person feels no pain. I want to be the person they want, otherwise I'll feel that I'm slighting them in some way. And don't even get me started on the break-up.

This is why I've been single for two years.

Back to widowhood.

I was in my car the other day and a song that my husband loved came on the radio. Now usually when a song he liked comes on, I'll actually apologize to him out loud before I turn it off.

I'm not kidding. Almost ten years in and I'm still doing this. Over SONGS ON THE RADIO. Imagine how I feel about big stuff, like getting rid of his tools (that I couldn't use), or dating (we've already covered that), or moving from the home we shared together (which I should have done long ago).

And almost every day I actually get consumed with guilt over changing the station from Def Leppard to the classical station.

So, I'm sitting at a stop sign and I started to feel bad as usual. And then I started feeling angry. Really good and pissed off.

Kind of at him, although I don't know why. I mean, it wasn't in his will that I had to listen 80s hair bands for the rest of my life. But like all of the areas in my life where I feel guilty I realized it's because I feel like I owe him something.


No, really. I'm asking...why do I feel this way? DO I owe him something? Because, call me crazy, I'm starting to feel like after ten years, I really don't. I do this less and less, but I have spent years doing things that I don't want to do because I felt like I owed it to him to do it.  At first, it was really bad. I was trying to learn about things that I didn't have any interest in (no, I still can't put my own lift kit on a Jeep) and doing all kinds of stuff that even if he was still here I wouldn't do because I didn't want to.

I guess there was a part of me that thought that if I didn't do these things, I was somehow completely letting him go which scared me. Or that I was saying I liked being alone, which meant I was glad he was dead. Kind of like saying, "F--- you. I guess I didn't like you in the first place."

Twisted, I know.

Somehow, I feel like that attitude is preventing me from living my life - my whole life for myself because myself is what I've got. I'm living for a ghost, for a person who's not here to even tell me what he thinks about it anyway. And it's got to stop.

Feeling as though I "owe it to my husband" has kept me in personal relationships I don't want to be in, sometimes doing things with my kids that we really don't have to do, and, yes, listening to songs on the radio because for some reason there's a part of me that thinks I'm actually being disloyal if I change it.

Even when it's put in a positive light - "You owe it to your husband  to be happy" - it still makes us feel as though if we don't carry on in a certain way, we should feel guilty about it.

Some of you might argue with this, but I don't think we owe them a damn thing. I'm not saying you should just put their ashes in an old plastic Wonder Bread bag and stuff them in the recycle bin under the cell phone you're not supposed to be throwing away. But beyond the don't owe them anything.

If you don't want to be happy...don't be. I'm telling you right now to be miserable and to not feel guilty about it. (Wasn't that nice of me?)

If you want to paint the walls in your room Pepto Pink...go for it. It's yours.

Take over the entire closet, make dishes he didn't like to eat when he was alive, and get over it.

I realize that I'm making this sound easy. It's really not. I can even see, as I'm digesting this concept, that it's going to take a huge amount of effort for me to stop doing what I've been doing for the last 10 years. Each time I feel this way, I'm going to have to pause and flip that switch in my head that says, "You're being bad" to "It's all you, girl. Go forth and be yourself."  This is like quitting smoking or forcing yourself to do any number self-care things you should be doing for yourself.

But when I have those moments of clarity and consciously think, "Stop. You don't have to feel this way anymore" I have such a sense of freedom...I can't even describe it.

So I'm really going to try.

I owe it to myself.


  1. Thank you, Catherine, for this blog. I lost my husband in October, 2015, and it is so hard. Your statement "You don't owe your dead spouse anything" felt good to read. Thank you.

  2. I had a dream about my late husband last night. He was sitting up in bed looking through a photo album. I said "While you're here tell me which of your old photos I can throw out." There are about thirty or more photo albums plus a large box stuffed with photos that date back to 1950 and I feel too guilty to get rid of them though the memories were his not mine and are of people I don't know. So I can relate.

    1. Consider donating those old pictures to the historical society or genealogical society in his hometown (or wherever they were taken). The high school alumni group may also be interested.

  3. I'm a husband with a living wife so I can't even begin to understand what you're going through. As a husband, I can tell you what I'd expect of my wife if/when I die. I hope and expect that she'll remember me fondly and...that's it. I don't want her to keep my junk, hold back on future relationships, or in any way adjust her life to the idea of me. I'm gone so whatever she does has zero impact on me.
    So...toss those tools, hook up with the pool boy, whatever floats your boat and don't even think about it.
    Good luck moving forward!

    1. I think you are an awesome man! Thank you.

  4. This has to be one of my favorite comments EVER.

  5. so.... your saying I can get rid of those 500 something Nascar cards.

    1. I have over a hundred NHRA die cast cars that I don't know what to do with so I can totally relate!

  6. Yes. I had a sale and sold all 2000 NASCAR diecast cars! It took me five years to finally do it, but felt good afterwards.

    1. How did you do it may I ask? I don't know who to contact or start. Tried an ebay consignment shop and they sold a few of them for mucgh less than they were worth so that was disappointing!

  7. Four months today since I lost my husband. This is how I have been living my life - doing what makes me happy! I watched him suffer for so many years, was unable to do things as I was caring for him. Now I just want to be around people that make me happy, doing things, living life! I am no longer ashamed to say I have a boyfriend that I met 8 weeks after my husband passed away and he makes me happy! This is not only what I want, but what my husband would have wanted too. Although I do have my moments of being tearful, empty, lost (like right now) they are fleeting and less often so I know that my bumpy, bendy road to getting on with life is just that, MY road.

  8. I'm a widow for 6 years now and it was just a year ago I finally figured this guilt thing out. I talked to her at her grave and apologized for anything I should have from the past, then I just let it all go. I had a clean slate and it felt amazing. Like I was a kid again. I know her well enough to know she forgave me and it was like she gave me permission to move on and be happy. Life just keeps getting better everyday and yes I'm still single. I've also gave up on making something work that isn't supposed to. It's the best feeling in the world. Bless you all.

  9. My husband died almost six years ago & only recently I have realized that I spent 34 years trying to be perfect for him. I am still that wild heart he fell in love with, but over the years, he tried e hell to tame me. I am getting a tattoo.

  10. I don't like to get rid of stuff because I'm always worried that the kids will want it some day. My youngest is 10 so I'll be hanging on to stuff for a while I guess. But I'll try to not feel guilty about putting it in storage :)

  11. Dogu---- I think my husband would have said the same thing if he were here. So thank you for sharing that... though I doubt I'll be hooking up with the pool boy, I'll quit feeling guilty about anything else I'm doing.... as I can. It's baby steps in the widow world.
    Thank you.

  12. I'm not a widow but found this entry interesting and maybe it will help me understand bereaved spouses more.-Kate

  13. I'm not a widow but found this entry interesting and maybe it will help me understand bereaved spouses more.-Kate