Being a widow shouldn't be a death sentence.
In some cultures, it has been, quite literally. The Hindu practice of suttee (or, sati) makes more sense to me now than it ever did before.
The first time I was widowed, I blamed it on circumstances. Peter had been old and sick for so long, and had required so much care, that I simply hadn't had the time to develop any kind of social connections in the area to which we'd moved. Or, even if he wasn't that old, his illness had catapulted him into the category of "old". But Jonathan was young, and vibrant, and energetic. Plus, he'd lived in this area all his life, his family and friends were all here. Surely they would rally around me. Surely I would still be invited to events and things, the way we'd always been.
It's hard to admit that you're wrong, when you want so desperately to believe something. Or when you want so desperately to believe in something. The cards and condolences flooded in, so many that I had to stop reading them, I had to pace myself. I finally read the last one on what would have been our 5th anniversary, May 29th, 2011.
I don't know what I did wrong. I tried to smile, I tried to be pleasant, I tried to laugh and joke with everyone else. I tried to appreciate the gift of this life, even in the ultimate throes of depression. I even stopped my car on the side of the highway once when I was driving to a friend's house, just to appreciate and take a photograph of the unusually spectacular sunset that was occurring. But whatever I did or didn't do wrong, there was never a second invitation from that family. In fact, there was no further communication from them - whom Jonathan and I had considered good friends - ever again.
There was another family with whom Jonathan and I used to be close, and I had a lovely lunch with them when some of my family was in town once. I loved being with them again, it felt like being close to a piece of Jonathan again (he'd been friends with him before I'd even moved to Colorado). I even thanked them afterwards, and said something to that effect. It wasn't long after that when the wife informed me that they wouldn't be spending any more time with me, that it was too difficult. "Oh, okay," I said, "Sure, I understand." But I don't. I thought that certainly I would at least still be invited to larger gatherings, maybe their upcoming housewarming party, where they wouldn't even be required to interact personally with me and be reminded of Jonathan. But no, it truly was a complete cutting-off. This one was a particular surprise since they had pledged their friendship and support when I'd been going through a difficult time years earlier, and so I thought I had a reasonable expectation that I could count on them. If anything, they were the ones who were the most thorough and complete in cutting me out of their lives, no longer even answering casual emails I send.
I thought, if I was just patient enough, if I just waited long enough, things would change. People wouldn't be so uncomfortable around me anymore. People wouldn't treat me as a pariah. People would stop saying hurtful things. I would start getting invitations again. People would start accepting my invitations again, and they would actually come, rather than all canceling at the last minute, such as the time I was left to go camping by myself, with just Jonathan's elderly dogs for company. Still, even that was probably better than sitting at home alone...
But things never got better. If anything, it got worse. I even had a congregation elder explain to me, at length and in detail, how it was entirely my fault that Jonathan had died - and this happened a year and a half after his death. There was no one to whom I could turn for comfort from this, there was absolutely no one who was there for me, no one in whom I could confide.
And so I had a meltdown. In public. Completely sobbing, at a Kingdom Hall remodel work day. An acquaintance was hugging me and trying to comfort me, but I knew I couldn't burden her with everything that was upsetting me. It seemed that no one else even noticed. Maybe they didn't, I was self-conscious enough that I wore dark sunglasses for the rest of the afternoon, so that no one would be able to see my bloodshot eyes. But I found out later that they had noticed. The congregation elders knew. They had simply chosen to look the other way. "Oh, yeah, someone told me that Lynae was a little teary-eyed that day," one told me, months later. "Is that what we're calling it now?" I rather despondently replied.
Is it any wonder that when someone did finally offer to be a friend, to really listen to me, to hold me while I cried about what happened to Jonathan, that I was helpless to refuse? He promised to love me and stay by my side always, and when he tossed me aside only two months later, like refuse, it only exacerbated all of the grief and loss I was already dealing with. Now I knew I was on dangerous ground... because now I found myself working out all of the technical details of efficient, painless suicide. The pain of existence was simply too overpowering. I know, now, exactly how I would go about it.
The only thing that really stopped me was how keenly aware I was of what a mess my estate would be. I have too many loose ends, no trusts set up yet, no will written, too many real estate properties. And no one whom I could even name to be executor of the estate, much less designate as an heir.
So I finally started seeing a therapist.
How far does one go? One can call out all of society on the carpet and say, "This is wrong, this shouldn't be happening," but how far does one go? Refusing to give up a seat on the front of the bus can lead to massive societal change, certainly. And if there is enough motivation to do so, if one has nothing to lose, then being the spark of that change is an amazing thing. But there is always the temptation to simply walk away, to go someplace where buses simply aren't an issue anymore, to go where one will be loved and accepted for who one is, without having to fight for it. And when one is horribly depressed and deeply grieving for a beloved partner, the will to fight is simply nonexistent. So it seems that almost all widows fade quietly away, and everyone who used to know them is able to go about their own busy lives, untroubled and unconcerned.
Those who are into victim-blaming view this as a simple problem, and advise a simple solution: "If you don't like your life, why don't you just do something about it? Why don't you just change it?" Please try to remember that when it happens to you, when you're jerked, unwillingly, from a beautiful, wonderful, happy life, into an unfamiliar, barren landscape, someplace you don't want to be and from which there is no escape, no landmarks, and no signposts. Change it? Into what? All you want is for it to be what it used to be. All you need is for someone to hold your hand while you wander around the desolate landscape, trying desperately, unsuccessfully, to get your bearings. Finding a way out isn't even an option at first, and not for a long, long time afterwards. And you want it to be the people whom you know who will hold your hand, to call to you, to help guide you back into something at least resembling the shadow of the life you once had. You want it to be people who are familiar, a slender thread of familiarity that you can cling to. But their faces are blurred, and you find that you don't even recognize them anymore; they've all turned away. They have their own lives to keep them busy. So when you see a faint light from a different direction - well, you could continue to sit, alone, in this wasteland... or you could check out what's over there...
So this is me, sitting defiantly at the front of my little bus, calling everyone out on their behavior. Except that now, I am finding that I do finally have the strength to change my life, to stand up, to walk away. To walk off of this bus into a new and better life. I really don't know for certain if the next bus will be any different or if it will be any better, all I know is that the air in this one has become far too stifling for me to tolerate any longer. And even though I can't stay where I was, if anyone still wishes to be a friend, the door is open.