It was weird when I became a widow and noticed most of the marketing of services or help for widows showed smiling, little, old ladies who were widowed in their eighties, like my grandmother.
I am not one of those women. I’m in my mid-forties with a few gray, glitter strands that have been accumulating since my late twenties. And I didn’t feel much like smiling for a long time.
After my late husband passed, people would ask me how I was handling all the things by myself. Pleeeease. I was handling them just fine.
Too often, I’d hear stories of older widows who’d been “taken care of” all their lives to the point that they didn’t know a single thing about their finances. I had friends my age who didn’t know anything about how their own husbands did the banking. Were they assuming I belonged in that category, because my late husband talked a big talk about how much he did and how incapable I was?
I’d been doing almost all the things by myself for most of the marriage. I did all the banking. We did do financial planning and taxes together. I ran my own business. I set up all the utilities, did all the school forms and arrangements, and took over all “his jobs” that he considered his but required me to organize. I worked full time at a tech company and volunteered at school.
Considering that I did all the things (and was often yelled at because I didn’t do them perfectly to his sometimes-incomprehensible requirements), I was pretty confident that I could continue doing all the things–by myself, especially after I got over my fear of making decisions. I even had an intensely-freeing moment when I realized I wasn’t going to be criticized about my choices anymore.
There were a few times when I asked my former father-in-law to help with technical issues or physical things in my house. I was grateful for his assistance, and I thought he felt useful and supportive.
One day, when my former in-laws wanted to give me unsolicited advice about a house repair I was working on, I told them I’d already dealt with all those particular issues (all a matter of common sense, really). My former mother-in-law said, “Well, dear, she doesn’t need us at all.” I didn’t need them to tell me what to do.
Another time, they berated me for not getting things fixed at my house fast enough (stuff that I’d asked them to help me with but they couldn’t). They lectured me as if I hadn’t already spent hours on the phone with customer service. Without asking me what I’d done so far, I was criticized, and it gave me flashbacks of living with their son. He’d inherited the worst of both of them.
A good friend told me once not to stay where the environment was toxic. I’d already spent the better part of two decades in that toxicity. No more. I told them that I wasn’t visiting them to be judged about how I managed my house or raised my kids… all by myself, thank you. Their hurtful criticism under the guise of worry and with unfounded assumptions was unwelcome.
My former mother-in-law later told me her husband was offended that he wasn’t “the man I turned to” for “all my needs.” What does that even mean?
I’ve never been helpless, even though I was made to feel that way. What needs did he expect me to turn to him for? I knew how to change the air filter. I knew how to pay my bills. I knew how to set up a computer operating system. I knew how to call a plumber…
Was it too much for them to be friends with me after I’d been part of their family for more than half my life? I didn’t need parents (I have my own) or a surrogate husband-boss. They shouldn’t expect me to check in with them about every action I took every day. That’s not healthy!
In proving that I wasn’t helpless, I found myself distanced from my late husband’s family. The former in-laws treated me so differently that my kids noticed it before I did. It got worse after I began dating my Chapter 2 guy.
I’m fine with all that. I smile a lot more now, too. Most important: I can take care of myself.