By Fred Colby
“Mother Theresa” is what my daughters and many of her friends called my wife during her lifetime. This was initially inspired when she dressed up like Mother Theresa during a Halloween celebration at Wangenheim Middle School, where she worked part-time. She carried a donation jar labeled “Help Mother Theresa Go to the Casino.” Of course, that got many laughs.
If they and I thought of her that way before she died, can you imagine how we thought of her after her passing? Yep, in our minds, she was raised to near sainthood (no parallel to the real Mother Theresa intended).
Many of us who lose a close loved one tend to idealize them. This is carried to the max when the loved one was your wife of many years. All her faults, bad habits, odd behaviors that drove you nuts, and even those moments of disagreement seem to disappear.
We raise them onto a pedestal that, in real life, they may have feared and refused. They knew that they were not perfect. They knew there were areas that they could improve. And they knew they had become too stubborn on some things, too aggressive on others, and to set in their ways on still others.
And yet, when they pass, we often whitewash all those things away.
There can be serious and negative consequences of thinking this way, such as:
- Feelings of deep guilt over not revering her enough while she was alive.
- Rehashing every moment when you may have diminished or ignored her.
- Regretting all those lost opportunities to honor and love her while alive.
- Setting an idealized standard based on her life is unrealistic for you or your children to live up to.
- Becoming angry whenever anyone even dares to recall a time when she was not perfect (serious or humorous).
- Losing touch with the real and very human person that she was… the one you loved so much.
- Setting yourself up for failure should you ever decide to date again. How could any woman you meet ever live up to this idealized version of your wife? None could, and many good ones would not want to try.
If untreated, this idealization can lead to a more prolonged, profound, and complicated grief that is very difficult to escape. What should have been no more than two years of deep grieving can quickly grow into five years or more. When you fall into this trap, the only and best way out is through individual and group counseling and working with an experienced grief therapist who recognizes and knows how to help with these symptoms.
So as you progress on your grief journey, know that the early idealization-of-your-wife phase is perfectly normal, and it is probably a healthy way to deal with her death. The reality is that for many of us, she was the better half of our marriage, and she deserves all of the kudos and love we and others send her way.
But, at some point, we all must begin to see her as she really was… a wonderful, loving, and beautiful wife, friend, and lover who we can see and appreciate in an honest and respectful way. This does not diminish her memory in any way and can strengthen our love for her as someone with whom we truly shared a wonderful and rewarding life.
© Copyright 2022 Fred Colby
All rights reserved
Widower to Widower 2nd Edition is available through:
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To buy autographed copies from the author, go to: https://www.fredcolby.com/buy-books