WSN: Widower, Wounded, Warrior, Waking and Walking
by Jeff Ziegler
Ever see a movie when the family is driving in the car, and they’re lost? The dad is at the wheel, the wife in the passenger seat, and the kids are in the back? Stress is rising; kids are hungry and bored; the wife asks the husband to stop and ask for directions.
But he won’t. He does not stop. Dad just keeps driving—maybe even in circles—because he is too proud, too “stuck” in his own ego, to stop and ask for help.
The thing is, I asked a lot of people what they would tell themselves if they could go back to those early days of widowhood. Guess what…? It wasn’t only the men who said they would “ask for help.”
Why can’t we ask for help?
Why are we—the collective we, men, and women, widowed and non-widowed—so reticent to ask for help when we need it? I’m not talking about merely asking directions, either.
As humans, we are truly capable of doing anything; except for flying, although I’ve seen videos of people jumping off mountains wearing those cool flight suits, so even that may be possible. We can pretty much do anything we set our minds to do. But we “can’t” ask for help.
Henry Ford infamously said, “whether you can or whether you can’t, you’re right.” But this isn’t always a helpful way to live (no pun intended).
Just get on with it!
We can do anything. We can feel our emotions, and we can think about what we want and how we want to do it. But we often overthink. We procrastinate about what to do and when to do it.
We wallow in thoughts based on fear and uncertainty—thinking and overthinking about the possibilities of something not going right.
When we were first widowed, some of us immediately knew we would eventually be okay. We knew that the grief would be all-consuming for a while, then the waves would slow and be less frequent.
Some of us never allowed for grief in the first place. We invented stories in our heads, “I have to be strong for the kids,” “I have to work to pay the bills,” “I don’t have the (insert words here) to deal with the grief, and I don’t want to think about it.”
Some of us dived right into numbing and distracting behaviors—binge-watching TV, drinking, dating, work, dealing with the kids, eating, running, exercise, drugs, etc. Others sat with their pain—some wallowed in it while others simply felt it.
But we are not built to ask for help. So, we don’t. Maybe we could just ask ourselves, “What kind of help do I need?” We might even have a reasonable answer.
As someone recently wrote, “I didn’t need a 10th casserole; I needed someone to sit and listen to me.” But why didn’t you ask? The answer: Fear.
It’s a much broader issue than it seems. It seems there are two key reasons why we are afraid to ask for help. First, we fear rejection, that your plea for assistance went unanswered or not heard by anyone. And second, we fear judgment; and that judgment can be unkind—being seen as needy by others or one’s self-judgment of feeling weak for asking for help, etc.
Note that nearly every widow and widower I asked said they would tell their “newly widowed self” to ask for help.
So here is a request I have of you and a promise I’m making to all my fellow widows and widowers: be honest. With yourself and with others. If you can, offer help to each other when someone asks. And if you have the strength, be vulnerable and honest enough to ask for help when you need it. Be courageous.
We all have a great deal to offer this world. Each of us has gifts to offer and being widows doesn’t mean we have to horde those gifts or hide them (and our true self) from the world.
Being honest and sharing is being caring and empathetic to the needs of others who—believe it or not—are exactly like us. We all know that we need help sometimes. Do not be afraid to simply ask, be vulnerable, courageous, and don’t suffer. Ask for help if you need it. Sometimes by asking for support, we end up helping others by opening them to the possibilities of using their gifts.
If you ever need help, ask. I’m here. So are many others. I may not be able to help with everything, but I will listen. I will hear you. Know that just asking is a step forward.
Lots of love and hugs to you all.
Jeff Ziegler’s column can be found every other Wednesday here on WSN-MO. You can write Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.