As I’ve said before, unless you’ve gone through the Titanic sinking-esque experience of your spouse dying, you’ll never truly know what it feels like to wake up every day after that contemplating death, hating everyone and everything, and constantly asking “what it is it all for?!”. I know, fun stuff right? But I’m not here to talk about that heartwarming topic, not today at least. I want to discuss something I have personally found to be an amusing side effect of my life circumstances, the online widow/widower support group. You’d be surprised by a) how many of these there are, and b) how quickly and easily they find you when you get your newly minted widow status. It’s like they have Russian bots or something! In the 14 months since Bryan hasta luego’ed (see how I butchered Spanish and made that a verb? I’m totes multilingual), I’ve joined about 5 online groups, un-joined 3, and hidden the other 2 from my news feed. From the nearly constant updates, the petty drama (oh yes), and the sleazy dudes trying to slide into your DMs (that’s what the kids say isn’t it?), I’ve had to reign it in. As a wise woman once tweeted to the Cheeto in Chief, sometimes it’s important to “delete your account”. So without further ado, let me be your Frommer’s travel guide for your visit to Club Widow.
- Just because we have this life-altering event in common, doesn’t mean we will have ANYTHING else in common. Obviously any group composed of people on the internet will be diverse in all ways (age, income, location, nationality, race etc.), but the unique thing about widow/widower groups is that that somehow matters less in these groups than others, or frankly none at all. Throw all of the elements that make you a unique individual out the window, because here at Club Widow, we’re all the same! Now let’s divulge deep emotional scars to complete strangers! When I do check in and read some posts it’s amazing how many people live their lives in total chaos, primarily from their #poorlifechoices. Now without having a deep conversation about privilege and my bubble, these are people I doubt I would ever cross paths with otherwise, and so it can be interesting (but mostly sad and/or hilarious) to get a peek into their lives. Sometimes it helps just to know that hey, maybe i’m not doing as bad as I thought; I mean shit, if Nancy* is fighting with her in-laws (and broadcasting to literally thousands of strangers) I should be thankful for the awesome relationship I have with mine, right? For example, here’s a post on one of my “favorite” online support groups from 14 hours ago:
“I need advice as I’ve been in full blown out agrument [sic] with my family they say I should be able to make it on 234 a month without a job yes my rent is cheap and it’s 60 a month but I’m still paying deposit this is another 50 a month then diapers are 25 wipes 15 phone 50 internet 85 then if my baby needs milk or something it’s more and in Feb that gets cut off”
Wow, okay. Let’s unpack this shall we? First of all, where the hell are you living that your rent is $60 a month?! That’s amazing. I want to go to there [update: it’s Missouri, so no I don’t]. Secondly “if” your baby needs milk? Now I don’t pretend to know anything about keeping a human alive but isn’t that like a given? Last I checked, I didn’t think milk was optional, but I haven’t checked in a while. Lastly what happens in “Feb”? I mean that’s also like 8 months away (math ew) so I feel like the “full blown out agrument [sic, yes I know how to spell and want you to know it too]” will be resolved by then, no? You might be thinking, hey wittiestwidow, you’re being kind of callous, you don’t know her story! And that’s my point, I DON’T know her story, or anything about her or her situation, yet she’s making it my business. What am I supposed to do with that? How can I possibly help her? I’m all about venting, but I gotta say, I’ve got nothing for you, Nancy**. Cannot relate. Doesn’t compute. There’s hundreds of posts weekly, just like this that clog my news feed if I let it. They’re not always this heavy, but there’s always drama, and more often than not, it’s self-inflicted. Another example, paraphrased: “my son won’t get a job and is eating me out of house and home. every time I give him money and food he never says thank you. how do I kick him out?” Um..I’m sorry for your loss and life is downright muthafuckin hard, but I don’t think this relationship is a mutually supportive one. The sad thing really I’ve learned, is that for many widows/widowers they simply don’t have a support system and so they use a virtual one. I wish there were more resources out there because the internet is not what I would consider an emotional resource. As I’ve said before, I don’t know where I’d be without my extensive and robust (love that word) support system. And for that I’m grateful. So when the posts pop up:
- Online widow/widower support groups all have stupid names. I’m not sure why this is a trend, but it’s a lame one IMO. There’s a tendency to make grief cute or more appealing, and I don’t know where that comes from. Grief is raw, dark, real, and intense. There’s no reason to gloss over that. Now I doubt I’d ever start an online widow/widower support group because as you can see, I’m lukewarm about them at best, but you can bet your sweet ass if I did, it would have a witty, yet appropriate name like “Life is Pointless” or “Fuck. Period.” I don’t know, I’m just spit balling here. So far, groups I have come across include:
- Hot Young Widows Club aka “HYWC” — Cool. This experience has made me feel neither hot nor young.
- Late Night Widows & Widowers aka LNWW — They love acronyms don’t they? And why do we only grieve late night? I’m not good at compartmentalizing my day like that.
- Widow Dark Thirty — Alright, kinda catchy. I see what they did there. I’m just not sure what the death of Osama bin Laden has to do with my husband’s.
- Widow Peeked Inside — Enough with the puns already. Widowhood is not some awesome drug trip Alice in Wonderland-like hole that you eventually get out of. Let’s not make it sound mysterious and intriguing shall we? Also widow peaks are for vampires.
- Everyone is obsessed with their “Chapter 2”. So if you thought there was societal pressure to get married and settled down; quadruple that pressure when you’re widowed. Apparently it’s a race to remarry or find a new partner. I didn’t get the memo.
When they’re not posting about family drama, widow/widowers can’t wait to post about the great love they’ve now found and how awesome they are. Also, again with the “cuteness” factor, widow/widower groups have dubbed a person’s subsequent romantic relationship his or her “chapter 2″…eye roll. I can’t relate to a lot of the elements of these groups, but this one in particular baffles me. Dr. F has told me that just like the pace of grief is unique to everyone, the pace at which people get back on that dating horse is also unique to every individual. And that’s the only thing I can understand. Because the thought of dating was at one point as foreign to me as the concept of a trade deficit is to our president, then shifted to physically repulsive, and now that I’m just #deadinside it just seems like a waste of time. Bryan was so 100% my “bae,” that I can’t imagine finding another human being on this earth that fits me as well as he did. And we all know what to do when the glove don’t fit…stop wearing gloves. That’s how it goes right? I’ve been told it will just be “different” with another person but I can’t really wrap my head around what that life would look or feel like. Confession: I did go on one Tinder date recently (that’s a whole other post) and I pretty much decided it wasn’t for me. I think I’m ruined for life honestly. Like this guy was perfectly pleasant and nice, and if I was 27, I probably would have been more excited about him as a prospect. But post marriage, as short as it was, I know what a great relationship (for me) could be and how you truly can be so perfectly matched with someone, that “fine” and “nice” aint cutting it. Basically I need a clone of Bryan. Ethical questions be damned, how far along are we on that whole human cloning thing? Not ready for prime time? Oh damn. Anyways, so for now I read the myriad of happy Chapter 2 posts, and assume they’re just desperate AF. Which leads me to my next topic…
- They are not immune to catfishing! Wow, who would have thunk it, widows: they’re just like “us”! I mean the proverbial us. I’ve seen Max and Nev do enough internet sleuthing to know I’d never get catfished. But that’s neither here nor there. A few months back I came upon one of those happy Chapter 2 posts and quickly realized this woman was being had, and not even well. She’s just that dumb. Picture an overweight 60+ illiterate (trust me the post was barely legible) meth mouth (hey it’s vivid) gushing over the new love of her life in “Scotland” whom she was going to visit in a few weeks and basically leave the good ole US of A behind. She claimed to have met him through a friend so it was totally legit. The “friend” was also internet only (read: same catfish). Did I mention he looked like THIS?! It wasn’t an actual picture of Scott Foley, but the photo of a guy this catfish had stolen looked almost exactly like him. This guy is definitely real, right?? Hot 30 yo Scottish men fall in love with uneducated obese women old enough to be their mothers all the time! (Sidenote: I’m just now realizing that’s how love works and I’ve been doing it all wrong!) Anyway, she had just posted and there were only about 7 comments so far, all congratulatory in nature. Well I thought somebody had to say it, so I did. I can’t remember exactly what I said, and I reaaallly wish I had screenshots but it was something along the lines of “not to rain on the parade but just make sure you’re being careful”. Aren’t you proud of the restraint I showed? I know I’m great, I was just testing the waters. Well once I said it the commenting floodgates opened and it was glorious (see MJ gif above). As she adamantly defended her new love, it came out that they’d only been talking for a few weeks, never on the phone or video chat, she already gave him money, and he said they wanted to get married(…). Within minutes some savvy members had found the picture he sent of “himself” on the verified account of a US-based doctor. Game Over. It was amazing and I really hope she weighed all the massive evidence we provided and heeded our advice. But probably not. She whined about us being “jealous” and then deleted the post and left the group. But I’m sure she’s happy in Scotland with her years-younger American/Scottish/Dr-Scott Foley amalgamation.
- It’s a tribe mentality and be ready to GTFO if you don’t conform. As with many of the comment threads on social media, it can be a real garbage dump out there. The piling on is incessant, and while these groups tout “safe space” and honesty, if you don’t grieve exactly the way they do, the pettiness can come out. Hey, at least it makes me feel alive again! After being in the Hot Young Widows Club for a few weeks, I found the posts rather surface level, self-serving, and inauthentic. It seemed it was more a place to brag about your life and have strangers blindly cheer you on and validate your choices. I thought that’s what regular social media was for. So I posted asking for more substantive commentary on how others get through their grief and how we can really get something out of this group, and noted it was likely not a popular opinion. Truth, it wasn’t. All these really “nice” widows made passive aggressive comments saying I was judgmental and to not question how others grieve, that we’re here to support each other! blah blah blah. Needless to say I bounced. I did get a few members private message me saying they agreed, but I wished they would have said it publicly. Sometimes it’s lonely being right!
- I find the term “support” a loose one. While these (often times) closed groups brand themselves as supportive networks for the bereft, they don’t always work out that way. When they’re not spilling drama or bragging about their chapter 2, they’re posting a lot of selfies fishing for compliments or posting stupid memes you’ve already seen 398305804958 other places. And there is also the particularly shudder worthy widower who likes to tell “all the women in this group” that they are beautiful and “deserve good man”…like him. Hmmm no thanks. If I realized I wanted a 58 yo diabetic I’d know it was time to bow out.
Now you’re probably thinking, “why even bother with traveling to these Clubs Widow?” Well for all the bullshit I’ve mentioned above, every once in a while there are truly relatable conversations or positive advice that emerge. Mixing in some outside perspective from Betty Jo in Duluth helps me to not forget this situation is universal in a lot of ways, and we’re all just trying to make it through. When I joined them early on, I especially looked to widows who were further along to get a sense of what to expect, and I have to say that was helpful.
I hope this pocket travel guide proves helpful, and don’t give your money to a stranger you’ve met on the internet, like ever. Widowed or not, that’s just sage advice.
*Not her real name. These groups are anonymous and I protect their sanctity until the day I die!
**Still not her name. Sanctity remember?!