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After Death

What Happens to a Widowed Introvert

Self-Discovery

In recent years, the words introvert and extrovert have gained interest. I assumed, like many people do, that introversion is a negative personality trait. I was wrong.

In the past few months, “introvert” began popping up on my Facebook newsfeed. Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert? asked a quiz. Articles caught my attention too, and they were full of praise for introverts.

I began following an author on LinkedIn: Susan Cain. She wrote the book about introversion—literally. It’s called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and it helped me to finally understand and accept who I am.  

I may feel comfortable and talkative at a party one day, but I might dread going to a fundraiser the next day. Why? Because I can become overstimulated.

I need a balance of solitude and social interaction. And being an introvert, my scale tips toward quiet. I need more alone time to be at peace and rejuvenate.  

 

Love

My late husband Jason was an extrovert—my opposite. He was a charismatic social butterfly. I secretly wondered if he thought I was too shy, but he didn’t seem to notice.

Jason’s gregarious personality carried both of us. When I was with him in group settings, I felt no anxiety. I did not feel the need to go home and curl up in bed with a book.

Here’s where I went wrong though—I was so content to spend time with my husband and his  friends and family that I neglected mine or lost contact altogether.  

I lost myself. I let my individuality slip away.

Many wives are financially dependent on their husbands, but what happens to a widowed introvert?

What happens to the widow who is socially dependent on her husband?

 

Loss

My husband died in 2006. Flashback to the night of the viewing:

I walked outside on the porch of the funeral home to escape the crowd. Jason’s cousin said something funny, and I laughed. He was trying to cheer everyone up.

I desperately wanted to pretend that we were at church. That Jason would walk outside and join us in a few moments. I was in denial.

I felt that other people should see me being strong. I could save them from worrying about me. I wasn’t sure what I should do or think. I was in shock.

Emotional turmoil seeped into my muscles, and I was physically exhausted by the time I went to sleep. I wasn’t eating. All day I was around hundreds of people, but I was lonely.

Over the next few weeks, I spent time with Jason’s family in Bluffton and Beaufort. They were all very kind, but I felt that I wasn’t good enough company.

Not only was I a miserable crying mess, but I couldn’t brighten up the room like Jason.

What a disappointment I must be. We used to have so much fun together. But without Jason, I was just a reminder that he was missing.

During another family gathering, my stress began to build. I felt inferior without him. I became more quiet and overwhelmed.

Other people in the room didn’t know me on a personal level. They only saw me through Jason when he was here. Without him, I felt that I had nothing to contribute to their boisterous conversations.

I imagined my husband walking into the room, smiling and laughing like he always did. He loved things like this.

“You’re missing this,” I whispered. “I can’t be here without you.”

I ducked away into the bedroom to read a book. I felt ashamed for being so aloof, but I could not be in the midst of activity any longer. They probably think I’m antisocial. Maybe they’re right. Sigh.

I was not only grieving, I was also overstimulated. I needed to be alone so I could recharge emotionally.

 

Balance

After the initial shock subsided, I set off to rebuild my life in the nearby town where I grew up.

I tried attending a young adults class at church, but I did not fit in with the bold military couples.

I craved human interaction, but I had to find the right environment: a single moms class. They sent me home with a book, and I studied it in blissful solidarity at home. Balance.

Next, I forced myself out of my comfort zone and became a tour guide. I’ve conquered the nation’s biggest fear: public speaking. And I’m good at it—at least with small groups.

My second job was a nice contrast consisting of solo horseback riding on a plantation. Balance.

I reconnected with some of my old friends and began taking classes to earn my bachelor’s degree.

I had to heal. I had to build my social circle on my own.

 

Misunderstanding

Meanwhile, I was avoiding social gatherings that I once frequented with my husband. I declined invitations for lunch at my husband’s church and politely excused myself from his family’s Thanksgiving meal.

I wanted to avoid any situation where I might feel awkward.

Being an introvert, I’m a private person. I talked about my husband and my grief with only my closest friends and family. I sealed away my thoughts and experiences in personal journals.

But one individual was unable to accept my husband’s suicide. The person blamed me for his death and spread slander throughout the community where he lived and among members of his family.

I was unaware of the slander for many years. Sadly, my standoffishness was misinterpreted and played into the angry person’s allegations.

By avoiding so many people, I did not allow them to get to know me.

Being misunderstood was tough, but it taught me to focus on my strengths.

 

Strength

By far, the most important thing I learned as an introvert is to cultivate your creative strengths. I have always been a writer, and it was natural to begin blogging last year.

I wrote about the day my husband died. I wrote about the days leading up to it, and I wrote about the trauma that followed.

Writing about these events was my responsibility. After all, I was the closest person to him, his wife.

I created a way for my acquaintances to get to know me through my writing, and many sent messages or encouraged me in person.

Thankfully, I was able to undo much of the slander by sharing my perspective of the situation.

I learned that for me, the most effective way to be heard is through writing.

 

Identity

Many marriages consist of opposites: extroverts and introverts often complement each other. But if you are the introvert, do not allow yourself to become an extrovert’s shadow.

Insist on going out with your best friend for lunch on a regular basis.

Insist on following and discovering your own passions. Keep those facets of your identity strong.

I still guard my individuality, but it’s more subconscious now. I stop by my friend’s house for a glass of wine, or I spend a Saturday afternoon blogging.

I researched what it means to be an introvert. I learned more about myself, like why I shy away from certain situations or why I’m content to spend an entire day alone.

I’m learning how to balance, and I’ve learned how to communicate those needs with the people I love.

Is There a Right Way or a Wrong Way to Express Emotion After the Death of a Loved One

As a child, Disney movies were my only exposure to the emotions of loss after death, and my tears for Bambi were only temporary.

I learned this later: The death of a loved one almost chokes the life out of the people who are left behind.

Solemn & Subdued Suffering

Our neighbor died when I was twelve years old. Her son came over and told us what happened with quiet frankness.

After he left, my mom looked so worried. “It hasn’t hit him yet,” she said. She was worried about how he would cope when he was ready to face the loss.

Looking back though, I believe he was facing it already. We all have different ways of dealing with loss.

I remember a blankness to his eyes, as if he was talking into a void, but he needed someone to listen. There was a feeling of acute pain in his candid words.

Now I recognize this was the expression of his suffering at that moment. It wasn’t denial. He was feeling loss constantly.

Emotion vs. Physical Strength

My brother’s best friend died in a car crash.

At the viewing, a steady stream of comforters hugged his mother. She didn’t know me, but I explained how I knew her son from school.

She made no comment. The emotion in her eyes terrified me. They were wide and stricken: she seemed to be looking past me and struggling to focus.

I was pulled into a tight hug with her tears falling on my right shoulder. Her petite body was racked with sobs.

Self-consciously, I realized that I was not crying. I wanted to help her and take away her pain, but I could feel that her grief was all-consuming.

Torn between comforting her or retreating for my own security, I returned the hug.

She was clinging to me for physical support and maybe because she longed to hold her son. I was a prop of warmth and life to a mind in turmoil. When her strength failed, a chair was brought.

Back at home, life was unchanged for me in most ways, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the mother and her grief.

Composure & Bravery in Pain

When Jason’s grandmother died, his grandfather discouraged family members from staying at his house because it would prevent him from becoming accustomed to being alone.

When he spoke of his wife, his voice would thicken until he was forced to jump up from his chair and compose himself to hide the tears.

My experience with death at that time was only through observing the pain of others. I could not imagine the loneliness he was feeling after being married for so many years.

I did not say, “I understand what you’re going through,” because I didn’t understand—not at that time.

Mechanical Coping

Within a year, a former teacher lost control of her car on a winding road and died in the hospital.

Her husband and children were quiet and still at the funeral, but I could see that they were in the midst of misery.

The light was gone from the eyes of her children. Death hit them the moment they were told that their mother died.

If I knew nothing else about dealing with death by this time, I knew that people survive by living mechanically. They were just going through the motions.

Soon after that, I was hugging Jason, thanking the Lord that he was with me.

I remember thinking that our time together is not guaranteed, that I would never take him for granted.

That was only a week before Jason died. I never imagined that I would lose him so soon.

When trying to talk about it with other people, I was like the neighbor boy. I was numb.

Sometimes, I was like the mother of the young man who died, so consumed with pain that I couldn’t stand up. I wanted to sleep so I could have a break from reality.

I wasn’t brave like Jason’s grandfather. We all lost different people, different relationships. We all felt pain and lived in that pain in different ways.

The Wrong Way: Judgment After Death

It is wrong to judge the ways in which other people personally cope with the death of a loved one. For example, someone recently criticized me because I rarely visit Jason’s grave.

I’m happy for those who are comforted at the graveside, but that’s not me. I like to remember Jason while listening to songs that he loved or by writing about him.

Some people deal with death by blaming others. It’s not an emotion that I felt toward other people, but I’ve embraced it as a legitimate stage of grief.

However, there is a huge disclaimer to validating blame. Blame of other people should be discussed privately with a licensed therapist until you are able to heal properly.

If you spread unfounded accusations among friends and family, blame is no longer your personal expression of pain and loss. Instead, your grief and anger is projected on innocent people.

There is no moral justification for imposing one’s defamatory theories upon a community for years after the death of a loved one. Public blame is slander, whether it’s a phone call to a relative or a discussion with friends at the ballpark.

My advice for the person being blamed? Fight back by clearing your name with the truth and the facts surrounding the situation. Take strides to eradicate the damage that may have been done to your reputation.

I also want to give a loving warning to anyone who is angry—I know it’s hard for you to hear right now. Unchecked anger is destructive to relationships, especially if apologies are never offered.

My conclusion? No one has the right to judge you for the way you express emotion after the death of a loved one…unless you use grief as an excuse to attack other people.