Sunday, February 6, 2011

The "Longsuffering Goodfella" Syndrome

I got a letter the other day from a GOW who has been with her W for 2 years. He had been widowed five years prior to their meeting. Having successfully completed bereavement recovery classes years before, she felt her W had moved on and let go long before they met. However, she was annoyed at how much he seemed to enjoy playing the grieving widower around certain people, especially his former in-laws, and was curious as to why.

I think most Ws suffer from "Gotta make other people understand that grief never stops" syndrome...and I believe it is closely tied to the canonization stage of grief. In other words, it is important for Ws that other people realize he has not forgotten - nor stopped loving - his LW. Ws like being thought of as noble in their grief, and when they take on a new love, some of their halo's polish wears off. Thus, they need to remind people that, although they have moved on, they are still longsuffering goodfellas who haven't erased LW from their minds.

I think the "longsuffering goodfella", AKA: the W, is quite attractive to society in general BECAUSE he is suffering: It means he must really know how to love if he grieves its loss so badly. It also means he must really be a good man who honours his wedding vows of "til death do us part" and has a proven track record of commitment. Thus, society tends to hold the bereaved up on a pedestal. Society loooves to compartmentalize, label, and yes, hero worship. ;)

Thus, some Ws tend to believe what they know society thinks of them - and they take a certain pride in their halos, as if grief were a badge of honour earned in the battlefield of loss. They feel almost duty-bound to uphold the reverence of such a noble title. Doing so shows the world that he is a good guy…a champion among men…one who, though once crushed and wounded, has risen above the ashes and then danced in them.

But not so fast! Dancing in the ashes of victory over grief can backfire when society feels that, in doing so, the W has made sure his past has been destroyed, forgotten, and ignored. If a W who enjoys his title is to keep up the fa├žade of nobility (and his imagined responsibility to those who also experienced the same loss, such as his former in-laws), he must not allow the world to witness his inner victory dance, lest they stop holding him in high esteem.

Such is the case with certain Ws who feel they must keep the sad, mourning routine going for the sake of their LWs’ family or anyone else, even though they are far beyond bereavement. These men fear that any hint of their moving on and letting go may disappoint the others, and they are afraid others may be angry about their choice to do so. And yes, some of these Ws have grown accustomed to their shiny halos of sad nobility, even those who have long ago recovered.

There are even those Ws who enjoy the attention of being longsuffering, negative though it may be. Never before having been the center of attention, they quickly learn that being in the spotlight as the ever-grieving widower garners a great deal of sympathy and kindness, the likes of which he may never have experienced before….and it feels soooo good to bask in this kind of love. It’s hard to let go of something that feels so soothing and comforting, regardless of how enabling it is.

This is not to say that ALL Ws experience this kind of subconsciously manipulative behavior. Those who do are usually Ws who not only have had a very close interpersonal relationship with the former in-laws and/or an on-going friendship with former friends of LW - but have kept this bond going ONLY because of their shared mutual loss. It’s not entirely the W’s fault, either: the in-laws and friends derive a great deal of satisfaction from this kind of bond. What they fail to do is to see their son-in–law/friend (the W) as a man autonomous from the LW. In other words, they have a hard time imagining him as anything other than LW’s husband, not as a unique individual who might have other plans and dreams apart from being “one of them” (longsuffering survivors).

Thus, when a GOW enters the picture, she may be seen as the interloper - the person poised to “replace” the LW and knock her off the imaginary pedestal they have worked so hard to erect in her memory. The W in this scenario now faces a new challenge: how to keep moving ahead with his plans, moving on with his life, and letting go of the past so he can be released from its chains enough to love again….yet STILL prove to LW’s family and friends that he will never stop loving nor forget LW, enough so their worries and fears are groundless. He thinks that the way to do this is to keep LW’s memory live in their presence, even when his GOW/WOW is also in attendance. Little does he realize that doing so minimizes what his GOW/WOW means to him and hurts her feelings.

This is when the “tough love” that comes with being a GOW/WOW must be initiated via good, honest, and forthright communication of her needs, thus urging W to re-evaluate his priorities as to where and with whom his loyalties lie. This can be tricky for him, as he does not want to hurt neither his family/friends nor his GOW/WOW with such a decision. He fears that choosing one over the other is what he must do, and if so, someone is bound to be hurt. Guilt then ravages his soul, knowing he MUST release his charade of longsuffering, but not wanting to for fear he will no longer be the goodfella he has come to know and love about himself.

Although not exactly a stage of gruief, this IS a stage of bereavement recovery...and as with all things grief-related, a W i n this position will eventually work it out, and this too shall pass.

19 comments:

  1. This one I can certainly relate to...rather unfair for a man to play the "grieving widow" card, which I certainly fell for. However, I never realized how impossible it really is for him to go forward, even after over 8 or 9 years. He doesn't seem to be much of a "goodfella" to some of us who live and breathe and want to plan for a life before we are six feet under. It is a shame, really, for everyone to have to suffer if he wants us to. While someday it may "work itself out", the notion of when and if that may ever happen and how long that can take is painful.
    I tried to prepare myself, but I guess one can never prepare themselves enough for someone who's heart will never truly be yours.
    I would rather deal with an ex-wife...

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  2. Hi Anonymous,

    I hope you have read through some other blog posts here, especially the one about using what I call "The Three C's": communication, cooperation, and compromise. This approach vital to ANY relationship, but especially one with a W. You must have the courage to discuss with your W how his longsuffering nobility makes you feel. Don't live in pain another moment!

    Please feel free to join my free message board for WOWs and GOWs at juliedonnerandersen.com.

    Be blessed!
    Julie

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  3. I laughed when I read this because it was something I was dicussing with W's eldest daughter. We (him and me) have been out at social events, enjoying ourselves laughing and smiling and someone from his past who knew him and LW will come up, touch his arm, look so sad and say in a serious slow way "How are your Bryan" and he responds in the same way, "I'm OK" whereas I am screaming in my head, you just observed him, he is moving on in his life, he has found a way to be happy again, why ask in that way, why not say " Hi Bryan your looking great, how are you" which would allow him to respond in a much more positive way. Argghh!! Rant over

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  4. Hi Anonymous! I sooo agree with you! Sadly, some of our society expect survivors of loss to carry on grieving for the remainder of their lives in the same way they did at the funeral! These ignorant yet well-meaning folks will then act according to this absurd expectation! This only perpetuates the myth.

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  5. I so agree with you Julie. I wish those "friends" would let Ws move on. Instead they bring them down. I get so frustrated sometimes when people say, "Aww how are you doing?" in that sad tone. Why can't people say, "Wow, you look great! Something good must be happening in your life!" I'm tired of Debbie Downers.

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  6. Amen, Anonymous.....especially if they know he's happily with his GOW now! Get a clue, people!

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  7. We went to a movie the other day. We were laughing and having a good time and a woman noticed my boyfriend, the widower. She came over to him, put her hand on his shoulder and said in a sad voice "How are you doing, I read in the paper about your wife, I'm so sorry" His wife passed away over a year ago. We are sitting there holding hands and he tells her "thank you, I'm just getting through life one day at a time" Then they go into this long lengthy conversation about his LW as if I wasn't even there. How the heck is that supposed to make me feel?

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  8. If this woman felt that a year was not enough time to grieve (remember how I said society tends to act of its ignorance?), then what she did was meant to belittle you. Had W introduced you, this would have criushed her intentions quickly. My advice is to discuss this with your W, whose responsibility it is to turn sympathy into joy when well-wishers start to make his GOW feel uncomfortable, introducing her as "My reason for living." ;)

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  9. And as always, ladies, please feel free to join me and over 750 members at The Official WOW/GOW Message Board, located at my website at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com!

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  10. When I get asked about "How am I?" by people who know my wife died (9 months ago), I respond "Great, I've met this girl and we are really enjoying life together!"

    It is true, but it puts them on the spot. The ones who are really interested in me rather than the fact my wife died, will talk about that and we have a good conversation about me. The ones who expect me to be grieving for some unspecified, but always not long enough, time are the ones who don't have a clue what to say, and make their excuses and need to walk away.

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  11. It's complicated. I don't want to cast off my beloved wife. But I don't want to denigrate my beautiful and amazing partner. Time and intelligence will solve this conundrum

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  12. Julie, your comment about talking to your W (my Husband) confuses me. I have talked to him about introducing me. He always agrees with me but 4 years on still continues with the AWWW, doing OK approach. It makes me feel so sad as it's as if he's saying to them that he is still sad and that his new wife can't make him happy. If only he would introduce me, it would save the hurt and discomfort for everyone. He just seem incapable of introducing me. I have been open and understanding but really would welcome some help. thank you.

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  13. Dear Anonymous of Aug, 23rd,

    Society can be bery judgemental about what they perceive as the "right" amount of time to grieve before it thinks a survivor should move on and start dating. As you have experienced, some people will be OK with it, and some won't. Thank God for those who set their own perceptions and/or expectations aside and simply congratulate you!

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  14. Dear Anonymous of Sept. 24,

    Indeed, some Ws enjoy the longsuffering goodfella syndrome far beyond what is appropriate. If you have had numerous talks with your W but to no avail, then I think you need to take matters into your OWN hands: Next time your W leave syou hanging when meeting new people, simply smile, extend your hand, and say, in a happy tone, "Hwllo, we haven't met. My name is Anonymous, and I am W's girlfrind." Might be awkward for your W, but he's had ample opportunity.

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  15. I was a GOW for 1 yr. and have now been a WOW for 2 yrs. When I was a GOW, there were no problems with W's 2 grown daughters (both with families of their own. When W and I married, W had been widowed 3 years and I had been widowed for 2 years. When W and I married, his youngest daughter felt displaced as his late wife's replacement (platonic, of course). She constantly makes it a point to remind him of his late wife at every opportunity--the latest is a big memorial celebration to change a single headstone to a double one and have extended family and friends attend. I don't think it's proper for me to attend too, and frankly it would make me miserable. In addition, some of late wife's family who live out of state, will be staying at W's and my home as house guests. Would appreciate any insights or suggestions. Thanks

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  16. My WOW and I have been married for two years following a year's courtship. His late wife died 5 yrs. ago and my late husband 3 yrs. ago. W and I are very much in love and our relationship on the whole has been accepted by each other's grown children. No problems there except with W's younger daughter. She consistently prods him to remember his late wife (as if he could forget) with her endless words and deeds, like constantly bringing up 'good time memories' with mom and by making 'mom's favorite recipes for him. After reading "Past Perfect; Future Tense", I realized that this daughter considered herself his "replacement wife" and she is very reluctant to give that up and to let him move on. She has her own husband of 20 years (no children) but has told me that she loves her dad "more than anyone else in the world." She did not want him to remarry and told him so. Her latest plan is to have another memorial celebration for her mother this summer at graveside (the first one occurred immediately after late wife's death 5 years ago), and to replace the current headstone with one that includes both his and his late wife's names (his date of death being left blank of course). She has invited all of his extended family to attend, including late wife's brother and sister-in-law from out of state who are to stay with my husband and me at our new home. All of these plans were made without my knowledge until my husband informed me that this is what his daughter intends to do and now both his daughters are involved. I do not want to attend, but find myself in a very awkward position being "house guest hostess" to late wife's immediate family. Any insight or suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I am predictably miserable over this.

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    1. Are you kidding? The daughters aren't doing this, HE is. He owns the rights to her stone, plot, etc. They can't do anything to without his permission. He and they are treating you like a mistress. How sad that your (polygamous) husband has no spine! Good luck!
      --- widowed 8 yrs. Remarried to a widow 3 years.

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  17. I've been dating my boyfriend for almost 2 years and he has yet to tell his MIL about me (she lives on the other side of the country). Well now she's coming to visit in less than a week and he still hasn't told her. I'm afraid she is going to be woefully unprepared for the state of his house (little evidence of her anymore, most of her pictures/stuff is gone) and the status of his new relationship (which really isn't that "new" anymore!). He doesn't seem to think this is a "big deal", but I feel it's highly disrespectful of me and the MIL. I'm afraid it's going to be a terrible shock and she's going to instantly resent me. Even though he has made many positive steps, this hurts me deeply and makes me feel that I'm not important enough for him to mention. And... I definitely think some guilt comes into play here. I dread this weekend; it will be very awkward for everyone. :( I want to reassure her that her daughter will always have a place in his heart and I'm not trying to replace her, but I also don't think that should be my job, he should be his!

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  18. I have been dating a widower for about 7 months – he unexpectedly lost his wife in February 2014 to cancer. He is 33 this year and I'll be 27. We became close friends 6 months after she died, and we became a couple in June 2015. He’s done nothing but treat me like a queen and my whole family adores him. Only 3 days ago, he called me in floods of tears to say “I’m not sure if I’m ready for any of this”. I won’t lie, it completely caught me off guard. His mum (who I am great friends with) messaged me on Facebook (I don’t have her number) and said that he’s not sure if he can love me back properly and he feels incredibly guilty. He texted me the following day to say that he’s getting help but he needs some time by himself (he even mentioned that he has been drinking more than he should). I’m not sure who to believe right now but I’m praying that this is just a blip and he’ll come back to me! What do I do?

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