It’s only natural to ask someone how their beloved died but sometimes it’s an answer you don’t want to give and for others it’s a badge of honor.
*Trigger warning: these are just my opinions and viewpoints and may be controversial.
Within the widow/widower community I’ve seen many subgroups created according to the way your spouse died. These groups can relate to one another, offer support, and give advice and understanding that only those people can offer. It’s in these groups that you share how you lost your beloved and no one is judging you. It’s wonderful to be able to open up to people who understand.
But if you are sharing your story to the general public, family, or friends it can be a different reaction then anticipated depending on how your spouse died.
I’ve noticed that deaths are judged by others on somewhat of an invisible death scale and are ranked from “most noble and honorable” to “embarrassing” or “I’d rather not say”—-okay, I made this scale up but seriously, this is true. How do I know? I’ve lived with this scale and I’ll be sharing below what it’s like to have a loved one die low on the scale.
For instance, there is the group of individuals who died from an illness or other circumstance and their battle was long and hard. You know who these people are. Typically websites have been created to honor them, marathons run for them, t-shirts designed, a special ribbon is worn in their honor, or a memorial made. When their surviving spouse talks about them everyone’s eyes glisten in support and the spouse gets a pat on the back for standing by their side through the courageous battle. The sympathy level is the highest with this group so no matter how great the deceased person was (or not) they are held to a high regard.
Also high on the scale are the group of people who fall into the category of tragedy: car accident, military accident, hiking accident, murdered, etc. Everyone wants to donate to this group, help out, and everyone feels terrible for the surviving family members. When people speak of the deceased person in this group you might hear “oh it’s just terrible what happened to him!” or “her life was cut too short, it’s so tragic”. Again, sympathy is high regardless if this person was good or bad.
In the middle of the scale are many different situations as to why someone died and the reaction from those around will depend on the circumstances. Sometimes there is great sympathy and others may say things like “well, he/she was old anyways”. This is the middle.
Then, there are the less than honorable deaths…these are the ones where people shy away from discussing details and just hate talking about how the death occurred. These may include suicide, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, DUI, eating disorder, or basically any death caused by the deceased persons bad choices.
This is the bottom of the honorable scale and the deceased person is almost always looked at in a negative light… no matter if they were a good person. Their death choice just set it in stone that they were a less then stellar individual.
This is the subgroup that has a large population of grieving survivors but let’s just say no one is wearing a T-shirt or a special ribbon. Sometimes there isn’t a funeral or if there is it may be a little uncomfortable because no one really knows what to say. Some comments about this type of death might be “this wasn’t entirely unexpected” or “this person has had issues for years so it’s not a shock”.
Sympathy level for this group can be low and most survivors are left with a confusing grieving process.
This is the group my spouse fit in and it sucks. My husband died of an overdose.
When people have asked how Cameron died it becomes, “Ohhhhhh he died of an overdose”…. which leads to conversations and comments behind my back. Stories of his mistakes in life are discussed and all the bad things he did are talked about. Some people actually told me his death was a good thing and a blessing….right to my face. Well, I’m glad most of those conversations were said behind my back because my three children miss their Dad and I sure do miss my confidant of 20 years. Yes, he had issues but we sure did love him even with so many imperfections.
So back to the scale, my reasons for highlighting this phenomena, and what it’s like to deal with the bottom tier ….
There are parts of this invisible death scale that make my blood boil….
When one life outshines the other to the point where the survivors question their need to grieve. Such as when the person who fought the long hard battle with disease trumps the individual who fought their demons in addiction for years. Why grieve the addict? It’s where someone who was shot in the line of duty is held higher than the depressed soul who took their own life. Why grieve for that lost soul? It’s almost like you need permission to grieve because their death was not as honorable as the other.
I hate when people do this, it’s really unfair for those left behind. Now I’m not saying the homeless drug addict should have a 21 gun salute and a motorcade at their funeral but let’s try to have compassion for all. Let’s try not to judge the surviving family members and how they are grieving the loss of their beloved.
Countless times I have had friends or family members question why I grieved the way I did for “Cameron: the man who made countless mistakes, lied to continue his addictions, hurt our family with his choices, and is better off dead”.
They questioned me because he did not die nobly on our invisible death scale. He did not battle a disease that is listed as acceptable to everyone. In this bottom tier of the scale the surviving spouse does not get a pat on the back for hanging in there like the spouse of an organ failure victim does. No way. They get a “well, now you don’t have to bother with their problems anymore”.
Well, I can assure everyone that my pleading to the Lord for my husband’s healing and recovery had to be similar to someone battling organ failure! I wanted him healed desperately for our family and for our marriage. I can also say that standing by his side over the years and trying and trying and trying and trying to get him better was one of the hardest acts of service I’ve ever performed in this life, even though I was judged for it.
However, if there is one constant on the death scale, it’s heartache. My heartache is no different then the spouse who lost their husband to kidney failure. Our loss is the same and it hurts. Someone we loved is gone from our life and we are left here on earth to grieve this loss and do our best to move forward.
So please do me a favor and try to show compassion for all of those that have passed. Let’s not judge people who choose to grieve for those individuals that you might feel don’t deserve it.
Each life that is lost is precious and valuable to someone regardless of the circumstances.
Are you guilty of using this scale?