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Short and Sweet Summary: For years after my husband’s death, I only remembered his charming, likable characteristics in an effort to honor his soul. To make his time on Earth mean something. My dead husband’s position on the perfection pedestal rose higher and higher while I sunk deeper into negative self-talk because my kids were stuck with the imperfect parent. Only my husband wasn’t a saint.
After my husband died he became a completely flawless saint.
I did what many widows do after their husbands die. I put my husband on a perfection pedestal so high that only the good memories took up space in my precariously fragile brain.
As a result, any bad habits, idiosyncrasies and character flaws he had (that used to drive me insane) were erased and replaced with a perfectly perfect memory of a perfectly perfect husband. Ugh. This saccharine spin is making my teeth itch.
What kind of person would I be if I focused on his imperfections? What kind of widow would I be if I examined his character flaws?
Hint: A real person? With real feelings? And real memories?
Why We Put Them On a Perfection Pedestal in the First Place
My husband was a lovely man. He was sweet, kind, generous, funny, and loyal. The stories people recounted at his funeral all contained very common characteristics. Mark Murray’s calm, positive demeanor inspired many. He was adored. And, his dedication to his family was unmatched.
All true things. No doubt about it. One can only aspire to be the kind of person for whom so many come forward to tell their endearing stories. His funeral was standing room only for Pete’s sake.
Because death delivered enough negativity to our doorstep, I wasn’t about to wallow in any additional negative thoughts. I only talked about Mark’s good traits. It seemed sacrilegious to even hint that he might not be the calm, positive person everyone thought he was ALL the time.
Getting through the first few months, if not years, after the death is only possible sometimes by erecting a protective shield around ourselves and our family. I wanted the kids to have ONLY positive memories of their dad. To ONLY remember the good times. I read and reread the letters people wrote and shared them with the kids to keep his memory alive.
Mark Murray died.
And then he became a saint.
Anointed in Sainthood
For years after Mark’s death, I continued to anoint him in sainthood. It was so much easier for me to rattle off a list of his charming characteristics in order to honor his soul. To make his time on Earth mean something. With each conversation, Mark’s position on the perfection pedestal rose higher and higher.
As I focused on all of his stellar qualities, I sunk deeper into negative self-talk because I wondered why I didn’t have any of those same qualities. He was calm. I was a basket case. He knew what to do in any situation. I second-guessed myself to sickness. I started feeling guilty, really guilty, that I wasn’t as perfect as my dead husband.
Like, how could my kids have possibly ended up with the imperfect parent? The screaming lunatic whose short fuse keeps getting shorter. A crying lunatic whose blubbering benders are a daily occurrence. The hormonal lunatic who snaps at the drop of a toast crumb. How did they get stuck with the lunatic?
While I spent all my time honoring Mark’s departed soul, I forgot all about honoring my own.
He Ain’t No Saint
Let’s be real. My husband wasn’t a saint. And I’m sure yours wasn’t either. He was a human being with flaws just like the rest of us.
The more I talked about him the more it occurred to me that I simply repeated the accolades from the others. You see, Mark didn’t always have a positive attitude. He wasn’t always calm. And he most certainly did not know what to do in every situation. For as kind and generous as he was, he could also be mean and stingy. His temper exploded like an erupting volcano on more than a few occasions. He liked to complain. A lot. Little by little, I started telling the other stories. You know, not the perfect, he-was-a-saint stories, but the real, he-could-be-a-pain-in-the-ass stories.
Know what? I didn’t get struck by lightning. I talked about Mark’s flaws and the Earth didn’t stop spinning on its axis. Holy shit.
It took me a while (a good three years) to start reframing some of my stories. It’s a tragedy he died. A fucking tragedy. But, I’ve learned that bathing him in a perfect light wasn’t helping me or my children cope any better with his death.
So, admitting that he was flawed, just like the rest of us, opened up a whole new lane on this grief journey my kids and I are navigating.
When Reality Set In
My older son looks exactly like his father. He has the same body shape, the same eyes and the same cowlick in the exact same spot. While he clearly resembles his father, he’s inherited some of my less desirable traits like stubbornness and a need to get in the last word. I will never forget when he was 7-years-old and in the midst of one of our dogged pursuit-of-the-last-word debates and my husband pulled me aside and said to me, “you do realize you’re arguing with a 7-year-old, right?!”
You know the saying, “would you rather be right or have peace?” I don’t need no stinkin’ peace. You see, I would rather be right. It’s a sickness.
Anyway, my husband liked to point out that I yelled and argued too much. He would remind me that my yelling tirades weren’t getting me anywhere and I should try to yell less to get the kids to listen more. This is typical testosterone reasoning from someone who wasn’t home with kids 24/7.
AKA: fucking stupid reasoning.
The hilarious part of his reasoning is that he wouldn’t be home 20 minutes and the yelling ensued. His yelling. Because the kids weren’t listening and doing what they were supposed to be doing. They rarely do. Because they’re kids. Welcome to my world.
And, I’m pretty sure I lost some hearing in my left ear from sitting on the passenger seat of the van. That ear was closest to the yelling that erupted when my husband drove and the boys weren’t behaving in the backseat. His reasoning to yell less so the boys would listen more never applied to road trips. Or to him.
After he died, I conveniently forgot about all the yelling. Being a saint meant he handled the kids efficiently, calmly and in every manner of a perfect parent.
Only he didn’t.
My Shower Epiphany
So, as my kids are getting older and mouthier, I’m cursing all of MY negative traits the boys have clearly inherited from ME. We continued to talk about their saintly father as I took on ALL the responsibility of passing along the negative traits like yelling and arguing. I even took on the responsibility of my kids talking nasty to me because I’m obviously failing as a parent. No other parents have kids who talk so nasty to them. Just mine.
Because I’m clearly failing.
Thank ya Jesus I finally had an epiphany one morning. You know, an epic epiphany that only occurs in the shower? Memories came rushing in like a cleansing waterfall splashing over my negative self-talk. I remembered all the times Mark used to talk nasty to or argue with his parents. I used to cringe when Mark cut his dad off midsentence because he wasn’t interested in what he had to say. He’d shoot down any suggestion his dad had about virtually anything within the first two or three words of his dad’s sentence. I winced when Mark pointed out every time his mom made a factual error in the story she told or when he’d tell her to watch what she’s eating because she gained weight. Over and over he’d argue his point, cut them off midsentence or ignore them altogether.
And, he didn’t do it nicely. Mark could be a real jerk sometimes.
OMG. I just called my dead husband a jerk.
I’m having a hard time breathing…
The Truth Will Set You Free
Just because he was a jerk sometimes didn’t make him any less of a sweet, kind, generous, funny, and loyal husband. It didn’t mean he wasn’t also a generous son who helped his parents clean up their yard when a tree branch crushed their deck or offer to get their boat fixed when something went wrong.
He was a good husband, a good father, and a good son but he wasn’t a saint. Not at all. He had good traits and bad traits just like the rest of us.
Therefore, my shower epiphany helped me to understand that I’m not responsible for all of my kid’s traits-good or bad. They are a product of BOTH my husband and me. When the boys and I talk about their dad nowadays I tell them stories about how he failed at keeping his calm demeanor sometimes or how disrespectful it was to cut off his dad midsentence. I point out my own flaws and we discuss how we all need to continually work toward being better people with better communication skills and more respect for others.
At this point, I like the truth more than fiction. The fictitious tale of their saintly father was wearing thin.
Widow Wrap Up
If you find yourself comparing your imperfect self to your perfect dead husband it might be time to hop in the shower. Dig in your garden. Or go for a walk. Go wherever your epiphanies usually find you because you need a reality check. Your husband wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a saint. And you aren’t perpetually flawed because you’re the one left behind to pick up the pieces.
Remember, your kids are watching you and learning from you. Knock your dead husband off the perfection pedestal and give your kids a clearer view of reality. It’s the only way to truly heal.
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