I don’t know Amanda Kloots. (Full disclosure: I don’t watch her show and have never taken a fitness class from her.) And yet — I know Amanda Kloots. I know that the moment her husband, the father of her child, died from COVID-19 last summer, her life changed in every imaginable way. I know that the moment he died, everything she thought she knew about the order of the universe rearranged in a way that made no sense. I know every day she feels his loss, in ways both big and small.
I know, because she and I are both members of the same unfortunate club. We are both young widows.
We both had to figure out how to sleep in a bed that once held two, sit at a table with an extra seat. We both had to come home to a closet full of clothes that belonged to a person who would never again come home. We both had to figure out how to start living, parenting, being a “me” instead of a “we.”
As a fellow young widow, who had to do things that most people never have to do, I feel enormously protective of Amanda Kloots.
A week or so ago, Amanda Kloots announced she’d started dating again. Unsurprisingly, the opinions poured in. There was support. And there was criticism. One comment that Kloots pointed out called her decision to date “fast.” As in: “That was fast.”
The criticism caught my attention (and no doubt caught the attention of every widow and widower everywhere). I started dating about two years after my husband died — and for the first six months of my dating life, I did it in secret.
I was afraid that I’d be judged — oddly enough, both for waiting too long to start dating and not waiting long enough. I was terrified that folks would see me dating and think that my grief was over. (It will never be over — not because I want to be a martyr for grief, but because my grief will last as long as my love does. It will ebb and flow and mature as I do.) Some part of me was even worried that I wasn’t allowed to be happy, and everyone would agree.
Ultimately, I began to be honest about dating when I came to a place of realizing the only person I owed my explanation to was myself. The only person I had to make happy was myself (and my kids.) And to the critics, of Amanda, of me, of any widow, I would say: No. We don’t have to explain our choices. We don’t owe you that. Until you know what it’s like, you don’t get to judge. Until you know how it feels to take that first breath when your spouse and best friend and co-parent and dinner companion and travel partner and fellow dreamer and shared past holder doesn’t, you don’t get to sit on a moral high horse.
Even if you are a widow, you’re not allowed to judge another widow’s choices. We are all part of the same tragic club, but our lives pre-loss were not the same. As a result, our lives post-loss are not the same, which means our decisions will not be the same.
When a widow decides to date, the only acceptable response is: I support you. I support you finding a life that makes you happy. I am here for you because it takes an unbelievable amount of courage to lose an entire future and take the steps to find a new one.
Until you’ve walked in a widow’s shoes, you do not get a say about how she lives. You do not get to judge her dating choices. Some widows chose to date soon after their spouse’s death — they deserve grace. They aren’t dishonoring their relationship; they haven’t stopped loving their spouse because they decided to date. Their choice to date was made with love, with hope, and utmost respect for their lost loves. Some widows choose to never date after their spouse’s death. They deserve grace. They are not “stuck” or “broken” — they are living authentically in the way that feels right to them.
No one in the widow club chose this life. Not one of us who is starting to date loves our late spouse any less. All of us, those who choose to date or not, deserve better than judgment. We’ve been through hell. We’ve judged ourselves more harshly than anyone ever could. What we need is compassion. What Kloots needed when she made her announcement was grace and support.
Kloots responded first in an Instagram story, and then in a longer Instagram Live a few days after. She noted how much judgment widows are subject to when they decide to date — I’d add how much judgment they are subject to when they decide to do anything. She talked about how hard it is to find the courage to date, and how she knows she’ll miss her husband every day, whether she finds new love or not. She shouldn’t have had a comment to respond to, at all.
Loss is loss. When it comes to the death of a loved one, there is no loss that’s easier than another. That being said, the loss of a spouse is a stand-alone kind of loss. It’s a loss that impacts every single thing about your life. The loss of a spouse, especially when you have kids with that person, is very literally life-changing.
Which is why, when a widow finds the courage to date, or finds the courage to live on her own, or finds the courage to do literally anything (because even getting out of bed is a hard choice some days) and she shares that choice, the response should be only this: You are loved and supported.