Recently, I have found myself befriending four women who have all been widowed at a young age. Some younger than others...it's irrelevant what age they are, but I do not consider it without purpose that perhaps I have been drawn to them, or they to me.
From each of them I have learned a number of things about becoming a widow.
I have learned that at the moment you find out that your spouse has left this earthly plane, that you find yourself aching immeasurably, whether you have children or not, to be with them.
One of my widow friends told me, even as the mother of two young boys, when she went overseas to recover his remains, it was all she could do not to throw herself off of the hotel balcony. And her spouse had been killed in a plane crash with his Asian girlfriend beside him. Despite the infidelity, she wanted to die too.
It's interesting to me that we are capable of loving another human being, no matter how imperfect they be or may have been, so much so that we wish to die too.
I have learned that the whole world comes out of the woodwork for the funeral, for the wake, for the memorial service or celebration of the deceased's life but then bam!, within two weeks of their passing and the services held, you (as the widow) find yourself utterly and completely alone. No-one visits. No-one is bringing you by meals anymore. No-one calls. No-one ever says to you in the supermarket, "How are you doing?" No-one holds you. No-one asks you out for a fun evening. No-one emails. There is virtually no contact.
Amoung those widowed, I've learned from my amazing office-mate, S., that this is known as...the 'Leper' Phenomenon.
It's like the WHOLE world is afraid of you. And your pain.
Now, I'm not yet a widow. I'm not looking to be a widow. But I am brutally aware that my spouse walks the line between life and death far too carefree. He could drop dead tomorrow. He could live another ten years, and the appropriate thing to wish for is for him to live another ten or twenty years in good health.
We'd been married all of a month when the Life Insurance company called back to say that he'd have to go see his doctor (following their routine bloodwork to insure him) and that they would base our premiums on what the results of that visit would be. He wouldn't make an appointment, so I did. I drove him. Our family doctor sent him for bloodwork. No news is good news, right? Except that they called him in.
Our family doctor explained the nature of good and bad cholesterol, the severity of his, and discussed my new husband's family history of heart disease. I could see my husband blandly listening, not really taking any of this in, or taking it too seriously...but so did our doctor, who then told him he'd be lucky with his current levels to see two years of marraige through. He then asked him how he'd feel about "making this beautiful woman a young widow?" My husband shrugged.
Our doctor ran through the options with him, including western medication. We brought home six month's supply of samples (I think the doctor knew he would never go fill a prescription...) and he took about a week's worth and then just stopped taking it.
I improved the foods he fed himself (or that we ate at home...he still sneaks junk) and encouraged him to exercise. He still doesn't exercise (except for a brief stint at paintball two summers ago) BUT we've been married for almost seven years and he's still alive. At the tender age of 37, he's tired most of the time. He's grumpy most of the time. He's moody most of the time. He's too tired for...well, everything, most of the time, and rarely goes outside for fresh air. To the naked eye, he appears to be alive.
Becoming a young widow because your spouse has succumbed to a fatal accident is harsh, is painful and is ugly (and most accidents are, by virtue of being accidents, ugly...I'm on the Fire Department, I know...we see some hideous scrapes that people get themselves into.) There is always the question, "WHY?!?!" and the sense that this person was 'taken' far too early. I personally believe there is no 'too early' rather there is a finite amount of time each of us has here on this earth in order to fulfill our divine potential (whether we choose to or not, is up to us) but just because I believe this, doesn't mean that others do, or that in the moment of becoming a widow, I will.
Far bigger for me, is WHY, when you know that death beckons from around the corner and there are things that you can do to keep yourself healthy, vibrant and so that you may be able to fulfill your divine earthly potential, WHY wouldn't you do everything in your personal power to take care of yourself?
I have learned to let go of wanting him to be healthy. And I have accepted that I may well be needing the support of these seasoned women.
One of my other widow friends (actually, she is more of an aquaintance), sat on the hill one day last summer, next to me (she had driven by, waved and I'd waved to her to stop, so she did. She got out of her car and gingerly approached me working in my garden)...the sun was gleaming down on the side of the hill & on us - the kind of heat that makes you feel like you could fry an egg on your skin and I invited her to sit down. We had sat for barely a moment when she said,
"Do you know,...this is the first time anyone has invited me to sit with them since J. died?"
"Really?" I said, "What do you think people are afraid of?"
She smiled, and teared up, jaw clenched and replied, "You know, I think they're afraid to ask me how I am."
A small fountain of tears rolled over her cheeks. There was a small still moment of silence.
"How are you?" I asked.
She let out one of those laughs you can make between tears, bit her bottom lip and said, "I'm fucking awful."
I scooched over next to her, and said, "Is it ok if I sit this close to you?" She nodded.
And then, I rubbed her back in a big circular motion and said, "Is it ok if I offer you this little bit of warmth?" And she nodded.
"Wanna talk about it?" I asked. She smiled weakly and nodded.
And in the blazing heat of the afternoon, I rubbed her back, and she talked.
Sometimes I think that people try too hard to help people try to understand their pain, instead of just letting them talk it out. I couldn't take her ache or grief away, but it was not beyond my capacity for listening and for me to ask a few well-placed questions so that she could speak.
She talked for about an hour. She had so many amazing stories and ditties to share about him...and since he had died in the two months before, she had found herself utterly alone and with no-one to share them with.
She kept saying "Sorry" throughout her tales.
"No need to be sorry," I would say, "tell me more about J., tell me how you loved him."
And she did.
There is nothing to fear in these gentle souls trying to find their way back to life, trying to redefine themselves after their loss, trying to figure out how to go on living and what that means without the person that has helped you define who you are (good or bad), who you've become and what you've done to date.
And I think it's important to remember, that each day is precious...so, how about not assuming that someone we know, who's lost their spouse, needs time to themselves and probably doesn't want a visit or a phone call? How about letting THEM make that choice?
How about inviting them to sit with you anyway? How about letting them talk about what they need to talk about without injecting, "it'll be ok, you'll get over it soon"...how about letting them grieve, and hurt, and grow and bloom into the person that they will become out of having had the experience of marriage or love or life with another person in this kind of totality?
And how about letting that take as much as time as they need? Or as little.
How about we gently remind them that they are still needed here, on this earthly plane, as they are, without their partner (for whatever reason) because the world is a better place for the gift of them.