There, I’ve said it. I hate that word. Sometimes I catch myself looking at my reflection in the mirror and saying the words “I am a 29 year old widow’ out loud to myself and I can’t quite manage to make the picture of myself coincide with that word even though I am, in fact, a widow. Then I notice the gray hairs and the faint wrinkles at the corner of my eyes and I think, maybe I am a widow after all.
I went to a widows christmas party last night. There, without even a moment’s hesitation you’ve thought to yourself a widows christmas party? That sounds so depressing! You didn’t mean anything by it, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind. How could you put widows and a party together? Surely not. To be honest, I had the same thoughts even while I was looking forward to attending it! When I arrived, I met a variety of people who have found themselves in the same situation I have through no fault of their own. I met them and we chatted over bottles of wine and we all thought the same thing: you don’t really look like a widow. You’re too young. These thoughts are as ridiculous as they are natural. We all have them, but they’re illogical. Have you ever actually thought about what a widow looks like? I hadn’t before Terry died. Google image searching widow is depressing and, now that I am one, far from the truth. None of the widows last night were dressed head to toe in black with mourning veils on, we were dressed in Christmas party attire. What’s really scary is that we looked like every other table in the hotel. We look normal, because we are normal. We are normal people who have been dealt some very unfortunate hands.
As a society, we don’t like to think of widows as they remind us that life is fragile, that one day we might survive the one we love. CS Lewis in A Grief Observed writes bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. You may be one of the lucky ones whose marriage doesn’t end in divorce, but if not divorce, one of you will likely survive the other. That thought is painful to anyone who loves another as spouses do and widows remind us of that horrible possibility. I am a visual reminder that your husband could die without a moment’s notice. Did you hear about Mandi’s husband? Bacterial meningitis, he was a perfectly healthy 30 year old man when he died. Tragic. I remember thinking that Terry couldn’t have died because that doesn’t happen to people like us. But then it did.
For awhile, I didn’t relate to the word widow because I didn’t like it. The reason I didn’t like it is because even though my status had changed my preconceived ideas of what being a widow meant hadn’t and they were upsetting to me. How very wrong I was and how lucky to not know any better. I find myself gradually embracing the term widow, even as I still struggle with my hatred of the word. I am a widow, and there is nothing wrong with that. There should be no shame in being a widow, and yet we all have shame attached to it, if not by ourselves then by others who are lucky enough to still not know any better. And really, what all widows desperately want is to go back to a time when we were happy and loved and didn’t know that everything we thought about widows was wrong.