Sunday, July 03, 2011

Widow vs. Widow

She said “Well, at least you got to say good-bye.”

Anger rises in me because I see her comment as one of those my-situation-is-worse-than-yours comments.

Anger because she wants to beat me to the bottom, to claim more grief, more anger, more despondency than me.

Anger because really? Do we have to have this conversation? I’ve had it before but about skin color with a white friend who was saying that my “blackness” was different from the “poor people’s blackness.” And I had to explain that the store clerk doesn’t thing so. I still get “watched,” and treated with suspicion even with a platinum American Express in my purse.

This widow assumes that Art’s cancer gave me time to prepare. I am disappointed at the magical death image she holds. You know the one from t.v.? The one where the person looks like themselves, opens their eyes, says a few last dying but meaningful words with the last exhale.

She thinks that expecting that your husband will die is some how easier. As if I could “prepare” for the impending grief by filling up sandbags to line my life. The more sandbag the less pain.

As I go to open my mouth, to tell her my last memories of my husband are of a withered 6’6" man who went from 235 to 154, his sunken, hollow face, unconscious, mouth open emanating that foul sweet smell of his dying innards. A smell that even in thought, makes me wretch.

Before I can tell her about the relief that came over me when he died that was quickly followed with shame of being relieved. Before I can tell her any of that…

I float
into her head
and see her own

I see her need to tell her story over and over and over again, to compare it to others because in her world, right now, there is no firm footing. Nothing makes sense. She doesn’t know how to get to point B because not only is she standing on completely new territory, she doesn’t even know which direction to head in to find that second point. Comparing her story to mine at least provides her with walls, something familiar, something firm, a shelter of sorts.

And it is not till I recognize all this, I back down. She can have the bottom. She can have the grief and the despondency. I no longer need it to stand on.

I am surprised for my love for her, for the way I want to hold her in my arms and let her know it will truly, truly be okay. I want to tell her that she will find her place in this world. That she will slowly learn to lean into, and live, decently, without him.

The love comes out of my right arm, through my fingertips as I take her hand. I say to her after a moments silence, “Wow, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to loose him so suddenly. I hear you.”

Because I know she simply wants
to be

Exactly what I wanted and
still want.


  1. There is the ongoing debate in psychology: Is it "easier" to lose someone suddenly or slowly?

    Suddenly means one doesn't lay in bed at night, for years, imaging life without their spouse and wondering how to carry on. It means not wondering if when the doctors say "three months left"- again, that this time they really mean it.

    Yet, when one "knows" it will happen, one gets to decide the kind of spouse they'll be that day, and the next. It also means one can decide what's really important and what isn't.

    It's a debate that can go on forever. But no one wins in widowhood; no one has it eaiser. Both sides of the coin are painful and devastating.

    Thanks for your words. I love your blog.

  2. Yes, the hard part is that when we're suffering like that we need love the most and we're often the least lovable, as epitomized by the need to make one's story "worse." It's to your credit that you were able to respond empathetically.