There are plenty of surprises during the grieving process, such as the unexpected emotional meltdowns in the unlikeliest of places. One unanticipated side effect (aftershock?) was my indifference to fiction immediately following Robert’s death. The time I most needed to get lost in a good book, I found myself shunning my favorite genre. My theory? I didn’t have the patience for other people’s stories; having lived with an alcoholic for years, my story seemed more dramatic than anything I would find in the pages of a novel.
Not only that, seemingly overnight I became a slow reader. (I don’t recall reading that in any of the bereavement brochures.) It lasted almost a year. Eventualy I began finding my way back by reading other widows’ tales. Over time, I reverted to my normal reading habits. But that blip on the radar of my reading life intrigued me. Why the change?
What type of books were you drawn to when you became a widow? Did your reading habits change in any way? Were you drawn to widows’ tales? Did you switch from fiction to non-fiction? Bury yourself in a series? Find yourself engrossed in a particular genre? Perhaps you stopped reading for a while.
I’m writing an article about what we read after experiencing a loss, specifically the loss of a spouse and would love to hear from other widows. Please contact me directly at email@example.com or post comments here at Widow 2.0 or on the Widow 2.0 Facebook page.
- “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” ~W. Somerset Maugham
- “We read to know we’re not alone.” ~William Nicholson
- “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ~Stephen King
- “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” ~Voltaire
- “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” ~Anna Quindlen
- “Reading brings us unknown friends” ~Honore de Balzac
In today’s mail, an advertisement from a Trusts and Estates attorney:
“Reason to make an estate plan #7? Elaine, your husband’s next wife.”
The 5×7 glossy postcard featured a woman, smiling up into the camera from beneath the brim of her floppy hat, lifting a glass of red wine, as if ready to toast. Next to her picture, the following list:
- In the month since your death, has brought “home-cooked” meals to your husband six times
- Each time she visits, wears a skimpier outfit
- Can’t wait to redecorate your home, especially that hideous wallpaper
- Thinks there is no good reason that money earmarked for your children shouldn’t be spent on more important things like jewelry, sports cars, and European spa vacations
Do you want her to get your children’s inheritance?
Estate planning is an excellent idea for everyone. But do attorneys really need to capitalize on the trepidation of widowhood?
I wonder if there are equally outrageous ads addressing the gender flipside of the widowed scenario? Are there glossy postcards mailed to not-yet-widowers, featuring a handsome man, his hand outstretched, as if asking the future-widowed-wife onto the dance floor? The copy might read: ‘How often did you take her dancing? Will he sweep her off her feet…and take all your hard-earned money with him?’
Had I received this advertisement before I became a widow, I imagine I would have laughed and tossed it, finding the crass ad more of a desperate act from a struggling attorney. Now, having been widowed, I find the taunting text offensive. The blatant scare tactics — your death, your husband’s next wife, and the careless disregard for children and family — are almost comical. Almost.
When I was first widowed, I was very careful about making financial decisions and general safety issues: I had my brother and sister-in-law accompany me when I bought a new car, and had friends at the house when selling my late husband’s items on craigslist and later hosting a tag sale. Dealing with the death of a loved one is indeed scary. Apparently that’s good news and good business for some.
In my 20s, I lived with roommates. Eventually, I got my own apartment and lived alone for two years before moving in with my husband. It was a great experience. But something about living alone after being widowed felt lonely. Despite lots of friends and a busy social life, I still came home to ‘alone.’ Before I was married, living alone was about independence; after I was widowed, living alone felt more like being left alone. Night lights and timers offered a sense of security; the constant companion of the TV and my new BFF, the DVR, kept the quiet from creeping in; new house projects ensured a cozy home. What do you do to fight feeling alone at home?
What surprises, if any, did you encounter after the death of your spouse? An affair? Another family? Debt? In her wonderful column in The New York Times, Joyce Wadler wrote in a recent article “The Sex Toys in the Attic” about people of a certain age disposing of their sex paraphernalia or at least having a plan in place with a trusted confidante to ditch the evidence should you depart this earth unexpectedly. Everyone has secrets. Some are silly; most are embarrassing. And then there are the deadly ones. As George Orwell wrote, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” I was married to an alcoholic, he had lots of secrets. What long-held secrets did you discover, unearthed by death? And how did it change you?
I’ve had a To Do List every day of my adult life. But when I was on survivor spouse autopilot making funeral arrangements, I didn’t need one – I wasn’t going to forget to buy a casket – tasks were written in stone, the funeral director guiding me, family and friends helping every step of the way. After the whirlwind of a two-day wake followed by the funeral, I had a Death To Do List, grim tasks the widowed must carry out: canceling Robert’s cell phone plan, returning his leased car, negotiating with his credit card companies, dealing with the medical bills – all the bureaucracy of a last breath. And all those Thank You notes. Would my dining room table ever be cleared of stacks of sympathy cards, Mass cards, floral arrangement notes, letters? Eventually, I crossed off all the items associated with the business of death. My everyday To Do List was beginning to be about me, with all the changes in priorities and shifts in lifestyle that widowhood brings. What’s on your Widow To Do List?
I suspect that with most newly widowed in the full throes of mourning, all past trespasses pale and the “before” life takes on a golden glow. During the grieving process, hindsight is not so much 20/20 but rose–colored, putting life into soft focus the way a cheesecloth draped over a camera lens filters out and flatters. The widowed are grateful for the time they had together, despite the troubles of the past, the pain of the loss. At least we were loved. The tragedy is measured and balanced by the good times, the gaga moments of an exciting new relationship, the intensity of being in love, the commitment of years together, a full life of fun and laughter, holidays and vacations, joint efforts, shared secrets, tender moments, celebrations of life achievements, the easy comfort of a lifelong best friend. Although that thrilling mix of love and romance co-existed with heartache, disagreements, fights, broken promises and other inevitable pitfalls of married life, the freshly widowed find it difficult to see both the yin and yang of their love life; rather they focus on the beautiful moments, leaving the ugly underbelly for later, if ever. I discovered that some widows never acknowledged the ugly, but instead wiped the slate clean, a decaffeinated version of their marriage, their partner firmly installed on a pedestal. I would not become one of those widows.