The Perfect Widow

Photo of Jacqueline Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, J...

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I wonder if Jackie Kennedy wrote all her own thank you cards in the days after her husband’s murder? I imagine she did. Perfect widows write thank you’s to everyone who express even the most rudimentary acknowledgment of their loss. Perfect widows don’t make any important decisions during the first year. They don’t date. They live only for their children, who represent the only reason for rising in the morning, and they adhere with the fervor of a convert to the stages of grief. Following them lock-step through that first year, the perfect widow is all about preparing herself for that second year, which she expects to be only occasionally as awful as the first, but certainly as melancholy.

I am so not the perfect widow. And it goes well beyond the fact that I didn’t write a single thank you card. As a matter of fact after I shook the cash out of each card, like my four year old does whenever she receives mail of any kind, I put the cards in a bag and never took them out again. I don’t think I even read any of them. I needed the money to pay for my husband’s wake and to bury him, but I had no use for expressions of sympathy from people who had ignored, abandoned or treated my daughter and I as inconveniences during the two and a half years we watched Will die.

When I say “we”, I mean that almost literally. It was just she and I most of the time. There were a few people who stuck close and were beyond helpful and generous, but very few.

I am continually floored by the Grief Rules mavens who seem to think that being widowed entitles them to bully all others into accepting their interpretation of bereavement. I am make no claims to wallflower status myself when it comes to expressing an opinion, but I would hope that no one ever felt as though I was telling them how to mourn from my perch high atop Mt. Perfection.

It shouldn’t surprise me that people seem to possess a fair amount of entitlement when it comes to having their tokens of sympathy acknowledged. It seems that we are not able to simply do the right thing by family, friends and neighbors without being handed a gold star to wear in return. To my mind, sending flowers or food or cards is for the comfort of the bereaved person and never done in expectation of acknowledgment of any kind. I can’t recall exactly the chapter and verse (I am a Catholic after-all) but I am sure that Jesus had something to say about those who needed to have their good deeds and pious ways well published.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to surviving the death of your spouse. Because it is about surviving with the hope of one day moving forward and living again. It is in this way that we honor them and not through the writing of thank you cards.

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