Rekha Basu

James Tissot - A Widow

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The link at the bottom of the page is to a column in the local newspaper. My personal opinion of the paper and its editorial writers is fairly low. The newspaper itself is generally light on actual news, and whatever course reporters take in journalism school to learn about bias and the importance of neutrality and fair and balanced reporting is evidently not a required one judging from the slant in most of the news articles I have read. Columnists are generally exempt from being non-judgmental. In fact they are paid o be opinionated. Infuriating columns are read by those on both sides of the issues. Employing an irritating columnist or two (or all in the Des Moines Register’s case) is good for the business of selling newspapers. Newspapers are not in the business of reporting news these days, or maybe ever, as an educated and informed populace is not the point. News is entertainment and going strictly by the number of talk news shows and the heads that populate them, some people are being entertained at the expense of those who need to be informed.

Although it is hard to pick a least favorite member of the Register’s editorial team, Rekha Basu probably ranks close. She favors heavy-handed liberal social agenda stuff. Her style is fairly dry, and she is preachy. Her late husband was a much better writer. His style was personable in a story-teller way and had he chosen heavier topics, I think he would have easily proved his superiority. My dislike of her is personal though. It goes back to the early days of Will’s illness when I was trying desperately to get him on SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance). Having been told by the kindly young man who walked me through the application process that it was fairly likely that Will’s claim would be denied, I was willing to try anything to call attention to our plight and elicit some help in getting him accepted. At this point I had already sent emails to both state senators and several legislaturers. I would eventually receive help from the Republican Senator, Charles Grassley, but at this point I was desperate.

Someone I knew thought that I should contact Ms. Basu. This person was a fan of her writing and thought that Will’s story was the kind of cause that Basu usually took up. And I have to admit, she does use her column to point out social inequities and injustices an often uses real life stories of Iowans to do this. Not feeling I had anything to lose, I sent her an email as well. Within a few days I returned home to a message on the answering machine from her and asking me to call. I did. I never heard back from her.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned, through her husband’s column, that she had joined me in the widow in waiting club around this time when he was diagnosed with ALS. Will was in a nursing home by then. It was closing in on the last summer of his life. I don’t think I paid much attention to the news coverage and columns that followed but to note that it must be better to be famous when you were terminally ill because you seemed to get more help and support that way.

She lost her husband the June after Will died. There was a lot of press coverage. She was sainted. Shortly after she began writing her series on Surviving. In her widow’s zeal to make sense of her tragedy by helping others, which many of us do early out, she wrote about all forms of loss as though they were equal. Any widow can tell you that in no way does losing your spouse compare with divorce or unemployment, but she was very early days and, evidently, number than most at that point.

There was a message board attached to the series. It invited people to comment and tell their stories. I was just coming out of the fog at that point, and shy I am not when it comes to sharing my opinion and feelings in a message board forum. Let’s just say, I could have employed more tact. But since no one ever responded to me, I quickly lost interest and went elsewhere.

A couple months later, Ms. Basu wrote a column about the WET group, Widows Experiencing Transition, that was active in the metro area where I lived. I had been trying desperately at that point to find a support group that wasn’t online. The only ones I could find though were mixed groups, not just for those experiencing the death of a spouse or for groups or widows and the divorced which I couldn’t fathom attending. Thrilled to know of a real live widows’ group I sent her an email. Judging from her reply, she had read my posts to her message board and apparently I was not someone she wanted to hear from. She sent the contact information for the group but wrote also that she didn’t think I was the kind of person who would benefit from it. Ouch. I wrote her an apology and then scurried off the the UK widows’ board to flog myself for having hurt her feelings. It was only then occurring to me that as the further out, I should have been more cognizant of the tone of my posts and more supportive of her efforts. It was a mistake I have since strived to avoid in my dealings with “younger” widows.

I don’t read Rehka Basu’s work much anymore. I find her writing clinical and self-righteous still though I was impressed by the piece she did on profiling when her son was victimized by it recently. I also read her column about the death of her mother-in-law which kicks off her semi-dormant surviving series was again. The link is below.

Just to pick up on yesterday’s topic a bit, my least favorite columnist at the local paper published her latest article on surviving the death of a spouse today. I understand the obsession.

She is only a widow of about six weeks or so and in the beginning it consumes you. You replay those last moments on a continual feed in your brain. It’s not painful in any way that you can explain to someone who has never been through it. It’s not pain at all. It’s an altering of reality that permeates existence to the point where you are not sure if you are part of the real world anymore. Everything is so removed and even for me, someone who often doesn’t feel visible to the world at large, this was eerie.

There are a lot of things about the aftermath of death that are annoying. People want to hug you; even people who know you would rather be peeled like a grape than be embraced by them. People you don’t like, and who are aware of this fact, impose their guilt-ridden amnesia on you as they make their worthless offers of assistance. They try to feed you. A lot. And usually baked goods. You spend a lot of time making other people feel better.

The night of Will’s wake I smiled and hugged and pretended to listen to an awful lot of people who frankly were a drain on my rather limited emotional reserve. And then they retreat, waiting maybe for you to “get over it”? Everyone you remain in contact with treads carefully in word and deed. You want to tell them to save their energy because most of the time you aren’t really paying any attention to them anyway, but you don’t because you know that these small acts of kindness will disappear quickly enough without any help from you at all.

Everyday activities that are actually necessary like cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, paying the bills seem to require Herculean effort. You live off PopTarts and feed your kid lunchables (okay maybe that was just me). You don’t sleep. The house makes noises it never did before, and in a last ditch effort to stave off complete insomnia you leave all the lights in the house on except the one in your bedroom. At some point you start turning them off, mainly because the electric bill is looking scary, until only the hall light is on. I’ll let you know when that one goes out.

You start to worry that possibly the stress has given you early-onset Alzheimer’s (and a veritable medical dictionary of other diseases while your very patient PA reassures, you during office visits that are fast becoming weekly, that you are fine). Every place you go you remember a time when you were there with him too, to the point where you stop frequenting those places and develop new haunts that aren’t so haunted.

And you desperately want to rebuild your life. Start over. I cleaned out closets. Threw things away that I had actually never used (mostly things from his mother so the guilt was minimal) and hauled the rest to the Goodwill. Then there was getting used to my single status. Even though Will hadn’t lived with me or our daughter in fifteen months, I was still married and people treated me as though I was.

Funny thing that ring on your left hand. It is a powerful talisman that confers great status on the wearer. I took it off the day after the wake. I had been wearing both his and mine that whole week but I knew that if I didn’t take it off, I never would. So, now in the eyes of the world I was just another single woman with a child.

Funny, but no one asks me about my daughter’s father when I talk about her. At the graduate seminar last week, a man from Madison chatted me up a bit and very obviously checked out my ring finger when I made mention of my little girl. But he never asked about her dad, even though he mentioned his ex-wife a lot. In our modern world I am a divorcée until proven otherwise, I guess.

The need to begin again becomes almost as palpable as the grief itself. A release from limbo. I don’t really cry. Now and again a song on the radio or something my daughter will say or do will bring tears to my eyes and that awful strangling feeling. I’m not angry. At least not with God or my husband. I don’t spend any time at all asking or wondering why this happened to us though I am annoyed at the time it has stolen. I’m a plane circling, waiting for permission to land and not really certain if I need to be granted the privilege or if I am supposed to plow through a forest and create a landing strip for myself. I’m thinking the latter while preferring the former.