sainting of a late husband/wife by widow

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

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Ozzie Nelson

Ozzie and Harriet Nelson Image via Wikipedia

A widow friend of Rob’s posted a valid criticism of the phrase “Different is just different” today. In the beginning, and for a while after, comparing now and then is something you spend a lot of time doing. Then is a wonderful whitewashed place where you lived in Shangri-La like bliss with your late spouse. Everything was easy and more than a little like Lake Woebegone – above average. And we all do it because it is easier to pretend that we had the mythically perfect marriage than to admit it wasn’t or that what we had was a product of sweat and maybe tears and certainly would have made for better reality television than 1950’s family sitcom. It’s an effective strategy for preventing the inevitable forward momentum that takes hold of your life and moves you on – willing or not.


Comparisons to then and now. Then wins hands down in the beginning because there is little worse than grief when it is as fresh as a newly acquired paper cut.


My life has been different for a long time. Five years actually. It’s been five years. And if I am to be truthful, things were not perfect before that really. Will and I had a good marriage, but it took time and effort to make it so.


My life now is different from a year ago or even six months ago. In June it will be different again. And different is just different, but it is also pretty darn good. Not just because of Rob either. Finding love does not cure you of widowhood. That is one of the more annoying fallacies that many of my fellow widowed believe. That because I am engaged to be married this June, I am suddenly “okay” and that I no longer grieve. Not true. What I do have is a much better sense of who I am and what I want for myself, and my child, and that I am discovering more about myself and my strengths and limitations every day.


Rob’s older daughter worries that he and I might not be emotionally solid enough to know what we are doing. Marrying so soon. I can’t speak for him, but I am far more aware of the enormity of what I am doing now than I was back then. I know now what “in sickness and in health” is really asking of me and what “til death do you part” feels like. I know how important time spent with your husband is and why you can never say “I love you” often enough.


Could I have discovered a deeper sense of self with Will? It’s possible. Would I have the insight I have now into relationships and marriage? Perhaps. I know that way back then I was content and contentment isn’t the best soil for sustained growth.


My different is good. Very good. But it is just different. It wouldn’t be fair to then or now to compare.