Widows in Transition/W.E.T

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.

I joined a group of widows the other night. I have moved from the relative comfort of online anonymity to the discomfort of open face to face forum. My naturally shy nature cringes away from any type of large group setting. It is only rarely that I fit in. Even in a group such as this one, which is primarily for younger widows, where the odds of fitting in are at about 99%, I still manage to feel like an outsider.

I came to W.E.T. (widows in transition) via the Young Widows Board, which was founded by 911 widows. I responded to an appeal for Iowans by a woman named CJ and was quickly invited to the monthly gathering of W.E.T.

I have to admit to being excited about it. I have never had the opportunity to be “normal” during this entire journey. In a room full of widows, surely I would feel a kinship and at home. Not really. Not that everyone wasn’t nice. They were wonderful and inviting. The group’s founder, Sandy, was genuinely happy to see new members and greeted both CJ and I warmly. Others, who were already there or as they arrived, made more than an effort to engage us.

CJ turned out to be one of those naturally extroverted people who can make talk, small and large. She easily worked the room. A kitchen with an island overflowing with food and crammed to standing room with widows.

I am not so gifted. It was one of the things I loved about being married. Someone to shadow without seeming to. I could hang by my husband’s side and not worry that anyone thought I was being stand-offish when in reality I was just painfully uncomfortable being in a situation where I knew no one and hadn’t the opportunity to assess the “danger” beforehand.

I don’t believe in shyness really. What people call shy, I just call self-preserving. I am easily overwhelmed and overly sensitive to my environment. When I have the time to size things and people up, I usually find a way to turn down the volume on my inner alert system and interact. When I don’t, I retreat. I am much better one on one and perhaps that is why I do so much better on the boards.

Even though the numbers are larger in reality, you can only deal with one person at a time. The thing that struck me about this group, aside from their welcoming ways, was the fact that many of the women seemed to enjoy telling their stories in much the same way that a group of new mothers gleefully recount their L&D stories. And maybe that is just the way of it. War stories are inevitable in like company.

I find it hard to tell my story anymore. I give the short version. I skim off the top. I downplay or simply don’t play at all. There was a time when I would recount the whole thing chapter and verse but now I would rather not. I am so consumed by where I am and what I want and trying to build the bridge between here and there that telling my story almost seems a burden that holds me back.

I had a husband. He died. We sat in a circle and introduced ourselves and our husbands. I cried through mine. It is harder to hold up the shields when I know I don’t have to and also, there was some relief being somewhere that I don’t have to.

I barely listened to the others though. At least not enough to recall much. It was too much. Pain. And I recoiled from a lot of it. It terrified me to think that women months and years ahead of me could still be in so much pain, and not want to move past it.

One woman was three years out, remarried and still not happy. How could that be? If you never learned to live again, what was the point?

I took my daughter to a children’s group today. Founded by the same woman, it gives children and their moms an opportunity to grieve safely among their own kind. My daughter is young. All her memories of her father are primarily images and ideas that I planted in her mind. She is a few years away from really comparing her life with that of other children and realizing what she has lost.

But, I could see it in the faces of the older ones, and in the faces of the moms. Do I look like that? I don’t want to. I want to be… I don’t know. I can’t not be a widow.

The other day the substitute for the man I normally work with inquired whether I was a Mrs. and I hesitated before saying, “Not anymore.” Normally I would have told him that I my husband was dead. I don’t use the word widow as a self-reference. But I did neither. Because I don’t know who I am.  So, once again I don’t truly fit in. Story of my life.