$500,000 Gruber Prize Recognizes Widows in the Hood
June 25th, 2011 by annmarie

Left without the legal protection of husbands after the ugly bloodletting of 1994, fifty women stood together in Rwanda to form AVEGA Agahozo, the Association of Widows of the Genocide, and 17 years later they are still helping one another to get on with the business of living. Thank You Gruber for recognizing ‘Widows in the Hood.”

For their work, the group will receive the 2011 Women’s Rights Prize of The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, a $500,000 unrestricted cash award, to be presented in a ceremony later this year.

In a historically patriarchal society, AVEGA has helped to achieve legal reforms that, for the first time, gave Rwandan women inheritance rights, established rape as an act of genocide and defined other crimes of sexual violence as serious crimes.

 

The group seeks to promote the general welfare of widows through legal advocacy, social and economic development projects, and education, training and other support that contributes to income generation and self-sufficiency. It also operates three health centers and provides medical services to thousands.

 

Headquartered in Kigali, Rwanda, AVEGA Agahozo provides services across the country and includes among its members more than 20,000 widows and more than 71,000 dependents and orphans. Of the 300,000 to 400,000 survivors of the Rwandan genocide, widows outnumber widowers ten to one. It is the widows and orphans who witnessed the atrocities and, in many cases, suffered extreme violence themselves. Sexual violence was often used to humiliate and degrade women during the 100 days of the violent scourge, with estimates of the number of women raped ranging between 250,000 and 500,000.

 

Traumatized and shamed, many of these women are seeking help now only because they are ill. For these women, AVEGA is a refuge, providing medical services, psychological counseling, education and training, housing and legal services. AVEGA offers medical help to those suffering from AIDS and has coordinated voluntary testing for HIV for more than 10,000 of its members. It also delivers antiretroviral treatment and wraparound care and treatment, including nutrition support, to more than 1,500 HIV+ women. Last year it introduced a new program to provide educational support to children born to survivors of rape, a particularly marginalized group in Rwanda.AVEGA also assists widows who wish to testify against those accused of genocide. Members are accompanied to court and receive assistance by AVEGA in the resolution of their cases. In national, international and community-based Gacaca courts, an estimated 800,000 perpetrators have been convicted so far. Originally, when many women were unwilling to come forward, AVEGA sent hundreds of trainers into the villages to teach them how to testify. In Kigali, the organization has helped prepare witnesses for testimony in over 150 landmark legal cases.

 

AVEGA is now teaching widows and orphans about land law as well. It has built houses for many widows and orphans, and has provided about 13,000 of its members with shelter. Women had no inheritance rights before the genocide. AVEGA pushed for reform, lobbying lawmakers, judges and journalists until a law was passed in November 1999 that allowed widows the right to inherit a husband’s property. More recently, AVEGA’s advocacy played a pivotal role in securing the introduction of Rwanda’s first gender-based violence law, enacted in 2009. AVEGA has also helped women become involved in income-generating activities, such as business projects, farming, basket-weaving and other handicrafts. Garments produced on modern tailoring machines are now marketed worldwide.The motto of AVEGA, translated from the French, is “Let not the screams of our martyrs lead to our silence or make us forget.” But while the organization is ever mindful of the past, its focus now is on the future and making life better for tomorrow.(A complete organizational profile is available at http://www.gruberprizes.org.)

 

 

 

 

 

A Postmodern Widoe - Inadequate Language - Chapter One
June 18th, 2011 by annmarie

Inadequate Language


Zavier said good-bye to his daddy in his daddy’s hospital bed.

 

Daddy said, “Say hello to Mickey Mouse for me.”


“Okay,” said Zav, and the pitter-patter of his feet could be heard slapping against the linoleum-floored hall as he ran, holding Uncle Matt’s hand, on his way to catch a plane to Disneyland, to the land of simulations and distortions.


“See you soon,” Daddy said.


“Okay,” said Zav, as he smiled for him one more time, pushed the buttons on his hospital bed, and made his daddy laugh with his make-believe pirate’s face. Zavi reached up to him with his dimpled, three-year-old hands, pressed his cheeks and gave him a kiss on his living lips.

 

I remember my son’s last kiss to his daddy, but not mine.


Peter had become sick with the flu two weeks earlier. His antibodies, which were supposed to fight a virus, turned on his red blood cells instead. It could have been the medication he was taking for his heart, or maybe a flu bug picked up in Florida, or maybe a scorpion carrying the sting of a smitten siren. Who knows? His red blood cells were gobbled up all of a sudden and then they clotted, or so they say. I’ve asked many specialists in the field of blood, “What happened? Why did he just die like that in the hospital?”


 “We don’t know,” was the other standard answer.


It was Tuesday when Zavi said goodbye at the hospital, without his daddy or his mama for his journey. We were all supposed to be together, but on Monday, while we were packing the car for our meandering holiday down the southern California coast, Peter had collapsed in the bathroom and crawled up to our bed, on our altarstage. He had called for me with a scratch of sand in his throat, a flutter in his heart, and tears in his eyes. I had called the ambulance.


When the paramedics arrived they seemed disappointed that they had been called to a house for an emergency that, according to them, wasn’t an emergency. Ours wasn’t a house either, or rather, it was a house, but it had been a church and we were about half way done in our reconstructing church to home project.  Because our bed was on what had once been the altar, the medics didn’t have room on the floor for the gurney  The lifted Peter two steps down the stage, or altar, depending on the mood.


 The men in blue uniforms with golden badges said Peter’s vitals weren’t alarming and they weren’t sure he needed to go to the hospital, but I insisted. I told them Peter had a history of arrhythmia and that he’d been taking folic acid for three days for a very low count of red blood cells. I said we were meeting Peter’s doctor at the hospital and that I didn’t dare drive him there by myself because I was afraid he might pass outenroute.


The gurney was raised to meet our bed, and Peter was safely delivered to the hospital where we could “aggressively” begin looking into this blood problem that had just begun sucking his bloodsong.


The first blood doctor wasn’t alarmed either, but we were alarmed, so we called in a new blood doctor. He was more alarmed. Even so, he said Peter could be out in a couple of days; after they transfused his blood and built up his red blood cells. My brother, Mark, was to be wed in San Diego on Saturday. We would meet up with everyone on Friday.


Instead, on Friday morning, in the wee-est of hours, Peter died.


When Zavi asks mommy why daddy died, I answer, “It was his time.”


 “No Mommy, why did daddy die?”


“Daddy died because he got a bad flu bug in his blood. It made his body stop working. When your body stops working, you die.”


“No mommy, why did Daddy die?”


“I don’t know Zavi. I don’t know. It must have been his time to die.”

Closets
August 3rd, 2009 by michele

We put all kinds of things inside of closets. There are things you expect to find inside this storage space like sweaters, dresses, and shoes. Then there are the other things that you can’t find a place for somewhere else in the house like old yearbooks, memory boxes, or last year’s tax returns. Perhaps there are mothballs, spider webs, or the odd price tag dropped from a purchased item….all of this you might find behind the doors of your wardrobe.

The useful thing about closets is you can shut the door to cover up any messiness that might be found inside. I suppose that is why we also hide some feelings in places with doors that snap securely shut. No need to look at those fears we place behind shuttered doors or to share them with the world or to force ourselves to examine them too closely. At least that is how my emotional closet works. I have shoved a bunch of stuff in there over the last four years. Trouble is whenever I need a sweater (aka some emotional stamina) I have to peek inside and try to stick my arm between the doors without allowing any of the hidden items to find their way into the sunshine of my room.

One thing I have stored way back behind the formal dresses, and the ridiculous high heels that kill my feet but look perfect with my dress, is my need to be in a loving partnership again. This need took me almost two years to look in the face, almost three years to admit publicly, and close to four years to stop worrying about how loving another man would reflect on my devotion to Phil. So let’s free a few more of the stowaways from my emotional closet…Am I betraying Phil by loving someone else? Does finding a new man give the world the false impression that I am, God forbid, “over it?” Will I ever stop feeling like the other shoe is going to drop any moment and my new partner will die too? How do I handle the fact that I was happy in my marriage and never wanted to see it end…but here I am without a partner? Why do some people think that grief ends when a new relationship begins? Will my widow community understand that loving someone else does not make me less of a widow? Because as much as I hated that word the first time I had to own it, I have come to realize that being Phil’s widow is the only way I can still be his wife. And how in the world do I explain THAT to another man?!

Last week I told another widow that I have a boyfriend, a serious boyfriend actually. And I was shocked by her reply…..”What a relief, finally, someone to talk to about this!” While reading her response I realized that my fear of being judged for moving into a new phase of widowhood has kept me from sharing information that could be helpful to our widow community. I happily share my widow self, my mother self, my sister/daughter/friend self…but I for fear of hurting or shocking newly widowed women who aren’t ready to think about life four years from now, I have not shared my whole self. I am a widow, I will love Phil forever, I have learned to accept that life will not be what he and I planned, and I have found a man who understands that my past, my loss, and especially my grief have made me the woman I am today…and he loves the woman I have become. As I have learned to love again I have held on with both hands to the reality that true love never dies and that I don’t have a limited supply of love to give.

My Protective Cloak
June 13th, 2009 by michele

Motherhood brings out the lioness in me. No task is too small or sacrifice too great to ensure the well being of my three children. In my mind’s eye I can see myself jumping in front of an on-coming train to save their lives; feeding them first from my last ration of bread; offering myself as a meal for the hungry bear that is chasing them and in every one of these imaginings I manage to save the day.

In the normal course of life moms feed, bathe, clothe, soothe, encourage, celebrate, hold, hug, and protect their little ones through the bumps and bruises associated with living, learning and loving. Sometimes I think of my love for them as a protective cloak that serves the double purpose of reminding them of their innate value and also guarding them from the many perils that threaten to harm them as they walk this journey of life. But when death came knocking, I could not protect them.

After delivering the devastating news to my children that my husband died in a cycling accident, I rode home in the back seat of a car with the three of them crying in my arms. They asked question, after question as I felt my heart writhe repeatedly inside my chest. Why did that man hit him, Mom? Where was Phil’s bike? Wasn’t he wearing a helmet? I thought you said he probably broke some bones. How come that driver didn’t see him? Why did he die? I remember these moments like you recall a dream, vivid and yet unfocused and out of sequence. But through the fog of emotion one feeling from that night is piercingly clear…the terrifying sensation of being completely helpless. For the first time in their young lives there was not one thing I could do to take away my children’s pain. My own pain was echoed in their cries of grief, and the invisible cape I naively believed could shield them from every trauma lay crumpled on the floor mats at our feet.
Being powerless to alter the course my children were about to travel, I realized all I could offer was a hand to hold as we walked the road that lay before us. And so we grieved together. Some days were ugly. Some days I yelled more than I should have. Some days we cried; others we laughed. They went back to school; I sat on the couch and stared into space. They did homework; I tried to pay attention. Dinner was sometimes from a box, and other times from the drive through. We went to the beach, we slept in just because, we said Phil’s name often, and celebrated the fact that we loved him every day. Life milestones were bittersweet. We held fast to some family traditions, while others were re-designed. Slowly we built a new life one day at a time.

My kids taught me many lessons in the aftermath of our family tragedy. In those early days we discovered that tears can be shared; strong parents cry too. They taught me that time together is the foundation for the memories that hold us up in times of loss. Laughing with them reminded me that being happy was necessary, too. Their love was unconditional…which meant I didn’t have to know all the answers. My kids taught me that I could lean on them; the whole world didn’t have to rest on my shoulders alone. . Together we have risen from the ashes of loss to do more for the world we inhabit, because death taught us to value life. Three teenage angels taught me to be a better mother, and to see the world as it can be if we parents truly believe all those things we teach our children…love much, laugh often, and live well.
Ironically, my inability to shield my children from every pain has allowed them to learn lessons that will shape their future in ways I would never have imagined. And my lack of superhuman powers allowed their amazing courage and natural grace to shine brightly even death couldn’t dim their beauty.

Time is Not the Healer of Grief
April 4th, 2009 by sandysea

Since grief is a difficult topic for most people, there is a tendency to descend into myths about the subject of grief. These myths have often been passed down from generation to generation. These myths or paradigms easily become the accepted truth of our lives that we accept without questioning.

In this series of articles I will be discussing a number of myths which are prevalent in our culture. These myths have a lasting impact on the lives of grievers and those who support grieves.

The purpose of these articles is to bring the myths to the surface of consciousness in order that they can be seen and evaluated from a place of awareness rather than simply accepted as the norm. Myths cloud the truth and create inner confusion and frustration.

I speak about these myths from the inside out, so to speak. The more I explored my own grief process the more I became aware of how these and other myths had really kept me stuck in my own grief process.

The first myth we will explore is a very common response expressed to most grievers; namely, “…it just takes time to get over grief.”

If you are presently grieving you may have heard this or you may have expected to hear this from others. It may be a sentiment you have shared with others you know who are grieving.

Simply because this is a common response does not mean it is helpful or true. Take a moment to close your eyes and really focus on the words and the meaning of the phrase, “It just takes time…”

How do you feel when you really allow yourself to experience the meaning of these words?

You may experience inner conflict or confusion when you hear these words. You may begin to wonder how much time is enough time to grieve. You may feel compelled to ask others how long they grieved their loss. You may feel resigned to the fact that grief is something that must take a specific number of years to move through.

I believe one reason this myth is so prevalent is because it is so very difficult to watch someone who is grieving. Projecting the grief out into an extended time frame somehow gives those grieving and those watching the grief a way to justify the pain of grief.

If grief just takes time, then all concerned can just resign themselves to an extended time frame. It’s put in the same category as if you break your leg and the doctor gives you a specific number of weeks for the bones to heal. Most people simply accept that time frame and wait it out.

With grief, time is not the healer. Grief is not about time. Grief is about a hurting heart. And that hurting heart longs simply to be acknowledged, with no time expectation or limits.

If time were the healer of grief then those losses from many years ago would not still be impacting our lives today. If time were the healer then we would not find ourselves so easily drawn back to our past losses when we witness or experience a new loss.

Time is not the healer of grief. Awareness and honesty are the first steps to healing grief.

My Husband’s Favorite Sweatshirt
February 12th, 2009 by michele

For the first few weeks after Phil’s death anything that had touched his body was sacred. His shoes were sitting where he last left them, his lunchbox remained on top of the refrigerator, and his toothbrush was standing next to mine in the holder. One day I found an eyelash of his and pressed it into a plastic rosary holder for safekeeping. Three days before he died, he was working in our attic and left dirty fingerprints on the top of the door in our bedroom. I was annoyed when I saw the black marks on our white door, and made a mental note to ask him to clean off the prints. Those black marks now hold a place of honor on my otherwise white door.

In those early days I didn’t handle Phil’s things very often I was afraid of losing his scent or masking that unique smell with my own. But after a few months, as shock wore off and reality started to press in around me, I became desperate for the comfort of Phil’s arms. One morning I woke up crying (again) and wrapped my own arms around myself trying to imagine that my limbs were his. Rocking back and forth in the middle of my bed I looked up and caught sight of one of his sweatshirts. Even as I literally ached for his touch, I weighed the value of wearing his clothes against the risk of losing even a tiny part of him. With a limited supply of his things their value became immeasurable. But I needed him, so I pulled that sweatshirt over my head. Immediately I felt as if he had wrapped me in a tight hug, and I lay my head on his strong chest and cried my eyes out.

That moment was a milestone for me. I stopped withholding the comfort of wearing his clothes from myself, and just reveled in the warmth of knowing I was wearing a part of him. I slept in his t-shirts, wore his slippers to get the paper, pulled on his raincoat when it poured, and adopted his favorite running shirt as my own. I was layered in Phil, and I loved every minute.

As I became more comfortable using his things and less worried about losing him by making them my own, I discovered that Phil’s memory was part of my daily life in a new way. Instead of pulling out his things to torture myself with his absence, I used them to remind me of how much he loved me. The items that were a part of his everyday routine, were proof that he was part of my every day world~even though his body was gone. Our love was obvious to me in his hairbrush, even if that brush was now covered in my hair. When I pulled on his running shirt, I was reminded of sunny afternoons that we headed out the door side-by-side. Slowly I blended what was with what is, and found that the past was paving the way for the future.

I still go out to get the paper in Phil’s slippers. Every now and then I giggle as I pull on his favorite sweatshirt, because he would never let me wear it when he was alive. His t-shirts are often my pajamas and that eyelash is still tucked away in the rosary box. What I have learned is that his memory is held not only in the physical evidence of his existence, but in the indelible mark he left on my soul. No amount of time, space, or familiarity will rub that mark off.

The Big Red Day
February 1st, 2009 by michele

My husband used to call Valentine’s Day “So What Day.” Romantic, huh? He thought greeting cards were a waste of trees; that buying flowers because someone told you to defeated the purpose; and that going to dinner on the big day just to eat from a limited menu and have servers anxiously awaiting your departure from the table was ridiculous. I will admit that we fought about this on a few occasions who wants to be the only girl in the office that didn’t get flowers? Eventually we settled into our own brand of celebrating our love, both on the big day, and on the other 364 days of the year.

I expected to breeze through the first Valentine’s Day without him, because he hated this holiday. But as the day approached, I found myself missing my heart day scrooge. There was no one around to balk at the increase in flower prices. There was no need to peruse the recycled card collection looking for just the right sentiment for my grumpy Valentine, and I cried when I realized there would be no one to take me to dinner at 4:30PM to avoid the crowds. Very quickly I found myself repeating in my head all the reasons to boycott the Hallmark holiday.

When the day arrived I found myself unable to ignore the National Day of Love. Instead of pushing the memories of our on-going struggle to find a happy middle ground for our own celebration out of my mind, I called them each front and center. And I laughed out loud. Recalling the times he showed up in the kitchen with a flower from our garden in hand, the dinners we “accidentally” went to on the 14th of February, my efforts to get him to just write me just one letter telling me how much he loved me (I was successful), and finally, the fact that he proposed to me on Valentine’s Day I felt loved. And I guess that is the point of the day after all. Even though Phil never contributed to the romance testaments proudly placed on desks across America, I never doubted that he loved me. That night I drifted off to sleep murmuring “happy so what day honey.”

Eleven
January 6th, 2009 by annmarie

I am eleven years a widow now. I reread the words I have written in my widowhood and wonder how I ever made it through the pain, the fears and the frozen terror of life in the aftermath of death.

But I did. Sometimes it actually feels contained. The grief. The longing for him alive has been replaced, filled, adjusted. I can attest to rebirth and renewal. They’re not only r & r words.

And then it hits me again. Peter’s mother, twenty-four years a widow, dies at the age of 94. His twin sisters omit Peter’s four sons and his grandson from their mother’s obituary. And if they’ve removed them from the obit, you can imagine what they’ve done with their inheritance. “This brings it all up again,” I say to my mother. “If Peter hadn’t died, it would be so different.” I can almost hear my mother rolling her eyes from the other side of the line, wondering when I am going to eliminate that pointless lament from my repertoire of woes.

Ram Dass says he is “stroked.” He lives a life after his stroke that is forever different. Such is the experience for a woman who is widowed. As women, we become mothers, sisters, daughters. And we are “widowed.” I can almost see the peak at the forehead when I say the word now. The peak that begins the rest of the elaborately complex hood. And when we are widowed we pare apart a union that was once paired. We become singular in our life’s choices.

Should I go back to school, sell my house, move out of this mausoleum of grief, we wonder as widows. Should I quit my job? Do I have a choice? Some of us actually do. We’re the fortunate few.

Eleven years later, I’ve done what fortunate widows and women do. I’ve fed my boys, earned my masters, worked a farm, quit my job, sold my house, fell in love again, fed my boys some more. Through it, I’ve known that my life’s work runs parallel to my life. I have discovered a hood of being a woman that I never imagined wearing but have tailored to fit my life. Being a widow has intersected with being me.

I am a widoe. I’ve softened her with an “e” so that I can wear her name. Bear her existence. That she was I. Peter was gone. I had babies. It was survival for many years. Not enough. Too much. Too many. Too few. When is it not about survival?

But I’m not a refugee widow. Not in the Sudan. Afghanistan. Not fearing my daughter will be raped at the well. Not gathering wood to sell at market. I am a privileged, white-faced, mother of sons whom I watch grow strong like the green winter grasses outside my window. Young ones, older ones, middle-sized ones; I’ve inherited two more in my merger of families with a new mate. Six sons. A grandson too. There’s a hood I can wear more easily.

Unfortunately, motherhood and widowhood are commonly worn together. I founded WidowSpeak, a non-profit that makes visible the lives of widows, and far too commonly, it is only about survival. I work for a neighborhood of widows whom I call my “widows in the hood.” I work for renewal and justice and the strength that we must harness as a community of widows, but most of the stories that come across my desk are desperate. Widows with AIDS, widowed grandmothers raising babies, widows with hungry children. Africa, Indonesia, Iraq, California: some may forage for our children’s next meal; some of us fight for our sons’ inheritance.

Eleven years ago, only four months after Peter died, I signed the papers that removed my mother- in-law’s name from the title of Peter’s and my home. In 1988, Peter’s “ahead of his time” microbrewery had declared bankruptcy and when we bought our home in 1989 we had put it in his mother’s name. We had agreed to pay all the mortgage and property taxes and had. It was mere hours after he had suddenly died, that my mother-in-law had insisted that I change the title of the house. “I want this house out of my name,” she had repeated.

I was thirty-six, the mother of three sons, pregnant with our fourth, working at the local high school and trying to hold it all together; and I was calling loan agents to apply for credit for the first time, so that I could please my mother in law. I tried to assure her that I wasn’t boarding the next plane for a Thai beach, and saddling her with the house, but she was determined. On a cold January morning, the baby’s first kicks fluttering in my belly; I was sitting by myself at the title company, having to gulp back the tears and the morning sickness as they came in waves.

Uncanny that she would be buried, eleven years to the day, that I had signed those papers. Peter had been an eleven, and he had always claimed magic in the number. He was born at eleven minutes after eleven on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In his mother’s eulogy, they said that in her last days she had talked about having not seen Peter for a while and that she was going home to see him again. Peter had been close to his mother. They had shared a special bond. I hope she doesn’t show up at Peter’s home looking for him. That home was sold some years ago. Or maybe showing up to a house of strangers is a good place for her to start knocking. It’s a sad story. But it’s not desperate.

Today, my life and work intersect again. I work for the widow in Chad who relies on the United Nations and private donations from wealthy countries, and miles of bureaucracy, for a plastic tarpaulin to call home. And I also work for the widow who blogs from the attic space of her rented home. Living in Chile, as a child, in the years leading up to Allende’s election, my window to humanity’s collective suffering was opened and only gets wider. When I look at my well-fed children, I cannot forget the children’s gaunt eyes from the gutters of Coya. When I blow my “woe is me widow-whistle,” I renew my pledge to work for widows worldwide. Widows who lose their homes and their children too.

I pledge to blog as the widow I wear. A postmodern widoe, whom I call my PoMoDoe. I’ve been quieting her because I fear my edge, my anger, my bitterness, my myopic singularity. “Who am I to speak for widows?” I question, stuffing my words into my behave box. Today, I realize again, that there are no “ifs” in his story but that there are necessary edges to my story and though I may be able to soften my Doe, I will no longer be able to stuff her.

I have a voice and I will continue to listen for the voices of the widows and their children whose voices have been stripped from them. To be widowed is to become singular, but it doesn’t mean we are alone. It’s 2009. It’s a new year. The numbers add up to eleven. We welcome a new president, of a new generation of Americans, whose mother-in-law, a widow, will be living with her family in the White House. Peter’s mother had been a staunch republican. She had campaigned for Reagan, she was bitterly opposed to immigration and didn’t hold back her thoughts about Americans of color and language. “What are they doing here?” she’d ask with exasperation. “Tell them to go home and learn English,” she’d say about those who were moving into her once only-white neighborhood on the sparkling Marina. There are some beautiful ironies here. The Catholic priest who presided over her service was Pakistani and his lyrical accent was difficult to understand, but he spoke an impeccable English.

How Can I Be Merry?
December 24th, 2008 by michele

This is the fourth Christmas I have spent without Phil. I find that fact almost incomprehensible. Where has the time gone? How do I begin to count the things that have happened in my life since his death? The kids have grown several inches, our families have grown and changed, our house is different in many ways, and I put up the Christmas lights in record time (I am getting good at it!)…and all of these things are bittersweet. Life has changed in a variety of ways, and yet Phil is still dead. He gets the updates about our lives via my heart-to-heart chats with him, but there are now other people who get the updates, too. There are many parts of Christmas that remind me of him, of us, of a life that is no longer…sometimes the memories make me laugh, and other times they make me cry and there are still days when I shake my head in wonder that Phil is not coming through the front door any minute.

So how can I be merry? How do I savor a life that Phil isn’t sharing? When do the memories cease being haunting? I can only answer for myself…and what I have found is that knowing that Phil is forever in my heart gives me the comfort I need to have a different life. Things aren’t what they once were. I am no longer naive to the concepts of death, grief, devastation, and despair. Meeting these dark companions has changed my life. When I discovered how dark life can be, I instinctively reached out for the light. As I walked through the valley of fear and uncertainty, I searched for a path towards hope. And when I experienced the absolute truth that life is actually short, my own life became more valuable as a result. My new motto is, “Live.” Live for today, because this moment is the only one we have.

How then to be merry? Accept that healing takes time. Know that happiness is eventually, and always, a choice. Hold tight to the love you have for your spouse, but don’t let that hold become so tight that it strangles the living you. Value the opportunity to change someone’s life, in ways large or small. And as a good friend once said to me, rest in the riddle.

Wishing all of you the chance to be merry….even if only for the briefest of moments.

Michele

The Widow Next Door
December 18th, 2008 by michele

WidowSpeak Blog—Michele

Grief is a thief; it steals the breath of life and leaves devastation in its wake. What happens when grief robs a woman of not only her husband, but also her ability to cope with the world around her? How do others know when the aftermath of loss has created a dangerous situation for their friend, family member, or neighbor? When has enough time passed that we no longer wonder if a person’s life difficulties could have something to do with the death of a loved one? The answers to these questions can only be discovered if we are willing to plant our own feet next to a widow, and walk a portion of the journey by her side.

A young woman lost her husband in a car accident six years ago. At the time of her husband’s death their children were eight and two, and her full-time occupation was caring for their family. The car accident that took her husband’s life left this young woman in deep despair. And then she got lost. As each year passed, her ability to find her way out of the forest of grief declined. She stayed in bed, she stopped cleaning the house, she let the yard go—and most people stood by and watched. After the first few years these others assumed this woman was lazy, useless, and a bad mother. Yet, her friends remembered a kind person who loved her children and worked hard to make their lives full and happy. At one time she belonged to the local church, volunteered in the neighborhood, and reached out to others. But when it was time to walk the road of loss—she walked alone.

After six years the department of child protective services was called to this family’s home. The house was declared a fire hazard, as was the surrounding property. And then someone spoke up. A friend recognized that this young woman never functioned the same way after her husband’s death. She noticed that the light was gone from her eyes, her former level of energy never returned, and she could still see that she loved her children and wanted to be able to take care of them. Most importantly, she didn’t put a timeline on her friend’s grief journey.

This good friend searched the Internet for a group that would help this widow. She sent a message to a widow’s support site, and that message happened to land in the lap of someone who knew someone who might be able to help. After a volley of phone calls and e-mails it was discovered that this woman was given one week to get the house cleaned up, or her children would be removed from the home. When the first call for help was received, three days had already passed.

A group called Catholic Charities was contacted, and agreed to make a home visit. What they found when they arrived was a home that could be aired on a daytime talk show—and a woman so lost she couldn’t find a path out. The very next day Catholic Charities rounded up eight volunteers and worked twelve hours straight—sifting, sorting, removing, and caring. On the appointed day, they still needed more time. The case worker for Catholic Charities called the Sheriff assigned to the case, and said they were well on their way to getting the situation under control but could they have one more day? Granted the extension, more volunteers showed up the following day, and as they finished the last bits of work a social worker arrived to take the children. As the social worker looked around the house, she wondered aloud what the problem could have been. The children looked healthy, the house was clean, the kids obviously wanted to stay with their mom; after a few phone calls she left, bewildered by what had taken place. The next day, the Sheriff returned and declared the case closed.
What a gift this wonderful friend gave our sister widow: the gift of understanding. She recognized grief for the thief that it is, and reached out a hand in help instead of pointing a finger in accusation. This led to another gift: the care and concern for others so beautifully displayed by the staff and volunteers from Catholic Charities. They do their work without judgment, and they don’t leave the person in need once the immediate dilemma is solved. This family will receive free counseling, and now has a place to turn for help, support, and hope.
The last thing this widow said to her benefactors was, “I didn’t know how to ask for help, I am so grateful.”

Thank God there was someone who didn’t need to be asked aloud in order to hear the cry.