Archive for the 'Widows’ Web' Category

Mourning Clothes
Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

I started wearing black in my teens and I have grown through the black of many shades and stages. Black dresses with carefree frills, black slacks for sassy, practical black for warm gloves and hats, the black I wore was playful and nonchalant, naive to the darker fringes found in wardrobes after death swoops in and kills nonchalance.

I liked wearing black. Satin black dresses, tied at my back, ebony curls and polished grey pearls; his charcoaled hair against my white breast. Black was an accent, not a focus. I asked him to wear it, and then wrapped myself around him like a sash circles a neck. Twirling around the smoky clubs, holding onto the black-and-blue of his eyes, we danced the midnight streets and the wooden floors of our churchhouse, under the moons of a blackened sky.

Black changed when he died. That night, I discovered the black of a widow. A shiny black; sharp and crisp. For Mama Til, my great grandmama, a widow’s black was dull, highly buttoned and severely laced. At the turn of the century, when Til stepped out of her launder woman’s home, she wore a widow’s costume. It was observed and noted that she was in her mourning period, and she was sheltered from the bite of the invisible widow’s black that I wear, perhaps?

Newly widowed, I yearned for an intricately woven, black-lace veil to drape over my tear-streaked face. I wanted the world to know that I was mourning my beloved. I wanted motorists to slow down when I crossed the busy street. I didn’t want for them to mistaken me as a goth and be suspicious of me. I wanted to wear a sign on my back that said, “be gentle with me; I am learning to walk with a limb missing.” But my widow’s black was quiet. Because mourning clothes aren’t worn in my time or culture, I wore naked clothes of grieving. Without a costume, I was blurred in a land of out-dated words and invisible wardrobes.

I didn’t wail in public. I didn’t throw myself into the unforgiving ocean or the expectant funeral pyre. I pinched my face brave as I feared falling apart. Afraid that if I crumbled, so did my children, my family, the peaked roof above our heads. I won’t crumble, I repeated, biting my lip till it bled. But no one saw the blood either. In my culture, the images of death are tucked away, until one day death bleeds in front of us. And then we don’t have enough towels in our closet, to sop it all up.

The black of my once-preferred wardrobe, paled as I tried on my new black. I didn’t know what to wear to describe my grief. A black armband to mourn revolutionary style, elevating my love to martyr? A hooded cape with a widow’s peak at my forehead? I recoiled at the sight of black. I heard widow and I cringed, “Don’t call me that. It isn’t true. It isn’t my story. It’s Jacqueline Kennedy’s, Yoko Ono’s, Katie Couric’s. Go away. Be an interrupted nightmare. Be someone else’s costume and title.”

The man I loved did not die fighting for the illusion of freedom. He was not a sacrificial lamb, a statesman or a rock star. He did not die in a factory accident, a car accident, or from an environmental disease. I didn’t watch him suffer and dwindle away, and yet, I live in the shadow of crumbling towers, where daddies and fathers and lovers disappear. Where I became widow and single-mother in the same swoop.

Trying to fit into my pre-dated corset, I looked up “widow” in the dictionary. From dowager, it said, a legal term. A woman who could own property because her husband had died. I looked for a widow in literature that I could relate to. There had to be stories of widows walking over boggy heaths, weren’t there? Civil War widows tending to the farm, hungry babies at their skirts. Widows of the Depression waiting in a bread line, cold children at their skirts. Widows of WWII in factories, boosting the value of America, children working at their skirts. Widows of Vietnam, staying out of fire’s way, horrified families hiding at their skirts.

Where I live, women run corporations, same-sex couples adopt children, domestic partners are entitled to working benefits and single mothers keep rediscovering that it has always been a village of women and children, around the hearth, while the men disappeared in the hunt, or war. Maybe, I realized one day, it’s not how I dress myself, but how I write myself. I can wear my name and write widow in a way that becomes me. My widoe can evolve from dowager, by dropping the w and adding an e. I can write myself as widoe and create a new way of looking at myself, through my own lyrical fingertips.

My widoe wears an e, the way another widow wears high-necked black, another wears a white mourning veil, another, a heavy shroud, or a severe peak. I told my professor that the e is the proper way to make the o long and widow feminine. Spare me the grammar lesson, she says. Okay then, widow is written in an archaic language that doesn’t define me. The e loosens the patriarchal bindings of widow, with origins of being his property. I know I’m privileged to live in a fertile valley where women, at least overtly, are not regarded as property. The nagging hole in my belly is obesity alongside the widow of India who has been cast out to the streets to beg with her children. The widow who has been denied her home, her children’s, inheritance, which had been stolen by her husband’s family.

“Widoe” is somewhere in-between mammal and woman, I said to my professor, as I explained my thesis title. Birth unites women in a family of mothers welcoming life into hopeful arms. Death unites women in a family of widoes releasing life from helpless arms. My widoe has the freedom to walk to a Haitian dance class, down the street from my home, thirsting for rejuvenation, from the live drumming, the sweat, and the colorful skirts. I don’t live the Haitian widoe’s day-to-day hunger and poverty. But, in many ways, I live her pain, her dance of raising children on a dime. Rather than deny my widow’s hood, I cut my cloak from a cloth that belongs to all widows, tailoring it to me, grateful for the choice I have to be able to wear what I want.

Returned and rebuilding
Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Sorry for the long, unannounced hiatus. There were quite a few big decisions in my personal life over the past several months that interfered with both my blogging time and my access to the internet. I am writing now from a new town, a new place of residence, a new vocation, and most importantly, a new lease on life. I finally feel that I am at a point where I might be able to build a fulfilling and healthy life for myself, alone. Also, there are quite a few poor decisions from the past year that need to be rectified. I had read studies and anecdotal evidence of widow(er)s making poor financial and life choices after the death of their partner, and I am afraid to tell you that possessing the knowledge alone does not protect you from succumbing to an increased rate of mistakes and missteps. Ah well, I have all of the time in the world to rebuild myself into a stronger and better version. And for that time I remain eternally grateful.

In addition to announcing a return to regular blog updates here, I wanted to inform the readers of this corner of the web of a new online service which I was invited to try. The service is a newly launched online memorial site, Respectance.com. The site allows one to create a lovely memorial for a loved one who has passed, creating a place where people all over the world can meet and remember their loved one. My page is here, and I encourage you to check it out and add your own! It’s really sort of a neat concept.

Thank you for your patience.

Tragic differences
Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Recently posted at Living Forward, this excerpt perfectly describes the doubts in my mind every time I think about the possibility of ever becoming emotionally invested in another’s life. Unfortunately, there’s more than one kind of heartbreak out there; so I’ve included her commentary on the doubts of the recently divorced as well.

divorced: she might cheat on me
widowed: he might die on me

divorced: when is it going to fail
widowed: when will he get sick

divorced: 6 out of 10 marriages will fail
widowed: everyone dies

divorced: im scared of screwing up
widowed: im scared of losing him

divorced: i need to protect my heart
widowed: i need to protect my heart

Distressed Haiku
Saturday, January 13th, 2007

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.
Then they stay dead.

—”Distressed Haiku,” written by Donald Hall shortly after the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon.

Information for Friends and Family.
Monday, October 30th, 2006

Mostly Risible, a blog by a funny, sharp-witted woman who also happens to be a hospice volunteer, posted these items on grief at her place recently. I would like to share them because these pieces were very helpful for me, and might help others deal with a friend’s, or a personal loss.
For those who have experienced loss of a loved one:

Please don’t ask me if I’m over it yet.
I’ll never get over it.
Please don’t tell me he’s in a better place.
He’s not here with me.
Please don’t say he isn’t suffering any more.
I haven’t come to terms of why he had to suffer at all.
Please don’t tell me how you feel
Unless you’ve lost someone in the same way.
Please don’t ask me if I feel better.
Bereavement isn’t a condition that clears up.
Please don’t tell me at least you had him for so many years.
What year would you like your loved one to die?
Please don’t tell me God never gives us more than we can bear.
Please just say you’re sorry.
Please just say you remember my loved one if you do.
Please mention my loved one’s name.
Please be patient with me when I am sad.
Please just let me cry.

Unknown Author

For those who know someone who had recently experienced a loss:

How to Help Grieving People- What You Can Say, What You Can Do

  • Read about the various phases of grief so you can understand and help
    the bereaved to understand.
  • All that is necessary is a hand squeeze, a kiss, a hug, your presence.
    If you want to say something, say "I’m sorry" or "I care."
  • It is not necessary to ask questions about how the death happened. Let
    the bereaved tell you as much as they want when they are ready. A helpful
    question might be, "Would you like to talk about the death? I’ll listen."
  • Don’t say, "I know just how you feel."
  • The bereaved may ask "Why?" It is often a cry of pain rather
    than a question. It is not necessary to answer, but if you do, you may reply, "I
    don’t know why. Maybe we’ll never know."
  • Don’t use platitudes like "Life is for living," or "It’s
    God’s will." Explanations rarely console. It’s better to say nothing.
  • Recognize the bereaved may be angry. Encourage them to acknowledge their
    anger and to find ways of handling it.
  • It is good to cry. Crying is a release. People should not say, "Don’t
    cry."
  • Be available to listen frequently. Most bereaved want to talk about the
    person who has died. Encourage them to talk about the deceased. Do not
    change the conversation or avoid mentioning the person’s name. Talking
    about the pain slowly lessens its sting. Your concern and effort can make
    a big difference in helping someone recover from grief.
  • Be patient. Don’t say, "You’ll get over it in time." Mourning
    may take a long time. They will never stop missing the person who has died,
    but time will soften the hurt. The bereaved need you to stand by them for
    as long as possible. Encourage them to be patient with themselves as there
    is no timetable for grieving.
  • Offer to help with practical matters such as errands, fixing food, caring
    for children. Say, "I’m going to the store. Do you need bread, milk,
    etc.?" It
    is not helpful to say, "Call me if there is anything I can do."
  • Accept whatever feelings are expressed. Do not say, "You shouldn’t
    feel like that.
  • The bereaved may appear to be getting worse. This is often due to the reality
    of death hitting them.
  • Depression is often part of grief. It is a scary feeling. To be able to
    talk things over with an understanding friend or loved one is one factor
    that may help a person not to become severely depressed.
  • Don’t say, "It has been four months (six months, a year, etc.). You
    must be over it by now." Life will never be the same.
  • Don’t avoid the bereaved. It adds to their loss. As the widowed often say, "I
    not only lost my spouse, but my friend as well."

by the Funeral Consumers Alliance