I follow Modern Widows Club on Facebook and learn about challenges and opportunities for widows around the world. This is not a club I ever knew existed pre-widow life, but I am glad that it exists. It is a place people on the widowed life journey can go when they seek information, reassurance, solace, and a network of people who walk a similar walk on this road through life.
I certainly didn’t know there was a Widow Awareness Day. Apparently, it is today. June 23. I bet a lot of people don’t know that either. Truly, I don’t need a day set aside. Believe me, I’m well aware of widowhood and all its intricacies. However, some people DO need a day (plus more) set aside. They are living in societies where widowhood is treated like a disease, like it is something that they brought upon themselves and should be punished for or cast out.
The times we live in are interesting. What the hell is wrong with people? I guess that is one of the repeating questions of my life.
The word widow is another label humans insist on using to define people. Oh, I know I am one. But I am also a daughter, a mother, a wife, a friend. My parents are both dead; I am still their child. My children are grown and away from home. I am still their mother. Some of my dearest friends left this world too soon. They are still with me in spirit. And, of course, my husband is gone. He left and I became a widow instantly. But I did not stop remembering I was his wife. How we define the words or labels given to us can surely vary.
These labels can be stripped away, collaged over, refashioned and reworked. I am a human. A human with many names: Agnes, mom, sister, writer, artist, cook, friend, teacher, mentor, encourager, grandmother in training, mother-in-law, advocate, traveler, believer…
Does a loss change my label? Really? Did I stop becoming a daughter when my parents died? Did I stop being a wife when my husband died? Words, as much as I love them, have a way of limiting us if we allow it. There are parts of me I would say that are not dead, but waiting, like quiet places of sanctuary, around the bend. The daughter room, where I hear my daddy playing organ music as I dance and jump on the oak stained floors in our front room. Where Mama’s voice calmed and encouraged me through many days– her words, “Be good to yourself” reverberating even now. The best friends room–where Nancy is waiting with a cigarette to share and we will sit and laugh and remember. Waydean waits too–for long dinner dates and an even longer follow up convo in a parking lot. We never got through talking. Ever. Ami–there’s a new project to make or a book we must read.
And Sam. I think the rooms where he is are open and sweeping. There are fish biting and berries to pick and hands to hold. And things only we know to remember.
So, to the world, those parts of who I was are dead. But they are not. They are very much alive in the remembering, recalling, and reliving. Loss adds, not subtracts. It adds a depth that does not leave, a well that I can reach into and pull out a moment at will. I have insights now I did not have pre-loss. Rather than feel sorry for widows, let’s respect their place of insight. We have traveled to depths and heights many have not. But, at the end of the day, I am more than a widow. I am a woman who is walking, like the rest of us, toward a final destination. I do not require special treatment. There is no need to be afraid of me. We are not nearly as complicated as we sometimes seem. We are humans who will die. We begin dying the minute we are born, changing and re-changing into something new based on our experiences and our relationships and our learning.
One day I was a child. The next, an orphan. One day a bride, wife, lover. The next, a widow. Putting a word on it does not change the fact. The rooms that make me “me” are still within me. They have not died. Sometimes they wait. Sometimes there are no labels on the next door yet. Or maybe there are. Maybe the labels say choice, possibility, future, strength, wisdom, opportunity.
As a writer who knows the recursive nature of the work, so it is with living. We take who we are, honor all that is inside us, and use it to remind us, to resurrect us, to reinvent us into the people we are today.
We have not lost as much as we shall gain: a wisdom that is won through the depths of despair, darkness, and deep pain. It is not necessary to expound or explain all the intricacies of the reality of living without one we have lost. But I know I understand people much better now. Widows share an understanding that people who have not experienced it cannot fully grasp.
I know because I did not know.
On this International Widows Day, I’ve decided to pray for widows and orphans.To look for ways to change the lives of widows who need help in finding their voices. To post this piece of writing as a witness to the fact that as a human, I have many names. Widow is only one.