Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.

Loss: From Nightmare to Normal


Today a friend posted on Facebook a NYT article entitled No Husband, No Friends by Charlotte Brozek with the caption “Wow. This is scary.” In the article, Ms. Brozek, a widow of one year, explains that because she and her late husband had no single friends, and because her married friends now avoid her, she feels isolated, confused and understandably depressed.

My friends headed for the hills. In the last years of my husband’s life, we had come to rely on two or three couples for entertainment, but they disappeared after he died. Were they afraid to face their own mortality, or was it that the dynamics we presented as a duo were lost with me as a widow?

This statement made me recall what another friend recently said to me: “No offense, but you’re my worst nightmare.” She was referring to my being a widow, and I took no offense at all. In fact, I totally understood what she meant. I used to be my own nightmare too, in the same way parents who lose their children personify other parents’ worst nightmares.

In his memoir A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis describes the inevitability of death (i.e. separation) that we’re all aware of when we enter into romantic relationships, whether we’re conscious of it or not:

… this separation, I suppose, waits for all. I have been thinking of H. and myself as peculiarly unfortunate in being torn apart. But presumably all lovers are. She once said to me, ‘Even if we both died at exactly the same moment, as we lie here side by side, it would be just as much a separation as the one you’re so afraid of.’

We all know that one day our lives and our loved ones’ lives will end. Some say the words “till death do us part” when they marry, but really those words could be said upon the birth of a child or the beginning of any committed relationship where the understanding is “we will be together until one or the other of us dies.” Yet, when death actually happens, even if it’s expected, it is both shocking and agonizing to the ones left behind.
Another friend once said to me that death (nothing from something), like birth (something from nothing), is incomprehensible. Intellectually, we know that it happens and what it means. But when faced with the reality (no matter how much we have “prepared” for it), our minds cannot fully understand how it’s possible that someone can be alive one moment and the next moment not alive, and never to return. The power of this total and complete finality is what shocks the system, and it’s that finality that we hate to think about.
C.S. Lewis describes the discomfort that his widower status produced in others:
At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether. R. has been avoiding me for a week. I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.
Ms. Brozek uses the analogy of Noah’s ark, where only coupled animals were saved, to describe the inherant isolation a widow can feel:
I understand Noah’s plan — the world needed two to tango in the face of an annihilating flood. But he should have designated a section on the ark for us.
Two and a half years after Kaz’s death, I’m still experiencing the awkward encounters, less so the isolation. For one thing, I have a diverse pool of friends, including couples (unmarried, married, gay, straight, with/without children) and singles. I also have no qualms doing things alone, and time has helped to reestablish my equilibrium. Ms. Brozek also writes:
Someone once said that being a widow is like living in a country where nobody speaks your language. In my case, it’s only my friends, family and acquaintances who all now speak Urdu — it’s not the whole country. I discovered strangers possess more compassion than my own friends and family. 
One of the main reasons I cherish this blog so much is that I can discuss things here that I cannot comfortably discuss with most people. This has made me feel less isolated and continues to help me heal.
So, while loss is inevitable, time and expression can help us transition from nightmare to normal. It’s hard to remember when we’re in the thick of it, but life is cyclical… nothing from something, something from nothing… in finitum.

Author: nivaladiva

Freelance writer and independent filmmaker.

9 thoughts on “Loss: From Nightmare to Normal

  1. Wonderful post. I, too, have been very lucky. I think a big part is that, similar to you, my circle of friends is mixed between singles and couples. Odd numbers are the norm. Still…. there’s a lot of truth in this post No matter how good your friends are, it’s an entirely different world out there when every activity requires either going alone or finding someone to go with. I like eating breakfast out on weekends; I choose where to go based, in part, on how welcoming the place is for single diners. Some of the places where Rick & I were regulars I no longer go to, because I feel like a pariah sitting alone.

    It’s not just something as minor as where to eat breakfast. Your post really highlights the challenge of feeling whole again and in figuring out how to maneuver through the world. I’ve thought of posting on this topic but couldn’t figure out how to do it in a way that didn’t sound whiny or disrespectful of all the people that are single. You’ve nailed it, Niva: the issue isn’t just the abrupt drop into singleness, it’s the lack of choice in the matter, and the way that I can’t quite stop myself from compulsively going over and over how it happened.

    When I was divorced it was different; yes, there were some couples with whom we’d done things that dropped off my list of friends, but the entire experience was one of regaining who I was. It was moving towards a better future. There’s none of that with death; it’s final, it’s kinda creepy, and it sure isn’t a choice that either of us got to make. And it’s lonely.

    Thanks for writing this. I’m rambling, but this really hit where I am right now and what I’m feeling, but far more eloquently than I could have put it.

    • Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment. I’m glad the post resonated. It is so hard to explain this phenomenon but when I saw the Brozek article it got me thinking and remembering Lewis’ book. I find that line about lepers particularly poignant.

  2. I love when your blog comes in my mail. Lovely and touching post.

  3. So first of all, I want to befriend Charlotte! I really feel for her! I wonder if it is generational thing in terms of the isolation? Don’t get me wrong – I can not imagine your loss, but as you said, you at least had a diverse group of friends and did not have to deal quite as much with losing all your friends because they are “coupled”, as well as the loss of Kaz.
    As a single person, I too have that diversity in friendships. I am often not the only one who is not coupled. BUT as your first commenter said, it is my CHOICE to be single. When a widow there is not choice.
    What a powerful post, Niva.
    Now to check out your first commenters blog 🙂

  4. This is a wonderful piece – I can understand people’s fears I have had this happen on occasion in other situations that did not involve a death and in those that have. It is good that you have this blog – for yourself – to communicate, to feel less isolated – and for us, because we very much enjoy reading your writing:) Thanks – Kimberly xx

  5. I too am a widow, four years in to my new life after 32 years of marriage. It is a very difficult passage. I wonder if age has anything to do with the ability to go on…so many posts I read are from women in their 40’s, who are able to be resilient and forge on with the energy and determination of that age and place in one’s personal timeline. For me, when I lost my husband, I had spent my entire adult life with him, raised two daughters, and had built a life that included him. I resonated with much of what Charlotte B. wrote in her NYT essay, much to the chagrin of friends and family, who I dared share the piece with. Many people just don’t get it. It is a different path for all of us who unfortunately must walk it. Some friends have been loyal, patient. Others have treated me as if I have a contagious disease, the cancer of grief. I have re-framed my close inner circle, and it is both smaller as well as deeper.
    The loss of a spouse is about loss of one’s own familiar life too, and that is the part that sneaks up on us and lingers. Trying to keep everything the same was akin to trying to keep my dead husband alive. Once I figured that out, I was able to begin to move forward.
    It is not a journey I wish for anyone, but those who have travelled it are the best companions to seek when we need to share.

    • Hi dpa, I’m glad you left this comment (though very sorry for your loss). It makes sense that the longer one was married, the more difficult the transition. I really appreciate your point about trying to keep things the same too. I think every widow tries to do this for a period, and either comes to the realization that it’s impossible, or doesn’t. It sounds like you are coping the best you can, sifting through the friends, moving forward at your own pace. I wish you the best of luck on your journey, and hope you can find joy again. I hope this for all of us.

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