This past weekend M came to visit. Some of you may recall M from last year (I wrote about her here and here). M and I were friends before she lost her husband, but since then we’ve grown much closer. We speak on the phone every week or two. I’ve been to visit her once, and now she’s been to visit me. On her last day here, we went for a hike with L, another widow friend of mine from my old job. Then the three of us went to brunch. It was a lovely time, full of laughter and good food. Though M and L had just met, they got along like old friends.
There’s something to be said for the solidarity amongst widows. M and I discussed it on the ride to the airport. When you’re a widow, it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, what your cultural or ethnic background is, if you’re rich or poor — you can usually relate to another widow.
It’s more than just sharing a unique and powerful loss. We all come to the loss in different ways, some by illness, prolonged or sudden, others by freak accidents or crimes. Still others by suicide. We share the loss, but we also share what happens after that. We know about the guilt: caregiving decisions, life decisions, the “shoulda-coulda-wouldas”.
We know about the madness of grief, the swirling of thoughts, the sleepless nights, the constant questioning and unsatisfying answers. We know about the crazy things people say to us, the financial issues, the burden and emotional complexity of dealing with all of our loved one’s things.
We recognize and respect (and never question) widows who still wear their wedding rings, even if we don’t choose to do so ourselves. The same with widows who decide not to date, and those who do. We don’t judge each other like others so often judge us.
We understand how life changes for a widow, how it’s never ever the same. Even if a widow remarries, she will never see her new husband in the same way she saw the one she lost. It’s not a matter of “better” or “worse” — it’s an awareness that will permeate her existence forever. An awareness that might make her less prone to anger, irritability, pettiness, or might prompt her to quit her job and pursue her dreams, or to help others in need.
Her outlook on life and her priorities change. She might cut off certain people in her life simply because they do nothing for her anymore. Though grief makes her foggy, certain aspects of life become crystal clear.
No matter how young she is, she will be more mature.
M said to me this weekend, “That girl is gone. And she’s never coming back.”
I told M that I see loss like a natural disaster of the heart. Hurricanes, tornados, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis… are all an unfortunate part of nature. They strike randomly, leave great devastation in their wake and, in some cases, actually change the landscape of the earth. But afterwards, life springs anew. People rebuild. Plants grow. Animals return. Everyone adapts to the new reality, while never forgetting the past.
And widows are their own unique group of survivors.
It pains me that M had to endure what she did at such a young age (more than ten years younger than I am). We still cry over the men we can no longer hold dear, the mistakes we feel we made, all of the wasted time and silly arguments. If only we knew then what we know now. But we can both agree that there’s no going back to what was. There is only now.
There is only now.