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 theone 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.