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Reflections September 2016

Vintage Vibes

Widow’s Walk

By Elaine Marze

In modern society we are inundated with political correctness on how to communicate with and about various races, religions, cultures, and sexual orientations, but grieving people have been left off the list.

This new reality is excruciatingly hard. Thirty, 40, 50 years of marriage blends a man and woman into one unit; their personalities and individual roles evolves into a dependence upon each other. When that unity is, using an apt Bible term, “torn asunder,” the left-behind half of the couple often feels like a fish on land, flopping around trying to survive in a new world devoid of companionship, guidance, strength, comfort, and even physical touch.

A smart man would start a comfort business where widows could rent him to give hugs, watch a movie with his arm around them or simply to hold hands – platonic demonstrations of caring and companionship that these women miss every day of their present reality. Seems like a little thing, but months and years of not having a man’s arm around you or his hand to hold in times of stress, fear and loneliness – the absence is magnified.

The loss of a spouse is so devastating that normal conversation from pre-widowhood days may now strike them in a negative way such as bragging about an upcoming 50th wedding anniversary. For someone who has recently lost their mate it reminds them that they will never make that anticipated marital goal. (This is also true for divorced people.)

People die every day, and the sad fact is that for every one who dies, there may be sad spouses left behind to mourn the lost dreams and plans that are common to most marriages, especially those of long duration. Following my own widowhood, I found out there is a vast ignorance of proper death etiquette and understanding among folks who haven’t walked in our shoes. Some of the well-meaning but irritating platitudes foisted off on new and hurting widows and widowers wound tender hearts, and a little understanding might ease some of the heartache.

Ones left behind wish the public was educated on what to say about their new non-married status. Those ministering to grieving people look for the most sensitive way to deal with loss. In modern society we are inundated with political correctness on how to communicate with and about various races, religions, cultures, and sexual orientations, but grieving people have been left off the list.

For example, I was asked to join friends on a cruise, but I heard one of the group complain about “little old widow ladies” who had to have help carrying their bags and was a burden on the others. It brought to mind how, on our cruises, my late husband carried most of our luggage load, and once we hit ports, he claimed to be a pack mule for all my shopping “bargains.” It occurred to me that I probably would need help, and that I would be the aforementioned little old widow lady, a burden on others. I did not go.

A frequently mentioned heart-pain among widows is that when they travel and reach their destination, there is no husband to call to tell, “I made it.” When they leave their home there is no concerned husband to hug them and tell them to drive safely, and the lack is felt.

I’m not normally a person who is comfortable with hugging and kissing people outside my immediate family, but when a friend was telling his wife goodbye because she was accompanying me on a road trip, I had a “widow’s moment.” They were hugging goodbye while I stood to the side watching, silently mourning the fact that I no longer had a husband to miss me or care about my safety. It was then that the husband looked up and motioned for me to come over to them. When I did, he put one arm around me and pulled me into the hug, including me in the good-byes. Pre-widowhood that might seem like a small thing, but that simple gesture touched me deeply. By sharing this incident and others, perhaps other people will realize what comfort a hug can be to a widow.

When you are married and you need physical comforting you have the freedom to walk up to your husband, grab his arm and pull it over your shoulder, snuggling up to him while soaking up his manly aura of strength and protection. He might be oblivious to your emotional distress, but his nearness is still a comfort to you. Following widowhood … if you don’t have a son, grandson or close friend who are tuned in to your loss and needs and will hold you close every now and then, it can be even colder and lonelier.

 

Elaine Marze is the author of "Widowhood: I Didn't Ask for This" which is not your typical sweet, spiritual grief book but is used by numerous counselors and grief groups because of its reality-based honesty.

 

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