Filling out a bit of paperwork recently, I was given the choice of two states: married or single. It gave me pause because very simply, I am neither. I am a widow.
My husband passed away over five years ago, and I am still struck by how the word “widow” can be such a conundrum. In fact, I have found that identifying myself as a widow can be quite the conversation stopper. There is an awkwardness that surrounds the word. Introducing myself as a widow seems to require a response, but it is as if folks don’t quite know what that response should be. An expression of sorrow seems trite and common, especially since his passing is a past event. Asking for details in response seems intrusive.
The Reality of Widowhood
For myself, as a widow, to not identify as such seems to negate a large part of my life and to erase a big part of who I am. It may be that any word associated with death is the crux of the issue. Death remains one of the few remaining taboos in our social culture. While we will explore just about anything on social media or even at a cocktail party, death is still not acceptable as a conversation subject. In many respects, even the widow herself finds it awkward. We still carry an image of the widow as quiet and withdrawn, dressed in black, older, forever in mourning, less vibrant, less active. The product of this image is in effect: an unhappy woman.
The reality of life as a widow is very different. Becoming widowed is a part of marriage. It is one of the many seasons of marriage and of life. Eventually, it becomes ordinary for the person living it. The initial shock, grief, and sadness becomes complicated by all the big issues associated with death. There are emotional, financial, and family issues to address. These are made even more complex if there are minor children to comfort and support.
There are, what seems to be, endless firsts to embrace and small heartbreaks as one grows accustomed to morning coffee alone or an empty side of the bed. There is loneliness and loss. There is silence.
Christ is the Consolation
At the same time, there is also comfort. Family and friends carry us through the rough spots. There is also the ever-present comfort of faith. The words of the book of Revelation, a book often shrouded in mystery, become strongly comforting. Revelation 21:4 reads:
…he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.
These words remind us that, as Catholics, we live in hope and promise. We live not just for eternal life, but for the hope, thanksgiving, and remembrance we share in the Eucharist. We remember that Christ lived and died to give us that life eternal.
Celebrating and Remembering
The life everlasting promised us by Scripture and Tradition begins within ourselves. Celebrating the life completed begins with the memories we cherished.
For myself, celebrating that life completed happens each time my children gift me with another grandchild or when my eldest daughter uses a phrase coined by her father while she was growing up. It happens again when another child looks at her toddler son and suggests that, for one fleeting second, he bore a look that echoed the grandfather he never met. The celebration grows broader each season through photos, Christmas ornaments, and anecdotes told around a dinner table. These memories become a glorious trigger of a life shared, as well as completed.
Being Comforted in Widowhood
My personal faith has always been heavy on activism and intensity. A large portion of my life has been spent teaching and working in the realm of social justice and change. Fueled by my faith, I believed in a call to make present the Kingdom of God.
Through my husband’s passing, I learned that ensuring preferential options for the poor and imprisoned is also my birth right as a woman of Faith. It is my duty to feed and to comfort.
I also learned that in Faith, in my relationship with the Lord, and in our Catholic community, there exists a place for my own comfort and consolation. I learned to sit and be still and let God be God, walking with me through the profound sadness while leading me to the realization that I had the privilege of living to completion this sacrament of marriage.
Widowhood as a Season
In the end, being a widow isn’t awkward, it isn’t lonely. At least not forever. It is yet another season of life that contains good days, bad days, and simply ordinary days. In fact, life as a widow isn’t better or worse that life as a married woman. It is a different life. It is one that requires some getting used to, but different nonetheless.The difference isn’t good or bad, it is simply different.
There are days when I wish I had been a better wife and friend to my husband. There are days when I wish he had been a better husband and friend to me. There are days when I am glad my husband has been spared some of the suffering that is part of the day-to-day struggle of life. There are days when my morning coffee routine is still missing its other half.
There are, however, no days without some thought of him: a memory, a reaction I can imagine, a smile I can still feel, a laugh I can still hear. As long as those moments exist, then being a widow means celebrating a life completed, a life I had the privilege to share.
Are there any widows in our Blessed is She sisterhood? How to do you celebrate the life of your beloved?
Kathy Schlossmacher is a retired high school Religion teacher and a widow residing in Buffalo, NY. In her spare time she hangs out with her dog and grand kids, reads, writes, knits and drinks coffee.