Do you have any idea how it feels to be a widow after having been married for forty years? I was widowed at age 62 just when my husband had retired, at age 65.
I was married just after my twenty-third birthday. I remained married for almost 40 years.
In July of this year, I will have been a widow for 16 years.
My husband was a terrible hospital patient, and hated being in the hospital so much he drove everyone around him crazy. So when Tony was diagnosed with terminal cancer that had already metastasized to the bones, I promised to keep him at home. No hospital and no nursing home.
He lived five weeks after the diagnosis.
Dee and Bruce stayed with us as much as they could and Tony’s older brothers and their wives were in and out. All were a great help but most of the burden of Tony’s care was on me. I never left the house and just gave up on getting any sleep, since I had to give him his medication every hour. I called in the Hospice folks finally, and they were a great help the last three days of his life. I wished I’d had them all along, but none of us had any idea he would go so quickly.
After the memorial service, Dee was able to get reservations at a beach front condo, on St. Simons Island, near Brunswick, Ga. We spent several days there and I started to recover from the months of worry and nursing care for Tony.
It was there that I began the long process of widowhood.
At first my big house was like a cavity that needed filling – empty, painful. Tony had been such a ball of energy, a force of nature, and his absence was so very obvious. It was hard not to listen for his footstep, or the sound of his key in the door.
No human could have better or more caring children than I had, and still have, of course. At first, they were more worried about me than I was myself. I knew that some way I’d get it together and go on living, even though I’d never lived alone before.
When one gets past all the mundane problems of taking care of a house and pool, plus the bills and business aspects, there is still an emptiness that defines widowhood. What is left is people.
I expected the many friends and family members in our social circle to remain my friends. I didn’t expect my social life to change much, if at all. I was so wrong. At times, the changed attitudes towards me were almost overwhelming.
Couples we’d been friends with, couples who we were related to, many of them just faded into the woodwork.
It had never occurred to me that being a widow meant that I would automatically lose many of my friendships. I felt very left out at social occasions too, until I just quit going to many of them without Tony around to escort me.
I don’t see well to drive at night and going home alone at night was scary for me. I’m not sure I could have done that without my big black Lab mix and my .38. Also, I had a good security system but the feeling of being totally alone was eerie. I only watch the news on TV but got where I left it on just to make it seem not so lonely. Some nights, I played the piano half the night and cried.
Now, not all our friendships were changed. There were two couples who were very kind and included me in some of their activities after Tony died.
One couple went to the beach with me, to my timeshare condo, several times. I have many good memories of meals and get-togethers with them at their Augusta home. That wife and I had met as freshmen at UGA, so we go back a ways.
Another couple, also old friends, made a point of including me in some of their activities, and took some care to make me feel welcomed and included. Unfortunately, both the husband and wife have now passed away.
Right after Tony died, I changed churches in order to go to a small church near my home. It was a good move and I made friends with other women who were alone.
Being single again made me a target of jealousy, which was baffling to me. At no time have I wanted to remarry, or even date. I certainly don’t flirt. I don’t call up husbands to ask advice, or for any reason. I don’t go to lunch with married men. With that said, some women have a possessive attitude that is difficult to understand, even some relatives. Here in Atlanta, I even attended a church for a while where I was ostracized by wives (in my age group) when I so much as said “Good morning” to their husbands!
When Tony was living, we often included women who were widowed or divorced in our socializing plans and both of us enjoyed their company. However, I don’t have a jealous bone in my body, unlike some people I know.
Not long after Tony died, I was invited to a party at the home of a relative of Tony’s. I went and spoke to my hostess, and then I was ignored for the entire evening. I left and went home and nobody even noticed. That was a rude and painful introduction to the ostracism of widowhood.
These days, I enjoy living with Dee and her son. Bruce comes to visit when he can, for birthdays and holidays, and if we need him for some reason. I want to remain physically close to my children, and I wouldn’t dream of moving far away from them. They take care of me, and I take care of them, in tangible and intangible ways. We enjoy being together as a family, albeit a small one. We think it’s particularly important for Dee’s children to feel part of a close and loving family. I find it puzzling when seniors choose to live far away from their children.
I feel so fortunate to be close to my children.
For those couples who are still together, walk a mile in my shoes. How would you feel if you lost friends because you were no longer part of a couple? How can you call yourself a Christian and yet turn away from widows and divorcees who were formerly your friends?
Sometimes I feel an innate sadness that I am not seen as a person in my own right, by people who know me well. Now I understand the Indian custom of suttee, where the widows throw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre.
And, before you are critical of my closeness to my children, remember that I do not have a husband to celebrate holidays with, and escort me to events. My children and grandchildren help me feel less alone. I certainly don’t wish on anyone the pain of being alone but I long for more tolerance.
Michael and I at his baptism in the fall of 2010.