W is for Widow–noticing and caring for a woman alone
Joan sat in my office, describing the misery she’d felt at the last community function she’d attended by herself. It had been 5 months since Hank had passed, most of which was spent either curled up on the couch watching Netflix (when tears would permit her to focus) or visiting with immediate family members, including her new granddaughter Isla, the only spark of joy in her dreary life. She desperately wanted connection with people, but was terrified about venturing out alone.
No, she wasn’t afraid of driving or walking by herself–she was a confident driver and she took precautions when on her own. She considered herself a tough gal. She’d often attended events without Hank when he was away working on the rigs, two weeks on and one off. She’d made a meaningful life for herself when he was out of town and unavailable to be with her. They loved to Face Time about each outing afterward–it was how they shared the evening together. Knowing that she’d never be able to connect that way, let alone have him by her side again, was the worst possible feeling. She hadn’t realized how much energy and courage those Face Time calls gave her to attend functions by herself. Now, she dreaded going solo to anything.
But, last week she decided she’d take the plunge and go to the art exhibit at the Atrium. So she pulled herself together, got dressed and made up, put on a brave face and ventured out. What a disaster! Oh, the art was amazing, what she saw of it. It felt good to breathe fresh air for longer than a minute, to feel like she was quasi-normal again driving downtown, tossing her keys to the valet, having her coat removed and hung by the nice gentleman, picking up a glass of Pampas Malbec and slowly taking in the giant black and white photographs of Namibian sand dunes, Bolivian gauchos and Sierra Nevada ranges.
It was running into Judith for the first time since the funeral and being enthusiastically, yet hastily, told how amazing she looked before Judith took her hubby’s elbow and steered him towards Francine and Bill. It was getting a perfunctory peck on the cheek by Daphne and being told that if she needed anything she should just drop by as she sashayed towards a group of friends. It was seeing the many couples, arm in arm; it was being greeted but never invited to “join” that just killed her.
“I should never have gone,” Joan wailed. “What made me think I’d ever be part of a couple’s world again? I felt like Hester with a great big “W” for widow stitched to my dress. As long as Bill was alive and “coming home” at least, it was OK; now I’m not welcome, a threat to every married friend I have. What are they scared of? Do they think I want their husbands? My problem is I can’t have the husband I want! Can’t they see that? What a nightmare that was. Is it always going to be this way? Will I ever have a normal life without Hank? Or will I forever be a fifth wheel in a group?”
Noticing and Caring for the Widow in Our Community
- She’s not your “rival.” Let her into the group again.
- Don’t prevent your husbands from connecting with her. You know how long it’s been since she had a “real talk” with a man?
- Hug her! (Doesn’t hurt to ask first, though.) It’s been a while since she’s been touched. Did you ever think about it that way? Who’s touching the widowed person? (Let your husband hug her, too!)
- Include her in your events. She might say no for a while, but be genuine and persistent. Over time, she’ll start to respond.
- Really see her. The one who noticed her is gone. She needs to be seen.
- Consider the role(s) your widowed friend’s partner played in her life. Take some initiative. Be specific: “I noticed an odd sound from your car as you drove up. Can I take a look at that on Saturday?”
- Don’t patronize her. She’s wrestling with who she is without her man and most of the time, she’s losing. Look her in the eye, use her name and don’t hurry away.
How Can I Respond?
- I’m bereaved and would like some support. Can I book an appointment?
- This post has highlighted some marriage challenges for us. Can you help us?
- Are you able to address our group/organization on this topic?
Yes, to all the above. www.clairjantzen.ca