Widow. A word that holds so much weight. I conjure ups image of little old ladies in orthopedic shoes. I think of the grey-haired widows from old movies who were miserable and beloved by their gangster sons. I think of my grandma, with her day dresses, big bosoms, and walking with a cane as she was crippled up with arthritis. And I think of my Mom who retired, moved into a fifty-five plus community then into a assisted living facility. I have always associated the word widow with being old. Even though my grandmother was a young forty-two when she became a widow, I only knew her as old and without a spouse. My mother was sixty-seven, yet as a then thirty-one year old, that was older to me. So, when I became a widow, I aged, right before my own eyes.
When Peter died, I spiraled down into a gap swallowed by helplessness and uncertainty. I projected my fears into thoughts of not being able to make it on my own, or loneliness, or being stranded by everyone else who kept moving forward. Grief held me back from experiencing every day life like I used which included laughter and days of joy and knowing. And I felt as if I went from fifty-seven to seventy-five, all within days after Peter died as fatigued and isolation festered inside, eating away at my middle age.
I physically felt the aches and pains of grief – they are real. My joints hurt more. Headaches became my daily morning wake up calls. Exhaustion was my norm. I fought to keep out of my bed and let the world just go by. I struggled with my need to take a walk or even go outside because my body screamed no way. I cried so much, laughter was a thing of the past because I didn’t even have the tears of a clown. I felt like I was at the end of my life. And maybe there was some truth to it because my life with Peter had ended.
I wanted to run away from my house. Part of it was I wanted to run away from all the painful memories of Peter. Part of it I just wanted to run away from everything. Part was the overwhelming feeling of taking care of this big ole house, all by myself, no longer to share the chores and maintenance with anyone. And, a huge part, was feeling as if my body, my perceived older body, could not handle the physicality of the stairs, the upkeep, the needed work to be done. In my mind, I was like my grandmother, minus the cane but still too disabled from grief to do much of anything. I was my mother who was ten years old than me when she became a widow and thought I needed to go her route of going smaller. As far as I was concerned, I was them and so my decision had to be the same. I was crippled up with fear, and I had to downsize. It was the next step that had to be done, until the pandemic hit.
The pandemic was my huge jump toward realizing I am a young widow, not a stereotypical old, fragile widow. The pandemic pinned me down in a house I kept trying to run from but was always pulled back when things became rough. It was the home where my friends who are family live near. It’s where neighbors will do anything for me if I asked, and where dear, sweet, friends check in on me. It’s where one part of my heart lives near, my son. It’s where, even in the trial of living in self-quarantine completely alone, I know I have people. It was where I shed my self-induced perception as aged and frail and began to push my middle-aged body to its capability by cleaning, and maintenance and planning decisions based on all the life ahead of me, instead of the limit vision I held for a long time. It reinforced the knowing I don’t want to leave my community, perhaps my home, but not community. The pandemic presented to me, in a recent Oprah ah-ha moment, sitting in the peacefulness of my backyard, the thought my home now is a place where I could still live, if I so choose, and do not need to run away from, or think I am too old for it. And it is within this pandemic, I recently opened my mind to other living possibilities than one floor ranches and fifty-five plus communities.
The word widow has deep and weighted meaning, and one given to me at an early age. I was only fifty seven when Peter died. I don’t know too many women or men part of this club no one wishes to be a part of, especially not at my age. It’s a word more understandable when describing a mother or aunt or an older friend. When I realize I am the widow among my neighbors on the block or among my core of great friends, even extended friends, within my writing community, my siblings, or amid the couples at the grocery store, on walks, driving in a car, and sometimes, I find it hard to even wrap my head around. I always will, I think. Why me? Why now? No amount of personal growth in me will stop me from seeking answers to those questions, even though I know there none, there will never be. So, I go on knowing I am a widow, a word part of my definition now, a definition with an evolving meaning.
I am getting more comfortable with admitting my widowness. Yes, I know, a made up word, but kind of appropriate. I am abandoning my association with its aged connotations. I am looking at widowhood as something that happened to me, yet I am still young enough to continue on and not make choices based on my ill-perceived idea of it. I am looking at the widowhood as something that happens, at any age, coming out of anywhere, prepared or not. I am not putting a discriminatory label on it anymore, or at least it’s loosing that power over me.
The other day, I was walking my dog, Barkley. A man and I got to talking – at an appropriate social distance conversation – about our dogs. I commented on how beautiful and well behaved his large German Sheppard was as Barkley was pulling and pretending he was a large dog. A bit embarrassed, the way a parent is with a child in the midst of a tantrum, I admitted to him Barkley was fairly new to me. I told him how I rescued Barkley recently and we were still working on things. He said to me, “Oh, a COVID 19 rescue.” I replied, without missing a beat, or even without a lump forming, “Nope. A widow rescue.” He quickly apologized and I responded just as quick, “no need to apologize. I am a widow. It’s just who I am now.”