National Widow’s Day is in just a couple days on May 3rd and International Widows Day is on June 23rd. I have been contemplating how I feel about the mere existence of this day for now the third year in a row.
On the one hand, speaking as a young widow, I hate it. It is a reminder that, not because of who I am, but because of something that happened to me, I am somehow separate from the rest of society. It is somehow isolating in a way that makes me feel like a bit of an outcast (which only exacerbates the already present feeling of being an outcast as a young widow). So I hate this. I hate that there even exists a day to collectively acknowledge the widows of the world for their achievement of having experienced this kind of mind numbing, life altering, soul shattering pain of losing your other half (and half of yourself).
On the other hand, it’s nice to be acknowledged. Widows are easily forgotten and pushed aside. Widows are a very tough reminder of pain and fear and mortality. To acknowledge a widow’s pain takes courage, and not all of us are quite so courageous. So as time goes on, we start to view a widow’s widowedness on a diminishing scale. The more time that passes, the less we allow her/him the space to feel pain and the patience to grieve. And the younger she is, the less we accept her as a true widow. We decide that she is young and has the time and potential to find another life partner to love and settle down with, as though the solution to the pain of losing a spouse is to simply find another. We forget to acknowledge that the loss of the love she used to have is no less significant a loss than if she were 70, 80, 90 years old. It’s a different loss, but it is no less significant. The loss of what could have been is no less significant or traumatic than the loss of what was. It is different, but not less.
Many young widows have felt the social pressure of those who say “get over it”. I have been there, though typically, those actual words never get spoken. Instead we hear words like “time to move on” and “let go of the past” and “you’re still so young”. And there’s my personal favorite, “there’s plenty of time to have more children, you’re still so young!”.
I just want to scream “fuck you!”… but I don’t. No matter how much I want to scream it, and sometimes I would absolutely be justified in screaming it, I don’t. Not because of some social protocol or because they mean well despite their poor decision to say words to me regarding something of which they know nothing about, but because they genuinely don’t know better. They haven’t experienced this loss and their judgements about how I handle my situation speaks more about them than about me. You can think of this as ignorance, though I prefer to think of it as simple naïveté.
The truth is, if this happened to someone you know instead of you, you probably would have handled it wrong in some way or another at some point in time. You would have said the wrong thing, spoken when you should have said nothing, or done nothing when you should have simply showed up. If this were someone else instead of you, you would have gotten it wrong, too. And chances are, you, too, would eventually forget that a widow, no matter how young, is a widow for life. Your ability to maintain that relationship would depend on your ability to listen and empathize, and all that would still be relative to so many other things.
The thing is, it isn’t easy to support a young widow, but it is much harder to be the young widow. If you haven’t stood in the shoes of a widow then you have never known how lonely loneliness gets. So I guess I’ve decided that I am supportive of National Widow’s Day. In some ways I really appreciate it. I appreciate it because to be a widow is to be an outcast. And to take a single day in the year to acknowledge the significance of widowhood is to acknowledge the significance of her loss, something that society tries very hard to ignore. And to ignore the impact of her loss is to ignore her and everything she has become since that loss. To ignore that is to ignore the person she lost. There is no greater crime to a widow than to ignore the life that once made her whole.
If you know a widow, support her, applaud her, and most of all, hold space for her. If you know a young widow, learn from her. She will always ache for the life that was almost hers. She will always wonder what could have been. And she will always love the one she can no longer hold. No matter how young or old, she has experiences that you do not have. She knows things you don’t know. She grieves for something that she wishes you could understand but hopes you never will. A widow is not a sad little person with some pathetic life. A widow has profound knowledge of life, love, and death that is hard to put into words. And most of all, a widow has a unique compassion that comes from her life experience.
National Widow’s Day happens on May 3rd. If you know a widow, please remember her on this day. Truthfully, she would rather you remember her every day, or at least on any other day than this, but at least give her this one. Widows feel invisible and forgotten. They are lonelier than lonely and often feel expected to satisfy some expectation of “happiness” that may or may not be real simply because some allotted time has passed. A widow knows how to master the fake smile, talk the small talk, and tell you how well they have been doing, regardless of the truth that you may or may not want to hear. A widow knows that talk about sleepless nights, unstoppable tears, or the fears of living a life without the one we miss are all topics of conversation that will leave us feeling emptier than ever before, so instead we talk about anything that leaves you telling us how strong we are; a phrase most despised among the bereaved, but often brought on by our own decisions to put on the strong face.
So this Widow’s Day, please acknowledge a widow. She is lonely, whether she admits it or not. She hurts, whether she talks about it or not. She hates how happily married you are, even though she loves it for you and wants you to live happily ever after (this not about you, this is simply envy that she will never get that happily ever after herself). At the very least, send her a message, give her a phone call, or just post on her Facebook wall. If you are feeling ambitious, send her flowers or make some kind of thoughtful action that tells her she isn’t invisible to you. I know how much that would mean to me. Just don’t forget the widows of the world. Healing doesn’t happen on some time table, and while you wait for her to heal she gets lonelier and life gets harder. So just don’t forget to remember her this year. Life is full of treacherous terrain, and widows are the ones who put on that smile and feel greatful for the pain and torment… because at least they got the chance to experience joy and love and laughter and life.
To my fellow widows and widowers, Happy Widow’s Day. If you hate reading those words, me too. I understand and I can take those feelings so don’t hold back with me. I get it. What I want you to take with you is that we are a community. And whether you have ample support or are feeling forgotten or left behind, I do understand. It’s easy to be left behind in today’s world living this life of a widow. This is why I write, and this is why I believe social media can be so influential on the healing process.
It’s nearly Widow’s Day. Reach out to a widow and affect her day, because you never know, it could affect her life.