A few days ago, Austin woke up early and came downstairs. I had been writing, but I paused to talk to him for a few minutes as he ate his cereal. We discussed what we were going to do that day, and then he wanted to know what I was doing on my computer. “I’m trying to figure out what to write for my blog,” I told him. “Do you have any ideas?”
“There’s not really anything for you to write about anymore,” he said, simply.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, you’re not really a widow anymore,” he replied. When I gently asked him why he thought this, he said, “Chris is your boyfriend now, so you’re not really a widow. Right?”
I explained that technically I’m a widow forever, since “widow” means someone whose spouse has died. “Okay,” he said, “but Chris is always here, doing things that a husband does like reading us books at night and unloading the dishwasher.”
I mean, I just love my kids’ logic. I wanted to tell him that I could get a babysitter that would read to him and Tommy at night and unload the dishwasher, but I didn’t. Because Austin’s point wasn’t about the things that Chris does around the house – it was that he’s become a constant person in our household. And not just that. Chris has become a part of our family.
No, we aren’t married, and no, Chris isn’t my children’s legal father. If we were going through customs at the airport, we’d probably have to go separately.
But he’s my partner, and he loves my children. He is a part of our everyday lives in an integral way.
So….am I not really a widow anymore?
Most widow writers would say that answer to that question is “no.” You’re always a widow, no matter what happens after your husband dies. You can get remarried, but you remain in the widow community if you choose, no matter which box you check on your taxes.
Legally, my status will only change if I get remarried. Otherwise, on those forms I’ll always be “single” or “widowed.” But I think it’s clear I’m not asking a legal question here.
What does it mean that my life is moving to a different place, one where a big part of my social and emotional life is and will continue to be consumed by another man?
I honestly don’t have the answer to this. I think that in some ways, I’ll always be a widow because I understand the emotions behind widowhood in a very specific way. I don’t mean that I have encyclopedic knowledge about widowhood, but rather that when I talk to another widow about her pain, I can feel it in my core.
I remember that pain. Even if it’s dulled a bit for me over the years, I can easily transport myself back to the time when the grief felt unbearable. I can remember what it felt like sometime during the first few weeks after Shawn died to literally sit on my shower floor with the water running down my back because I just couldn’t face the world. And I can remember what that felt like at month 5 and at month 14, too. I can remember all the times – and there were many – when it felt like I might not make it in this world without Shawn.
I did make it, of course. I started writing and went back to teaching and somehow parented my children – albeit with a lot of help. I re-engaged with my friends and my community. So, yes, in a way, I have come out on the other side of that biting grief. I don’t mean to say that my grief is gone, but merely that it is less intense. Maybe that makes me less of a widow.
But when I hear the stories of other widows – whether on the internet or this blog or in my backyard – I know the hurt that they speak about. I know the loneliness. I know the fear.
It’s impossible to explain all this to a 9-year-old. “I’m still a widow,” I said to Austin that day, “but I think I’m a pretty happy widow, really.”
I’m not quite sure if the terminology “happy widow” should be a thing. But in a way, I like it. I’m much happier now than I was a year or two ago, but I still know the pain of being a widow. Sometimes I still feel the same sadness, too.
Being a widow is complex, of course, with days that are sad, but also (hopefully) many that can still be happy.
So I’ll keep the title of “widow” right now. And I’ll also use “happy” in front of it when I feel that way. I guess that’s the best way to describe the life I’ve landed on today.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.