We’d been singing Christmas carols for an hour, and I’d just been shot down by this cute guy across the room who I had hit on. He had a girlfriend, I reported back to my friends. “Boo!” they said, clinking glasses with me, before someone said, “but I think we should go meet the performer!”
We were sitting in a furniture store at the beginning of December, in that long-ago time of 2019 when people regularly gathered indoors, and we ran over to catch the performer to say hello. He was dressed in a long white fur coat with rhinestones and a white feather hat to match. “Hi ladies!” he said with a smile, and chatted with us for a while. Yes, at night he had his “drag queen name” but during the day he was Steve, a guy who moved furniture around the store. “This is a lot more fun!” he said, winking.
We chatted like old friends, and eventually told him we were out for a night of much-needed fun. He wanted to know why we were all feeling down. “Our husbands died,” Laura said, in her characteristic nonchalance.
His eyes got huge. All of you? All of your husbands had died? There were five or six of us there at that point, though more joined later in the night. Yes, we told him. “But,” Laura said, with a smile, “we’re still pretty fun. We call ourselves the Glamorous Cabal of Widows!”
He laughed and we laughed and then we hung out for a while and took photos. “We’re all just trying to make it through this world,” he said and we agreed. There we were, the widows and the drag queen hanging out in the mattress section of a downtown furniture store, singing bits of Christmas carols and drinking shitty box wine. Living the dream!
We laughed a lot about the absurdity of it all, but then again, it was all part of why we loved each other. At that point, about a year into our friendship, we were all trying a lot of new things. And lucky for us, there was almost always someone who would come along.
The Glamorous Cabal of Widows – or “The Cabal” for short – didn’t take shape instantaneously. In fact, for much of my first year of widowhood, I only had two real widow friends – Abena and Kate. I met Abena right away, and Kate a few months after that, and the three of us would sometimes meet to chat and hang out. We all also went to other grief groups and met other people. Slowly, about a year after Shawn died, we had formed a group.*
We’d meet sometimes in person, but mostly we texted. I’m not sure when the name of the text thread changed to “Glamorous Cabal of Widows” but once it did, it stuck. We grieved, sometimes heavily, on text exchanges and in person and eventually on Zoom. In the worst of the worst moments, that was the place I went to find my people – the ones who would really get it.
We didn’t have any rules, not really, except one: we always supported each other. We joked that one of us could commit a felony and the others would come up with an alibi, because that’s the kind of friends that we were. It was funny because while we all lived in DC and were around the same age, all that really bonded us at first was really shitty luck. But if someone went on a bad date or didn’t get a new job or had a terrible contractor….well, we TOOK SIDES. And whose side did we always take? Our Cabal sister.
I won’t even go into the choice language we used to talk about someone who wronged one of our widows. But suffice to say if something bad happened, I knew who would offer me unconditional support.
I haven’t written about the Cabal because basically everything we discussed was private, and needed to stay that way. What would I write if I couldn’t write about the many times I sent a sobbing text to them and received back a million replies of support? What would I write if I couldn’t talk about the nuances of our losses – so different and yet all the same – and what would I write if I couldn’t note the specifics of how we grieved?
Turns out, there’s still a lot to say about the Cabal. Yes, we were once just a support group – widows who met each other when we were wrecked to our very core – and yet, somehow, we’d become much more than that.
Because we didn’t just support each other when things went bad. We also did it when – amazingly – things started to go well.
Of course, things didn’t always go well, but sometimes someone had a good date or had a great parenting day or got a promotion or just figured out how to fix a hinge on the cabinet that had been broken for years. YES YOU DID! We said, each time. YOU ARE THE BEST! NO ONE IS BETTER! ROCK ON WITH YOUR BAD SELF!
Or something like that. But you get the point.
We also pushed each other when it was needed: packing boxes as people started to move, nudging each other to interview for the new job, or booking a night out at a speed dating event for our group. We all lived our own lives, of course, and made our own choices – and many of them were very different from each other. But that was part of the beauty of the Cabal. We still supported each other even when our lives weren’t following the same paths.
When Chris and I fell in love, I was nervous about telling the Cabal. What did it mean to find love after loss?
It meant just one thing to the Cabal. The texts came one after another, lots of capital letters and exclamation points and everything else you use to express love.
They were thrilled for me.
And yes, lots of people were thrilled for me, and I felt so lucky that was the case. But it meant the most coming from the Cabal. Not because all of them had all fallen in love again (though some of them had) but rather because they knew what it meant to move forward in life after losing so much.
A few weeks ago, when we were all vaccinated, the Cabal threw Chris and I an engagement party, and as we entered, they cheered and played music and they all hugged me.
And then the Cabal – every one of them – hugged Chris too.
*While I hope every widow finds a group like mine, our specific group is closed for privacy reasons. But if you’d like some help finding your people, I recommend attending grief groups. In fact, we all met through our involvement in a variety of other grief groups (the Wendt Center in DC, the Dinner Party, HYWC, etc.) and made connections from there. You can also read my blog post about how to meet people here.