“Widows’ Words,” edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin
c.2019, Rutgers University Press
$24.95 / $28.95 Canada
The covers on the other side of the bed are barely rumpled these days.
There’s just one toothbrush in the holder, one plate at the table, one coffee cup in the sink. You didn’t want this, weren’t expecting it, wish it wasn’t happening but here it is, and in “Widows’ Words” by various writers, edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin, you’re absolutely not alone.
Welcome to the club. The rules are simple.
The first one is that no matter how many well-meaning people came to you in the minutes, days, or weeks after your husband’s funeral, your grief is different than theirs. Everyone heals in their own way, and in their own time but you’ve got sisters who’ve been where you are.
In this book, 43 of them offer their experiences, organized into five categories to match readers’ stages.
It starts with the moment of diagnosis, the disbelief that it’s happening, the absurdity of seeing x-rays of your husband’s head. It’s holding your wife’s hand as she dies by her own choice. It’s getting six premature, unwanted copies of a book on grief.
After the funeral, a hundred chores need tending; untangling money matters may be the first, most pressing one but so are the necessities of cleaning out his closet and his office. You may rely on God, or rant at Him. Milestones will sting: his birthday, your birthday, your anniversary. You may notice that memories of him are slipping away.
And then, well, you come to realize that living alone isn’t so bad after all. You become a widowed parent with confidence. You somehow learn to do the “scary” things and the hard things and the impossible. You might even feel optimistic, and able to open yourself to new love, even though memories never disappear and you can absolutely count on the past tapping you on the shoulder when you least expect it…
Without a doubt, “Widows’ Words” is a book you never hope you need.
And yet, the chances are you will, as editor Nan Bauer-Maglin points out: statistically, “women outlive men by about five years” and, because Boomers are aging, the number of widows is rising. In 2016, more nearly 1.5 million people lost a spouse; some two-thirds of them, she says, were women.
For them, this book follows an arc of need starting with what is imminent, a first part that reads like a howl of pain. Indeed, raw widows might want to go cautiously at those few chapters, lest they rip away fresh scabs. Ultimately, relief sets in: subsequent chapters show healing (or at least growing acceptance), and come from widows of all ages and walks of life including same-sex widows, interracial widows, and women with children who may or may not remember their fathers.
From these latter chapters come gentle, wry humor and strong advice that feels like it is offered in a warm blanket and a hug. It all makes “Widows’ Words” a great reference and good comfort even though, for the newly bereaved, it can not begin to cover everything.