Friday, March 25, 2011


Looked into attending a lecture/appearance by Joyce Carol Oates at the Harold Washington Public Library in Chicago next Thursday but it is booked. She will be speaking about her latest memoir dealing with her grief after the death of her husband. I know this book has been in the recent news. I read a little about it and her reasons for publishing it, in part, she says to educate the public on grief.

My own feelings are mixed about purchasing the book. It is another one dealing with that "first year" time frame. Been there, done that. Seems like most grief books cover the first year and I am so past that now, yet still daily affected by the death of my husband. Why are there no books out there covering the grief years for those of us longer-term widows? Why is widowhood looked at constantly from that single year period? For me at least, the first year was such a blur it was like it didn't even exist anyway.

Have just finished the classic Edith Wharton novel, "The House of Mirth." Why I even read this I don't know except that it is a classic. Surely, a book about the social silliness of the New York upper class at the turn of the century doesn't have a lot of meaning today. Or maybe it does - I'll have to consider that.

But the story is about a society girl tumbling into poverty. One section at the end, really caught my eye. Lily has just bumped into a poor young women she helped with medical care when she still was wealthy. Here are her comments on that woman, Nettie:

"The poor little working-girl who had found strength to gather up the fragments of her life, and build herself a shelter with them, seemed to Lily to have reached the central truth of existence. It was a meagre enough life, on the grim edge of poverty, with scant margin for possibilities of sickness or mischance, but it had the frail audacious permanence of a bird's nest built on the edge of a cliff - a mere wisp of leaves and straw, yet so put together that the lives entrusted to it may hang safely over the abyss.

Yes - it had taken two to build the nest; the man's faith as well as the woman's courage. Lily remembered Nettie's words: "I knew he knew about me." (her past with another man). Her husband's faith in her had made her renewal possible - it is so easy for a woman to become what the man she loves believes her to be!"

There again is what I have strongly come to believe. It is easier with a partner, it is easier when you're happily married, two are better than one.

I am sinking under the tiredness of life on my own. Now that my oldest is graduating, in the end, should I remarry or live with someone again, I will still say that I raised the boys on my own - on my own.

I don't know how to act or think any more. Yes, I am working and starting to socialize more. But the women in my knit club seem so remote to me. Two are widowed but much older than I, with grown children. The others are all married and as they share and talk about the details of their lives, husbands doing the taxes, going on cruises, dealing with their houses (I'm the only apartment dweller out the group of 50), I just can't relate and feel left out - as I usually do.

I am not sure at this point how to even act in a romantic relationship and what is realistic for me to expect from a partner. I only know that I am feeling unfulfilled in certain ways with Sam who lives 250 miles away. Do we even have a relationship? He expects me to drive out to be him with on weekends and can't come to see me because of his retail management job not granting him two days off in a row. But I'm tired of this and don't feel emotionally supported. I'm supposed to be content with this arrangement for the next year while waiting for my younger son to finish high school? What are we anyway? He still is gun shy about remarriage. I don't want to be in a relationship that I can't even define and exists at a standstill because of distance and lack of contact.

My job is so boring and also frustrating, after work today, I picked up the summer community college course directory to sign up for the Library Assistant Program which starts at the end of May. I have to do something, anything to move myself into some sort of professional environment.

I feel in limbo and at odds with life and my feelings right now. I don't want this life anymore. Somehow I have to muster up the strength to bring change to my situation. But as Lily reflects, it is difficult when one doesn't feel there is someone on your side supporting and even holding you up at times. Lily in the end fails and can't do it on her own. Why aren't there any books out there relating this life and the trials affecting poor, tired, only-parent widows about ready to fall off the cliff because their nests are blowing away...


  1. Yes, life is easier with a partner, if 'he' is showing up. For me, two years of active search has resulted in dating very nice men. Men who find me 'extraordinary', whatever this means to them. But the man I would keep hasn't shown up. Lucky is the woman who finds love in our midseason of life.

    I'm approaching the sixth anniversary of my husband's death. I'm nearly 58. Only in this last year have I felt unbearably raw, crying more deeply than ever before. I struggle to accept the void every lonely night. And move on. But with what? These inadequate scraps from my shattered life? People who know me would be shocked to read of my despair. I am the picture of resilience. Of mental, emotional, physical and financial health. Of gutsiness. But my spirit is shaken and shattered. No one but me now.

    My only comfort is knowing how many widows have walked my road before. I hope I can do it with as much grace as many of them have.

  2. I'd recommend this book:

    it was a turning point for me x

  3. At the risk of sounding cynical, I think most literary memoir-type books about widowhood cover the first year because they need to reach a much wider audience than just widowed people to be successful, and the drama of the first year is what non-widowed people want to read about. The shock and immediacy of a fresh loss make for an emotional reader experience that sells lots of books, but the daily reality of life going on years later--not so much, unless it's part of a bigger plot and not the focus of the story. Plus, a large majority of the reading audience will be less sympathetic to someone who is three or five or seven years out and still having trouble. "Why hasn't she got it together yet?" they'll wonder. "Why hasn't she put herself out there and found someone new?" Then the book won't do well, and even though Joyce Carol Oates and Joan Didion probably want very much to paint an accurate picture of what widowhood was/is like for them, they are also professional writers and need their books to do well. And there it is.

    I know what you mean about not being able to relate to other people--after five years outside the world of marriage and ordinary family life, sometimes I feel like an anthropologist observing another culture when I listen to these everyday conversations. On the other hand, I fit in with the single people in my office even less (probably because they're all about 15 years younger than me) and the divorced ones only a little better. It's a very peculiar position to be in. At the same time, after running my own show and making all the decisions for so long, I'm pretty sure I'd have a hard time re-adjusting to the give and take of a relationship, even if I decided I wanted one. I think I'd really be kind of a pain in the ass for that hypothetical partner, to tell you the truth!

  4. Flo - I love all your comments. It is not that I have not had love in my life since my husband's death, just not the kind that I feel is supportive and on the level of what I shared in marriage. You are right about the luck involved somewhat in finding love in mid-life. It is wonderful though for you, that men do find you extraordinary. I haven't had as much success. You relate that others would be surprised to know of the inner side of you. Why can't we have two sides? Our private and public selves existing at the same time? The strong facade and the weaker still grieving, lonely and confused state.

    Boo - I would have to say that the book you recommend was the best "grief" book I too read. But it has been awhile since I've read it (I did reread it) and maybe I should go back to it a third time. It would be interesting to see what I derive from the book where I'm now at. This author has a more recent book titled "Tough Transitions - Navigating Your Way Through Difficult Times," which I should also put on my reread list.

    Vanessa - I never considered the reasons you point out about why the majority of grief books are about the first year but they do indeed make sense. I do think it would be neat if Joan Didion wrote an update to her account. I believe she has enough of a base of readers who'd pick it up and it would be interesting to hear of her perspective some years out.

    I too worry about actually living with someone again. Having had the freedom to make my own decisions the past 8-10 years, I'm not sure I'd take kindly to criticism or having to give in, especially if I didn't support or believe in my partner's decision.

    I like the way you describe of living in a peculiar position - kind of like living inbetween various worlds and not being a part of any.

  5. I read the Joyce Carol Oates book and found it extremely engrossing and quite capturing of the emotional ride being a widow entails.

    Another good book is About Grief.