Friday, February 16, 2007

On Widowhood

"The widow cries out at the door, 'The light of my mind has gone out, O my mother, with his death.'" Guru Nanak

Our society is obsessed with pigeonholing people. Who are you? What do you do? Where'd you go to school? Are you married or single? Do you have kids? What's your sign? (blech) We imbue ourselves and each other with labels.

Some of those labels are inspiring: cancer survivor. Pulitzer Prize winner. Iraqi war veteran. Others are more mundane, titles or descriptions: Doctor. Writer. Uncle. Teacher. Reverend. Artist.

Whether earned or not, most labels are worn without much thought. Others are thrust upon us, often in the worst possible way.

Last summer my sister--also a mother, aunt, Grammy, nurse, pilot, hiker, skier, wife--gained a new label that will haunt her forever. Widow.

Unexpected, literally out of the blue, her husband was killed in a private plane crash. Gone in an instant. And just like that, she got the one label that supplants all others. Widow.

Loss of a loved one consumes the grief-stricken, at least in the beginning. But life eventually goes on.
Unless that loss is a child or a spouse. That's very different. Life will never be the same.

Last month Mary Doran--wife, mother, grandmother, real estate agent, music lover, sister--also became a Widow. And after her husband Dick's funeral she said something simple, but incredibly profound, "I've lost my whole reality."

That's it. A five-word description of devastating loss. No matter how full a life we lead, no matter how busy, hectic, even separate our worlds are from our spouses and children -- they are our center. Our true north. Our reality.

If we lose them, we become lost. And even if we find our way home, the most important person is no longer there to greet us.

At the time, I said to Mary with great sincerity and hope, "We'll help you build a new reality." Surely a shared goal for all who love her. But not yet.

First she needs to grieve. As my sister did. Still does. Will continue to do for however long it takes. Maybe forever.

Here's some of what my sister experienced just three months later On Being a New Widow.

Monday, with her permission, I'll share some of her more recent thoughts. If it helps Mary, or any other widow even a little, I'll proudly wear another label: friend.

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