Category Archives: women

When Husbands Die

Soon after my husband’s death I read When Husbands Die by Shirley Reeser McNally. The author who was a widow herself surveyed a group of women who had been widowed within the previous ten or more years, and organized their responses into a book. 

It was what I needed to read at the time, a sort of controlled support group, where I didn’t have to interact in real time with anyone, but could glean comfort from hearing from women who were in the same situation and who knew what I was going through. It’s strange, when I think about it, that an experience that is so common to humanity, the death of one’s spouse, can be so outrageous and solitary and impossible to prepare for.

One reason for the solitary aspect is the uniqueness of every relationship, and of each griever. This collection of women’s stories was interesting in that the women were all educated and able to write articulate and thoughtful responses to the questions, whether they were in their first months of grieving or years down the road. Most of them did not have to struggle financially, even if their husbands had died fairly young.

Shortly after reading the book I told people that it was something like reading a sociology textbook, and a little dry, but now I think, wasn’t that what I needed? I certainly didn’t want to read anything dramatic about someone else’s trauma. C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed was not as helpful, partly because it was only one person’s story, and that of a man, one who hadn’t been married very long. I am a woman who had been married a long time.

I especially liked hearing from women who were at a later stage of grief, about how their lives had changed over the years since their husbands had died, and the ways in which they had built new lives that were good. I went back this week and reviewed the passages I’d highlighted on my Kindle. Here are a few of those favorites:

“…the shared stories indicate that women must work through three to five years of grief and change before they feel well on their way to a recovered, reinvented life. The hard work of grieving must be accomplished before healing takes place.”

“…disorientation, fatigue, loss of self-confidence, feelings of abandonment, shock, and bone-deep sadness.”

“…our culture…is not open to the commonality of death, and how important it is that we come to terms with it in our lifetime.”

“I think women are better able to cope. We are greater realists and more skilled at accepting change as part of life because of our biological natures: monthly changes, pregnancy, childbirth, etc. Widowers tend to remarry sooner. They don’t know how to nurture themselves.”

“Is it ever possible to have no regrets; to have accomplished all you wanted to do; to have said everything, done everything? No. Omissions you recall later may bring sadness, sometimes guilt, until you understand that it was important for you and your husband to do things in your own way. That’s the only way you and he had.”

“…dying is something each of us has to do alone, at least in a human sense? The moment must come when, in dying, we move beyond our surroundings into another space.”

“…it is a sudden time, when things must be left unsaid and undone.”

Edith Schaeffer

Edith Schaeffer died today!

I only heard by just now reading this blog post, from a friend of mine whose mother and I are friends and fellow home-lovers. Edith Schaeffer through two of her books, What is a Family and The Hidden Art of Homemaking, helped me in many ways to develop my own style and philosophy of homemaking.

Several particular principles and practices, from the importance of caring for the sick to table decorating, became part of my being and contributed to the joy of being the woman of my home. She was the first decidedly Christian person I read who understood the importance of beauty in the home, and she gave many (I remember I thought almost too many!) examples of how one might create a home environment that was rich in all the important things, even if worldly riches were lacking.

I am very thankful for this sister in Christ. May she rest in peace, and may her memory be eternal.

Sorting lentils and words and….

A Woman Cleaning Lentils

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.  

— Zahrad

I found this provocative poem on this blog post, and have been keeping it in the back of my mind until today when I read a comment by Celeste on this blog post, about her own need to “re-sort.”

The household and garden chores that I pile up around me every day, the practical love for husband and children and grandchildren, the worship of God in His Church such as I enjoyed this morning, the good books and blogs I read, the writing I am compelled to do — they all seem to be represented and connected for me in the images of these lines.

Here I am, once again in the middle of trying-not-to-be-frantic trip preparations, but God gave me an extra hour this afternoon, which meant I could eat some leftover frittata and read a comment on a blog, and look what happened! More sorting of thoughts and realities, with the unspoken urge to order my affections aright and find His peace and strength for the next few hours and days.

Suddenly a word. 

A life.

Bird’s Open Heart

I am taking a tutorial from Bird on aging gracefully; she is graceful and gracious both. The two of us were talking about how we both are forgetful hostesses, never remembering to offer our guests so much as a glass of water, much less tea and cookies. But my friend never locks her door, and usually doesn’t even shut it all the way, because she wants visitors to come in without knocking; she doesn’t always hear a knock or the doorbell.

She is always so glad for company, and rarely talks about herself, preferring to ask about her younger friends and their families, and to hear other people’s stories. Her own stories are only told when they pertain to some matter that concerns her guest, or after emphatic prompting. Bird is almost 95 years old; is she ever going to become what I find to be the more typical elderly person, living in the past, and impatient with recent people and their doings?

When I had her for tea last week she was the guest of honor. I picked her up and drove her to my house, and on the way here in the car I showed her a list of topics we wouldn’t mind her talking about. She started laughing — I don’t know at which question — and said teasingly, “I am not going to come to any more of your tea parties!” But when the guests had all arrived she was willing to share of her past and her tales with them, and entertain us all with her humor.

There is the story about her novel, written in high school, about the Spanish dancer Juanita. It was a love story, but Bird knew nothing about “the kind of love you have when you are married.” At the end of the romance, when Juanita and her suitor have progressed in their relationship to the point where the ardor is intense, the novel closes with the line, “Juanita leaned.”

The photo here was taken when her 11th child was a toddler and Bird was about 35 years old. She looks happy enough to burst—serene at the same time. I think she must have been the best wife for her husband; she was apparently not contrary, but neither was she wimpy. She had to be strong and steady when he was depressed and couldn’t work for — was it three years? The kind of person who would keep doing her own job of running the household, waiting and praying for things to change.

She told us over tea that decades ago, when some of us used to see the couple walking “together,” Bird ten yards behind, that Mr. Bird had needed long walks to help with his “emotional problems.” He would be in shirtsleeves, and she was wearing a sweater, and he told her he was embarrassed by her wearing the sweater, and asked her not to. She replied that she needed the sweater because she was cold, and suggested that he walk by himself if he was embarrassed. And he said, “But I need you to talk to!” This was funny because he was way too far ahead for them to be able to carry on a conversation. When one of their adult children later died, the priest told her husband, “Now today, you walk beside your wife.”

Bird seems to have walked as close to her husband as he allowed, as long as he lived. She has been a dear and encouraging companion to me, as we both try to walk with God. My prayer is that He would give me a measure of her spirit.

(I wrote the piece above several years ago; more recent posts in which Bird appears are here and here. Now she has reached 100 years, and is as young as ever. She still keeps her door unlocked and her smile bright.)