Stop Telling Me How To Be A Widow

I'll grieve however I damn well please.
Courtney Keating via Getty Images

Before you start tossing around the “H” word ― hussy, the brazen variety ― let me assure you that I deeply loved the man I was married to. But 10 days after his death last month, I became that cliche: The new widow who runs out and buys a hot red car.

This car, she’s a beauty. She came fully equipped with all those high-tech bells and whistles; she listens to my voice and actually does what I tell her ― something my late husband, rest his soul, never did with any regularity. She has a panoramic sunroof that highlights the red in my hair and hell, she even parallel parks herself so that I won’t get stressed out having to do it.

I first laid eyes on this red bad girl around New Year’s when my husband was in a nursing home. The kids and I were breaking up the awfulness of caregiving by stopping in at car dealerships and pretending to be in the market for a new car.

And there she was. She was primping and staring at her reflection in the windows of a dealership and I swear she nuzzled up against my leg and began purring. “Trust me,” she whispered in my ear, “we’re going to let the good times roll again.”

But widows, we’re supposed to be the women in black, right? We are expected to hibernate inside our houses and turn down social invitations. Wait for at least a year for just about anything that is remotely fun, and for the love of all things holy, think about your kids. A widow doesn’t wear makeup because she gets mascara owl eyes when she cries, the assumption goes, and she must be always crying.

Somewhere in the “how to be a widow” manual, I’m sure there is a caveat that expressly forbids buying a red car 10 days after you bury your spouse.

I would like to propose that it’s time to rewrite that manual ― all of it.

Grieving has been treated as a one-size-fits-all life event for too long. Widows are told not to make any major life decisions because presumably, we are so emotionally fragile and distraught that we can’t think straight. We are expected to weep, be angry at life for claiming our loved one, and feel ongoing sadness that costs us our appetite for living.

Widows are expected to act like, well, widows.

What the widows’ manual doesn’t take into account is that many of us come to widowhood by way of caregiving. We have already spent months or years becoming widowed gradually, long before the date on the calendar now circled in black.

Those of us who have spent time in the caregiving trenches have battle scars that need to heal, and that’s a different animal than straight-up grieving.

We have spent countless sleepless nights standing vigil by hospital bedsides. We have changed diapers, handled sharps, and emptied catheter bags. We have fed, dressed, bathed and managed medicines for our loved ones. We gave shots and cleaned up disgusting messes that we still struggle to unsee.

And pretty much every one of us has, at some point, questioned our sanity, and prayed to everything including the crash cart that the suffering and ordeal would soon end. Ours, as well as our patients’. What caregiver hasn’t unabashedly cried in public, hoping that some stranger would notice and take care of us for a change? Even now, when I type the word “bed” in a phone text, autofill finishes it as “bedsores.” When I type the word “nurse,” autofill makes it “nursing home.” And when I type the word “insurance,” well, the word “fucking” pops up after it.

We emerge from the caregiving experience as different people. Some of us stronger, many of us diminished. But for each of us, caregiving took a toll. Caregivers miss work, lose sleep, don’t eat right and carry around the stress of the world ― and then, in the end, we learn that not even our deepest love is any match for death. Death always wins.

Then it becomes up to us to figure out what comes next.

In my case, the caregiving takeaway was this: Life is too short, and a healthy life is even shorter. I don’t want to waste a single minute of my healthy life. I have places I want to see, conversations I want to have, books I want to read, foods I want to savor, and yes, I have more love in my heart that hopes to find a home.

My plan to honor my recently deceased BFF is to not stop cherishing what we had together, but to also have the best rest-of-my-life possible. And the hot red car? Consider it my calling card.

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