Book Review: “Widows’ Words”

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, 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 comes gentle, wry humor and strong advice that feels like it’s 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’t be­gin to cover everything.

“Widows’ Words,” edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin, c.2019, Rutgers University Press, $24.95 / $28.95 Canada, 270 pages.

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