PERSONAL ESSAYS
getting around

 

As I greeted people at my husband's memorial service last August, a friend pressed her lips to my ear and said, "Your ass looks great in that dress."

I wasn't offended. I can think of very few occasions when, should my ass happen to look great, I wouldn't want to be told. The remark was a welcome departure from all the platitudes, however heartfelt, lavished upon the bereaved. For a culture so steeped in sharing, healing, closure and related psychobabble, many of us are unable to express simply that we're sorry for someone's loss without describing a comparable loss of our own.

Howie was twenty-five years older than me and remarkably fit. Just days after his usual squash game and spinning class, a checkup revealed some heart blockage. With his doctors' breezy assurances that he'd do just fine, Howie went in for open-heart surgery the following week. Something went wrong. He never really woke up, and died after a month in intensive care.

In the weeks after his death I was exhausted and numb. Gifts of chocolate proved both heartening and helpful. Offers of a session with a shaman/priestess/afterlife facilitator did not. (I imagined my husband saying through the medium, "I put a salmon steak in the freezer. Eat it before it goes bad.")

But enough of that. I made my friends promise to bop me on the head with a rubber mallet if I began whining about who could've, should've called, or how this person's response was disappointing, that one's suffocating, another's missing-in-action. I grew up in constant earshot of such judgment orgies, and found them as irritating as they were unproductive. Newly in mourning, I vowed that except for the occasional grouchy outburst,

I was in a zombie movie, an unending parade of acquaintances lumbering toward me with outstretched arms.

I would try hard to remain above them.

I live in a small, amiable town where it's not unusual for folks to dash into the Grand Union for onions, and emerge an hour later hoarse from socializing. For many weeks after Howie died, I was in a zombie movie, an unending parade of acquaintances lumbering toward me with outstretched arms. I'm not one to thwart a hug. As a new widow, I was hugged to distraction, and subject to the brand of chaste pat-downs and back rubs reserved for the bereaved, the mortally ill or the massively pregnant. Laid bare by my new and very public status, I allowed myself to be scrutinized and stroked. I didn't go into hiding. This tender outpouring felt mostly good. A gregarious and successful cartoonist, Howie was much beloved in the community, and I felt loved, too.

"Has anyone hit on you yet?"

My brother asked me this a few months into my grieving. "No," I told him. "Of course not. I have widow cooties."

A young-ish woman who's been widowed and single for years needs sexual healing. A young-ish woman who's been widowed for less than a year "needs a hug." I get that a lot — attractive men declaring, "You look like you could use a hug." I'm not sure this is a good look. Then again, who am I to argue? I'll take a hug, sure. Hey guys: I am here, all alone in my nightie, waiting to be your hug slave. Suddenly my unapologetically sexual nature would, I was sure, be viewed as unseemly. But I realize now it doesn't matter how on or off I feel, sexually speaking. Others see only what they need to see: a woman in sleep mode from the waist down.

Commentarium (22 Comments)

May 15 08 - 2:17am
JR

Your third page of this story is broken, by the way...

I liked this. My mother's going through this stage herself, so it was good to read. Nice to know others are doing "widow shopping" as well.

May 15 08 - 8:11am
JCF

Arggh, page 3 is broken! Thankfully, the printer friendly format is working. Well, sort of - the ad is offset and sitting on top of some of the text, but it's page 1 text that's blocked, so I can read that on page 1.

May 15 08 - 10:06am
Ed.

Page 3 is now fixed. Sorry about that folks.

May 15 08 - 3:40pm
lso

Interesting Read. I like the quote format.

May 15 08 - 6:44pm
ted

funny and touching. thank you.

May 15 08 - 6:57pm
HEX

in the midst of another sort of bereavement, I loved reading this essay. It's about as honest as it could be about the inability to form new close relationships and the need for the same. Well done.

May 15 08 - 7:12pm
AB

I am 29 and lost my husband (27) to a long cruel cancer 3 months ago and sometimes I am so hungry for sex. Everyone treats me like I have the widow plague and my sex drive goes up. This article spoke to my soul - it is the conversation that no friends will have with me. Thank You.

May 16 08 - 12:28pm
AJS

So true and bigger bitch at 35

May 17 08 - 10:34am
JCF

Guess I'll say something more meaningful than "Ack! Page 3 doesn't work!" Thankfully, I haven't been in the position yet of losing someone and everyone thinking they have to tiptoe around me, but I've known people who have been there, and I think the only thing you can do is start being completely and visibly outgoing, and change the subject immediately whenever someone mentions it. In Richard Feynman's autobiography (which is interesting reading), he lost a wife to cancer, but he didn't want everybody acting all sympathetic at work, so whenever someone asked how his wife was doing, he replied, "She's dead, how's the project?" That seemed to work.

May 19 08 - 7:09pm
VKI

I have not lost a spouse or partner, but my dad died 15 years ago, and my mom has not pursued any sort of romantic relationship since. I encourage her to meet men, but she says she's not interested. They had a happy, affectionate, loving marriage; it seems impossible to me that the need for that companionship and warmth could be so easily denied. Or maybe she's just afraid of forgetting the man she loved/loves so dearly? I don't have the answer. Thank you for this essay.

May 20 08 - 9:28am
BK

I lost my husband a little over a year ago, 3 days before my 39th birthday. I just turned 40 and for the last several months, I found myself dating a lot and even though I have the "Widow Plague", 20 somethings don't seem as bothered by my disease as 40 somethings, so I stick with the younger ones. Poor me. It is easy to jump back into the deep end of the pool when you have no real expectations of ever finding someone who can compare, but then I have no desire to re-marry or have a long term committed relationship with anyone else. Ever. There is a sort of freedom in that.

May 30 08 - 7:59pm
EW

OK--so I just got home with yet another armful of expensive makeup, (lipstick for me) lotions and scrubs which I CANNOT afford, and sat down to check my e-mail. Typed in WIDOWED (it's Friday night after all, and the sounds of my neighbors, couples, having drinks and firing up the BBQ drove me indoors), and found THIS. It's wonderful... I'm 53 and have not masturbated this much in years. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou. I am not alone.

Sep 15 08 - 8:45pm
lb

I am 47 and my husband just died 9-9-08, I love him
kcc5161@yahoo.com

Feb 26 09 - 4:03pm
LMS

Very insightful and personal. Susan as deftly maneuvers her way, she makes the reader feel what it is to be in her (and my) shoes. Well done!

Apr 17 09 - 2:02pm
jc

Read your book. Have some comments. Did some searching. And find that your husband has died. My most sincere regrets to you.

Jun 28 10 - 12:51am
cm

i'm living through this at 40, although the men seem to be attracted to me, not repelled--especially the ones in their 20s. not at all what i was expecting, but thank god! i can't imagine going through life without having sex again. *that* would kill me.

Jun 28 10 - 7:41pm
Star

My husband died at 34 when I was 27. At about 9 months out, I started to want to be touched and have "encounters". I have to say it was the best thing. However, I still get the "it's too soon" looks and gossip 2 years later.

Oct 01 10 - 8:38pm
serialcoder

Respect to the author of original work. I am want to say thanks for funny post, and thanks to google and yahoo for perfect blog search.

Oct 16 10 - 2:53pm
Global

I was widowed last year exactly a year I am early 40, extremely healthy full of life and energy and have a hard time pinning myself down for mourning. I loved my husband and still do, but how does that justifies that i cannot enjoy life anymore. I got loads of sideglances and crticism for me going ahead positively with life. I developed a bit of personal relationship with a colleague, maybe fallen in love too, but still love my husband , miss him, cry for him but I love this new boyfriend and want to spend time with him. But I am so confused If i am going wrong. I am not dead my husband is, why i cannot live!!!

Nov 07 10 - 10:12pm
activation code

nice, you wrote a excellent one.

Feb 18 11 - 10:00am
Serial Annabel

Whay are you don't publish actual news?

Feb 19 11 - 4:40pm
serialpost

You can creat mirrow of your site on blogger. It's really more comfortable for users