tells: the hidden codes of the widowed


Preparing for each Friday’s post, I go back into my writing archives – sifting through the thousands of words I wrote in the early days. Lately, I seem to be landing on the moments when I felt companioned by something. I’ve never been comfortable naming that “something” – words are too small and annoying for that kind of use.

What is undeniable is that things happened. Precise, ordinary, interesting things that left me quieter for a moment, even though the pain never left. It’s those moments that let me live this, then, and let me live this here, now, too.

Writing without the deeply personal is not the whole story of grief. To give the whole story, to give as many handholds as possible in the steep climb of grief, we need to hear personal stories. Each Friday, I’ll post something from my own experience of grief and love. It’s an inside look at love, at grief, at life.

This week, a post from 2012, as I was ending a horrible job, and wondering about where I’d go next.

I told the woman I occasionally farm-sit for that I was getting laid off and asked if she would keep her ears open for me. I don’t want a huge job, but I do need something.

Three days ago, she called to tell me a friend of hers needed help in her stables, and might be calling. Said woman called, and I went over there this morning.

It hadn’t even occurred to me that my friend would have likely told this new woman my “status” – I never even think of things like that. But I was wary, as I am all the time now, of being asked too much about myself.

The woman who owned the stables was very talkative for the first hour or so, barely a breath between words, let alone sentences. I didn’t need my normal reminders-to-self to turn the focus away from me and onto the other person so that any personal questions would be deflected before they started.

She filled the entire space, and asked nothing of me.

As she talked, I noticed a wide gold ring on her right hand, and I thought – she’s a widow.

But then I figured, nah, lots of people wear rings on both hands.

We worked in the barn together for awhile, her rambling on and on, me listening for pauses, listening for an upturn in inflection, alerting me to a question I might need to answer.

She sifted the stall bedding as she talked. Her two bird-dogs dropped wood block dummies at my feet, over and over, wanting me to play. During a pause, I said something about how our dog does that with tennis balls. She asked something about Boris, then suddenly stopped shoveling and said – “she told me.”


My eyes welled up – it takes nothing.

Before I could say anything back, she said “I was widowed too. I’m a war widow.”

While I was trying fiercely to not openly sob, I missed some of the details, but I heard her say that the man she is married to now took care of her husband’s body after he died, and that her now-husband’s wife died of cancer.

She said, “I wish I could tell you it gets better. It gets easier, but not really better. But I will tell you – they never go away. They never leave. I know mike is right here, when I need him to be.”

I was there for another hour or so, talking about various things. Of course, in my head, I was trying to do the math and figure out how long she had been widowed, listening for clues and such (best guess – somewhere between 22 and 28 years). I realized I’ve never actually spoken with someone who was widowed young and is further along this road than I am.

She was neither chipper about the whole thing (“it all worked out for the best”) nor bitter and angry. While we are different people in many ways, there was enough resonance there to be really comforting to me.

She told me she turned to the horses when her husband died. When I said I quit being a therapist when matt died, she said – “of course. You have no tolerance for whining or lying or any of the messes people choose to get themselves into. Animals don’t do that.”

The other interesting part of this story is that last week, I was farm-sitting for a friend. On the way home, I decided to take a road I hadn’t been on before. Driving down it, I saw a Very Expensive Looking farm and thought – man, where do they get that kind of money, and – I wonder if they need any help.

So whose house was I at today? Down what road and at which farm? Right. That’s where I was.

Anyway. An intense and comforting and bewildering morning. I don’t know what it means. It doesn’t need me to define it, anyway.

No matter how bleak and hard it gets, there is a force of love still here.

That is all I know.



As always, dear readers, I’d love to hear your too-precise-to-be-random experiences inside your grief. I’d also love to hear if you’ve somehow developed a 6th sense for widowed folks, or other child-loss families: do you just look at someone sometimes and know?

Leave me a comment, or send a message. I’d love to hear from you.