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Why I’m Grateful for the Term ‘Widowed’ Even Though I Hate It

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The first time I checked the box next to “widowed” under the “relationship status” section of a form, I paused, pen tip hovering above the sheet of paper. I was about to check “married” as I usually do, but reality reared its head once again. I thumbed my wedding ring, lost in thought. I continue to wear my wedding ring because taking it off would feel like a betrayal to my husband — a declaration of the end of my marriage. It would mean closing an important chapter in my life to make way for a new chapter — and I’m not ready for that.

My husband passed away several months ago, and the dense fog of mourning and intense sorrow is just starting to lift. Although I am reminded of him many times a day, I am learning to navigate my life without his solid and comforting presence. I am often lonely and at a loss of what to do with myself, particularly during the times when we would usually be doing something together. But I’m finding new ways to occupy myself and to plan my days as a single individual.

I suppose that technically, I am no longer married — but in my heart and mind, I still am. I didn’t choose this, and neither did my husband. Our marriage did not end on the day he passed away. We did not decide to separate from one another. I loved my husband and was faithfully committed to him — regardless of what was thrown in our path. His death doesn’t automatically change those feelings.

With a wince, I placed a check next to “widowed” and moved to the next question on the form. For me, the term “widow” conjures up images of lonely old women living solitary lives, playing bingo and eating TV dinners while watching reruns. Film and television depicts middle-aged widows as bitter and sorrowful women who are too young to go through the rest of their lives alone — yet too old for the chance to find love again. Widowed young men are depicted as angry, heavily drinking wrecks with death wishes. Older widowed men are portrayed as anchorless souls in desperate need of new partners to make their lives worth living again. I am not keen to join this Lonely Hearts Club that society views as tragic and pitiful.

And yet, I am grateful there is a term that encompasses the current state of my life — with no further explanation required. The word “widowed” explains why I still consider myself married even though my partner is gone, why I still wear my wedding ring even though my husband’s is tucked away in a drawer, and why I’m not interested in seeking romance even though I’m no longer legally committed to someone. Using the term “widowed” often garners empathy and compassion — rather than the potential judgment or legal probing that the terms “divorced” or “separated” may elicit. I do not have to sit through “plenty of fish in the sea” pep talks or offers to set me up with “this great guy I know.” Perhaps most importantly, “widowed” usually staves off the pressure to explain or discuss the tangled, varied thoughts and feelings I’m experiencing during this painful, lonely time in my life. Upon hearing that I’m widowed, most people just seem to “get it” on an instinctually empathetic level.

I uttered the words “’til death do we part” 15 years ago — not knowing that day would come much sooner than expected and not truly understanding that the death of a spouse does not necessarily mean the end of a marriage. The loss of my husband has legally changed my relationship status and has brought many changes in other areas of my life, but it hasn’t changed how I think and feel about my relationship with my husband. Only time will change that.

Letting go is a process that varies from person to person, and it has no time limit. So with gentleness towards myself, I will take all the time I need to grieve. In the meantime, I am trying to embrace the word “widow” not as a permanently sad and lonely identity but instead as a descriptor of a momentary chapter in my life.

Getty image by Justin Paget.

Originally published: July 20, 2022
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