Monday, May 16, 2011

A Widow's Story

Yesterday I heard a portion of an interview with Joyce Carol Oates on the CBC radio. It was about her new book, A Widow's Story, which is a memoir based on the time after the sudden loss of her husband of 47 years in 2008.

I listened to it with the kind of rapt attention you probably shouldn't when you're driving. I can't remember getting to my destination.

It's just that she spoke so honestly and simply about loss. She was unapologetic about the ravages of grief and the toll it took on her after her beloved husband died. She didn't look on the bright side. She didn't claim to have learned anything from it. She didn't praise it for making her stronger, more empathetic or more patient with others. She didn't use it to find ways to do good.

She just endured it.

And coming from the world of babyloss where we're always trying to make sense of it and find something good to take away from it, this was a breath of fresh air.

Losing someone you love is bad. Period. It hurts, it isolates, and it scars.

I'm sure, like everyone who struggles to find meaning in loss, she has done some of the mental gymnastics the newly bereaved engage in to keep the ground from moving and shifting beneath them every moment of every day. She probably has tried to make sense of it and find lessons from it.

But she didn't say she did. At least not in the interview. She said she made a nest of her bed, taking refuge there through sleepless nights surrounded by books to comfort her. She admits she thought about, but then dismissed, suicide. She said she regularly impersonated the "old Carol" while she was working as a professor at Princeton, then returned home to be a grieving widow once again.

I haven't lost my husband so I have no idea what this particular of grief is like, but so much of what she said resonated deep within me. Especially the notion that we impersonate the person we used to be. I suppose it's some sort of ancient survival skill, not unlike the way cats can literally be dying but still successfully pretending to be a-okay.

I've done it. I still do it.

And then I come home and I can be the girl who lost all her babies and then her father.

I ordered A Widow's Story for my mom, and I'll read it when she's finished. There's something deeply necessary about people sharing the grief journey, and I'm so grateful that people who have walked this sad, lonely road do talk about it.

For us, and for themselves.


Michele said...

I will look into this book- thank you for sharing this!

Illanare said...

What an wonderful post. Thank you for sharing it, and for sharing the book. Impersonating myself is also what I am doing at the moment, but I didn't have the words to say it.

justine said...

Thank you for sharing this. Yes, I know exactly what she means. The thing is ... what happens beyond enduring grief? I want to believe that there's a "through" ... not that you ever get back to your "old self," but that there is something else besides the dull pain. Or does it simply learn to coexist with joy?

areyoukiddingme said...

I'm glad you've found someone who can explain your feelings (or rather, their feelings in a way you can relate). I hope the book is as excellent as the interview.

I've never learned anything from grief. OK, well, I did learn that the death of a loved one sucks for the living. Loads of redeeming value in that life lesson...very helpful in, um, the life sucks department?

paula said...

thought this post was pretty amazing. and hope it was ok that i shared it on my blog as well, while linking it back to you.

i feel sometimes that there is so much emphasis put on how we are suppose to get through this. and i like feeling validated in that it is ok just to endure it.

Hennifer said...

"There's something deeply necessary about people sharing the grief journey..."

This is something I feel so strongly, something I've learned at a new level since "meeting" you and the others and your children.

I'm currently finishing my BA in Psychology and wanting to work in the bereavement field but not sure in what capacity but that sentiment sums it up, I want to make that known, and accessible and...

You have just the right words, always.

loribeth said...

I am soooooo behind on my blog reading & commenting, not to mention writing. Wanted to mention that I have been eyeing this book & trying to convince myself that I can wait for the paperback (I bought Joan Didion's book in hardcover & still haven't read that one either...!). I believe there is a common thread that links the bereaved, no matter exactly how different the circumstances of their loss. I hope the book brings you comfort.