As I was preparing to write this article, I looked up the definition of “widow.” I pulled up the online dictionary and the first of three definitions was what I expected, “a woman who has lost her spouse by death.” The second one immediately proved to me why I must write this. It states, “humorous; a woman whose spouse is often away participating in a specified sport or activity; a golf widow.”
Guess what? It’s not all that humorous.
I hear it all the time, in a ton of different ways. “Hunting Widow,” “Football Widow,” “Work Widow,” “Weekend Widow,” “Night shift Widow,” right down to a “Deployed Soldier’s Widow” just to name a few.
It might be meant to be funny and it might be catchy, but if you are saying it and your husband is still alive, you are using the term wrong. You are not a widow. Because the very next definition that comes up is the truest one which states, “to be empty.” That is, by far, the most accurate and clear description of them all. Emptiness. Because they are not coming back. Ever. Not now, not after a weekend away, not after they’ve gotten their elk, not after they have watched their game or served overseas. When you are a widow, it is finite. It is absolute. It is forever. It is a club you never want to join.
When women start behaving as if they’re a widow because their husbands are gone for an event and that event is not their own funeral, that really irks me. You are not a widow unless your husband is no longer breathing. You are not a widow if he is coming back. If you are supporting him in his hobbies, you are a good wife. If you are holding down the fort while he is away hunting for food for your family, you are a good wife. If you are managing all aspects of life while your husband is deployed, then you are absolutely extraordinary. You are doing the right thing. As military wives, you are experiencing the struggle. The loneliness. The fear. The unknown. The long nights and slow days. You are the backbone of your family, and taking on even more than you probably can endure. As the mother and step-mother of two Navy men, I do not pretend to know what you’re going through with your husband away for so long, but I do know how hard it is to be away from the people you love, even though you know they are doing something honorable. You are serving alongside of them. You are sacrificing so much of your life for the better good. But, no, even you are not a widow.
I am ready to take heat for this. I will probably lose some “friends.” I’m hoping though that the only friends I lose are the ones who are only connected with me via social media and not those who know me in my whole, real world. I have thought about this carefully, how to word it, how to not offend too many people and about how many people are going to be offended anyway. But, when my husband died, my priorities changed and I made a promise to tell my story in it’s rawest form, and to be brave while doing it. So many women are in the same position as me, a real widow and I owe it to them to explain to you why you’re not.
- Your husband is coming back. If he doesn’t, then I am truly heartbroken for you. I know there are real “hunter’s widow’s” and the like, but for now, they are coming back.
- Your husband is still breathing. He is still alive.
- You are not raising fatherless children. Yes, they technically have a dad, but they are still growing up without them. Yes, many other incredible men can step up and do their best to fill the void and alleviate the pain, but my children’s dad, the man they loved, is still dead. He will not be at their graduations. Or their weddings. Or meet his grandchildren.
- We cannot accept an invitation with friends or to a party based on our husband’s schedule because he does not have one anymore.
- You are still part of a couple.
- Your “widowhood” is temporary. Ours is a permanent nightmare.
- Technology allows you to communicate when they’re gone. There are no cell phones in Heaven.
- You can still hear the sound of their voice. So many of us are beginning to forget what that sounds like.
- You can still complain about their snoring or wish they would pick up after themselves.
- Your husbands are still dragging in their muddy boots or sports equipment or leaving their favorite coffee mug on the counter for you to pick up. Widows wish they had that, but our husband’s things are in a box now in the garage.
- You can still hold his hand. Those of us with husbands in coffins cannot do that.
- You can still listen to his heartbeat. Our husband’s hearts have stopped.
- You can still make memories. All we can do is try to recall the memories we made.
- You can still take deep breaths. When you become a widow, you have to remind yourself how to breathe.
- You can still see his smile. We have to hope we have a picture with one in it.
- You don’t have to figure out who your new emergency contact is going to be.
- You can still make him his favorite dinner, and eventually, he will show up to eat it.
- You can still figure out the perfect birthday gift for him. All we can wish for is that he was here.
- You can still find comfort in his hug, and that he knows how to comfort you after a long day. We just have to think about what he might say.
- You can still tell him that you love him. We just hope he knew.
So, yes, as a committed, loving, supportive wife – you are outstanding. Your husband is lucky to have you. You are lucky to have him. But, you are not a widow. And, I wish with all of my heart that you never are. Because it is an awful reality that you do not really want. It’s not humorous, or funny and there is no end to it. The emptiness the dictionary refers to is something that can never be fixed. It is a type of pain that sears through your skin and into your bones and makes you ache in ways you cannot find words for. It is always there, and always in the forefront of your mind.
The word “widow” is sacred, or at least it should be. It represents something that is so painful and so sad that nobody should ever want to be one, even if it’s meant to be humorous.
I am a widow.
I am a cop’s widow.
The next time you joke about being your husband’s widow, in any form, maybe take a step back and be thankful that you’re actually not.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. She is in the process of writing of a book about her larger journey with grief after her husband’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:
‘With his body full of tumors, he kept working’: Wife’s tremendous grief after husband’s cancer diagnosis
‘We do not think of dispatchers as heroes, but that night, Jeff was mine.’
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