Widows Wear Stilettos
December 21, 2000. The sun was setting on a stereotypically beautiful California afternoon. Dozens of police officers stood at rapt attention; some with tears streaming down their faces, belying their attempts at stoicism. The soft moan of bagpipes echoed the traditional “Amazing Grace” over the hillsides. Several hundred more people stood staring at the flag-draped coffin with the identically numb expression – complete and utter disbelief. In one of my few moments of lucidity that day, watching this moment unfold as if it were happening to someone else and while holding tightly to our then-11 year old daughter’s hand, one lone thought continued to play over and over in my head:
I’m a widow.
Widowed. To my mind, widows are older, retired, with grown children and grandchildren. Widows are married for years and years and enjoy a rich, full and storied life with their spouse. Widows sport gray hair, live in retirement communities and go on a lot of cruises. Widows wear sensible shoes and entertain with stories of the “good old days” (penny candy, dime movies and Uncle Miltie) or the “bad old days” (the Depression and walking to school uphill both ways in the snow).
Conversely, I’m the last of the Baby Boomer generation. Born in 1960, I came of age during Women’s Rights, Vietnam and Watergate; pet rocks and puka shells, Led Zeppelin and lava lamps. My generation is “post-Pill and pre-AIDS”; ours is the generation that witnessed the birth of the microwave oven, the personal computer, the VCR and remember a life without MTV, cell phones, the Internet or reality television.
Widowed? Impossible.I wear low-rise pants and miniskirts. Stiletto heels are the mainstay of my always-expanding wardrobe and in fact, the license plates on my car pay homage to my almost-fanatical love of all things footwear. I know all of the words to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. My CD collection is heavily laden with 1970s disco and heavy metal and 1980\s new wave, pop-punk and “hair band” music. Shopping is my zen, I’d rather dance than breathe, and I love laughing till it hurts at comedy clubs and taking frequent trips to Las Vegas. I enjoy lemon drop martinis at sunset and a champagne cocktail with dinner (OK, I know the latter is a 1950s-era drink, but still…). My daughter and I share clothes and cheeseburgers, beauty tips and giggles…
Yet I’m a widow.
At only 40 years old I was widowed, with a child to raise, mortgages to pay, the same “pile of bills” that every family in America has sitting on their respective desks, while in the midst of a veritable tornado of emotions and absolutely no idea how to transition into this new and unexpected life.
I attempted to seek support from others in my not-so-common position -- those who were widowed at a younger age with children to raise and a sizeable chunk of life still in front of them -- and found none. All of the widow/widower organizations, while certainly worthwhile, boasted membership consisting primarily of people in the somewhat older, here-are-pictures-of-my-grandchildren age group. The few support groups that I found on the Internet were either determined to discuss nothing but their dear departed and ONLY their dear departed or they were looking for dates.
Books? There are a lot of wonderful books out there on widowhood, grieving and loss -- but none that I found dealt with both the practical issues of widowhood (whom to contact and how, what paperwork you’ll need and helpful resources), as well as issues that are particular to younger widows, such as helping young and adolescent children transition and function in a world where “everyone has a dad except me”; re-entering the world of dating at a time when the large majority of your friends are married; the necessity of re-entering the workplace; functioning as a “single” in a “couples” world without feeling like the cruise director on Noah’s Ark; becoming sexually active again (or not), remarrying (or not), and so many other issues that affect women who are widowed in their 40s, their 30s and younger still.
It is for those women to whom the title of widow has come far too soon, that Widows Wear Stilettos… is intended - for those women to whom “till death do us part” happened long before it was ever expected, whether by long-term illness, sudden illness, accident or tragic circumstance.
Please let me reassure you that though you may feel like it right now, you are not alone. Let me also reassure you that even if you can’t see it right now, today, this moment….there is a big, beautiful life out there and together, we will help you go get it.