Divorce & Widowhood

On Becoming An Elder Stateswoman of Grief



I gave free voice to the turmoil, grief, anger, and fear. Writing this way, without restraint, helped me experience the depth of my loss. And from that deep despair I was able to accept and begin the slow transition to my new life as a widow. . .


My friend’s husband lay dying in Vassar Hospital. When I visited, she was full of questions she couldn’t ask anyone else. She needed to know what to do before he died, and wondered about what it would be like afterward. Having stood in her shoes more than four years ago, when my own husband was dying, I shared what I had learned. We spoke about what papers she needed to assemble and what she needed to ask the hospice caseworker. We shared memories and anecdotes. Sometimes we laughed, and sometimes we teared up. But mostly she asked questions, and I answered them, drawing from my own experiences. And so we spoke throughout the afternoon.

When I left her, I let the memories that were begging for release flood my mind. I thought about Herb, my husband of 56 years, and how my family and I prepared for his death and how we grieved together. I thought about the day when I discovered I had nothing to wear to the funeral and dashed to Macy’s with my younger daughter, and how we had laughed, nearly hysterical, when I proceeded to buy a dress in 20 minutes—a world record for me.

I thought of myself at my friend’s stage of this mysterious life-ending juncture. I thought of my daughters—who almost never left my side, from the time their father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and then cancer. Who sat with me, talking to the caseworker and the nurse from hospice. Who spoke with the doctors when I no longer could. Who were there. And I remembered the wonderful aide, a Jamaican man, who handled Herb so reverently and was so gentle with him. Refusing to sleep in a bedroom upstairs, this giant of a man slept on an air mattress so he could be near my husband during the long nights when he was the most restless.

My friend was taking her husband home the next day and hospice-caregivers would provide for his needs. Now began the vigil. It is a sad time for her and their combined families. But it is also a time when family joins together, I told her, and everyone speaks of their father or grandfather with candor, insight, humor, and joy. This life review, of shared experiences, supports the family as they mourn the man they love.

In the week when Herb was dying, I invited his friends and our families to come and spend time with him. Even though he was in a coma-like fugue state, I knew that their presence would comfort Herb. And they came. They sat with him and spoke to him of past experiences. And what was so special, I told my friend, is that our grandchildren heard the stories, and they laughed along when an old friend remembered Herb jumping rooftops as a teenager.

Those visits were so helpful to me as well. I felt surrounded by love. My grandchildren were able to talk with their grandfather and to witness the process of his dying in a supportive atmosphere charged with deep feeling. My children stood up and were strong and present through such an emotion-filled time. As they stood up, so did I. Our circle enabled all of us to gather our strength and remain present through Herb’s death, funeral, and shiva. I am forever grateful to my children and grandchildren for being with Herb and me, and for doing what needed to be done, in the most loving way, during such a sad time of our lives.

In the midst of Herb’s last days was that black comedy of a trip to Macy’s. Never have I shopped with such focus. We grabbed a dress, black stockings, shoes, and a bag. Did I try the dress on? I don’t remember. But I do remember that my daughter and I doubled over laughing remembering Herb’s frustration with my shopping technique: I never, ever bought the first thing I saw. It was only after I looked at everything in the department that, inevitably, I went back and bought that first thing.

The loss of Herb still seems so fresh to me, and I began writing to make sense of what I was going through. Being single at 79 had not been part of my game plan. Writing helped me to understand what I was feeling. At first it was a lament: I gave free voice to the turmoil, grief, anger, and fear. Writing this way, without restraint, helped me experience the depth of my loss. And from that deep despair I was able to accept and begin the slow transition to my new life as a widow, and to explore what that was like for me.

Musing on the afternoon with my friend, I noticed not only the changing nature of my grief over the years but a new clarity about what I had gone through. I have always felt a moral imperative to lend support to friends and family members during difficult times. As my friend and I talked about facing one of life’s deepest, saddest challenges, I discovered that I could lend support in a way I had never been able to before. After passing through all the mourning and sadness, it occurred to me, I’ve become an elder stateswoman of widowhood.



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  • Pamela Yew Schwartz August 13, 2018 at 7:46 am

    Thank you so much for sharing the love you have for your husband and the heartfelt experience of your grief journey.

  • APA August 13, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for sharing this time in your life with our readers. A very sad time was also a very loving and comforting time for you family and friends.