Opinions vary on the subject of rereading books and re-watching movies. I don’t know about you, but I always discover new things in chapters and find it enjoyable to dissect the many layers of writing or to find something new in a movie scene that I didn’t realize initially.
As some of you might know about me at this point, I’m pretty into my analogies and I thought of a solid one today when reading a book that a fellow (widow) friend sent me recently.
The book, Tales of a Mediocre Widow by Catherine Tidd, could have been written by me. That’s how similar our stories are. If you’re wondering what makes certain widows gravitate towards one another, they’re actually divided into a couple of groups.
And yes, I know it’s a weird and morbid thing to think about, but when something like this happens to you and you find yourself latching onto certain people, there’s a reason for it.
You’d think that loss of any type would be enough to bond people to one another, but sudden loss is something even more specific that connects certain people together. Only a select number of people can understand what your mind and body go through when you hear of the sudden loss of a loved one — it’s the concept of finality coupled with a most unexpected occurrence.
It’s feeling like life was moving along at a predictably steady pace and then was set into overdrive in the next moment.
It’s being forced to suddenly take over and make all decisions at the same time as trying to grieve your loved one, your former life, your innocence and assuredness that things work out in the end. Because this indicates that all of the things you thought about life no longer exist.
It’s the reason that as I read this book, I kept rereading paragraphs of the author’s personal account of losing her husband suddenly to a car accident. It’s because her thoughts were my thoughts. Some of her actions were things I did as well, and seeing that was a source of comfort and validation. She’d talk about being busy in a manic way, trying to fill her day with as much as possible, to prevent herself from thinking too much, from absorbing the reality of her life.
I remember this time of my life well, as it hasn’t been too long since I said yes to everything asked of me. Every cake order, every demo, everything and anything to keep me going and keep up this facade that it’s all OK and I’m not willing to accept victimhood of any type.
She’d mention the need to redecorate her home at this truly odd time, feeling like she had to change things, to suddenly make them her own, instead of something that belonged to her and her husband as a couple.
I remember going into my mother-in-law’s house a year or so after my father-in-law passed and I’d see the house reconfiguring aesthetically. New furniture, reupholstering, painting, and light fixtures were being purchased.
It was becoming her home instead of theirs, and while I know she would’ve given it all back to get him back, that’s simply not the way that life works. So she might as well have really nice side tables and ottomans.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the need to run away. I wanted to start over somewhere new where people didn’t know our story.
I remember sitting in my sister’s backyard in Monsey and fantasizing about buying the house across her yard. I just wanted to be somewhere I would be anonymous, somewhere I wouldn’t be met with “that look.” The look that people didn’t know was clearly displayed on their faces but they couldn’t hide.
I bet it was the same look I had unknowingly given people who had been victims of similar circumstances in the past. A look of horror, curiosity, discomfort, and wonder all mixed into one, which would prevent them from looking away.
It was suddenly a painfully silly question when someone would innocently ask me, “How are you?” Such a simple, common query that I had answered so easily and effortlessly in the past now brought sting and confusion.
How could someone ask a question like that? How could they not?
In response, I’d give them a small smile and say the cliché they wanted to hear—because that’s what we do. As hard as it is to be in this place, we also don’t want to scare off the people we have left.
So we calibrate our agony, offering only a socially acceptable drip at a time. Because when is it OK to really tell others how we feel? Doesn’t it require a certain setting, in a controlled environment, such as a therapy office with a nice plant in the corner of the room and a deceptively comfortable-looking couch?
Do others really want to know how we are, or do they just feel politely obligated to ask the question? Could they handle my truth if I told them? This is what would go through my mind as I’d smile and say, “Great, thank you.”
There are exceptions, of course. Certain friends and family who I know really want to know how I’m doing. It’s the context of our relationships, naturally. They’ve always cared about me “for real” — not just in the “what fun new dish are you making for dinner” way. But there’s also an imperceptible inflection, a softness of tone, an empathetic eye contact (not pity, that’s not the same at all). The feeling you get from someone who really cares to hear the unfiltered, un-sanitized answer.
And I don’t even always want to share it. Sometimes my “It’s all good” cover story is as much for me as for them. How many times a week, a day, do I want to flood? How can I tell people what I need from them when I don’t even know myself? When it changes constantly? That I want them to be there and care and want to know how I am but that the question itself is impossibly tangled, its answer inconsistent? Don’t ask me, but don’t avoid asking either.
One comment you hear a lot from people in the wake of tragedy is: “There are no words.” Four words that express the pathetic shortage of words available at a time like this. Maybe that’s why the halachah is not to open conversation at a shivah — there are no words.
And this is why we widows gravitate to one another. It’s why I read the books about a widow’s triumph through heartbreak and adversity.
It’s the reason we hold on tight and read their words, befriend them, and have a silent understanding among our group that no one on the outside can comprehend.
It’s refreshing and comforting to not have to explain the daily thoughts flooding our minds. The arsenal of “what ifs” that have taken up a permanent residence inside our brains.
The wish to be the person we were before, even though we know we can never get back to that simple way of life. The complex “how are you” in this cohort is implicitly understood.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.