“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22:1 and Matthew 27:46
All marriages end in death or divorce. My wife and I talked about our deaths a few times, back when we were both healthy. We sometimes joked about being each other’s “first husband” or “first wife,” never imagining that there might ever be a second spouse for either of us, or that one of us might live alone for many years. We assumed we would both die in old age within a year or two of each other, as our parents had. But now it has happened, and she is gone. Her cancer reappeared, and she died at age 64.
Death always seems sudden, even if it was expected, because it’s so different from all other changes: it is so total, and it’s irreversible.
I learned that I am “widowed” when I offered to give blood in my wife’s honor soon after my wife’s funeral. When I tried to register as a blood donor, the young man asked, “Marital status?” I was confused. I looked down at my wedding ring and stammered, “My wife just died.”
“Widowed,” the young man said and checked that box on his chart. I felt a little dizzy at that moment and I thought about my new marital status for a long time. Before this, I had been either “single” or “married.” I never expected to be a widowed man.
Your wife’s funeral may have seemed like a blur at the time, and you may remember only a few details now. You had to make some decisions in a hurry when your wife died, especially if she died unexpectedly and suddenly. You may be unnerved now by some of the decisions you made then while you were in a state of shock. But be kind to yourself. Remember that you were in an unnatural condition: you had lost your “better half” or maybe your better three-fourths. “Better half” is a good expression, especially now. It says something important about marriage and about losing your wife. You really were two parts of one living thing: your marriage.
C.S. Lewis said that losing your wife isn’t like having your appendix out or being hospitalized with pneumonia: you get over those and they are forgotten. Losing your wife is like having a leg amputated: you don’t get over that. It is such a huge change that it tends to define who you are for a long time, possibly for the rest of your life.
What do you need to learn about being single again? In what ways is this different from being single when you were younger? What challenges do you see ahead? How is your world different from that of a widow woman?
When I became a widowed man, I wondered what to call myself. “Widow” is usually applied only to women, but why can’t a man be a widow? Why accept the implied accusation when you are called a “widower?” You didn’t cause your wife’s death. “Widowed” is a better term, but of course she didn’t do this to you; it wasn’t her choice. I like to call myself simply a widow or widowed, or maybe better, a “widow-man.”
More has been written about widows than about widowed men, so recovering from loss of a spouse might seem like “women’s work.” But you are now doing some of the hardest work of your life, recovering from her death. This is not for the faint-hearted.
Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org