The Widowhood Effect
December 25, 2016 1:20 PM   Subscribe

What it’s like to lose a spouse in your 30s. Christina Frangou talks about the experience of losing her husband to cancer at the age of 36.
posted by mrbill (24 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
This really resonated with me, for reasons many of you already know.
posted by mrbill at 1:21 PM on December 25, 2016 [34 favorites]

Late in the evening, one of his friends said to me: “It’s a shame you never had kids. You love your wife but, boy, you really love your kids.”

I now understand the meaning of the term "seeing red."

Otherwise, I've got no words about this piece; it was inexpressibly moving.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 2:09 PM on December 25, 2016 [17 favorites]

This lady is handling it much better than I ever could. I would just shut down for months.
posted by Talez at 2:17 PM on December 25, 2016

Read this in honour of my dear mother. My father died 50 years ago today when she was 31. I was 5 and my sisters were 10 and 11. I'll never know how she found the strength to deal with such tragedy and heartbreak, nor will I ever find the words to thank her for all she endured.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 2:21 PM on December 25, 2016 [16 favorites]

This is a beautiful piece of writing coming out of an incalculable tragedy. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. The expression "off-time" seems very apt.
posted by docpops at 2:21 PM on December 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Moving and beautiful. Thank you, mrbill.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:24 PM on December 25, 2016

Once in a while I go through old black and white family photographs. They show my father, young (always younger than 38), with curly hair, a smile, usually standing with my mother, sometimes in a boat or on a dock, in which case there was a fishing pole or a stringer of fish in his hand. My mother is always happy in those photos, smiling, young...wearing wind blown summer dresses.. they are always outside. In one or two of those photos there is a small child, younger than 6 months, a boy..but, there aren't many photos of my father with that child because, when I was 6 months old, my father died two weeks after being involved in an auto accident on a dark night in 1948 while on the way home from work.. He was 38 at the time.

The woman in those photos is as foreign to me as that young, handsome man with curly hair. Although, unlike my life without my father, with no memories of who he was, I spent much time with my mother, she raised us, she provided us with a future... the mother that raised me, alone, from when I was 6 months old on, was not the woman in those photos.

After my father died she became a different person, I never saw that smile in real life, I never saw her in the breeze, with a man, on a dock, fishing or just being there anticipating a future that included those types of happy moments. My memories of my mother, as they relate to my father, are of her in the cemetery, clipping grass around a bronze marker with the name of a man I didn't remember, quiet, never talking to that child that was with her. Eventually she would brush the clippings off the marker and often a tear off her cheek, stand up, and wordlessly take my hand to lead me back to the car.

Being a widow changed her. My father's death robbed us of both his presence, and the presence of that happy, windblown woman that was our mother.

Thanks for posting this article, due to some odd family travels this year, I'm home alone for the holiday, probably the first time in my life that this has happened... Today has been full of some retrospection, thoughts about the meaning of family and, in part, about loss. This article was powerful and well written.

I wish peace to the author, to mrbill (I remember those days of yours), and all of you that have an empty spot in your heart.
posted by HuronBob at 2:51 PM on December 25, 2016 [87 favorites]

The story of the soap was intense. I mean, the entire story was intense, but that part hits hard.
posted by greenhornet at 3:22 PM on December 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

My Mom was widowed just before she turned 40, about 6 weeks before. She took Ph.D qualifying exams that Fall, which probably kept her going.

You want outrage sharing? Near the end, after Dad was unable to eat food anymore but before the cancer was quite finished with him, she was at the store one day, buying some kind of Ensure liquid nutrition beverage. A man in line with her said to her "Hey lady, what's the matter? Too lazy to cook for your husband?".
posted by thelonius at 3:40 PM on December 25, 2016 [17 favorites]

This really resonated with me.

Me too. Especially the bit about the mechanics of how to get the body of what used to be your wife to where she was going to be cremated. It was only in the last week before she would die that I'd gotten the insurance sorted.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:50 PM on December 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I posted this to Reddit a few years ago, and still get 2-3 messages a week about it.

"June 16, 2009: my wife suddenly passed away at home, at the age of 34. I was the one who found her, and she'd been gone for at least an hour if not more when I did.

We'd been together for eleven years. It wasn't perfect - what marriage is? - but things had been worse, and were in the process of finally getting better. Being best friends can help you get through the worst of times. I felt guilty that one of my thoughts was "at least now we won't fight over stupid crap that doesn't really matter".

For at least six months, I was on autopilot. I went to work, did what I had to do to get paid, and just. didn't. care. Ate a lot of fast food because I didn't want to expend the energy to go to the grocery store. I bought my cats food from Amazon because they'd deliver it to my front door.

Depression is a horrible thing; only now can I look back and realize just how bad it was.

It's not every day, but there are times when I think about joining my wife, but then that would just mean an end result of other people having to deal with the aftermath of my problems.

There are days when I get home from work and unlock the front door and walk into a quiet house, where I would give up everything I own to have someone there to give me a hug and sincerely ask how my day went and honestly care about my answer.

Something so simple as human touch, compassion, and companionship is worth more than anything else in the world. If you've got it, if you have someone that loves you - don't give that up. Don't waste it. Don't be petty or throw it away because of other little things that don't really matter in the grand scheme of life.

Some of us wonder if we'll ever get to experience it again."
posted by mrbill at 5:26 PM on December 25, 2016 [61 favorites]

Thank for this beautiful piece, mrbill, and for sharing your story. I had known of part of it, but not all. My heart goes out to you, and to all who have lost life partners.

I lost my husband, coincidentally my best friend, a few months ago. So very much of this article resonates with me. I've thought and done so much of it. It brings me comfort to see that Chris is still moving forward, as her dad suggested. While I am older, I have hope that I can adjust eventually as others have and move forward. For now, though, I am content to walk in place.
posted by Silverstone at 5:48 PM on December 25, 2016 [21 favorites]

Similarly heartbreaking: Matt Zoller Seitz on the death of his wife.
posted by goatdog at 6:44 PM on December 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

posted by lalochezia at 7:31 PM on December 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was widowed at 45. I can confirm the confusion- I forgot to pay bills, and got a ticket for expired tags. And the longing for ritual. I wore black shirts every day for six months. But I had to keep it together for my kids, who were 6 and 7, and keep working to support them. To take time for grief and mental processing, I cut back on sleeping. I haven't slept more than 5 hours a night since then, 12 years ago. But now I nap a little most days.
posted by Miss Cellania at 7:31 PM on December 25, 2016 [23 favorites]

just casually bawling my eyes out.
posted by sibboleth at 7:32 PM on December 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I very much needed to read this today. Mr. Nerd has been gone 29 months, and today's the 20th anniversary of me moving in with him. I had my moment of missing him, and went on with my day.
posted by luckynerd at 7:45 PM on December 25, 2016 [27 favorites]

This feels like it intersects a bit of dialogue from Fred in A Christmas Carol:

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

I don't know that "below them" is key. Here's to all fellow passengers who've lost their closest companions in the journey.
posted by weston at 11:54 PM on December 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Much compassion for those of you who can share your stories, and for those who can't.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 12:07 AM on December 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

Helly and I were married when I was 42 and she was 40, and I lost her when I was 52 and she was just shy of her 50th birthday (she passed on September 1st of this year). So in some ways I feel like a young widower, because we were married late and not married that long.

I can only read some of this, but what I've read I relate to so much... watching her waste away from liver disease, standing there at the end wondering what happens next.. I have a bathroom full of her medications that I haven't touched yet, and I live in a house surrounded by all her things. Her glasses are still sitting on the clock on her side of the bed, and the sweatshirt I washed so she could wear it to one of her doctors appointments is still hanging on the door. The inability to sit and read... It was a month or more before I was able to sleep with the light off in the bedroom.

My house, this year, is also a Christmas-free Zone. I suspect it will be for years to come. I've done the bare minimum required for immediate family, but I've avoided anything related to Christmas myself. Everyone who knows me knows this, and has been good about it.

I've had a core group of friends for close to or over 30 years, and they've all been with me. But I have noticed that some people who were in our lives have simply vanished with almost no trace. I can't really be mad, everyone has their own lives to deal with and the big tragedy in my life was just a minor blip in theirs.

I'll try to read the whole article later today, if I can. The tone though.. the tone sounds right, at least so far. Sort of bleak and matter-of-fact, which is how I feel most days as I go through what my grief counselor calls "the logistics of death." There are so many moving parts when someone dies.
posted by ralan at 6:12 AM on December 26, 2016 [19 favorites]

My friend and her husband had moved to a small college town with their old dog, and got a cute little house where she could work her "city" job remotely and go trail running. Her husband was a joy to know, and tempered her excitable nature. He was pursuing his dream job. Until the cancer, he was the picture of health. He died, and shortly after so did the sweet old dog. A little later she started this blog.
posted by zennie at 6:34 AM on December 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am like the woman she meets whose husband died in a car crash after a fight, except that I was being treated for cancer at the time of his death. My husband died 8 months ago, a week before I started radiation therapy. He was 39, active, fit, sharp, infuriating. My cancer was early stage, and successfully treated, but it was my death that we were thinking about.

We were arguing in a parking lot half an hour before he died. I walked away from him rolling my eyes and fantasizing about the apartment I planned to move into without him once my treatment finished. His death was sudden, unexpected, and left unanswered and unanswerable questions.

The author writes, "How beautiful and smooth my story seemed next to hers." I feel that setting aside or creating of distance in many settings. Even among people who have tragic stories (young widows/widowers, young cancer patients), I get to be the Most Tragic. People reflexively apologize to me for discussing their own problems. When they do this, I frequently tell them, "There's no Pain Olympics."

I had Christmas this year, but departed radically from my previous traditions. Ran away to the beach with people who came into my life after my husband died; who only know me as the person I am now. Opened presents on the wrong day. Ate steak instead of turkey. Did a little day drinking. Watched movies. It was good. Life goes on.
posted by jeoc at 8:44 AM on December 26, 2016 [21 favorites]

My mom turned 70 this year. She is/was not a 30 something widow. Two years ago was her first Christmas alone, so my wife and I had her come up to spend it with us and her grand kids. Last year she visited my sister and her family and traveled to Las Vegas with her sister.

This year was her first Christmas actually alone. She did all her decorations, set up all kinds of stuff, went over to her neighbors for a Christmas party... but on Christmas Eve, she was alone. For the first time, everyone was with their families, and I (shanghaied on a ride to my in-laws instead of staying home for the holidays as intended) called her on the two hour ride and talked the whole time.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:26 PM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

We lost our son a few years ago. At his small funeral there were four other families who'd lost children. I was surprised how common such loss still is. Losing a spouse must be as painful; is it as common I wonder? How fortunate I am to live now and not when (or where) death takes more.
posted by anadem at 3:16 PM on December 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

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