On Widowhood from a Shameful Source


At my husband’s memorial, several people made sure I knew it was my own fault he was dead.

If I had not been such a bad wife, he would not have become an alcoholic, they reminded me.


There’s only so much you can defend yourself at a memorial without making a scene, so I thanked them for coming and let it go. But racing in my head were a bunch of fights I could have started:


-Oh?  A bad spouse makes an alcoholic? Since there is no worse spouse THAN an alcoholic, I should have been dead of the condition years ago. His booziness should have been my contagion. Idiots.


-UHM. Actually, I found out 4 years into the marriage that he’d been an AA member before began our relationship, and that he purposely kept the AA info from me. So if a bad wife caused it, it was the wife BEFORE me. Thanks anyway for your theory.


-REALLY? You’re telling me this at my husband’s MEMORIAL?  Is there a prize for tackiest public encounter possible? You win.



Because I am a widow, I get invited to a great many fundraisers for dying friends and relatives. These people figure I know what it is like.


I don’t.  I don’t have any idea.


People invite me to these fundraisers expecting me to give them wisdom on how to face death while sorting the tickets for the Chocolate Fantasy Basket raffle.  A lot of people remember that my husband is dead but nobody seems to recall that while he was dying, precious few gave two shits about his upcoming burial costs or the future of his wife or child.


There was no fundraiser for him, or for his family. I paid for his cremation in installments.


Actually, I was not supposed to pay for his cremation at all. In our happy honeymoon, years before I knew anything was wrong, we concluded that the ethical thing to do would be to donate our bodies to the medical college.  That’s free and environmentally friendly.   But the college rejected his body,  and one day after his death I was informed I had to do something with it.  (They hinted that he was too tall and heavy to conveniently move and that this was the reason for the rejection. They really should put height and weight requirements on the donation form. BTW I am very short, and the donation card is in my wallet, just in case you ever find me near death.)


There is no scholarship fund for his child.


He’s just as dead as if he died of something honorable, but his shame means tough shit, figure this out yourself.


I was recently introduced to someone and, grasping around for a discussion topic, we found we had an acquaintance in common.


The new person didn’t know I was widowed, but our mutual friend was widowed, so she proceeded to tell me the whole sad story: how the husband had cancer, and lived less than a year after the diagnosis, how sad it was for the whole family, how they had to have rotating vigils around his bedside, how they had fundraisers, how the children had to watch their dad die but luckily there were funds to take care of them.


I felt a mixture of familiarity and bewilderment: The family were at his side in rotation?  Money was raised to take care of the widow and children? There were parties to support him and his family?


As the speaker went on and on about how sad it was, I could feel myself about to throw up.  The person was telling the story as if it were the saddest thing that ever happened.  And looking for that companionable agreement that can unite people.



As sad as it was, this other widow faced her husband’s death with support of family and friends. Funds were raised so they were not in want. When the children go to college, it will be on a scholarship in their dad’s name.


I went to the hospital by myself. Although he was in the hospital for two months, none of my husband’s relatives visited more than one time.  His friends would be at the hospital before or after me, but never with me. Never did anyone offer to help with the enormous burden of housework and yardwork that piled up while I was at the hospital.


None of the relatives offered to watch my child or fix me a meal, much less throw a fundraiser or establish a scholarship.


I can only imagine what it would be like to be widowed by something respectable.


I started paying attention to fund-raisers. They are mostly for lingering diseases, either inexplicable cancers affecting parents of young children, or for congenital children’s diseases. Nothing with a whiff of shame. No AIDS, lung cancer, or cirrhosis.


I am not alone, in shameful death. There are people in my city of 15,000 dying of AIDS, lung cancer, and cirrhosis. And they leave widows, and school aged children. But not so’s you’d notice.


The South High Dance Marathon raises a half million dollars a year for virtuous people in need. One year a man was listed as a recipient because he needed a prosthetic hand. When it was revealed that he had been convicted of a sex crime the outcry was enormous. It was obvious that the man deserved, in the eyes of the public, to suffer every way possible, even after serving his time. How dare he need a prosthetic! He did something shameful and therefore he should know he will never deserve sympathy, much less assistance, again.


If I ever see a fundraiser for someone dying of anything embarrassing, I’m going.


A week after my husband was admitted to the hospital, a nurse told me that he saw about one case like his a month. A MONTH.  Twelve a year. For a city this small, that is rather a lot of abandoned widows and children, and that’s not counting lung cancer for smokers.


In separate bewilderment, long before it affected me I was bothered by the realization that if you are dying, even if you have insurance, you won’t have enough money for your care and can expect to have to ask the community for help.


What if you are an introvert, in a family of same? Even without an embarrassing disease.


The conclusion on fundraisers is this: If you are extroverted, or have extroverted family, and are dying of something respectable, are photogenic,  know how to throw a bash, and have good bookkeeping skills, your exit and the lives of your survivors will be much more manageable.


Beverly Sills wrote two memoirs. The first, Bubbles, was happy go lucky, and the second faced more honestly the sorrows she endured as a mother of two severely disabled children, a Jew in a hostile environment,  having the house she and her husband built burn to the ground, and being  the patron of a dying not for profit.

She summed herself up like this: I am a cheerful person.


She said that a happy person might be someone the bad things didn’t happen to, but a cheerful person squared her shoulders to face them.


I think it would be unrealistic, or even unhealthy, for me to be relentlessly happy when going through the experiences I have, but “cheerful” I can understand, and strive for.


5 thoughts on “On Widowhood from a Shameful Source

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Frieda. When it was happening, we didn’t know what was happening. I like to think we would have been there for you then. We’re here for you now. (And those people from the memorial, I hope you don’t have to extend any energy in their direction these days.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lil. I probably should have been more clear in my post–for people who weren’t in the know (like you <3) , I have no confusion or anger. But I do get confused at those who came to the memorial not to mourn, but to blame.


  2. Frieda, I do not know you, but I am so sorry for everything that you have gone through. It is not your fault. I do not understand why people feel the need to judge others. Perhaps it stems from their own insecurities. Once, I read that people often judge traits in others that they see in themselves. Regardless, it was heartless and in bad form. If you husband died due to alcoholism, he too died of an illness.


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