I recently joined a new unofficial association. Throughout my entire life I had never entertained any such notion as being one of its members. I thought my wife might be but I never gave that much thought either. I really have not enjoyed this club at all. I think for most widowed people, the only benefits seem to be some like-minded company where sadness and misery are the only common denominators.
While I don’t mind being a sexual minority in this club, I have found that many of the women I have encountered so far, still feel married to their late husbands. When socializing this can be a constant distraction.
I am by nature an uxorious man. I am one of those men who just has to be married. My wife knew that early in our marriage. She used to kid or maybe mock me for years that she did not want me to invite my girlfriend to her funeral. I didn’t but in the end the joke might still be on her. I have felt this way since I was a small boy. I wanted to get married, have 10 children and move in with my mother.
Of 16th century origin, the word uxorious derives from Uxor, the Latin word for wife. The only time I have ever encountered it was in my junior year at Holy Cross. I was writing a paper on President Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations. The author of one of his biographies used it in reference to the 27th president. Current dictionaries make it sound much different. They define it as having or showing an excessive or submissive fondness for one’s wife.
In retrospect there is a lot of truth in that. I did dote over Judy, my wife of 50 years and 42 days, but I always felt that was part of being a husband. That’s what husbands should do for their wives—be of service to them, especially in sickness and declining health and of course death.
Many of us have found solace in our families. The death of my children’s mom, which was relatively sudden, left us rudderless for awhile but a marvelous orchestrated upbeat funeral and a family cruise to the Caribbean gave us a splendid opportunity to celebrate our family life and the woman who had given so much heart and love to all our lives. As a token of solidarity, my youngest child, collected an even dozen of his mother’s many Ralph Lauren hats. Oddly enough, Judy carried them more than she ever wore them. Each family member on the cruise got one. I wear mine every day.
Family togetherness does have its drawbacks. I have coined a neologism—at least I think it is a new phrase—helicopter children. I have seen in action with relation to an old friend, a widow now of six years, who complained about her one son who wants to live with her, ostensibly to protect her, I guess from the likes of men like me. My youngest son has given signs of that, until I threatened to send a missile up his tailpipe and blow him out of my sky.
I do think our rekindling of a friendship has been beneficial to both of us. It is good and healthy for us to go out and laugh and talk about things. The first time since my wife’s death that we bumped into each other, I asked her how she deals with it. She said you don’t. Upon further thought, I think you have to deal with it or it can kill you.
I have never lived alone in my life. It has literally been womb to wife for me. The worst part has been the abject loneliness that every night brings and even some of the days. It is almost palpable. Recently, St. Louis had a serious ice storm. So I decided to bunker down for the entire weekend, really with very little food and the nascent fear that I would lose my power and freeze to death. The first day was one of the worst I have suffered through to date. Boredom reigns no matter how much I work at my computer, writing essays like this, reading the books I got for Christmas, or working out on my treadmill. Thank God, the temperature rose enough that I was able to escape both Saturday and Sunday for lunch and Mass.
The fostering of different routines has helped a bit. Going to bed exhausted every night has eased any difficulty in getting to sleep but nothing much has helped my occasional awakening by a mind that is pregnant with thought and eager to move on. An extra Mass or two and visiting the Blessed Sacrament does help but there is still that cavernous hole in my life…
I have already asked a new friend for a job in a field that I love very much but had sort of retired from these past years and that is the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Oh, I do not want any money but what I offer is a unique way of thinking that may help put some new life…if they need any… into a movement I think has tended to stagnate under the Obama administration’s hostile attitude. I have some fresh idea for a feature article, a possible blog—its working title is Womb2Tomb —and the use of my already produced pro-life plays, A Perfect Choice and A Moment of Grace in a more aggressive manner.
Some people have told me to solve my problem with loneliness by getting a dog. A dog? I actually find that insulting to my wife’s memory. First of all, I can never replace her. I may find another woman, but no one should try to replace a lost spouse. She should be loved for whom she is and not be expected to fill the void in my soul.
But a dog for a real, living woman! I saw a tee shirt in the local drugstore that I had to buy for the cruise. It read: I just kissed a dog…and I liked it! Am I the only one who knows how literally depraved that is! The first comment I got was after coming out of my cabin on the first day, this man’s wife asked me: So what kind of a dog do you have? I don’t know what cloud she just stepped off but…
The bottom line is I do not want to feel the spark of life that burns deeply in my soul right now, dim and eventually go out while I am still very much alive. That is a living death that I fear too many men and women in my situation live. India used to have a barbaric tradition, called the Sati where widows but not widowers were bound to their late husbands’ funeral pyres. The word means virtuous woman.
I do not know the sociological or cultural reasoning that led to this but perhaps the women’s loneliness might have had some bearing. Some accounts say that many widows felt cursed to live their lives as widows and that death was preferable. I still think it was a barbaric practice. It was still law until Gandhi lobbied for its repeal in 1947.
Loneliness can do that to the widowed. I do not want to be staring into a bottle and seeing nothing but Nietzsche’s abyss of despair. My wife would not have wanted me to do that. Spouses should never do that to their surviving husbands or wives. Christ conquered death and I think we all must do that when a spouse dies. Our soul’s eternal happiness may depend on it.