I have been contemplating what it means to be a widow a lot recently. Society has a very definitive idea of what that word means. We visualize a grieving woman who was married to the man who died. For me to claim that status with the government, he and I must have stood in front of someone with proper authority, signed a document and then filed it with them. But, is that what makes someone your husband? Is that truly what would define me as a widow? The more I think about it, the more I believe, “No, it doesn’t.”
Twenty-one years with the same man, does that make me a widow?
For the first few months, I didn’t use that word. I’ve used it a few times, but I’ve felt bad using it. I felt I was somehow cheating the women who were “actually” married. Then it occurred to me that a woman could be married for six months and still be considered a widow. Not that her grief would be less, but is that more important than my 21 years? Should it be, just because we didn’t sign a piece of paper?
Many, many years ago I declared my love for him first. He was young and headstrong and a bit of a misogynist…well at least he didn’t like certain types of women and most women seemed to fall under that umbrella. It took him longer to say the words. I think he felt them but was scared because he didn’t trust me. He had to be sure I wasn’t one of “those” women. I remember the first time he said those words to me. We were lying in bed talking and he said he had something he wanted to tell me and wanted to make sure I was focused on what he wanted to say. He put one hand on the side of my face and looked me in the eye and said, “I love you.” In that moment my world froze. My blood pressure must have shot through the roof when my heart stopped beating for a moment because when it started again all I could hear was the blood rushing through my veins. And then he kissed me.
So when I think of that moment and every other moment since then. More “I love you’s” than I can count or remember. Arguing, laughing, making plans for the future, talking for hours even after two decades and you’d think we’d have nothing left to say, moments when we didn’t have to say anything, cooking him dinner, him taking care of me because I was sick or had surgery, him bringing me a present and looking like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning waiting for me to open it, reading the newspaper together, him saving coupons for me, him teasing me about how I use the words “actually” or “purchase,” him showing me every video he could find about Led Zeppelin, dancing, beer, motorcycles and so many other things I could never possibly fit on this page.
Am I allowed to use that word? Because I still feel guilty when I use it. I feel like I’m lying to people, but what other word describes my loss or our relationship? When I say he was my fiancé, people look at me like it’s not as important, but I feel the need to follow it up with how long we were together because I don’t think they really got it, and then their expression changes and suddenly what I’ve said seems to mean more.
Is it a lie? Am I breaking some rule when I say that I’m a widow?
I’d like to know from the other widows and widowers…does it count? Does it offend you when I say I’m a widow and technically I’m not?