I wish we had a different word to use here in the United States for our “status” after we lose a spouse other than the word “widow.” It’s the only box you can check on forms you need to fill out afterwards at the bank, doctor’s office, dentist, etc.
What I have learned in the past 20 years of helping women take care of all the paperwork that comes after a loss is that checking that “widow” box is especially painful for a variety of very understandable reasons.
One reason is that marking a box on a form identifying yourself as a “widow” makes it official with a new label. It’s not a label you ever aspired to, wished for, or likely thought much about. But now here it is, on what feels like almost every form you have to sign for a while, reminding you again and again.
You think of your important roles in life being a woman, mother, daughter, sister/sister-in-law, friend, grandmother, aunt, niece, cousin, spouse, or profession/job. Widow was never on your list. With or without any warning, that word changes your life permanently.
Another reason is that the idea of being a widow is not only uncomfortable for the survivor, but also for the friends and family who aren’t sure what to say. The death of a loved one is a life-altering experience.
Unless you’ve “been there and done that” yourself, it is impossible to comprehend what it feels like. So, what should you say to a widow?
To find some answers, I visited with Charlotte Fox, local author here in Arizona. She wrote And Then There Was One, a comprehensive workbook guide for end-of-life preparedness and transitioning after the loss of a loved one.
Her personal experience with widowhood guides her to advise that women want to hear those cute and funny stories about their lost loved one from childhood and workplaces. It’s comforting to hear good memories coming from those who cared about and miss your loved one too. It helps you connect with the person who experienced the loss and know what to say in an uncomfortable situation.
Particularly with unexpected loss, it’s not uncommon for a widow to have thoughts like “I wish I would have… known more about the finances, asked about his wishes, understood where to find information, or made sure our estate planning documents were up-to-date.”
One woman I know reminisces the opposite way every time I see her, about how grateful she is that they did get all of their documents in order and titles/beneficiaries updated before her husband passed. She had seen many friends go through much stress after losing their husbands, but hers was a clear and smooth process.
You can’t look back and beat yourself up. You can only look forward and maybe encourage others to avoid some of what you may have gone through. A loss often forces you to think about your own mortality and how you want things to go for your family when you’re gone too.
There are many resources to help families, including Executor, which I learned about the other day. They are a free service to help guide executors through the process after the loss of a loved one. For now, organizing your records by using a checklist, to work on one item at a time, can help you make progress. Anything you get in order for your family now is better than it was before!
One last thing I have learned about the word widow is that women who have experienced that label in life are resilient and wonderful. They often bond together in support of each other. I love the word the international group, the Modern Widows Club, uses. They call themselves “wisters” (widowed sisters).
I spoke at a Widow Retreat in a lovely, large church in California and applauded how they came up with a positive acronym for the word Widow: Warmly Invited to Discover Our Walk with Him. The day focused on discovering your new walk forward in life.
It’s statistically likely that most of us will experience widowhood ourselves someday. Women outlive men in every country in the world. In the United States, the statistic is that 90% of all women will eventually be solely in charge of their household finances.
We don’t need to dwell on it but be aware of what comes with the word widow and control what you can by being financially organized.
Regardless of how we view the word widow, more than likely we will be or know someone who is affected by widowhood. So, let’s do what we can to support each other and be prepared going forward.
What have you learned about the word widow? What advice can you share? Let’s help our community with a discussion.