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The world of the widow: grappling with loneliness and misun...

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/05/widow...

The world of the widow: grappling with


loneliness and misunderstanding
Women make up 11 million of the 13 million bereaved spouses in the US, forced to
cope with major life decisions when they are at their most vulnerable. Meanwhile, it
can be nearly impossible to find a truly understanding friend
Carla Stockton
Monday 5 October 2015 18.53BST

When my mother lay dying in 1999, she looked up at me and said, I dont care where
you put my ashes. I really dont. Just promise me you wont let anyone take them to
Ellenville.
Ellenville is shorthand for the cemetery outside Ellenville, NY, where my father is
buried. Theres plenty of room for a few more urns, but Moms message was clear: she
had not forgiven my father for leaving her.
Without warning, he had died one morning in 1984 and left her alone.
He was only 73 and she was 61; they had thought they would grow old together. But
he died without leaving her so much as a hand-scrawled will. All she found in his
oce were a bill-cluttered desk next to a ling cabinet lled with moldy Halloween
candy.
Mom survived the loss. But she never forgave him for leaving her.
Statistically, women are far more likely to be widowed and far less likely to remarry
than men. Of the approximately 13 million bereaved spouses in America today, 11
million are women.
Many women are blindsided by it because couples rarely talk about the inevitable.
New Yorker Beatrice Bea Schwartz, a healthcare professional widowed in 2012,
believes that no one can prepare a woman for what she will face. The world is not
sympathetic to what youre going through. They dont give you any time to grieve
properly.
Beas husband died suddenly at age 67. He always told me hed die before me, and
he explained all the nancial arrangements to me. There were no secrets, Bea says.
He said, Listen, youll go on living, and you need to know whats what.
Even so, when David collapsed one morning in his building foyer and died an hour

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The world of the widow: grappling with loneliness and misun...

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/05/widow...

later, the weight of what was to come hit Bea with brute force.
The landlord is at your door asking for your wedding certicate because the place is
in his name, so they want you to prove you have the right to live there, she said.
Your life is suddenly in probate. You cant take even a few days to process whats just
happened to you because the business demands taking care of, and the business is
not simple.
The moment a woman is at her most vulnerable, she must make choices that will
have an enduring impact on her wellbeing. Should the body be cremated or preserved
or buried quickly but intact? Will the funeral service take place in a house of worship,
a funeral hall, or at home? What kind of casket is required? Depending on the choices
she makes, even a simple funeral can cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Suddenly I was alone


For Benilda Pacheco, who lives in France largely because she cannot aord to come
back to the US now that she is a widow, there is no such word as enough when it
comes to talking about the subject. But her husband Paolo, even in the nal stages of
a years-long battle with lung cancer, was unwilling to talk about arrangements of any
kind.
He left me penniless, stranded, she says. I loved him, but he was hard. You
couldnt get him to talk about dying. It just wasnt going to happen.
Benilda met Paolo online in 1998 he was in the Netherlands, working as a maritime
insurance adjuster, and she was an administrative assistant in Michigan. After a brief
long-distance courtship, Paolo emigrated from the Netherlands and moved in with
her; they were married in 1999.
Later, the couple returned to Europe. Benilda went back to university. They were
living happily until calamity struck. Bennies son, living in Arizona, was diagnosed
with aggressive MS. She felt compelled to return stateside to care for the young man.
The couple resumed a long-distance relationship.
But in 2012, she got a call from a hospital in Amsterdam informing her that Paolo was
very ill; doctors had discovered a large tumor in his stomach, and they were about to
operate. She immediately ew to his side.
After the surgery and a full round of treatments, Paolos cancer seemed to be in full
remission. Benilda and Paolo then found a place in the south of France. For a while,
he seemed to recuperate, but his recovery was transient. The cancer metastasized on
his lung, and, after suering terribly, Paolo died in early 2015.
Suddenly I was alone. In a foreign country. I couldnt live at home on my meager
social security, and in France my rent and healthcare are subsidized by the state. So I
stayed. I love it here now, but it took a while. Any budgeting I had done was
inadequate, as Paolo left me nothing but bills. He just didnt want to face up to what
was happening, and he expected his illness to obey him just like the people in his life
did.
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The world of the widow: grappling with loneliness and misun...

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/05/widow...

When Franoise Giguel, a virologist now living in Boston, was widowed, she was well
prepared. Married to a brilliant young lawyer named Deb, Franoise had been aware
of her wifes breast cancer from the beginning. Though her cancer was in remission,
Deb had warned Franoise early on that breast cancer recurrences are common and
rarely have good prognoses.
The two fell in love, married and made plans to raise a child. But when Deb went to
the doctor complaining of back pain, she learned that her cancer had returned.
When it happened, Franoise remembers, she was devastated but began
treatments again and responded well to tamoxifen.
For three years, the cancer was controllable, but it was not cured. A pragmatist, Deb
set about preparing her loved ones, including Franoise, for life without her. Deb
made all the legal arrangements for the couples joint life, put all the nancial
requisites in place and went so far as to insist that Franoise establish a relationship
with a psychologist, so that, says Franoise, I could take care of myself and have
someone to talk to when times got rough.
Debs death happened, as she requested, in the home she shared with Franoise.
Assisted by Hospice Care and a coterie of friends and relatives, Franoise tended her
wife who, over the course of a month, reached out to friends, family, colleagues, so
that wave after wave of our heartbroken friends were invited to say their goodbyes.
It was dicult, but I was grateful.
Francoise was lucky. She felt embraced by her social circle. Smiling, she says, I got
overwhelming support, and that was before our marriage was legal everywhere.

A sense of exile
The social impediments of being widowed can further complicate any nancial
morass.
Francie Bonomie, a fellow New York writer, tells the story of her friend Peggy
Weinberger, a suburban socialite, who awoke one morning to nd her husband dead
next to her. Peggy said she became a member of WOW, an inhabitant of the World
of Widows. She was excluded from the realm of the couples, who had been her best
friends, exiled to the netherworld of single ageing women and smarmy men. She felt
like as far as the world was concerned, she didnt exist.
Benilda points out that being widowed is a singular kind of displacement, entirely
dierent from any other kind of separation. Unless you talk to another widow, no
one really understands you. Its kind of crippling. When you get a divorce, your family
is no longer a family. But you move on. You know youll still see that man, the father
of your kids, the guy you once loved; but when youre widowed, hes just gone. When
youre divorced, you can be angry, call him names, throw things around. But when
hes dead, whos to be angry at?
Moving on can be fraught with obstacles. Some women simply cannot be alone and
are so afraid of the stigma of being single that they are willing to settle for men who

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08/10/2015 14:43

The world of the widow: grappling with loneliness and misun...

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/05/widow...

are not loving, validating, or solvent. These guys have some kind of sixth sense, Bea
says. They see how youre hurting, where youre vulnerable. They can set their
talons by making a woman feel loved, wanted, and then, when shes too far in to
easily extricate herself, they pounce.
Others feel like theyre done with relationships. I dont feel like I want to move on to
another man, says Benilda. Im done with that. Maybe because I feel too old? Maybe
I carry too much guilt? Or maybe because I just cant nd a way to le my feelings
away.
Franoise had a dierent experience. When I started dating, she condes, I met
women online mostly, and I slept with more than Id like to admit, like I was telling
Deb, See? Im a mess without you. You have to come back.
As happens annually, some 800,000 women will lose their spouses this year. They
will be cast out into an unkind, unfriendly world of creditors, misunderstanding
friends, overbearing relatives. In some countries, widows are forced to marry
husbands relatives or to live out their lives in seclusion. At least in this country, there
is hope for rejuvenation.
Every woman, suggests Franoise, should discuss death and dying with her mate,
before anyone is dying ... It ensures that when the time comes, both are able to be
fully dedicated to each other and to the moment rather than torn by uncertainty.
Having a living will, even if it is impossible to anticipate everything, is important, and
I would recommend having a proxy, someone you trust to help with medical
decisions.
Bea Schwartz nods vigorously. The conversation about death is a gift each member
of the marriage makes to the other. People should give that to one another.
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