I really loved being a wife to Roy, being there for him, living with him, and feeling like we were travelling together in this journey called life. When he died, so did my role as wife, and it took me months to fully realize how much I missed not only him, but being a partner.
I was just 33 when he was diagnosed with adrenal cancer in 2007 — he died eight weeks later. Nothing could have prepared me for the weeks and months of grief that were to follow. We had no children together so I was living alone, and the loneliness combined with grief was painful beyond belief.
Here’s the thing about grief. It will stretch you to your outermost limits. Not only is a widow living on empty, she is doing so in unchartered territory. For many widows, after years of being a wife, they are suddenly single again, only it’s a very sad version of single.
The word, "widow" brings to mind shapeless black dresses, deprivation, and lifelong mourning. The first time I heard the term was at my father’s funeral in 1979. I was nearly five when he died from cancer and this was my first experience with death. Although decades have passed since, I’ve been struck by the similarities between my mother’s experiences of widowhood and my own.
People are generally very uncomfortable talking with someone who has recently lost a loved one, and often just don’t know what to say to a woman who has been widowed. Any mention of death can still clear out a room. Although understandable, this creates an even more intense feeling of loneliness for the widow.
After Roy died, I spent most of my free time running or reading. However, I noticed that most books on grief and loss suggested that it ends in about a year. I knew from personal experience with my late father that this simply wasn’t true.
I also found that few provided the stories and insights of other widows. I decided then that I would write a book for widows of all ages that would offer a sense of understanding and belonging.
For three and a half years, I listened to and talked with widows about their experiences to learn what challenges other widows faced. In October 2014, I traveled with a very small group of widows to Nairobi, Kenya, where we visited a slum called Kibera.
Hundreds of widows and their children live there without running water, surviving on less than a dollar a day. Many women do not even have a mattress to sleep on in their one room living quarters. The conditions are dangerous and horrific.
The same month, I also met Lord Loomba, Founder of the Loomba Foundation, at his London office. He explained to me that Kibera isn’t the only place where widows are ostracized — there are more than 258 million widows across the globe, 115 million of whom are living in poverty.
Many of them have lost their homes, their ability to own property and earn a decent wage to support themselves, and their children, simply because their husband has died. They face the double discrimination of being both a woman and a widow.
My hope is that through greater openness and education, widows will feel less alone on their journey, regardless of whether they live in India, Africa or the United States.
Kristin Meekhof is a licensed master’s level social worker. She is the author of the forthcoming book, “A Widow’s Guide to Healing.”
Edited by Jody Smith