Saturday 19 March 2011

A Widow's Story

Very occasionally, I read a book that seems to speak closely of my own experience, and Joyce Carol Oates's A Widow's Story is just such a book. Written in the (almost immediate) aftermath of her own husband's death, it is a poignant and very personal account of her own experience of widowhood, and as I read it I wondered whether readers who have never experienced anything like this can identify with it in the way that I did.

Everything is there. The isnomnia, the despair, the fear, the feeling of beng apart - different, isolated - from the rest of the human race, the terrible aloneness, and perhaps most of all, the ever-present possibility (opportunity?) of suicide: the door through which the bereaved can choose to pass if the experience becomes totally unbearable. When it happened to me, I wondered whether I was more than a little mad. The answer (from this book) is yes. But that's okay. That's normal. Bereavement is a form of madness.

Joyce has no children. This in a way is the elephant in the room (elephant in the book?) because while her relationship and her marriage are described in detail, there's no mention of children; of whether they wanted and couldn't have them, or whether they decided against having a family. I had children. They were my reason for staying alive. Her reasons are not so clear. Friends, her writing, life itself perhaps? But nearing the end of the book, I wonder whether, without my beloved children, these things would have been enough for me.


  1. I can't imagine not having my children. When things were really dark for me a few years ago they were there for me and without them it would have been so much harder.

  2. Haven't experienced it myself, Frances, but my mother was widowed at 47, my sister at 54 and sister-in law at 53. I would imagine they would find much to identify with in this book.

  3. My father died at 62, just as he and my mother moved away to begin retirement. So she had to start again in a new area, make new friends, adjust to no longer working full-time (she hadn't been sure about giving up work, but my father had begged her to) and learn to do all the things he used to do. For example, she had never put petrol in the car.

    Twenty-two years on, she still misses him like a lost limb, despite soldiering on without apparently feeling sorry for herself. She did once tell me that after we all left her alone for the first time, following the funeral, she stood in the middle of her brand new curtain-less living-room and screamed.

    I think she will really identify with this book.

  4. Hi, Colette. Yes - children are a reason to carry on, besides being a little bit of him physically (one of mine is a carbon copy!).

    Hi, Rosemary. I think this would be a wonderful book for someone who has had time to come to terms with a death, but definitley not for the newly-bereaved!

    Joanna, your mother might well enjoy (wrong word, but you know what I mean) this book. The author didn't scream, but I certainly did, very loudly, alone in a country lane, and it certainly helped!