“He was the love of my life.”
A. says this firmly as we raise our glasses to J., her late husband. I’m charmed by her use of the phrase, and pleased to have confirmed what I always suspected. J. died six years and one month ago. We’re late with this honorary dinner—we’re busy widows, our weekends spent in trips and concerts, gallery openings and dinners. But here we are, in the outdoor garden of a favorite restaurant. J. liked this restaurant, says A., they got here at least once before his final illness, and I think of how many good restaurants Dan missed by dying in his 50s, not his 80s, like J., but I don’t say that because we’re here to talk about J.
Later, after we’ve stopped for ice cream and sat on a park bench, watching people, admiring their dogs, greeting friends, and I’m home, I think again of the Hudson City Cemetery where I walk with Lulu, my basenji. In the cemetery we’re finally well paced, Lulu and I, because I have something to read while she sniffs, and I am truly amazed at the number of widows who outlived their husbands by 15, 20, 30 years or even more.
What were they thinking all those years, I wonder. Did one not remarry? Were they lonely, or, more likely, poor, left to raise a family without their breadwinner? Did they lose the love of their life?
He was the love of your life! a college classmate declared at a reunion. I didn’t argue, but I was startled, having not thought of my life in segments.
Now A. and I seem to have stopped the count. We lived alone before them, we live alone now. In my unscientific, anecdotal experience, widowers who have been happily married want to repeat the experience. If I had died first, Dan would have mourned me, then found someone else. Widows, however . . . well, statistics are against us; to be widowed in your mid 50s or late 70s argues for extreme measures in the mate-seeking arena. People do find each other, of course, at all ages; the only marriage announcements I read are about gay couples and elders, people in their 80s who decide to get married. And I have my mother (1914–2009) as an example. John, her husband, died in February 2007; he would have been 95 that August, and they would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
I hope you’ll find someone else, my mother told me when Dan’s ashes were barely cold. I was horrified. It was too soon, his illness too searing. I had willingly spent every ounce of physical and psychic energy for him, but I didn’t know if I could do it again. Yes, a new relationship could last 25 years. Or, at my age, death could intervene again, after 25, or 2.5, months.
By the time I looked up, I had a life. I hear that single men stay away from widows—too much “my way or the highway.” I understand. M’s widowed mother had a beau, but she wouldn’t marry him because—to simplify—she didn’t want to do his laundry.
Am I lonely? Rarely, but sometimes. Do I skip articles proving that elderly widows make up a large percentage of the poor? You bet. Do I look at my one closet and think how would I ever share it anyway? Guilty as accused. Do I think sometimes that if there were two of us, our reach would be farther, we could explore further? Yes. Do I worry about any of this? No. He was the love of my life. Or one of them.