I am unsure if I have fully come to terms with the word “widow”. I don’t wish that title upon anyone at all. I am also unsure if I am qualified to be called a widow. You see, Adrian and I never actually married. We do not have a wedding anniversary, a wedding song, pictures of us at the altar. Sure, we were together for 13 years, planned to get married, planned to have children, planned a future together. We planned for all of it, just never got around to it.
For many months after Adrian passed away, I felt guilty for feeling such overwhelming grief. If we never married, then why did it hurt so much? I knew this man so intimately. I knew his deepest fears. I knew his dreams. I knew the names he had chosen for the children we would have together. If I am not his widow, then, am I even allowed to grieve? If I was never his wife, then why do I feel so protective of the intimate details of his death? Why do I feel so protective of his personal belongings? What gives me the right to feel so protective of our home? No, not the house – the home we built together. Do I have a right to call it home? I am not his widow. We never married.
The day after the funeral, some family and friends came to my house to hang out. I remember locking myself in my bedroom when playing hostess became too draining. It was days later that I’d find out a bicycle had been stolen from Adrian’s bike collection. The son of Adrian’s brother in-law decided he wanted the bicycle and took it without asking me, without asking any of Adrian’s siblings. He just took it. I felt betrayed. Do I have a right to be so angry about this? I have only met this guy twice before this, but he is family – right? Not me. I am not Adrian’s widow. We never married.
A social media “friend” of Adrian’s (whom I have never met) messaged me: “Who kept his dogs? I’d really like to have one.” Do I have any right to be this angry? I am not his widow. We never married.
For reason’s I’ll never understand, people seem to think that being young should make me want to date again, by default. That another partner is the best solution to my grief. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard “you are young, you will find someone else”. A close friend of mine once asked me about moving on: “When you find another man, what are you going to tell him? Why is it so hard for you and why are you so sad? It’s not like Adrian was your real husband. One day you will be married for real.” I am not his widow. We never married.
Is a piece of paper – a marriage license – the only way to validate the lifetime my husband and I spent together? Is it the only way I should be allowed to feel as broken as I do when I come home to an empty house? The only acceptable way to acknowledge the void he left in my heart, in my life, in this universe?
Well, since there is no marriage license, then no, I am not a widow. Still, that technicality does not allow me to escape the devastation of losing my life partner. The excruciating pain of having to help plan a funeral for the love of my life. And all the other things that a wife might do after losing a husband – paying off credit balances, closing accounts, picking up the death certificate, picking up his ashes, staying afloat on bills, mortgage, etc. No, I am not his widow. We never married.
For several months, during the initial shock, grief made me overthink things, and question many of my own moves. Grief not only made me question myself, but for some time, it made me question Adrian and my place in his life. But I have been fortunate enough to not only keep the relationships I have with my husband’s immediate family, but also to build new relationships with his extended family, and some of his friends. The people who matter the most have been kind and patient, and have never made me feel like anything less than Adrian’s life partner. In their own way, they have reassured me of my role in Adrian’s life.
The word widow does not imply anything positive, by any means. It is an awful, heartbreaking word. But, there is no other word that quite implies the connection my husband and I shared before he died. Or the connection that I still feel to him. Or how fortunate we were to have chosen each other – for the rest of our lives.
There may not be a wedding album, or a marriage license, or a video of us saying our wedding vows. What I have left of my husband are memories of the 13 years we spent together. The plans for a future, the ups, downs, our share of better or worst moments, memories of sickness and health. He promised we’d spend the rest of our lives together, and he kept his promise to me.