Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the double-ass ugly. Comments welcome! Jean

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Traditions and the Second Mourning Period

Okay, it’s a new year, a new day. The dog’s been fed, the dishes are washed. The house is clean and my day planner is blank and screaming at me to write something down. What should I do, where should I go? I know! I’ve had a burning desire to buy crystal and porcelain beads to take to a woman who makes necklaces for widows. Necklaces that incorporate your husband’s wedding band. How cool is that?

It’s amazing the number of ways we widows find to memorialize our spouses. Quilts are made of favorite shirts and teddy bears for the grandchildren, too. Christmas ornaments with photos are created along with video slide shows to play on computers. Songs and poems are written by a talented few. And let’s not forget the memorial bricks and trees that are bought for city parks, and the marble grave markers placed in cemeteries. Then there are the donations made in our spouse’s memory. Some widows even have synthetic diamonds made from cremated remains. I have an ash urn locket to wear and a glass jar containing stones, a feather, shells and sand picked up on the day we spread part of my husband’s ashes at the beach. What am I forgetting? I’m sure there are many more ways that widows---Oh, gosh, how could I forget blogging? We tell our husbands' stories mixed in with our tears.

In the 21st century we don’t make rings and pins out our deceased husband’s hair the way they did in Victorian times and we don’t wear tintype photo pins like they did in Civil War times. We don’t wear amulets bags with a token inside to touch and send prayers off to the gods like some American Indians tribes once did. But what we do today to keep a loved one close at heart serves the very same purpose. Mourning traditions that give you something to touch have survived through the centuries for a reason. We humans need to feel connected to our pasts.

At one time in history, widows wore brooches of black cameos set in gold during their ‘second mourning period’ which was defined as the next nine months after their first full year of widowhood. It was during this period when Victorian widows could add minor ornamentation to their black dresses---a ruffle, a bit of lace, a touch of gray---and they could start wearing fancy mourning jewelry. And at the beginning of the10th month through the end of their second year of widowhood plus one month Victoria women would phase color into their wardrobes. Strict rules that I kind of wish society still followed. What can I say, I'm old fashioned.

If I was living during those times, I’d formally be starting my second mourning period on the 18th of this month and as strange as it might sound to those who haven’t gone through losing a spouse, it seems nature and appropriate to call it that. There is a discernible shift in emotions after getting through all the ‘firsts’ that take place in the first year of wearing the widow label but you’re far from be healed inside. Sadly, our modern world no longer acknowledges this second mourning period. Get over it and move on with your life! widows are told. Well, duh! What do you think we’re trying to do? In widows’ circles, though, this second year that no longer has a formal name is still recognized instinctively by most women as a time to start rebuilding our lives. It's a nine month void in between heart-wrenching grief and finding a way to add color back into our lives. At least I hope it works that way for me. And I can't keep wondering why the Victorians picked nine months for the second mourning period and not eight, ten or twelve. All I can come up with in my musing is that it somehow ties into how long it takes to grow a life in the womb. Victorians were big on symbolism.

Shortly after my mother died in 1983 Don bought me an antique, second mourning period cameo and I’ve worn or carried it to every funeral I’ve been to since. Now that Don has passed, too, I have a dilemma in the jewelry department. If I wear all of my memorial jewelry to the next funeral I go to I’ll look like a Boy Scout with a chest full of badges. I’ll have my black cameo, my silver urn ash locket, a beaded necklace with Don’s wedding ring incorporated and my widow’s Word of the Year courage necklace. Oh, my! Take a memo, world: No one I know better die soon because this jewelry dilemma of what to wear to the funeral is not a choice I am ready to face yet.

All kidding aside, mourning jewelry has been around since the mid 1600s. So don’t let anyone make you feel that it’s weird or obsessive if you’re drawn to this kind sentimental remembrance. It might make others feel slight uncomfortable when their “crazy” old aunt, friend, mother or sister is flashing one of these widowhood traditional pieces. But one day they may sadly understand there is comfort in traditions that connect us to our recent past and to that of our ancestors. Having an object so close at hand to touch like a worry stone calms the mind, gives us strength and reminds us that a love remembered is a love we still have. ©



 

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