Many thanks to everyone who was so kind and sent their well-wishes (and even shared their own stories) to my recent post about the anniversary of my husband’s death. But there’s something you don’t know.
I’m a widow. And I’m not a widow.
After 20 years of marriage to an alcoholic and addict, my husband went on a dangerous drunken spree that began with telling me and the children good-bye and ended 15 months later with his death from a pulmonary embolism at a rehab center. Somewhere between the slurred midnight phone calls and mountains of credit card debt, I was forced to obtain restraining orders and eventually a divorce to protect myself and our kids.
So, I’ve had the dubious distinction of being both a divorcee (for 5 months) and a widow. The legal authorities recognize me categorically as a widow, but funnily enough, I get the feeling some of my friends don’t. If they know we were separated and divorced the year before he died, they don’t see why I should be as upset as “a real widow”.
For people who don’t know, it’s difficult, when someone asks how he died, to answer truthfully.
I stumbled upon this article from The New York Times, which perfectly summed up the situation. It’s a little like this:
Them: What happened?
Me (Version 1): He had a pulmonary embolism. Very sudden. On his way into a meeting.
Me (Version 2): He had a pulmonary embolism, which was a result of a lifetime of chasing vodka with Tylenol PM, PCP, and pills that belonged to other people. He was in a rehab center because he was homeless, but he still managed to have the most heinous behavior right up until he dropped to the floor outside an AA meeting where he was actually passing himself off as a counselor.
Obviously, I tend to stick with Version 1.
I want to ask a favor of you. The next time you ask a question that requires a person’s back story, consider that the answer may be all that they are able to share with you, but that doesn’t make it the whole truth. Don’t believe for one second that you really understand what happened or how the survivor is feeling. Thank them for sharing. Encourage them in their strength through this difficult time. And know that if the answer is a short one, then you probably don’t know jack.