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Am I Actually a Widow?

Monday, October 31, 2016
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Am I Actually a Widow?
It took me a while before I started to use the term widow to identify myself. You see, Will and I never got around to the whole marriage thing. And it wasn’t that we weren’t committed. But the marrying each other part, the part where you plan a wedding, invite people, and make seating charts, it was just something that neither of us was all that interested in. To us, a wedding just seemed like a big chore.
But we were interested in each other, and we were interested in planning our future together. When our friends started having kids, we talked a great deal about the values and goals we wanted to pass on to our children; how we would discipline them, and raise them to have grit and strong moral character. We would buy a little bungalow in the city, or a hip and progressive suburb like Oak Park or Evanston. And we’d have neighborhood families over for cook-outs in our backyard, and send them home with excess vegetables from our overflowing garden.
Will thought it was child-abuse to raise a kid without a backyard. And as soon as you got that house with a back yard, your first task was to plant a willow tree so that you would have switches to break off when a kid stepped out of line. He reminisced about how as a child, when he was bad, he had to go out and cut his own switch from the tree. He thought he was so clever because he would find the wimpiest one. Where Will grew up, they still washed kids mouths out with soap, and paddled rebellious teens with paddles made by the woodshop teacher.  You see, Will was from a mill town in the Appalachian foot hills of South Carolina, and sometimes I think he romanticized things a bit for me. I grew up in Evanston, a pretty urban type suburb, and I have always been obsessed with small town America. The future we imagined blended these two realities into our own perfect version of the world we wanted to live in.
We also talked a great deal about our imaginary retirement property. For those of you who know me, I am like one step away from retirement, I love crafts and a slow-paced lifestyle. Will was also a lover of leisure and we could talk for hours about how we would spend our golden years. At some point, we were going to move to a small town, it had to be a town developed pre-19th century with an old-timey Main Street, this was one thing we were sure of. Will would take over the only bar in town. He so desperately wanted to be that old-man bartender someday, listening to everyone’s problems and giving them advice. He would also keep bees and sell jars of his honey at the bar.  I would be at home tending to our chickens and sheep, and baking pies all day or quilting by hand.
Will also wanted to have a goat, which he would train to bite kids who came too close to our fence while on their way to school. I think Will still believed that kids in small towns walked two miles to school, uphill both ways, in knee deep snow. We planned to have grandkids, or grandnieces and nephews stay with us for large portions of the summer. And, at some point they would all be bit by the goat and Will would laugh, with a clever quip he’d always say to the bitten kids.
Will and I were so ready for our future life, but finances and life’s responsibilities always seemed to slow things down. And unfortunately for us, before we could marry and get started on any of our plans, Will passed away. I think I’ve always known that a marriage certificate wouldn’t have made our time together any more special, or made our relationship any more real or valid, but something about taken the title of widow didn’t feel right in the beginning. We were in love, we had made plans, and these plans involved the two of us being together. We planned on being together until we were old, sitting in rocking chairs and reminiscing about the life we had lived together. 
And being a widow is about living with the fact that I will never get to share that experience with Will. It’s about losing that person who is part of all your plans. It’s about having your life abruptly stop. When just yesterday you thought, you had it all figured out, when just yesterday you had a partner, you had a person to move forward with through life. Losing that person feels a lot like losing a part of yourself. Losing that person means that every plan must be remade, reconfigured, and reimagined without that person who you’ve lost. 
Having a legal document doesn’t make the pain of that loss any stronger, and not having a legal document doesn’t dampen the intensity of the loss. Being a widow means that you are now alone on this journey, without your side-kick, without your personal cheerleader and constant companion. You don’t need a legal document to somehow validate the pain felt from this very real loss. The loss is real because the relationship was real, and all the plans we had for our life were real hopes and dreams. So even though I have never been married I am still very much a widow.

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