Tragicomedia with Poor Widow Me’s Carol Scibelli
"Widowhood means growing and changing and needing, but needing different things as time passes.”

author Carol ScibelliWidows who ask themselves “What would my dead husband do?”; play the widow card and look at funeral photo boards saying, “There won’t even be many photographs when it’s my turn because I’m always the photographer!” This and more from Carol Scibelli, outspoken speaker and the author of Poor Widow Me: Moments of Feeling & Dealing & Finding the Funny Along the Way (now in development as a play) in this week’s Tragicomedia with host Nancy Gershman. Visit Carol at carolscibelli.com and read her blogs about living “life as a musical comedy” after widowhood. 

Call me the anti-widow widow
If you’re not “fine,” why not say: “Not so fine” 
It’s OK to stop asking ourselves: What would my husband do?
Cremation makes the body we loved so intimately disappear
The tools we had at the moment are all we had
If it’s a Kodak moment, you don’t need a Kodak
Obit photos look uncannily like photos on Match.com
Your To Do List
 
 

Call me the anti-widow widow

“You could say I’m a little “anti-widow” because I see widows playing the ‘widow card’ long after the agreed expiration date – one year. I call them on it because they’re not playing for the fun of it. If they were, they could use it to get out of a speeding ticket. My husband died in April, 7 1/2 years ago,  and I am always tempted to tell a cop, “Look, he just died. I’m on the way to the funeral now.” I see widows just treading water, deeply disappointed with the couples around them who haven’t rallied to be there for them. I always wonder if maybe their friends just liked the husband better.  The “wrong spouse died” kind of thing. And big in the widow world is the complaint that “nobody gets it.” Of course, nobody gets it!  I don’t get divorce; I don’t get losing my house in a fire; I don’t get having perfectly straight and silky hair… It’s outside my experience. There’s even a group for remarried widows. Ugh. Drop the widow thing already! Once you’re married you made a commitment to this new man. If I was the new husband and I heard my wife call herself a widow I would do two things. First, check my pulse. Next, give the drink she just poured me to the dog.”

If you’re not “fine,” why not say: “Not so fine”

“We all strive to be gracious and appreciate resilience. On the other hand, I recently noticed false resilience. I got a mass e-mail from a man wishing all a Happy New Year (Rosh Hashanah). He wrote that he was in a homeless shelter, having a difficult time getting his disability check, and his mother is not getting along too well in her nursing facility, but he ended the email with, “Life is good.”  What I heard? Look how upbeat I can be in the face of terribleness. As I get older, I find myself being more honest and open than 15 years ago. I’ve heard many who are also in their sixties say this. I’ve always seen the funny side of a dark situation, but just never expressed it as bluntly as I do now.  As we all know, attitude leads us down different paths. In spite of not having the luckiest life, I think of myself as a lucky person. I’m that poster of the lost dog: missing a tail, two legs, and who answers to the name Lucky.”

It’s OK to stop asking ourselves: What would my husband do?

When you look at In Memoriam section of the obituaries in newspapers, some write, “We cry now as much as the day you left us.”  That’s impossible. Time is a natural healer. To say you are still “devastated” can only be for the purpose of making others feel bad for us. (After all, the dead guy isn’t reading this.) My take is that responding in that inauthentic way has got to slow the family’s healing.  We love you; we miss you feels so much more genuine, doesn’t it? Actually, on the Year One anniversary of my husband’s death – and Year Two – my kids and I put a notice in Newsday with a photo. When Year Three rolled around, I actually asked my daughter, “Do we have a more recent photo of Daddy?” Oh. The first two or three years I found myself constantly running my decisions by my husband … in my head. “What do you think about this, Jimmy? Should I do this, Jimmy? And so on. Once I asked him if I should buy that leatherjacket I was eyeing.  Happily he answered, “Yes!” Time has lessened my constant inner dialogue with my dead husband. It’s sad, but as a family, we are changing and in a real sense, leaving my husband behind. I have many memories now with my grown kids and grandkids that Jimmy hasn’t been around for.  A lot happens in seven and a half years. And, the world has changed so much, too. I don’t know if my husband would have been on Facebook or Twitter, or if he would have called himself a technical dinosaur. It took me quite a while before I was able to be comfortable seeing that my husband is not part of my everyday life anymore. Widowhood means growing and changing and needing, but needing different things as time passes. The main character in a play I’m writing is a recent widow who at six weeks calls her friend and hears in the background the friend’s husband saying “Come to bed, honey.” They hang up and you hear her say “Sure, I’ll be right there. Coming …” She’s soothing herself, pretending her husband is still alive. Yet, three years later she’s in a restaurant and we watch as each girlfriend gets a phone call from their husband or boyfriend saying, “When you coming home? When you coming home?!” This time, she stays for another glass of wine and feels happy not to have to answer to a man. Which is not to say she won’t go through a point where she’ll want all of that again. I have a friend who readily admits to having “Widow Envy.” I wonder how common this is?”

Cremation makes the body we loved so intimately disappear

“I personally have a problem with cremation. It’s still so hard to comprehend that Jimmy doesn’t physically exist anymore. The physical body is such a big deal for widows, more than any other loss. One, you’re so close to each other physically. You can picture their whole body in every detail – so the fact that he doesn’t exist anymore is a very hard concept for me to grasp.”

The tools we have at the moment are all we have

“Widows, including me, give ourselves a kind of report card. We go over our marriage and agonize over what we might have done differently to make our husband happier (or alive). I know I would have been kinder, listened harder and possibly learned to pole dance. (Actually if I pole danced he wouldn’t have cared about me being kinder or listening.) Anyway, we can beat ourselves up just so much. Looking back, I might do the very same things, though, because we worked with the tools we knew at that moment. I have a 95-year old mother-in-law who is wracked by regrets thirty years after her husband died. She didn’t do anything to bring her family together – as their true matriarch. She wanted to be Poor Widow Me, to be taken care of. My mother-in-law also blamed her late husband for so much. It kept her stuck when she could have reinvented herself. She was only 65 when she became a widow. Of course, at the time, to me, she may as well have been 100. Sad to say, but I look at her as Who Not To Be. I always tell my daughter and son that we regret more the things we don’t do than the things that we do do. Missed opportunities are so hard to measure. Where they might have taken us is something that can haunt us.”

If it’s a Kodak moment, you don’t need a Kodak

“The days leading up to the wake, we had to gather photographs to memorialize my husband’s life. Those were displayed on three easels at the funeral home. Each easel held a collage made by my kids – 25 and 29 at the time. I remember sitting in my living room; the kids were on the floor, looking at different pictures, deciding which ones to use. And there I am, kind of numb, thinking, Someday they will be doing this for me. They looked like kids playing with trucks on the carpet. They were actually enjoying it, evoking memories, and they wanted to incorporate other people important in his life into their father’s collage. I remember feeling the sense that the death, the memorializing and the funeral coming up was all part of a cycle and … What’s the point? I’ll be gone and Oh there’s not even that many pictures of me to choose from because, Wait a second! I was the photographer all those years! So, these days I make sure my hair and make-up is in place and there’s no spinach in my teeth. I pose for photos knowing this one may show up on the easel at my funeral. Jimmy used to say, “If it’s a Kodak moment we don’t need a Kodak.” He felt that too often we’re missing the experience because we’re too busy recording it.  He died in 2006 at age 56 unaware how much more in the years following his death we’d be recording life and often missing out on living it.”

Obit photos look uncannily like photos on Match.com

“I had a habit of reading obituaries each morning to my husband. It kicked off our day in a positive way because we saw in black and white that we were alive and still had a chance to do whatever… After Jimmy died, for the longest time, I couldn’t read the obituaries but after about a year and a half I began reading them again. At this point, though, I was now so used to looking at Match.com and other dating sites with photos that one morning I spotted a man in the obits and thought, “This guy is cute… Uh-oh, he’s also dead.”

Your To Do List

1.  If you’re the alpha photographer of the family, switch places and hand the camera to your partner or kids. If out for lunch with a friend, ask your server to take your picture with your camera phone. Same thing if you’re out with friends from work: ask somebody to take your picture. This will ensure plenty of options when it comes time to make a funeral photo board for the new dead guy: you! 2. If you know how you want to be remembered, start voicing what that is. This way if family  or friends ever decide to make a “royal” portrait of you one day to sit prominently on an easel at your own funeral – you’ll be at peace and won’t have to come back as a spirit to keep knocking the easel down. (Have you seen Celebrity Ghost Stories yet?) 3. To distill a lifetime of quirks, passions and adventures into a composite portrait, hire a legacy artist. They are trained not only in collecting memories and anecdotes about you or from you – but also curating photographs so that the resulting digital photomontage will contain your purest essence and your most iconic self. This way, come funeral time, everybody who ever loved you will have the option to enjoy your portrait in a dozen different by-products, such as a framed print, foam core poster, photosculpture, thank you card, or T-shirt, to name a few.

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