They are a sisterhood
bound not by blood
but by loss,
and regained joy.
They are a circle of matriarchs
which tightens to protect each member,
loosens to welcome
those newly initiated.
they march slowly,
shoulder to shoulder.
They enter quietly,
sit in dignified repose,
and bid farewell
to one of their own.
I have often been struck by the groups of widows I have known. In my mother's family the men die young but the women seem to be blessed with longevity (yes, we know this makes us ripe for certain jokes). the widows in my mother's family are zesty women. They mourn their husbands but their own lives do not cease. They soon find their feet back under them as they are surrounded by those who refuse to let them retreat into hermitted sadness for too long.
As a young teen I spent a lot of time with my widowed grandmother who had a circle of widowed friends who all enjoyed a great number of adventures with each other. They thought nothing of hopping in the car with my grandmother at the wheel to drive hours away on the spur of the moment. Many times they'd end up at my house for a break midway. They were an animated delight. When my grandmother died I remember them greeting my mother and me in the receiving line and how the strength of their bonds and endurance of life gave me a sense of hope when I needed it. I remember seeing them lined up in one row smiling up at me and nodding me through enduring standing in that line. They had all spent many times in such lines and yet they found their smiles again.
I adore the group of widows at my church. The youngest is in her 80s. They are no shrinking violets. They are no mournful shadows of their former selves. They seize life. One still cares for a severely handicapped adult son. They create with gusto, whether it's food, or gardens, or clothing. They volunteer. They let their opinions be known. They are a tight circle of caring...both for each other and for younger women.
This week one of them left this life. Florence was 93. She had been a widow since she was 41. She still lived in her own home. She was in good health and her mind was sharp to the end. She had a wonderfully dry sense of humor and a gentle spirit. I also witnessed her deftly set in his right place a supposed leader who had been shockingly rude and publicly disrespectful. She loved to join us "younger girls" for movie nights or parties. She was among the group who came together in February to dye our hair pink in support of a friend with cancer. Saturday night she went to sleep in her own bed and never woke up. Thursday we gathered to say goodbye to her and once again I was struck by the enduring dignity, gentleness, and strength of the tribe of widows as I watched them encircle Florence's grief-stricken daughter and as they said goodbye to their "sister."