Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Widow's Story - Joyce Carol Oates

Last week my aunt lost her husband.  I attended the funeral, and as funerals always do, it made me think about my own life, but more importantly about what the lives of those around me mean.  What would I do if I lost my husband?  How would I feel?  How would I move on?  My uncle had been sick for awhile - but does that really matter?  Does having the chance to say good-bye truly mean that the processing and coping with grief will be any easier than if someone is taken away suddenly and without warning?  Joyce Carol Oates explores all these ideas, and more, in her extremely personal memoir, A Widow's Story, in which her 77-year old husband and partner for over 30 years dies unexpectedly from complications stemming from pneumonia.  Though her husband was relatively old, and though she took him to the hospital, Oates is blindsided by his death.  Though a woman with devoted and supportive friends, incredible intelligence, and an outlet through her writing - Oates finds herself completely undone and lost in her new world and new position as a widow.  Oates recalls the events of her husband's death and the years that follow with honesty - while also looking back with some perspective on what she now believes she was going through.  I was particularly taken, and impressed, with her vivid discussion of her thoughts on suicide, and saddened by her constant feelings that she no longer deserved to be alive, and that with her husband gone, she was nothing but garbarge that needed to be taken out and thrown away.  Of course, given Oates's famous writer status, and the subject of the book, there is much to compare to Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, and Oates references the book without name several times.  But, Oates's book stands on its own as a testament to the love she had for her husband and the incredible impact people can make on our lives.  At the end of the book (it might be the last line), she says something like, the best a widow can say on the one-year anniversary of her husband's death is that she is still living - meaning, of course, that dealing with grief is a tough business.  People want us to "get over it" or to preoocupy ourselves with other tasks, and certainly not to show emotion that would make others uncomfortable.  In the end, while we all need support, we also need to continue to live in our own way and on our own terms. I hope writing this book helped Oates understand her loss, and served as a way to keep her incredible memories of her husband alive.  For herself and others.

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