Revisiting The Widowhood
I don’t often mention my late husband, Chris, or his untimely death from cancer. And I try very hard not to moan.
Three years ago, I mentioned it a lot. To anyone who would listen. In fact, I didn’t just mention it – I screamed my anguish from the rooftops. Many of my friends and family received late-night, alcohol-induced phone calls and emails in which I railed against the cruelty and injustice of his terminal diagnosis and my fear of a future without him. After he died, I sobbed on the shoulder of anyone who would hold me. In the street. In a café. Or in the pub.
So why the change? Why did I stop discussing Chris and showing my grief? Have I ‘got over it?’ Moved on? Or have I simply changed?
No, we don't get over the loss of our lovers and soul-mates – ever. We can move on, yes, but the loss changes us too and only those who have walked in our shoes can really empathise. Fortunately, very few people experience the untimely death of their relatively young spouse. This is great for the wider world in general but not so good for those young widows or widowers who are left rattling around in an empty and exclusive club that no-one wants to join and very few people really understand. As one of my closest friends pointed out, I was the first in our friendship group to bury their partner. Even my parents still have each other.
And the other devastating discovery made by youngish widows is that there is no handbook on the shelves of W.H. Smiths to tell you how to cope and survive your tragedy, the ensuing loneliness or the survivor’s guilt. Counsellors, family and friends do what they can to help, and are brilliant at dealing with practicalities, but ultimately you are on your own with your insomnia, the nightmares and the angst at 3 am in the morning. You have to work through it by yourself.
As the uniqueness of my isolated position dawned on me, I started to feel like a freak. A very damaged freak. I made a conscious effort to stop talking about Chris and my bereavement and to deal with my heartache in private. Whether this was a good or a psychologically damaging thing to do to myself, I have no idea. Only time will tell if the pressure will eventually erupt in some form of mental breakdown. But I also had my heart-broken, teenage children to consider and they didn’t need a wailing, sobbing mother parading her grief in public. They needed a calm role model to help them get through the loss of their amazing father.
Besides which, I didn’t want to be defined by my widowhood even though I know I will always be one. There is far more to Karen Charlton than just a ‘grieving widow.’ With the love and help of close friends and family; a great counsellor; a bottle of pills and copious amounts of alcohol, I sought solace in writing my cosy mysteries and did the ‘moving on’ thing.
However, there have been many times when the isolation of my situation has led me to reach out to others in a similar situation. For a while I was a member of the ‘widdahud,’ an online forum for widows and I was a very needy member, too. I did get some support, for which I am eternally grateful, but I found myself unable to give it back. Chris’ death left me blank, numb and sometimes downright crass when faced with the misery and despair of strangers. Embarrassed by my own lack of empathy and uncomfortable with just being a ‘taker’ rather than a positive contributor to the discussion boards, I abandoned the forum.
In addition to this, the widows’ forum lacked humour. This seems a strange thing to write, I know, but occasional flashes of ghoulish humour and irony make an untenable situation slightly more bearable. Sometimes these tiny moments of light are the only things around to help drag ourselves through another miserable day; we would go mad without them. Death and grief are an ugly business and the very antithesis of romance. A flash of bizarre humour helps with the healing.
It was the humorous title that eventually attracted me to a self-help book for widows by the American author, Catherine Tidd. I had never read a true-life ‘misery memoir’ before and normally shunned the genre as depressing but I couldn’t resist The Confessions of a Mediocre Widow. It brilliantly summed up how I saw myself three years ago – and how I still see myself today. I am that Mediocre Widow. I enjoyed (is that the right word?) Catherine Tidd’s account of her husband’s sudden death and how she survived (again, is that the right word?) and stumbled through the aftermath. I especially appreciated the gentle humour that lifted the pages of this book and made the despair bearable.
And this week I discovered another gem in the same ilk: ‘Life After You’ by Lucie Brownlee. Lucie is a young widow from my own area of North East England. Her book was an Autumn Read for the Richard & Judy Book Club. And what a stunning book it is. It’s a must-read for anyone struggling to cope with the sudden or untimely death of someone they love. Her honesty, anger and humour took my breath away and kept me reading late into the night. It’s a warts-and-all account of the sudden death of her husband, Mark, yet somehow it ends with hope and never becomes ugly (as I fear my own memoir might become.) Her insight, bitterness and humour resonated strongly with me. I loved her powerful language and imagery. She doesn’t waste a word and portrays the full range of human emotion experienced by young widows in a way I can only envy.
Like me, Lucie is determined not to be defined by her widowhood and has branched out into mainstream fiction. I sincerely wish her the best and look forward to reading more from this very talented author.
'The Sculthorpe Murder' is Now Available To Pre-order on Amazon
We still have no book cover or blurb but 'The Sculthorpe Murder' is now available to pre-order from Amazon. AND the publishing date has been brought forward to 30th August. Not long now, folks!
Pre-order 'The Sculthorpe Murder' Here
Superb novel, fast-paced and thrilling
This is a superb novel, fast-paced and thrilling. Claire Stibbe knows how to write from the point of view of a child and skilfully draws the reader into emphasising with the villain. She never missed a beat while tenderly developing the relationship between Adam and Ramsey. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what the increasingly-likeable Ramsey had planned for the child and why. I felt quite tearful by the end of the book. This is a novel that will stay with you and the dark, brooding forests of New Mexico are now also etched into my sub-conscious; they are a character in their own right. ‘Night Eyes’ is very cinematic and would make a brilliant film. Claire Stibbe is emerging as a fabulous thriller writer.
THE SANS PAREIL MYSTERY' IS A SEMI-FINALIST IN PRESTIGIOUS HISTORICAL FICTION COMPETITION
This week just keeps on getting better and better! I have just been notified that 'The Sans Pareil Mystery' is on the long-list in the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction in a competition run by the Historical Novel Society. This is so exciting! The Finalists will be announced in May and the overall winner in the Autumn. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
'If I could turn back time...'
I have been musing today about what advice I would give to my younger self, should I ever have the opportunity to go back in time and meet me. Not that the teenage Karen James would ever have listened to any advice. But it was a fun exercise anyway.
The Tea Planter's Wife
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