“How do you refer to your husband when talking to other people?”
Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.
That’s a question often asked by young widows, uncertain of how to acknowledge their spouse without upsetting those around them – or themselves. It makes me wonder if this is a question and concern of even “traditional” (i.e.: elderly) widows. (Expect a post on the “age of widows” one of these days…) We are accustomed to hearing older women talk about their “late” spouses, and they appear to use the term with such grace and ease. Almost as if it’s a natural progression to add the word in front of husband. Almost as if there is a formal dictation that says a man goes from being a boyfriend to a fiance to a husband to a late husband – and so it is written, and so it shall be.
But you see, Paul wasn’t late. If anything, Paul was extremely early. My “late” husband became so three decades (at least) before he was ready. Before I was ready.
With family and friends, it’s easy, I refer to Paul as Paul. They know who he was, they know he is (was?) my husband. There is no reason for an additional adjective. It’s the rest of the world I worry about. How do I relate to them that I am a widow – that my husband is dead? Or do I?
I remember two separate occasions where I was with my uncle who would make comments to me about Paul or my in-laws. Just general statements that fit with the conversation. On both occasions, his friends later asked just where Paul was. Was he back in England visiting family? Was he home watching the kids so that I could spend the weekend with my uncle? And on both occasions, I fumbled over how to let them know that Paul had died. I fumbled because I knew that their reaction would be that of shock and it would “dampen the mood.” I fumbled because my first reaction is a very matter-of-fact reaction which is to say: “He’s dead.” But people don’t like that response because it’s too honest. They would prefer me to make a hushed (almost ashamed or embarrassed?) apology along the lines of: “Oh, he passed away last spring.” At which time they’ll ask questions and sound concerned and I’m meant to reply with: “I’m coping OK,” “Yes, it’s very difficult,” “No, he wasn’t ill,” “Yes, it was all very sudden,” or “I’m taking it all one day at a time.”
Worse than those casual social encounters, however, are the professional or random public ones. Because I still wear my wedding rings, there is an assumption that I have a husband somewhere nearby. I try to side-step the questions as best I can, but on occasion find myself almost telling a lie of omission, sometimes brought on by my inability to remember to answer questions with “I” instead of “We.” As in: “What made you decide to move here?” and I reply: “We really liked the area.” And then there are the conversations where I would have naturally in the past said “Oh, yes, my husband and I…” Now, I find it difficult to participate in those conversations because a comment referring to Paul as my husband may bring follow-up questions and, eventually, I would have to tell the questioner that Paul was, in fact, dead. Which as previously mentioned isn’t really a fun conversation!
But the thing is, I can’t bring myself to say “My late husband.” I don’t know why. Is it because the term is so ridiculous? Is it because that, too, elicits questions as to how I can be a widow at such an early age. Because it seems to me that it’s OK to probe a widow on these issues. Where if I was divorced and used the term ex-husband, no one would bat an eye and certainly no one would ask those follow-up questions.
So, where does that leave me? I just don’t know. I don’t feel single but I don’t feel married in the same way I did before Paul died. I don’t want to represent myself as a happily married woman but I don’t want the awkwardness that comes from announcing my widowhood. And I certainly don’t want to say “My late husband” when anyone who knows me knows how little tolerance I have for people who are late.
I guess I’ll just keep fumbling the issue for a while longer and maybe, one day, I will know how to label my husband, who was very, very early in becoming late.