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Thursday, 22 March 2001

Profile Of a Widow: The Practical and Emotional Challenges

Written by  Ann Rubin

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I never realized how difficult it would be.

When my husband was ill and I was constantly on demand, I longed for solitude and peace. Being by myself meant freedom, a holiday of sorts, and I welcomed it. But it is so very different now. He died only five months ago. It may be too short a time to assess my situation. My life has changed suddenly in so many ways; change with consequences that I am only beginning to be aware of.

When my husband was ill and I was constantly on demand, I longed for solitude and peace. Being by myself meant freedom, a holiday of sorts and I welcomed it. But it is so very different now.

My husband was the type who rarely delegated responsibility to me. I believe there were multiple reasons for that trait. One, he was extremely conscientious, a man who took his responsibilities very seriously. One might truly say that in his work ethic the first commandment was to execute one's work to the best of one's ability. He tried to do that, first of all, in his role as a teacher. For instance, he considered it a given that his duties toward his students should take first place. And that is how it was.

Did the primacy he gave to his job bring him into conflict with some of his other assumed roles: say his roles as a father, a husband, or a friend? Yes, that was certainly the case. To deal with overlapping demands on his time he had constructed a hierarchy of sorts, in which he gave some of his tasks-as mentioned above--primacy in execution, if not in importance. He assumed his duties away from his job only after he was satisfied that he had given his teaching all he could for the day. Nevertheless, he applied similar ardor to his duties at home. And so he plodded away convinced that he is the one who must personally handle the financial, educational and other important matters of the household.

But-as I pointed out above--integrity on the job and at home was only one reason for his reluctance to delegate responsibility. I suspect that another important motive was his need for control. He wished to be in charge of everything. I, being the more submissive partner in our marriage, allowed him to do so. In doing so I abdicated some functions usually seen to by the wife, such as supervision of the children, a good deal of the shopping and some of the cooking. There were some advantages for me in that arrangement, of course. I didn't particularly like to shop and since my husband took over much of that chore, I was less busy and could devote my time to a bit of study and other pursuits I preferred.

Then came his illness not long after he retired, and things began to change. Not only did I have to assume the tasks normally performed by the housewife, I was forced to assume all of it, everything. I would have been equal to it with a bit of practice. Soon, however, I needed to devote most of my time and energy to caring for him. I did what was required of me with a fair amount of devotion. It was only toward the end-and I had no way of knowing that the end was so near-that I didn't manage to devote nearly enough time to his real needs, being diverted, as I was, by trivial matters of care. Speaking of change in my life, how can I describe the manifold nature of it? Pre-occupation with a variety of chores I never had to do before is only a minute part of it. There is the change in status from married woman to widow, with its many impositions of privation. Indeed, few are the businesses or the friends who do not take that change into account in various ways. There is some substance behind the notion that widowers, and widows in particular, are among the poorest and most isolated people in our society.

But of all the changes the most difficult to bear is the imposed loneliness: living alone in my house. It is a house I love, in which I have lived the last thirty-four years of my life, and yet I feel keenly how very much alone I am. The freedom I often longed for, the solitude I craved, the peace of mind to find my own niche, to attend to my own wants, to do those things for myself I never could do-all of that should be theoretically possible, but appears to be unattainable somehow.

I found piles of unpaid bills, mostly medical, to take care of, some of whichhad gone to collection agencies. Our credit was ruined.

I should point out that some of my friends and neighbors greatly alleviate the situation for me by their kindness and consideration. And there are my children, of course, whom I visit periodically, even though it necessitates travel to see them. I am also fortunate to have my work, which requires concentration and minimizes the time I have to dwell upon my situation. And yet, even now as I write these words, there is the ever present, overwhelming sense of solitude hovering around me. Yes, I feel very much alone once I have returned home and closed the door. There is not another human being here I can talk to or share an idea with; there is no one to unburden myself to, no one to comfort and console me, no one to utter a word of encouragement, of hope. The house is so very still: the silence is thick, tangible, heavy and oppressive. I sit here all alone...I do not like it.

The Practical Challenge

I found piles of unpaid bills, mostly medical, to take care of, some of whichhad gone to collection agencies. Our credit was ruined.

As I mentioned, I wasn't used to any of that work, and when I realized that Israel can no longer take care of bills and other financial matters I began to look into things myself. I did so reluctantly, because I lacked the experience and, having relied on Israel to do it all these years, confidence that I am competent to take over.

I found piles of unpaid bills, mostly medical, to take care of, some of which had gone to collection agencies. Our credit was ruined. I found that out when I tried to open a charge account in a department store and they would not accept us as charge customers. I found, furthermore, that we had a considerably larger loan against our house than I anticipated, mainly because the repayment schedule had been neglected. Since the interest rate on the bank loan had been variable rather than a fixed percentage, I found that it kept growing until it reached 10.5 %. In short, something had to be done.

I began by hiring an assistant to help me sort out and bring some order to the pile of medical bills. I then began reducing the bank loan systematically: first on a monthly basis, then with considerable extra payments until I paid it all out. The interesting thing about it all is that I became a much more responsible manager than I believed myself to be, or, indeed, was. Having to manage makes one responsible, I believe. At any rate, I now take no loans, own only one credit card which I pay up completely every month, and manage pretty well on my own.

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 09:08
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1 Comment

  • Comment Link Sunday, 06 April 2014 23:09 posted by web link

    Enjoyed looking at this, very good stuff, thankyou . "Nothing happens to any thing which that thing is not made by nature to bear." by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

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Ann Rubin

Dr. Ann Rubin is a historian and writer.

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