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Sushama Kirtikar

On a different note, the canvas does not have to look so bleak always. Brushed in between the despondent colors of grief are luminous colors of hope too. Immediately after the demise of a spouse, a woman is thrust into the ‘doing’ mode when she has to take care of numerous legal and financial affairs that occupy her for a protracted period of time. She learns to navigate her way through a legal maze that can be both mind- numbing and enlightening. From initially timid and tenuous responses, she makes astute and judicious decisions.

She enters the world of Home Depot, takes lessons in how to fix a leaky faucet, or change oil in her car. She learns to don various caps depending on the need of the hour whether it is what spices go in a dish or what chemicals go in her pool. It morphs into a timely period to become savvier about the real world without the support of a man bracing her from behind. It infuses her with self-confidence to survive in a male-centric world.

This is the time when she may re-evaluate her career path. She has more free time on her hands because of the absence of a partner and may immerse herself fully in her work life, either to fill a void, as an escape from the pain, or as a healthy outlet for her energy. If she is thrust into a single parent role she has to become both a mother and a father to her dependent children. It can be simultaneously tiring and empowering.

In some cases, if she had been a subjugated wife, this also is that time when she may finally come out from under the shadow of her husband and begin to discover her true ‘self.’ Before she knows it, she may unwittingly step into the ‘being’ mode. Widows have reported that this period starts them off on the road to self-discovery. She is no longer introduced as someone’s wife but as a person in her own right. She begins to identify her likes and dislikes acutely. She strengthens the bonds she chooses versus the ones that were bestowed on her by virtue of marriage alone. Self-care becomes the adage of the recovering widow as she becomes conscientious of the fact that she is her sole caretaker.

Research shows that widows gravitate towards a “tend and befriend” mode rather than the “fight or flight” response that is typical during times of stress (Taylor et al, 2000). This tendency to connect socially with other people and tend to a broken spirit is the badge of womanhood. It also is a highly adaptive coping tool. It gives her permission to survive and stay healthier generally; it serves to bolster hope of a long-term future rather than an abruptly foreshortened one, and confidence in her ability to face life and have a meaningful one, as well. This is her opportunity to augment her relationship with God as she strides forward spiritually.

If it isn’t nurturing one’s own spirit, it is tending to others’ needs that occupies her time. If she has been a strong, organized pacesetter and caretaker of her family, she steps smoothly into the role of caregiver for others as well, particularly relatives and friends. It serves to give her a sense of purpose. Sometimes, this gets misread and frowned upon as inappropriate behavior for a grieving widow. On the contrary, it is expressly important for us to recognize the healing nature of this process. It is her repository of hope.

As Ashraf Zahedi points out in the International Feminist Journal of Politics (2006),

“Widowhood can lead to identity change, role adjustment and change in social status. Socio-economic and emotional supports rendered by family, community and society at large can highly impact widows in coping with change and making adjustments.” Indeed, the widow is entering a new phase in her life and it is our privilege as her witnesses to cheer her on her journey.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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