On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties
edited by Thelma Zirkelbach, Barbara B. Rollins, Becky Haigler, Robyn Conley

Silver Boomer Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-937-90516-3.
Reviewed by Donna B. Russell
Posted on 05/09/2013

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

When I started reading On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties, my husband quipped that it made him nervous, especially since three of my friends had lost their husbands in the past year and a half. The loss of a spouse is not something any of us wants to think about, but the truth is that most of us will have to deal with it sooner or later, especially since most women in our country outlive their husbands. Whether we know it's coming, as in the case of a prolonged terminal illness, or it ambushes us via a sudden medical event, accident, or crime, it's not something for which our society prepares us. That is precisely why we need a book like this one.

On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties is a collection of prose and poetry that explores the gamut of emotions that comes with being the survivor. Once the funeral is over and the visitors have left, reality sets in along with changes that can feel overwhelming. For example, Maura MacNeil writes about having to do things that her husband used to take care of, and the difficulty of learning to ask for help with things she couldn't do alone, such as winterizing her house. Another writer, Peggy Muir, addresses the challenge of trying to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. Sorting through a husband's or wife's belongings can be painful and traumatic, and sometimes seemingly insignificant things hold a strong emotional attachment, whether it's an item of clothing or, in Peggy's case, a common kitchen item.

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges is that of coming to terms with a new identity. No longer half of a couple, widows and widowers sometimes find themselves excluded from gatherings with former couple friends, or feel uncomfortable if they are included. Feeling neither single nor married, it takes time to figure out one's place. The transition from couple to widow isn't easy. As Peggy Muir writes, "The widow's Oscar is for the performance art of acting alive."

Written by both men and women, with candor and honesty, the writers of On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties express shock, despair, panic, depression, guilt, anger, confusion, and emotional pain, but they also write about hope, courage, the resilience of the human spirit, and being able to find joy again. Some of the stories brought tears to my eyes, but others made me smile and even laugh. Far from being maudlin, this book shows how others have overcome devastating loss and found the courage to forge a new life.

The lessons they have learned are helpful not only to those who have lost a spouse, but those who have suffered other kinds of losses. Reading the book is like sitting down with a group of friends who truly understand what it is you're going through, who offer compassion, empathy, and hope. As Carole Creekmore writes, "Step by step, I have regained a certain confidence in myself, an assurance that my family and friends see in me as well. My life now has become a personal journey of new dimensions."

Thelma Zirkelbach is a speech-language pathologist in private practice, who works with children with speech, language, and reading disabilities. She has written romance (writing as Lorna Michaels), but now writes creative nonfiction and poetry. Visit her blog.

Barbara B. Rollins is a writer, editor, and publisher with Silver Boomer Books, and writes both poetry and prose. Visit her blog.

Becky Haigler is a retired secondary school teacher, and has had articles and stories published in several well-known magazines. She is an editor and founding partner of Silver Boomer Books.

Robyn Conley is a freelance editor (book doctor) and workshop leader, and has published books for on a diversity of topics including books to help writers and several of biographies. Visit her blog.

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