“I didn’t want to go to a seminar and have somebody tell me how to cry or tell me what stage I was in.”
I was introduced to the American Widow Project by my friend Kris Connell. The American Widow Project is a community of young military widows created and nurtured by Taryn Davis who became a widow at the age of 21 when her husband, Michael, was killed in service to our country in Iraq. Overwhelmed with grief and without a peer support network to turn to, Taryn found herself surrounded by people who tried comforting her by assuring her that her youthful resilience would get her through and realized that Michael’s name was subtly becoming a taboo for those around her.
Reading about Taryn and her amazing, thoughtful crusade got me thinking about what it means to face a loss that doesn’t follow our widely and deeply held beliefs about how the world is supposed to work. Is the “unthinkable” really so rare or do we somehow push the things we’d rather not face to the margins of our consciousness? Is there an unspoken societal agreement to file the deepest sadnesses that aren’t gruesome enough to be newsworthy completely out of sight? In an article titled Young, Widowed and New to Self-Help in the New York Times on February 11, 1987, it was reported that one-third of all widows lost their spouses before the age of 45–that would be four and a half million widows who lost their life-partners in the prime of their lives. When Taryn says When I thought about a widow I thought about a 90-year old woman in black knitting a sweater for one of her 100 cats, I am certain she’s not alone. That is our collective image. That is the collective illusion. But when the “unthinkable” or the “impossible” happens and each widow is left to feel like the first and each friend who wants to show support and provide comfort is left to feel as though he or she is braving new territory, it makes me wonder: Isn’t there a way to drop some of the veil but still allow each person to have their own unique experience? Shouldn’t there be a way to create a secular template that doesn’t take anything away from the sense of individuality, but nonetheless can allow everyone to create their own unique modern mourning experience? I truly believe there is and that we are on the cusp of major societal shifts that will allow just that to happen. So, thank you, Taryn, for setting such a brave and courageous example.