When your love dies, you find out how lacking language is. You find yourself searching and struggling for words to put your grief into but nothing is enough… language does not have the form to express this much love and this much loss.
If you weren’t married this lack of language can be so hurtful as people use it as a way to dismiss or diminish your relationship and your grief. I still remember one of the hardest hitting comments was someone quite innocently and with no ill intent asking ‘oh, was it serious?’ after I said my boyfriend died. I hated that it needed to be asked… I hate that I needed to justify my grief or our relationship. I’ve lost count of the number of ‘you’re young and beautiful, you’ll find someone else’ comments now.
Words are powerful. They give rise to expression, help us communicate, give us community and help us find the right support. This is why I claim the word widow for myself. I lost my love, my future, all our life plans, hopes and dreams. He was my person. We were going to grow old together. We struggle about how to define ourselves in a way that society understands as we have no word for our loss. The term widow fits us outside of law because people can understand what you’ve lost if you say ‘widow’. It gives us a way to express ourselves, our loss and our love… and that means a hell of a lot to me and other unwed widows.
If you are an unwed widow struggling with this… I am here to remind you that love is the best thing we do.
The love you gave and shared with your partner is a gift. The purest form of affection and joy. I find comfort in the idea that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him… but he did spend the rest of his life with me. You made the end of your loves life infinitely better by loving them. Love is not measured in time or marriage certificates. Love is purer, kinder and more human than this.
We talked about marriage all of the time… Marky used to joke that we were engaged to be engaged to be engaged as he would always ask me to spend the rest of his life with him… especially during morning cuddles. Two months before his sudden and unexpected death he told me he knew how he was going to officially propose… and it kills me that I’ll never know what he planned, or get to have a wedding or marriage with the love of my life. We had chosen names for our future children. We even talked about our wedding on the morning of the day he died.
I wish we had gotten the chance. Our short time together or lack of official paper doesn’t make our love less than, and doesn’t make grief easier as Mariella Frostrup recently suggested. Like other young widows, we grieve the life that was meant to be, the future that was stolen from us and that part of loss is bigger than you can imagine. Some choose not to be married or have children and that doesn’t make their love less than either, true commitment takes many forms. Myself and my love would travel over 170 miles into a different country to see each other on weekends… That is a commitment to your shared love.
It took me a few months to find my biggest support, the charity Widowed and Young, as I did not think to consider myself a widow. In the early days of grief, I would be desperately googling bereavement support, searching forums and groups to try to find a place where my grief would fit. It was only on the recommendation of someone I met through one of those bereavement groups that I found my place… WAY is for those who lost their partner young. Full stop. Inclusive of all genders, sexualities and relationship statuses. I almost missed out on finding support and my community because I didn’t have the language.
This also takes a political turn… unmarried couple’s children lose out on bereavement payments that they need, deserve and should be entitled to, simply because of the marriage status of their parents. There was recently a landmark case which was won, where this was found to be in breach the Human Rights Act as it’s discrimination on the basis of marriage and birth. The Supreme Court Judge said ‘Their needs [unwed widows], and more importantly their children’s needs, are the same’ yet the Department for Work and Pensions have said the Government is not obliged to change the law following the Supreme Court’s decision.
There are times when filling out legal papers I am aware I will continue to have to select single, rather than widowed… it is painful for my tongue to form the word… like saying he never existed and our relationship never counted… and that sadly cannot be changed. What can be changed is how we accept and acknowledge people’s pain and relationships, no matter of what form they take. If you know an unwed widow, validate how painful this is for them and acknowledge how much they’ve lost.
No matter of time or paper, we lost our happy-ever-after.