Beyond Coping -Widows Reinventing their Lives

Fall 2001 CSANews Issue 40  |  Posted date : Apr 01, 2007.Back to list

Beyond Coping is more than a good read, and it's not just for widows. Neither the editors nor the 20 remarkable women who shared their experiences are professional writers, but the result is almost more moving because their accounts are so starkly, honestly unpolished.

Editors Molly Hurd and Margie Macdonald collected these stories through contacts with international networks for widow support and bereavement groups, and via notices placed in "Letter to the Editor" pages in major newspapers across Canada.

For these two women, the project was a personal catharsis, a method of coping. Their own husbands had died tragically, together, in May 1996, while kayaking off the south coast of Nova Scotia.

The inspiration for this book came from an interview that they both had happened to hear on CBC's Morningside. It was with a panel of widows who talked about the changes they had made, and the process of starting new lives after the loss of often their best friend, financial support, home handyman and, sometimes, even their social circle.

As contributor Dianne Nickerson commented, "Being the 'survivor' in the obituary does not confer survival in any way, except in name. It is a long way from surviving to thriving and viewing death and life with an adventurous spirit." Even the very term "widow" comes from the Sanskrit, meaning, "empty."

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's acclaimed stages of grief in the terminally ill have been adapted to also reflect the stages of grief experienced by survivors: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

It's interesting to read how these stages are manifested in so many different ways.

In Joan's case, denial took the form of reading the newspaper in front of the television, every Saturday night for a year, while pretending her husband was still watching Hockey Night in Canada. Now she watches a movie. That's acceptance!

Beverlee paints a very vivid picture of her rage, which resulted in everything from drinking herself into oblivion to trashing her children's room. She tried rehab and Prozac, etc. but she, as well as many of the other women, finally found solace in religion, professional counselling and self-help sources. "It wasn't until I started searching for strength that I actually found any. Tapes, books, Oprah, TV shows and music, whatever works. We are not born knowing how to recover or change. We need to learn it from strong people."

Shelly provides an almost visceral description of the shock stage: "At first the hurt was so raw, so black, so THERE ­ that the only way to exorcise it was to spill it out all over anyone who would listen." She goes on to elaborate that, scary as it was, her husband's death was not her greatest pain. Finding herself was!

Beyond Coping deals with many practical matters as well as with emotions. Helen noted that widows have a habit of not eating properly, so she helped organize monthly luncheon meetings with her widows' support group, and arranged for experts to give advice on wills, powers of attorney, finances and real estate, etc.

Jean's coping involved writing letters to each of her grandchildren in which she enclosed a picture of each of them with their "Papa," and included his hopes and dreams for each of them. She also organized a tree-planting party to celebrate their Papa's life.

Marilyn emphasized the value of volunteering in reinventing your life. Her advice to all new widows is to, "Live life to the fullest. Experience new things, learn new skills, and get involved."

My advice is to get a copy of Beyond Coping. If you can't find it in your bookstore, go to for information on ordering. As for the rest of us, this book will be a great inspiration to give your spouse a special hug.