Widow’s Weeds

For whatever reason, what keeps coming to mind lately is “widow’s weeds,” stemming from the custom of a widow wearing all black clothing for a year or longer following the death of her husband.

Since Queen Victoria of England wore all black for 40 years following the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, she set the tone for everyone else to suffer in more ways than one. In Victorian times, rules for mourning were very strict and made for a pretty miserable life for 2-1/2 years, both for the widow and other members of her family. Indeed Victorian society elevated mourning to an art form. This then carried over to the United States.

In many communities any violation of that “tradition,” even if it’s only supposed to last for a year, can still set off vicious gossip among neighbors and  members of various churches of all ages. However, I would guess the worst of the ammunition comes from older ladies fearful of the wandering eyes (and hands) of their own husbands, since widows are thought to be easy targets and very “needy”.

In some cultures, widows do dress all in black for several years after the death of their husbands. In some terribly sad cases, such as in smaller villages in Greece, they wear black for the rest of their lives and can never remarry. City women there are a bit more modern and practical about such things.

I fully understand the deep grief that follows loss of a husband but why does society always punish the widow? Unless she is the original Black Widow who killed her husband, it’s not her fault her husband died! I suppose such customs are a notch above being burned alive on your husband’s funeral pyre, but really.

The one advantage to wearing all black for a year is that it does give a widow personal space. She is protected somewhat from those who expect her to get over it and start moving on, and those trying to make a move on her.

A widow wearing all black is instantly recognizable as someone who is enduring deep grief, even when she may not be as deeply sad as expected because the deceased was somewhat less than perfect. But loss of your other half leaves a huge hole in a widow’s (or widower’s) life and in her heart. It is actually akin to having half of your body ripped away. Apart from the pain of grief, the pain of loneliness is even worse.

Widow’s weeds do become boring, tiresome and actually depressing. Adding color back to one’s wardrobe will brighten any day, though prior clothing may not fit if we’ve been stress-eating. It’s uplifting to go through the closets and try on what does still fit and what will fit again if we lose 10 to 15 lbs. Any weight loss needed beyond that means the clothing can probably be donated to charities.

Widow’s weeds, if worn at all, serve their purpose but wallowing in pity for too long is not really where any of us want to stay, whether the rest of society likes it or not.

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