Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir?
A: My husband of 18 years died suddenly, without warning. There was no opportunity to say goodbye. I needed to find a way to remain connected to him and to create a different type of relationship, blending love and distance. Writing helped me start this process.
I also wrote this book to support others who face grief. The pain can feel inescapable when we fully grasp the harsh truth: in this world, we’ll never see our person again. I hope my story offers validation, a type of companionship to help bereaved readers feel less lost and alone.
My story also describes many potential ways to cope with grief (e.g., support groups, psychic mediums, yoga, “tend and befriend”), some of which may resonate with readers as worth exploring.
Q: In the book you describe some very difficult times in your life. What impact did writing this book have on you?
A: About seven months after my husband died, I had this image of our life together: a building with smashed walls, debris everywhere. The damage felt massive and overwhelming.
Writing gave order to the mess. My life and mind felt so fragmented that, for some time, I felt completely disoriented, groundless, and vulnerable. Finding words to name my experiences allowed me to approach intense, conflicting feelings with curiosity and compassion. Writing also offered me a way to feel more connected to my beloved husband.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: Grief challenged me in many ways. The “The Good Widow” title reflected my fears and wishes in my new role. Suddenly, I was no longer a wife. Although I had no idea how to be a widow, irrationally, I wanted to “do it right.”
But in the sad new world of loss, nothing felt right. Many daily activities felt absurdly unimportant, but I did them anyway, because I didn’t know what else to do.
Like all widows, I faced countless dilemmas without “correct” answers: when do I take the ring off my finger or his name off our bank account? When should I clear out his closet or sell his car?
In this sad new world without my husband, every move felt like a mistake. It took over a full year to accept that there’s no right way to grieve, to be a widow, to cope with loss. Despite the judgment and stigma that widows face, all widows are good widows: we’ve all been thrown into a life we didn’t choose and didn’t want, but we do the best that we can.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: Although different readers might take away somewhat different ideas, two core messages are:
1/Our experiences of loss are multidimensional, and sometimes paradoxical – there are co-existing, sometimes contradictory feelings and realities. For example, we’re all stronger than we know, and also, it’s awful to have to have no choice but to bear what must be borne.
Also, being deeply in love with my husband inspired me to search for new love. Although my husband is irreplaceable, and I’ll never stop missing him, our marriage taught me to expect to live a full life, including love and intimacy.
2/Widows face judgment no matter what they do. We also judge each other and ourselves. And yet, we’re each individuals, with different needs, histories, and circumstances. There’s no rulebook, and there’s no one right way to grieve or to heal.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Thanks for asking! I’m a psychology professor at a liberal arts college in upstate NY, and right now, I’m preparing for the fall semester. But I’m also writing new pieces, both on my blog at https://thegoodwidow.com/ and as a regular contributor to StepMom magazine https://www.stepmommag.com/.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My spouse died in August 2018, and I finished writing my book in February 2020, days before the global pandemic radically altered our lives.
So many people have lost loved ones due to COVID. They’ve also suffered additional losses, including being unable to visit sick loved ones in the hospital, to say goodbye to the dying, and to hold in-person memorial services.
I hope my story will inspire those in grief to reach out to their loved ones; support from family and friends is vital to healing and hope. Traditions can be adapted to our circumstances – for example, a celebration of life can happen even years later. We can honor our loved ones in smaller ways too, such as by planting a tree or writing them a letter.
Grief reflects our enduring love, a love that lives on forever. We can share this love with our family and friends in countless, creative ways. Together, we can heal.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb