EDITOR’S NOTE: Acclaimed Catholic writer Amy Welborn fielded our questions about Wish You Were Here, the new book that chronicles her trip to Sicily five months after her husband Mike’s sudden death from a heart attack. Check back next Monday, May 28, for part two, when Amy shares her writing process and advice.
How do you feel about the term widow?
I admit I don’t like it.
Not because it is a direct expression identifying me primarily with the death of my husband, but really because it makes me feel old. Perhaps I am, in a way – I’m 51 now – but I admit that I’m not comfortable with it. In a way it doesn’t make any sense to me to identify myself for the rest of my life as a widow. I don’t understand the sense of wearing that as my primary identifying badge for the rest of my life.
When it came to your own path forward and the well being of your young boys, you worried that all the bundled grief and knotted pain would one day explode – and that when this happened, it would be your fault. How did you overcome that?
Well, it did explode, daily, in small ways, usually when everyone went to sleep at night or went to school. Any time I found myself alone for the first time in a while, the pressure would come off and tears would flow. Not in a super-dramatic breakdown, but it was clear to me what I was bottling up, mostly for my children’s sake, so I would be functional for them.
Was moving to a new house a crucial step in your healing?
I’ll make clear that moving was always in the cards. At the time of Mike’s death we were living in an apartment, awaiting the sale of our home in Indiana. So that move was going to happen anyway.
But it was a relief to get out of the apartment, which did not have happy associations for me.
I’ve just lived life. I don’t sit around and ponder the twists and turns of my life in a “why” kind of way. I focus on where God is present in whatever is going on, wherever my decisions have led, and try to listen.
It seems to me that widows and widowers, especially younger ones, can be the forgotten group. We hear much more about those who lose spouses through divorce. Is this your sense too? Is there a need for more concerted, church-led outreach to the widowed?
I don’t know. I have different kind of feelings on “concerted, church-led outreach” to any group.
I do think that one of the things that most parishes lack that is almost a necessity is some kind of ministry that is available to provide aid to widows and widowers that goes beyond bringing lasagna to the house after a death.
I managed fine, but I often thought, as I navigated the maze of legal and financial matters that confront you after a spouse dies, that if I weren’t as comfortable with such matters and didn’t have someone to help me, it could be a real nightmare. It seems to me that the best outreach to a widow or widower is to have it be standard for someone to sit down with the widow or widower and ask if they need help in those matters and have individuals in the parish willing to volunteer to help during that first year and direct them to resources.
The exploration of Italian culture in your book is so interesting. What’s your favorite Italian word?
Sicilia. The “c” is pronounced “ch,” and I just love to say it.
The story about the electrician in your epilogue gave me goose bumps. (I’ll leave it at that and urge readers to buy Wish You Were Here to get the whole story.) Have you experienced other moments of serendipity like that one, instances that seem orchestrated by the Holy Spirit?
I experienced several, and they are all in the book.
Absolutely. I do think that these hints – and sometimes more – of God’s presence are everywhere, and in the midst of an experience like a death, our spiritual senses are on high alert – I know mine were – simply because we are looking, looking, looking for one who is not there and for the reasons, and so we are more aware of them.
CatholicMatch member Barb Tess blogs monthly about her experience as a widow.