A WIDOW’S STORY by Joyce Carol Oates (copyright 2011 by The Ontario Review)

Raw truth best describes Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story. Inching closer to the age of her husband in 2008 when he died, my husband is soon to be 75, and reading this work was at times difficult. Oates describes in detail the events leading up to her husband’s death, the aftermath in her own soul, and the inch-by-inch process of reclaiming a totally changed life.

Oates recounts for us the most minute of details facing a widow in the days, weeks and months after the death of her spouse. The bureaucratic red tape that must be worked through, the numerous death certificates needed for this and that, the pain of confronting the negotiations with a funeral home regarding the body of one’s beloved, and the total loss that covers it all.

In total Oates spent some 40 years identifying herself with her husband, Raymond Smith. Parallel lives in education, writing, and publishing, most accomplished from their comfortable home near Princeton, almost made them one during their life together. Life after Raymond Smith was lonely, isolated, and frightening at times. Oates’ descriptions of the mental and physical impact is at times dark and depressing, and the writer uses pleasant memories of Ray’s garden, their circle of friends, and walks taken through their neighborhood to lighten the mood.

It must have been a struggle to write this story down but in the end, the reader realizes that without it Oates would not have begun the healing process evident at the end of the book: “Of the widow’s countless death duties there is really just one that matters: On the first anniversary of her husband’s death the widow should think ‘I kept myself alive.”

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