Talking with members of the War Widows’ Association at a formal dinner turned out to be a very informal affair, with much laughter and camaraderie. But it also produced a set of fascinating questions, devised by the women themselves, for us to ask as our work with the project War Widows’ Stories gets underway.
As we discussed these questions, little moments of people’s stories were shared. The shock of being told that your partner is dead, the impact of this violent news on everyday normality, that can never again be quite normal. The fear of telling children their father is dead — how to pass on cruel news kindly. Being a victim of gossip. Being angry because you’ve not been told the truth about the death. But most of all, how to get life started again.
Many people said, “We just got on with it.” But each and every one had a different way of doing so.
Here are the questions, some direct, some provocative, many very thought provoking. Perhaps as our project continues, we will find some answers. As well as more questions…
As a war widow, what are you supposed to say, and what would you like to say?
Is the title war widow offputting? Even the term widow? How would you like to be known? Relict? Dependent? The last three digits of your husband’s service number?
Do you feel that people are on eggshells around you? They really want to ask: “Why are you a war widow?” What happened, and how would you like to tell it?
What didn’t you get told about your husband’s death?
We are trying to get to unknown history. How do we read between the lines of given history? The official version versus the spoken story, versus reality?
What are the words and images of your inner life? What symbols fit you? What phrases stay with you? What remains unspoken?
What is an object that symbolises your experience for you?
Why do you think people see widows as a threat to other people’s relationships? Have you been seen as a threat?
Was your grief ever used as gossip?
Was there a day when your burden suddenly seemed lighter?