Three generations of widows and three journeys through grief

By Ann G. Boulet

Last year I traveled to San Pier Niceto, a community in the province of Messina in northeastern Sicily. My grandparents had migrated from there, and my mother had always wanted to visit their birthplace but never did. So when she was dying the year before, I promised I would go in her place and in her honor.

While there, I reflected on the fact that my grandmother, my mother and I shared more than just blood. We all became widows at different points of our lives but within a single century. And I began to think about the way each of us dealt with the grief of losing the loves of our lives.

My grandmother Giovanna married Guiseppe in 1916. They had two children before my grandfather succumbed to influenza in 1918. At 22 my grandmother was both a widow, and a single parent of an infant and a toddler. Somehow she garnered the strength to make a living for herself and her children by working in a mill. She did remarry 5 years later and had 4 daughters with her second husband. At some point they separated and eventually divorced. But I think my grandmother never forgot my grandfather, and mourned in the silence of her heart possibly even during her second marriage. They are buried together.

My mother Antonina became a widow in 1987 when my father Louis died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 68. She was 69 and they had been married 46 years. I was married with 2 children. While my mother was independent and seemed to carry on by herself, I saw a difference in her. Over time she limited her activities and said it just wasn’t the same doing things without my father. Her own experience with her stepfather nixed any thought of a second marriage. And she seemed to find comfort just being in the house she and my father had shared for so many years. But I do think isolating herself exacerbated her dementia. She died when she was 96.

I joined the ranks of widowhood at the age of 53. My husband Al was 54 when he died of a massive heart attack the last day of the 20th century. We had been married 27 ½ years. Our children were both single and in their 20s. Initially I moved forward for them. But then I realized I needed to do it for myself. Being a teacher helped me mentally and socially. My time now includes volunteering and helping out with my grandchildren.

Both my grandmother and my mother influenced my journey as a widow because of their strength and their faith. However, I have had to forge a path based on my own feelings and convictions. And I continually try to follow the advice Al gave me years ago when I was at a low point in my professional life. I asked, “What should I do with my life?” His response was simple, “Live it to the fullest!”

Ann G. Boulet, CT of Greenville recently gave a presentation on the above topic at the 38th Annual Conference of the Association for Death Education and Counseling held in Minneapolis, MN.

Giovanna married Guiseppe in 1916