From wife to widow

By Caitlin Kelly


There is a woman in our apartment building whose husband will soon die, at the absurd and frighteningly young age of 54. Maybe it’s 52.

All I can do is think of him, and pray for him and her and hope his death is as gentle as it can be.

He is not 16 or 25 or 40, true.

But he is young — and he is dying from a brain tumor and he was a lovely, smart, hard-working man who will soon leave behind a grieving younger wife and a teenage daughter from his first marriage.

We were not close friends, which is why I did not visit his bedside and got the news of his imminent demise from a neighbor.

He and I served on our co-op board together, a true test of character and grace under pressure!

And when my second book came out and I was struggling with some personal attacks, he explained to me — he, being a lawyer — what an ad hominem attack was and, more essentially, how to fight one effectively.

His compassion and wisdom touched me deeply.

And all I can think of is that — through nothing more than the shittiest fortune imaginable — his death soon transforms his wife into a widow.

Niva Dorell Smith, a fellow blogger, knows this nightmare as well, although she was younger, as was her husband Kaz, when he, too succumbed to a brain tumor.

She recently published her story about it on, married only 11 days before he died:

Three weeks later, I stood in a large warehouse, watching two men push a gurney towards me with a large cardboard casket on top. I wanted to see Kaz one more time. They wheeled the gurney before me, so I could see the word “Smith” written on top. Then they removed the cover.

I stared at him for a long time. His eyes were closed, and he was wearing the clothes I had given the men who picked him up ten days earlier, on May 3, 2011. He had all the same tattoos. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was looking at someone else. The Kaz I knew and loved was not in that box. I didn’t know where he was.

“Goodbye, babe. I love you.”

The men replaced the cover, opened the furnace door with gloved hands, and pushed him inside. The room suddenly felt warmer, and I sat down, lightheaded.

There is no good way I know of to lose the man (or woman) you adore. To whom you once said — praying it wouldn’t happen any time soon — “til death do us part.”

My handsome hubby, Jose
My handsome hubby, Jose, wearing seersucker (a NYT tradition) for June 21

Just cherish the hell out of them while you have them.

14 thoughts on “From wife to widow

  1. Yes, that is definitely the “moral” of the story here, to cherish our loved ones and enjoy as much of our time together as possible. So sorry to hear about your neighbor. Definitely too young to go. Thanks for linking to the essay. xo

  2. beautifully written by the widow married only 11 days, and sad about the neighbor and his family. we really do need to remember to cherish the ones we love every single day.

  3. I’m so sorry for your neighbour and his soon-to-b widow. It is too young. My Julia was taken at just 56 and I considered that far too young for today. I did cherish her and do still. Your words are spot on Caitlin.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  4. Sound advice. It is not the milestones I wish to go back to, but the everyday moments–the ones you live again and again without the other person there and it hurts like hell. Oh, now you’ve got me all waterworks.

  5. I read Niva’s story and cried because it was such a heartbreaking, honest story. Thanks for the reminder to always be thankful for what you have. Trying to be a little more thankful for my husband today

  6. Yes, I watched my mother do the same with my father, and then watched her pick herself out of the immediate grief when there was nothing else to do – no sitting by my father’s bed monitoring his condition, no papers to sign, no funeral, guests/family members to attend to. Just time.

    Suddenly my mother was a widow.

    Cherish the hell out of each other, and life, while we have it. It can be taken from us so swiftly.

    1. Jose and I talk about this, and pray we have more time together for a while…If you find someone who is a great partner, losing them is terrible. The woman I write about here said her husband is the nicest man she has ever met.

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