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From Widow's Grief to New Life View Comments
By Elizabeth Bookser Barkley

Dr. Elizabeth Barkley lost her husband, Scott, in 1999. With three daughters to raise alone, Barkley found that moving forward was made easier through the strength of friends and by staying in touch with her spiritual core.

ON JULY 17, 2004, I walked my daughter Katie down the aisle of Bellarmine Chapel in Cincinnati. On April 9, 2011, I walked my daughter Annie down the aisle of St. Clare Chapel. A few months later, on July 23, I did the same for my daughter Liz at Holy Cross-Immaculata Church. Each time, I did it alone.

Like other widows, I have embraced both the bitterness and joys of my life without my late husband, Scott. The marriages of my three daughters, all after his death in 1999, have been among the joys I cherish, as other widowed friends treasure high points in their children’s lives: graduations, sports triumphs, pregnancies and births.

Each year, more and more women and men in my life join the ranks of the widowed. All have their own stories, mostly shared privately with intimate friends.

But the rank of “literary widows” is also on the rise. First on the scene: Joan Didion’s National Book Award-winning The Year of Magical Thinking. I’ve always admired Didion as a writer, and as I read the book, some sections did resonate, but more often I found myself, as a writer, envying her elegant and poignant style.

Recently, I received a book about widows from a friend: Antonia Fraser’s Must You Go?, a memoir of her years with Harold Pinter and, ultimately, of his illness and death. Again, I admired the craft of her writing. My judgment of the book was echoed in the words of a friend, a recent widower, when he finished reading it: “It’s sad.”

As fascinated as I’ve been by these memoirs of writer-widows, I wondered whether any writer had not only shared the pain of widowhood, but had also allowed readers a glimpse into how she had moved through her grief to new life.

The answer was on my bookshelf: the collected writings of St. Elizabeth Bayley Seton. In looking back over my years of widowhood, I realize my own emotional and spiritual journey has mirrored Elizabeth’s. Although the details of her plunge into grief and eventual resurrection differ from mine, key elements in her life offer a guide for returning to wholeness after the devastating loss of a spouse.

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Elizabeth Bookser Barkley is chairwoman of the Department of English and Modern Languages at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati. She was a recipient of the 2011 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the Sisters of Charity.

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Conrad of Parzham: Conrad spent most of his life as porter in Altoetting, Bavaria, letting people into the friary and indirectly encouraging them to let God into their lives. 
<p>His parents, Bartholomew and Gertrude Birndorfer, lived near Parzham, Bavaria. In those days this region was recovering from the Napoleonic wars. A lover of solitary prayer and a peacemaker as a young man, Conrad joined the Capuchins as a brother. He made his profession in 1852 and was assigned to the friary in Altoetting. That city’s shrine to Mary was very popular; at the nearby Capuchin friary there was a lot of work for the porter, a job Conrad held for 41 years. </p><p>At first some of the other friars were jealous that such a young friar held this important job. Conrad’s patience and holy life overcame their doubts. As porter he dealt with many people, obtaining many of the friary supplies and generously providing for the poor who came to the door. He treated them all with the courtesy Francis expected of his followers. </p><p>Conrad’s helpfulness was sometimes unnerving. Once Father Vincent, seeking quiet to prepare a sermon, went up the belltower of the church. Conrad tracked him down when someone wanting to go to confession specifically requested Father Vincent. </p><p>Conrad also developed a special rapport with the children of the area. He enthusiastically promoted the Seraphic Work of Charity, which aided neglected children. </p><p>Conrad spent hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He regularly asked the Blessed Mother to intercede for him and for the many people he included in his prayers. The ever-patient Conrad was canonized in 1934.</p> American Catholic Blog The Resurrection is neither optimism nor idealism; it is truth. Atheism proclaims the tomb is full; Christians know it is empty.

 
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