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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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Angela Merici: Angela has the double distinction of founding the first teaching congregation of women in the Church and what is now called a “secular institute” of religious women. 
<p>As a young woman she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis (now known as the Secular Franciscan Order), and lived a life of great austerity, wishing, like St. Francis, to own nothing, not even a bed. Early in life she was appalled at the ignorance among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them the elements of religion. Angela’s charming manner and good looks complemented her natural qualities of leadership. Others joined her in giving regular instruction to the little girls of their neighborhood. </p><p>She was invited to live with a family in Brescia (where, she had been told in a vision, she would one day found a religious community). Her work continued and became well known. She became the center of a group of people with similar ideals. </p><p>She eagerly took the opportunity for a trip to the Holy Land. When they had gotten as far as Crete, she was struck with blindness. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going through with the pilgrimage, and visited the sacred shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way back, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost. </p><p>At 57, she organized a group of 12 girls to help her in catechetical work. Four years later the group had increased to 28. She formed them into the Company of St. Ursula (patroness of medieval universities and venerated as a leader of women) for the purpose of re-Christianizing family life through solid Christian education of future wives and mothers. The members continued to live at home, had no special habit and took no formal vows, though the early Rule prescribed the practice of virginity, poverty and obedience. The idea of a teaching congregation of women was new and took time to develop. The community thus existed as a “secular institute” until some years after Angela’s death.</p> American Catholic Blog I hear far more people discuss the presence of evil in their lives than they do the supreme power of grace. God is bigger than evil!

 
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