Green Widowhood

The term ‘green widow’ is what Germans call a married woman whose husband is alive, but travelling away from home.  When a married woman travels, and her husband stays at home, he is a ‘straw widower’.  The terms ‘green’ and ‘straw’ are just as sexist as they sound.  The implication is that a woman can still thrive without her man, but the man struggles to survive without his woman.

While that may be true for some people and not for others, what is true for all is this:  when one spouse travels, the other mourns their absence.  This is not terribly noticeable for short trips, but the longer the spouse is away the more symptoms of mourning appear.  The first time my husband had a longer sabbatical away from the family, I noticed after a couple of weeks a deep sadness enter my veins.  I started looking for his face in everyone on the street, and crying every evening after the children were in bed.  Although we had computers and email at that time, the internet was still in its infancy and Skype not at all available. I should have been sending him lengthy emails, but by the time the kids were tucked in I was just too spent.  I may have been able to survive, but his absence still meant that I was, for the time-being, a single mom.

Even with Skype, I still find his absence almost unbearable.  I knew, though, when he started traveling to the Middle East that I would have to come to terms with the possibility of being a young (rather than just green) widow.  The rational areas of my brain have it all figured out.  Each time he travels, I start planning all the ‘what ifs’ (as if I could function at all were he not to return).  Sometimes I stop myself with the thought ‘you are mourning again girl!’.  I wish I had some way to stop the process, but I don’t.  It seems inevitable and necessary.  After all, I still have a chick in the nest to care for.

It would have been helpful though, if we had had some warning about this very real phenomenon.  The first time it happened, the knee-jerk reactions from both of us were not terribly healthy for our relationship.  Now, of course, we understand what is going on and are better prepared for it.  What helped us to ‘see’ and understand was a Jewish prayer found in an old prayer book my husband had purchased during a trip to Cracow.  The prayer was a thanksgiving to be said upon the homecoming of a traveler.  It thanked God for ‘bringing the dead back to life’!  Just the wording of that prayer made us realize that we both had started to mourn, and one mourns most what is loved most.

 To my dear Herr Professor, with all my love

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About Lois Loban Stuckenbruck

Trained as a Ballerina, then completed a BA in Business Adm and English Literature at Milligan College. More recently trained to be a lay pastor (Reader) in the Church of England. Wife of a Biblical Scholar, Mother of three. I'm an American who has also lived many years in England and Germany (currently Munich). I have worked as an Editorial Assistant, Systems Manager (Xerox Stars on Ethernet Network), and several positions in higher education fundraising (Alumni and Development).
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One Response to Green Widowhood

  1. Lois, this is a wonderful reflection. My wife and I married after a two year, trans-Atlantic engagement (we met as students in Switzerland). The two visits we had in this period were wonderful, but parting was profoundly difficult. The sense of absence was astounding. Several years ago, my wife and children left a week before to go visit her family in the Netherlands. I followed after a week. The week I was alone was yet another taste of the experience you write about. I rattled about in an empty house, stayed up entirely too late (difficult to sleep in that empty, now strange place).

    I counsel married people to avoid, where possible, long absences from each other. Sometimes it is necessary, no doubt. But marriage is such a growing together and a going forward together, that long absences are seldom good for the relationship.

    Anyway, my two cents. Thanks for your piece.

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