Sherlin Giri’s story: Widowhood and surviving grief

April 11, 2016

On 12 March 2016, we held Fair for All Families, a carnival in support of single parent families. At the event, we heard from two single parents and the child of a single parent, all of whom shared their heartfelt stories of struggle, triumphs and challenges that their single parent family faced. Below is the speech from Sherlin Giri, a widowed mother of two who shared her personal story. 

WINDOWS 2.0: A Guide For the Bold and Brave

It is an honour to be able to speak in front of all of you today – many of whom are single parents, like me, for whatever reasons and circumstances of our own.

Single parenting is hardly an easy job but of course, it has its rewards. I can safely say that what makes it all worthwhile is our children. But I cannot deny that there are times when we are in above our heads, looking out at the world and wondering, how the heck am I gonna get through this?

When I was invited to give this speech, I wasn’t too sure if I was the woman for the job. I am not used to talking about my feelings and the emotional turmoil I go through in public. Sure, I can write that stuff out on Facebook, for all my friends to read, but sharing it on a platform like this – well, that’s kinda tough. So, being a lecturer by profession, I thought I would express myself in a mini module. I call this module WINDOWS 2.0: A Guide For the Bold and Brave.

And hopefully, by the end of this sharing, you will understand why.

Chapter #1

The wife in me can either die or evolve.

When I lost Joe, I lost a part of myself that was a wife. It was very sudden. One day I was a wife, with all the petty problems and gripes that come with it, and the next day, I was not. To make matters worse, I had no time to grief – I had to identify his mangled remains at the morgue the morning after the car crash. I had to see to it that his wishes to be cremated were observed. I had to ensure that everything was in place at home while I was at the wake everyday. It is not to say that I did not have help. But I still had to perform the last of what I felt were my duties as a wife, and this time, the first of my duties as the one and only head of my family. I had to take care of the finances and settle all debts. All this time, still nurturing my children and being a mother, daughter, sister, employee, friend, etc. So I decided not to die. I decided to evolve. To embrace this change, horrible as it might have seemed at the beginning. To make it mine and own it.

Chapter #2

Widowhood does not define me  

For a long time after I was widowed, I was in shock, and it took me more than six months for it all to really sink in. But what took a lot of getting used to was the term ‘widow’. I hate that word. It reeks of social and cultural stereotype. It reeks of black hoods and ashen faces, misery and frailty. It reeks of pity. I couldn’t stand it! Yes, it hurts a lot. Yes, widowhood sucks. But it need not be ‘suckier’ with a label that immediately evokes pain and pity from those who hear it. I remember I was at this birthday party a short while after my loss. There was a cousin of mine there who had just arrived and was chirpily greeting everyone around her and when she turned to greet me, she suddenly became more sombre and said, “Hi. How are you?”

It’s not her fault. I mean, I’m Indian. Mine’s the culture where my ancestor widows jumped into the funeral pyre with they’re dead husbands. Cos death was wayyyyyy better that sucky widowhood. And a healthy dose of Bollywood helped fuel the impression of its perpetual state of misery.

I can safely say that as much as I wasn’t ready to put on my high heels and party like it’s 1969, I wasn’t entirely miserable either. I had my children for company, I had my family and close friends. And each night, after I put the kids to bed and the house was quiet, yes, I would dissolve into a puddle of tears in my bedroom where no one could hear. But that was me healing. That was me acknowledging how much it hurt. That was me remembering Joe and how much I love and miss him. And it’s ok to cry. It’s ok to let it all go and dissolve.

But that does not define me. Because I am more than just the sum total of the trials and tribulations of my life.

Chapter #3

Putting an ’N’ to ‘widow’.

I have always believed that in order for us to see change in this world, we first need to BE THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE. There is so much that I have learnt since the day I was widowed – not just about myself but about others around me. I learnt that there are people who wanted to wallow with me by talking about their own miseries instead, cos misery loves company.   In other words, “Your life sucks but mine sucks harder.” There were those who blatantly asked to borrow money, thinking I had inherited a windfall. Then there were a couple of male friends who offered rather dubious ‘services’ – because a ‘young and attractive’ widow might feel lonely and need some ‘company’. But there was a lot of goodness to be seen in people around me who continued to believe in me despite my massive setback. My boss and colleagues who wanted me back at work because they believe I am good at what I do. My family and friends who do not see me as the proverbial basket case because of my new marital status. And of course, my kids, who love me cos I am a cool rocker Mum and I am ‘fluffy’.

With all this, and after over two years of trying to pull my life back together, I can safely say that I am now on a new leg of this journey that is life. The first two years were horrible. I have to admit. But today, two and a half years later, I have a much clearer idea of who I am in this new phase of my life. I am much clearer of what I want for myself and my kids. I am so much better at saying, “No”. I know my own boundaries far better than I ever used to. I no longer seek perfection in everything but rather, learn to appreciate work in progress – in me and those around me. I have learnt how to stay clear of bullshit, out of necessity. Because drama really does take up a lot of energy – energy which I wish to channel into more constructive endeavours instead.

When I was in Brisbane after my husband’s death, in April 2014, to support a friend of mine who was newly divorced, I attended a workshop with her one Sunday. The location was a beautiful lodge tucked amidst the rolling greenery and autumn mist at the foot of some hills. It was a workshop for women to support other women, and there were women there from their early twenties to their fifties. There, I met another participant, a healing practitioner who was a single mum herself. I can’t remember her name or her face – just her lovely, wild and wavy rust coloured hair. But more importantly, I remember what she said to me that afternoon.

“Why not be a WINDOW instead?!”

So here I am. The window.

And what do I mean by that? I realise that I AM a window to a new world.

I have a voice and access to various platforms to be a part of the changes I want to see. I teach my students (and my own children) to empower themselves. To use their creative energy and buzzing minds to create ideas that contribute to change. And to act on those changes, instead of just complaining about ‘the gahment’.

Most importantly – and as cliched as this may sound – I am more grateful for all that I have. I am grateful for my children, my work, the loved ones in my life, my life itself. I may have experienced the rude shock of having the man I love and almost everything I own taken away from me practically overnight. But I have gained so much in its stead.

So I’d like to leave you all with a message of hope today, whether you are single parents, partners or married couples. The wife in me may have died. But the WINDOW that I have become is far greater than I could have ever imagined. And I sincerely hope that you, too, see yourselves for the WINDOWS 2.0 that you are for those around you. Thank you.