What would you do if your husband died suddenly and young?
Barbara Barth’s husband was a large man. 6’7” and 270 pounds. When he died, relatively young and relatively suddenly, he left a large hole in her life, both literally and metaphorically. “The Unfaithful Widow: Fragmented Memoirs of My First Year Alone” is Barbara’s memoir of trying to fill that hole the first year without him.
The book is at once heartbreaking, funny, and hopeful. Her grief is apparent and drawn clearly without ever being maudlin. She tries to fill this enormous hole in her life in a variety of ways with varying degrees of success. What saves this book from being a typical oh-woe-is-me trope of a widow’s memoir is her humor and charming writing style. She shakes her fist at God while at the same time realizing with glee that she can now decorate her home in her own style without worrying about her husband’s more austere tastes. But why is it that the couch he died on is the one piece of his furniture she can’t part with? She misses him dearly while trying to move on by breaking dating rules. She doesn’t pretend to have the answers, just shows us her own imperfect journey.
There’s warmth and humanity in this book, with a side of rescue dogs.
I had the pleasure of being able to ask Barbara questions about the writing of this book:
Q: This book was published ten years ago. When you look back on it and what you thought and did at that time, what do you wish you could have told yourself in early widowhood?
A: I would probably do everything the same. I wanted to find a creative path to make sense of my loss. I also worried I might sit on my sofa and never move again. Everything I did, baby steps I like to call my actions (a phrase from an old movie What About Bob), helped me move forward. I survived and made a good life with wonderful friends. Maybe I could have told myself it would get better, but I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Purpose is a great healer and I filled my life with it.
Q: Throughout the course of the book, you rescue several dogs, or maybe they rescue you. Is this something that you have continued to do? Are any of the dogs mentioned in the book still with us?
A: To avoid the title crazy dog lady, my platform became Writer With Dogs. More dogs came as I completed writing my memoir, totaling six dogs. Sadly, the dogs in the book crossed the Rainbow Bridge over the years, having had wonderful long lives. The exception is Chloe, who came at the very end as a P.S. My Alpha Chihuahua still rules in her leopard print dress. Now I have five dogs: three Chihuahuas, an American Staffordshire, and a Basset Hound mix. All rescues, all wonderful. There will always be an abundance of dogs in my life.
Q: Was it difficult to organize your grief on paper, or was it therapeutic, or some combination?
A: I didn’t start out to write a book. Late at night I’d send sad emails to friends, then turn on my music and dance with the dogs. My mood would improve, and I’d send more emails saying, “never mind”. I decided to stop worrying everyone and write for myself. The memoir evolved from there.
Q: Everyone grieves differently, but most of us grieve privately. You’ve put your grief on display with this book. Have people criticized the way you went about it, and if so, what was your reaction?
A: I’ve had huge support with my book. My mother (who passed away in 2016) encouraged me with everything, from finding my way to writing the memoir. I wanted to send a message of hope to those who suffered a loss of a loved one by sharing my experiences. There are no guidelines on how to behave and my book is my quirky take on what I did to save myself. The best part was hearing from other widows who loved my book. We still keep up with each other on Facebook.
Q: When you were writing this, did you write as you experienced it, or did you wait until you had some distance in order to process it?
A: Some of the family history and back story were written as I put the book together. Most of the essays (as I like to call my stories) were written as they happened, more in a journal form that I tightened later.
Q: Now that it has been some time, is there any followup coming?
A: Fingers crossed, in August I will launch the continuing saga, The Unfaithful Widow Ten Years Later. With my seventieth birthday soon to arrive it seemed fitting to do a follow-up memoir. I decided to share many of my blog posts in this new book. Ten Years Later pulls together my journey from widow to a single, perhaps slightly askew, woman. My stories are in chronological order covering all my craziness to become whole again. Some years are full of what I call magical doing (owning a shop, self-publishing books, hosting a foreign exchange student, my move to Walton County, and creating writing groups at the Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts), while other years are more reflective with thoughts on dogs, gardens, houses, gentlemen callers, love and loss. Once again, I’m sharing personal moments that I hope will resonate with others. My book is a year late coming out, life got in the way including a fall and surgery. Full speed ahead, I will greet my new memoir and seventy-one in August. Bring. It. On.
To read more or to purchase the book, click here.
Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Told You…” is set to be released in the Fall of 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.