From The Wall Street Journal (December 2017)
Recently I called my investment company to make a withdrawal. The representative, who sounded quite young, introduced himself as Matthew and reminded me that we were on a recorded line.
“Let me look up your account,” I recall him saying after the preliminaries. “I see your husband passed away recently. I’m sorry for your loss.”
There was a puzzled silence on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry,” said Matthew. “But my records indicate your husband passed away.”
“He did,” I said, “but I’m not a widow.” Matthew mumbled something unintelligible. I knew he had no idea what I was talking about. To be honest, neither did I. But I didn’t want a stranger on the telephone to tell me what I was. Especially that I was a widow.
“But I thought—” Matthew began.
“Don’t worry about my marital status,” I interrupted. “The IRS knows my husband passed away, and there are no tax implications for withdrawing money from a Roth account.” The thought flashed through my mind that our recorded conversation might soon make an excellent training tape: “How to Deal With Crazy Widows.”
Unlike others who have survived their spouses, I did not change my marital status on Facebook when my husband died. Whenever friends posted condolences messages, like “Our hearts go out to you during this difficult time,” I quickly deleted them.
I did sign into my husband’s Facebook account to “redecorate” his page. Nothing major, I just fixed it up a little. Well, maybe more than a little. Maybe I accidentally friended someone while I was in there. It seemed like a normal thing to do, at the time.
Shortly afterward my daughter sent me a text. “Dom is really freaked out,” she wrote. “He said Dad tried to friend him on Facebook.” I pretended it was all a big mistake, but I was glad I hadn’t friended Dom’s girlfriend, too. One friend request from a deceased person is a plausible mistake, but two would be hard to explain.
The truth is, I don’t feel like a widow. Our vows, after all, said, “till death do us part.” To me that means “till death do us both part” or “till double-death do us part.”
I realize that my status as a widow has no relationship to how I feel about it. Probably lots of widows don’t feel like it. And vice versa: When I googled “I don’t feel like a widow,” I found multiple references to lonely women who were married but said they felt like widows.
Who has the final say? If you google “Is a widow married?” this pops up from the Internal Revenue Service: “The year of death is the last year for which you can file jointly with your deceased spouse.”
This decree by the IRS definitively seals the marital bond beyond death. The Bible, too, has my back: “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
God, the government and Google all speaking with one voice! This is a seminal moment, a moment of transcendent truth, of absolution. I am not a widow—at least not yet.