I expect that I'll read A Widow's Story many times during the rest of my life. Anyone who has grieved for a loved one knows that there are many moments too difficult for words. And yet, part of healing involves sharing the pain of grief with a support system of other people. Joyce Carol Oates, with decades of writing experience, provides the language of grief that can prove so elusive for the rest of us.
It's no spoiler to say that Oates's husband dies in the early part of this memoir. We quickly learn that in 2008, Raymond Smith, Joyce's husband of forty-seven years, spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia and was recovering when he died of a secondary infection. Ray and Joyce have no children and no nearby family, although they have two cats and a close circle of friends. They haven't spent much time apart since meeting and quickly marrying. Their close relationship is enviable - through the course of the book it becomes evident that they loved each other very much and loved spending time together. But Ray dies and Joyce is left behind to keep on living: something she finds unfair and nearly impossible.
Although Joyce Carol Oates considers herself a private person, someone who needs a lot of time to be alone, this memoir is welcoming. We're invited to share her grief almost without boundaries; she includes the thoughts that people are afraid to admit having, even to themselves. She never flinches from how unhappy it's possible to be. And yet the grief makes the happy times, the healing moments, all the more exhilarating. The overall emotion of this memoir is of poignancy, not of sorrow. We come away feeling that real life is worthwhile, after all. This is a book that many people will turn to in times of despair to find language for their deepest emotions.