THE death of the Indian
Prime Minister, Mr. Shastri, brought into prominence the plight of the elderly widow. National newspapers carried poignant pictures of a little-known woman weeping over her husband's body. Such Press sentiment is not necessarily out of place, but it made me reflect on the dreadful fact that it needs the death of a famous man to focus attention, even if only for a moment, on widowhood.
There are more than 2,500,000 widows in this country and less than a third of this figure are entitled to draw pensions. Whether they draw pensions or not they have to struggle along, many of them bitterly lonely. in a society which cares only for the husband and wife idea and rejects the woman alone.
People seem to prefer to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the problem of
widows. They prefer to forget it—out of fear, I think. and the foolish hope that if it is banished from their minds then such a tragedy can never happen to them. How unutterably stupid this is, and yet how well it shows the criminal self-centredness of most of us.
in talking to an older widow who has managed the transition from wife to widow far better than i could ever hope to do, I realised what depths of character are called upon to survive, even reasonably happily. as a widow.
She played down the inevitable feeling of being unwanted by married couples but she admitted that it was essential to have interests outside the home. "Unless you have other interests," she said, "you are in for a very thin time."
She is very grateful that she has children who. although grown up, visit her frequently and provide her with what she regards as "quite marvellous" grandchildren. "You have all the fun of children without the responsibility of them. Being a grandmother is a wonderful institution," she continued, "and if 1 can then be of help I don't feel put upon, for it is the greatest joy to be wanted."
According to her, that is the secret of all loneliness. If one is necessary anywhere one need never be lonely. That is why she feels that work, either voluntary or in earning a living. is an essential part of the readjustment of a widow.
"I am secretary of this committee and secretary of that," she said. "If I wanted to I could be out of the house morning, noon and night. But if this kind of work doesn't interest a person she must go out and find other things that do. It is no good sitting about moping and hoping that somebody will do something for you. They won't."
This seems to me to be the crux of the matter. Most people do not attempt to help widows. The person 1 have been talking to obviously has sufficient strength of character and a religious faith to help surmount her problems. But what of the majority who find widowhood a depressing, grey state, as dreary as the winter weather?
A few years ago an organisation was formed to help her. Called the Cruse Clubs Counselling Service it seeks to relieve suffering and distress among widows and their children. Hampered by lack of money, it nonetheless does valuable work in supporting and encouraging the widow with practical advice and help and also runs a professional service to aid the mental readjustment of the widow.
"We have to help her to rediscover her own personal identity," says Mrs. Margaret Torrie, chairman of the organisation, which has found that a great majority of widows are unable to cope with life because they have become submerged in a husband's personality.
Helping widows and orphans is an age-old injunction. Long before the advent of Oxfam or the Spastics Society, widows and orphans were recommended to our generosity. What have we done for them?