One of the hardest parts about being a young widow is the feeling that you don’t quite fit. All of the other widows I know are older-you know the age people picture when they picture a widow. So I don’t quite fit with that group. When I’m with my peer group I realize I have different milestones and life experiences. They are buying first houses and having second kids while I am donating the last of my husbands clothes and finding meaningful ways to commemorate deathiverseries. So I don’t quite fit with that group either. The only other young widows I know are from online support groups and Instagram.
Oh-and the ones I see on TV. That’s right, turns out young widows are all over the silver screen. I think a lot about representation in terms of the stories I share with my class (I teach 8th grade reading)-I always knew intellectually that it is important for people to see themselves in the texts we read and the media we consume. But it wasn’t until I had a story that was different from the norm that I fully comprehended just how much representation matters. To see my story play out on screen allowed me to process it differently, it helped other people understand a bit of how I was feeling, and it gave me another outlet to grieve. So here are some of my favorite TV widows. Also some of these contain spoilers so if you’re planning on watching one of these shows just skip that paragraph. (Or consider this article explaining how spoilers don’t spoil anything, read the paragraph, and watch the show anyway).
First up we have Melinda Monroe whose story is featured on the Netflix show Virgin River. She leaves a big city hospital job to work as a nurse practitioner in a middle of nowhere town (if you’re thinking this sounds like a Hallmark movie you would be right-it does have a bit of a Hallmark feel). What could possible trigger such a move? You guessed it, Melinda has a dead husband. Here’s what I love about this portrayal. Melinda is a total badass. She has this super cantankerous boss but she is so good at her job she ends up earning his respect as well as the respect of the, not so open to outsiders, townsfolk.
But the cameras also show what happens when Mel goes home to her adorable new cabin. She has flashbacks of the night her husband died and has to work herself down from panic attacks. She can be riding a high from a great day at work only to find the mail has finally delivered that last piece of paperwork. And that last piece of paperwork makes everything else feel meaningless as she collapses into sobs on the floor. Mel is a grieving widow struggling to process a traumatic death-but that is not all she is. I love that this show portrays all of it and doesn’t reduce the widow to a sad single story. Parts of her story, and mine, are unbelievably sad but parts are funny and others are exceptional-she is a full person.
Next is Jane from the show Jane the Virgin-and this is a pretty big spoiler so do with that what you will. In Season 3 Jane becomes a widow. It comes out of nowhere, it is shocking and Jane is devastated. Then the show skips to 3 years later. I love that they did this, I am currently living those years so I don’t particularly want to watch them on television. The show gives flashbacks, key phrases in conversations that let you know how truly devastating the loss was and how hard Jane worked out regain some normalcy. It doesn’t make light of or gloss over the seriousness of the loss but it lets the story move forward. Because the story can move forward-even though that feels impossible in early grief. It is like Jane’s abuela tells her, “It will always feel different. You’ll always feel different, but you will be okay. And your life will be beautiful again. Just in different ways.”
I haven’t finished this show yet, behind the times I know, but one of my favorite scenes is when Jane decides she is ready to date again and she starts flirting with a guy at the bar. After some great initial banter, he asks the dreaded, “why has no one scooped you up yet?” Jane says, “Well I was scooped up but then my husband died.” The show inserted the perfect wah-wah sound effect (which is what plays in my head every time I say something similar). Jane frantically tries to regain the casual banter with, “I mean I’m like almost totally fine, that was like three years ago so…”. I rewound and replayed that scene until I was crying with laughter. I’ll try to post it on my Instagram stories sometime this week.
Later on, in season 4, Jane has a huge career success. In the week leading up to the party she has more and more flashbacks of her late husband Michael. Not anything traumatic, just memory after memory of small moments they had shared together. That’s such a huge part of grief. Feeling like even the happiest moments are incomplete because your person isn’t there. When Jane does fall in love again she has trouble claiming that love story because she doesn’t want it to seem like Michael was a stepping stone on the way to this love story. This show doesn’t shy away from any of these complications but the show isn’t a tragedy. It addresses these hard topics in a delightfully lighthearted and tongue-in-check way.
Finally we have The Bachelor. That’s right people even reality television is crawling with widows- woot woot! First we have Emily Maynard who first appeared on Brad’s season and then became the Bachelorette herself. To be honest I don’t really remember much about her story because I wasn’t a widow then and that part of her story, though sad, wasn’t that important to me. But on this current season we have a widower. He was also married in 2012 and his wife died in 2019. It was shocking to see someone with my same timeline sharing his story on national television. For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, there is a bit of a joke that once you get your one on one date with the lead is when you share your tragic backstory and that leads to an even deeper connection with the lead. It can often come off as a bit manipulative or even desperate. But Michael did a wonderful job sharing his story. It was simply this is where I have been, this is where I am , and this is what I want for the future. He was both still sad over the loss of his wife and excited at the possibility of having a second love story. A perfect expression of the both/and and it was on the Bachelorette. So if all else fails I can always apply for next season-especially if Michael becomes the next Bachelor (which he certainly isn’t thinking about because that would definitely be wrong reasons).