Kathleen Hagen's Reviews > A Widow's Story

A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates
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Feb 27, 2011

bookshelves: 2011-audio-books, 2011-nonfiction

A Widow’s Story, by Joyce Carol Oates, narrated by Ellen Parker, produced by Harper Audio, downloaded from audible.com.

National Book Award-winner Joyce Carol Oates writes a memoir of coming to terms with the death of her husband of 46 years and its aftermath. "My husband died, my life collapsed." On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates
drove her husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Both Joyce and Ray
expected him to be released in a day or two. But in less than a week, even as Joyce was preparing for his discharge, Ray died from a virulent hospital-acquired
infection, and Joyce was suddenly faced - totally unprepared - with the stunning reality of widowhood. A Widow's Story tells of her struggle to comprehend a life without the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. In this book we follow Joyce from the moment she realized that something was “not quite right” with Ray, through their trip to the emergency room, through the next week where he seemed to be getting better, to the call from the hospital in the middle of the night saying that he had gotten much worse, and did Joyce want them to use “extraordinary measures to keep him alive?” By the time she got to the hospital in the middle of the night, figured out how to get in and got to his room, he had just died. The nightmare quality of the next few scenes where she is left alone with him and told she must collect and take away “his belongings”, to her asking of the receptionist whether she could recommend a funeral home only to be told: “you can phone the morgue in the morning and arrange the collection of the body.” This is one of the bleakest nightmares of discovering the death of a loved one I have read. Joyce talks about the wonderful support of friends, the unbelievable rudeness and thoughtlessness of questions given to her about her widowhood, the inappropriate presents sent by acquaintances of scores of Harry and David Sympathy baskets, and the incredible pain and loneliness she endured. Most of this book only takes her through the first six months, but after the first year she was able to tell herself, “you have survived.” This book is not only a glimpse into her painful coming to terms, as it were, with her husband’s death, it’s also a warning to the rest of us to consider, before it happens, what we would do to take care of ourselves if someone we love and depend upon dies, and to let us get our papers in order while both people are there to make decisions.

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