They may have discussed marriage or been engaged.

They may have been life partners because they could not formalize a legal arrangement.

They may have made a heart contract.

They may have been together months or decades; lived together or separately.


And then the one that is beloved dies.

These grieving people often express a different kind of grief. Without a state endorsed ceremony and license, the world of widows and widowers appears to them to be a gated community, walled by two pieces of paper – a wedding license and a death certificate. And it is their perception that this gated community keeps them out.

Despite the derivations, one common thread remains – that the word “widow” or “widower” could be challenged if they were to define themselves thus. But there is no existing word for them.

Many have reported that they feel their grief is devalued. Others have lost shared resources, wealth, and relationships. Some have even lost access to children.

The term “widow” and “widower” is code. It stands for the level of personal disruption and hardship a death creates, as well as the measure of the bond and heartache. Since all terms are slippery, the term “widow” or “widower” never will tease out, for example, the surviving partner that secretly wished the partner dead or the spouse that had an affair and was about to leave the marriage only to be slowed by illness or death.

I undertook study of the word “widow” in it's historical context in search of better understanding. As with all research projects, you begin with an intuitive hunch that may or may not bear out. In this case, there are multiple points of interest to bring to the table.

To know what the word widow meant historically, you have to start with what marriage meant historically.

Marriage in Western civilization has a circuitous history, chiefly influenced by Roman, Hebrew, and Germanic cultures.

Marriage is, unfortunately, not easily summarized. From an anthropological perspective, it appears that all cultures view marriage as an absolute necessity. All cultures pressure healthy persons to marry and bear children. Many cultures have gone so far as to have laws that penalized the unmarried and childless.

While generalities are hard to distill, throughout history marriage consisted of a personal agreement that did not involve government or religion until very recently. Marriage was generally conducted as business arrangement between families.

These soft boundaries in relation to marriage also resulted in soft boundaries in relation to widowhood.

The Judeo-Christian influence on our modern society is undeniable. It is interesting to reconstruct our early ancestors understanding of widowhood.

Greek term translated "widow" (chera) means "bereft" and conveys a sense of suffering loss or being left alone. The term chera is not limited to a woman whose husband has died. It is understood as a woman that was left desolate, forsaken, abandoned and empty.


The Septuagint is the Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, and was written in stages between the 3rd and 2nd Centuries BCE in Alexandria.

The Septuagint's treatment of 2 Samuel 20 includes a story about David taking ten women as his concubines. He put them in ward, fed them, but never had sexual relations or saw them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living each day in “widowhood” - the root of “widow” being the greek word chera. This passage demonstrates a completely different understanding of the state of “widowhood” – one where a husband was actually alive. The scriptures often use the term as to be left "desolate" or "alone". At this time in history, being alone was an especially difficult position because community was everything. There was no honorable employment for women, neither was there government assistance.

Since the outlook for women alone was bleak, the early Christian church began to propose that it was a virtue to assist them. The emerging Christian ethos can be seen in James 1:27, where the treatment of widows was a test through which believers demonstrated the genuineness of their faith.

Chera - “widowhood” - was not limited to a husband's death, nor was it limited by religious or legal constructs around the partnership. A widow could be a woman who lost her partner through divorce, desertion, imprisonment, or especially death. If she marries or remarries, she is no longer a “widow” because she is no longer bereft.

Caring for such a person was seen as a privilege and a manifestation of God's compassion.



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Little Things in Life by Tim Week

Their Story, Them Seeing by Puddle of Infinity

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Thank you all musicians for your lovely and generous work.

Kim Gosney