Wednesday, 31 December 2008


The last morning of the old year.

A duvet of vaporous air is hiding the light. Its thick whiteness rolls down the hills and suffocates my garden, where the crunchy glitter of the frost rises to greet it.
It muffles sound. I am alone on a freezing, shifting white island.
The dog refuses to go out.

Obscurity: dingy, dull, dark and dim, says the Oxford Dictionary. I'm not happy with that. No year should end like that, nor new one begin.
Indefinite, remote from observation, unnoticed, humble, unexplained, it continues. Ah, that's more like it! I want my new year to be unexplained, and I imagine you do, too? Who would really wish to know what their future holds?
What would be the point of stepping out into an utter conviction of your own rightness; your right to happiness and prosperity and good health and all the other things we wish one another when we fall into the fountains in Trafalgar Square as Big Ben tolls the turning year (well, some of us do, anyway)? Where is the challenge in that? What an insufferable bore you would be by the end of 2009, and how your former friends would dread your company.

Equally, who could bear to step out into a year that they knew for certain held death and despair? Many of us will face this, but we do not do not know it yet, and so may hold on to hope; and that hope will temper despair with other, more positive emotions and make it bearable.

This is how a year should turn, from ending to beginning - obscure and unexplained, with promise and with hope.

Above that swirling duvet, the sun is shining. Underneath the sparkle of frost, the little verbena is quietly biding its time.

Happy and Obscure New Year to you all.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Winter of My Content.

Christmas Eve is a poignant day.

My husband left home on Christmas Eve three years ago to take some last-minute Christmas cards to friends, and never came back. His body lived for another ten months, but his mind did not. He and we never knew what had happened.

Despite this stark initial message, this is a story of hope and happiness, of growth and acceptance and rediscovery. It was a journey into the unknown for my husband, through the tortuous paths of brain damage, and for our sons and me in our attempts, if not to follow him, then to be alongside him in his confusion and distress.
We learned so much, all of us, about each other and ourselves.

I have always been proud of my sons (sometimes irritated, occasionally furious; always proud), but through the profound experiences we shared they became transformed before my eyes into wonderful adults: caring, thoughtful, funny, clever, hard-working, lovely people.
We grew, all of us.

Growth as a Senior Citizen is a challenge, and a challenge that I did not always wish to meet.
The creaking crystals in the knees were ignored as I forced myself out into the garden, come rain or shine. Never once did I feel anything other than refreshed and energised by having my hands in the soil. The stiffening fingers were also limbered up on the word-processor. I even learned to blog. My younger son gave me his old digital camera.
'Where's the manual?' I said. 'Teach me. Help me!'
'Stop fussing, Mum,' he said. 'Just do it!'
It was exactly what I had been saying about homework, a few years back.
Point taken!

I made new friends, and had the joy of being reunited with old ones. I discovered that I had resources and strengths that I had never drawn on before. I learned to be alone, without being lonely. I learned the immense value of solitude.

Now, as always, there is new growth in the garden. Invisible under the dark soil, things are stirring, reaching out to new life. Growth always happens when you are not looking for it.

I went out into the dark cold air of this winter morning, and the hellebores were in flower.
Christmas roses.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Working Relationship.

mm writes about the bleakness of winter, and the fragility of our over-developed lives. In the wet, cold darkness of the northern, recessional winter we fall prey to primitive fears. If that age-old market-place icon, Woolworths, can sink without much of a trace, so may we all. The gas may flutter in the pipes and die, the electricity snap off in an instant.

Here is my small answer, my measure of highly-prized independence, my puny fist raised in protest against darkness, bleakness, and the appalling behaviour of the gas supplier. My small stove.

It is dirty, it is gritty. It fills the room with a fine coating of ash, and when the wind is in a certain direction (south east), it may belch out clouds of smoke. The wind is seldom in the south east, and so it sits there, quietly glowing, the kettle simmering gently on its flat top.
I love this stove. It's Danish. The Danes really know about winters, and wood, and warmth. The stove burns wood, or smokeless fuel, or both. Its small air-intake dials respond to finger-tip control. It needs care and cleaning, ash-removal and soot-removal. Above all else it needs feeding at regular intervals.
I have wood in all shapes and sizes, from twigs to tree-trunks. I have fir-cones, dried cuttings from the vine, hanks of dried grasses.

During the summer, like the old European widow of folk lore that I am fast becoming, I go out gathering sticks and pine cones. I stack logs in my tidy woodstore. It is so basic, so primitive, so in tune with nature to stock up for the coming months in this way.
As the days grow colder I can warm up by cutting logs. I am hoping for a chain-saw for Christmas, as a concession to my advancing years. The smell, the texture of the logs, the skinned knuckles and aching back are all part of the primitive urge. My relationship with the stove is costly in terms of effort. What is the value of any relationship that does not cost effort?

In return for the effort I have warmth. I have a sense of achievement, and a type of security. I cannot run up huge bills without realising it. If I have fuel, I will use it. When it runs out I will keep warm by acquiring more.
If or when the gas and electricity supplies fail I can boil a kettle, heat soup, make toast.

Some of my friends think I'm mad, or at best eccentric. I rather think I'm not.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Reflection on the Arbitrary Quality of Life

In the Park the ducks get fed,
Kind people throw them bits of bread.
Oh, what a rotten stroke of luck,
To be hatched a pigeon, and not a duck!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Hoarding - the End of the Road.

But........hopefully the start of a new life in someone else's collection.

Once a week I work in a charity shop, sorting and pricing books. The books come in, some boxed, some in bags, or loosely tied with string. Maeve Binchy nestles next to Tolstoy, Thomas the Tank Engine lies down with P.D.James. Up the narrow stairs they go, into a holding bay, ready to be sorted by the handful of volunteers who also come in once a week or so.

We never know what we will find.

Sometimes there is a pattern. It looks as if someone has given up the linguistic struggle and a splitting carrier bag contains, 'Spanish in a Week', 'Teach Yourself Spanish', 'One Day Spanish', 'Basic Spanish in a Month','Beginners Spanish' and 'Conversational Spanish the Easy Way'. One hopes the holiday was a success.

The adult offspring have left home, and someone has finally cleared their rooms. There are two boxes of Ladybird books, and a great collection of hardback Enid Blytons. The Famous Five, apparently still parentless, are roaming the countryside, spying on suspicious-looking men, and being fed enormous cholesterol-loaded cream teas by friendly farmers' wives. Darrell and Mary-Lou are still being naughty in the dormitory at Mallory Towers School, while the early edition Noddy books remain a treasure house of political incorrectness.

Someone has had to sort out older treasures, perhaps from their parents' home, for in another box are some fifty-year old 'Boys' Book of Science' with many of the pictures crayonned in. The boys in these books wear knee-length grey shorts, white shirts, ties and pullovers, and when they go outside to do their experiments with string and baking powder, they wear their school caps with crests on the front. There are no girls in the science books.

There are sometimes bags full of Mills and Boon Romantic Fiction. We, the volunteer sorters, like Mills and Boon books. They are small, lightweight, easy to handle and can all be put on one shelf for collectors, without having to classify them by author. They can all be priced at 45p. Easy peasy.

Less easy are the big books of car maintenance for out-dated cars, the faded cookery books featuring prawn cocktail and Black Forest gateau, craft books full of ponchos and tam o' shanters in orange and lilac acrylic (see 'Beth' for more ideas) and town guides full of lovely photographs and twenty year old street plans. Collectors' items possibly - but where are the collectors?

More often there is no pattern, but each bag and box gives evidence of a life. A passing interest in Feng Shui and flower arranging, and a more extensive interest in thrillers and real-life murders. Can these co-exist? Perhaps this bagful indicates the end of a relationship.
Another box contains gardening books, especially about the cultivation of vegetables, several cartoon books about cats, including 'Feng Shui for Cats' which should really have been in the previous collection, and a clutch of historical romances. A more harmonious life, I like to think.
Then there is the disconcerting bag full of books about weaponery, which is not as disconcerting as the small man in the anorak who comes in looking specifically for such books.
'Have you got anything on martial arts weapons?' he says. 'Nunchaku and kamas and that?'
I ask if he would like to leave a contact number, so that we can tell him if something on nunchaku turns up. He prefers not to leave a contact number.

There is always a lovely assortment of children's books in this shop, fiction and non-fiction, all at pocket-money prices. Whenever I'm in the shop, filling shelves, I point children and their parents to the books. Much, much too often they smile politely at me and then drift across to the video and DVD collections. To the Disney shelf.

Have a look at 'Zhoen's' thoughts on Princesses, and mourn with us.

I do not give up on the hope that every book that has once enriched a life may go on to do its work again.
Sorting takes a long time. You can see why.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Significant Shed

This was my husband's place - a space into which I seldom ventured, and was never invited. He built the whole sizeable structure almost entirely from reclaimed materials. Then he filled it with matchboxes full of meticulously sorted nails and screws, nuts and bolts. He loved those nutty chocolates that come in clear plastic boxes, because he could use the boxes for storing washers and curtain fittings. He had biscuit tins containing old locks and keys. He had a desk, two filing cabinets, an office chair, a radio, an electric kettle. He also had - far more than I had ever realised - a substantial range of expensive power tools.

Nothing was thrown away. Old plastic tubing, once used in a long-vanished aquarium, was kept there in case it might come in handy again one day. Old towels, which I had relegated to the recycling bag, were rescued, folded and stored in the pigeon holes because, again, they just might come in handy.

The shed is a place that defies logic to the female mind. Who needs a biscuit tin full of old locks which no longer work? Who needs twenty seven different lengths of string stored in a box labelled, 'String - Assorted Lengths', and a tottering pile of 'New Scientist' magazines dating back twenty years? I think only a man could answer this sort of question.

My husband defended his territory, suspecting, quite wrongly, that I might attempt to have a clear-out. He even had a lock on the door and hid the key. If I needed a hammer I was told, 'Leave it to me, I'll see to it.' It was implied that women could not use hammers, could probably not even tell a hammer from a bradawl. It was clearly stated that the contents of the shed were sacrosanct, that I would not be able to understand their significance. That is perfectly true, and I believe most men would agree with him.

I would never have attempted to clear-out the shed. My husband died two years ago, and I have still not done it. Sometimes I go in there and look, in a bemused sort of way, and remember. Sometimes I go and get a hammer, and use it efficiently. Widows can do things that wives can't. I can use a bradawl, too, and some of the power-tools, but I have not taken possession of anything, and I feel uneasy, somehow, making free with things that are not mine.

We have a summer-house, and a garden tool store, both part of the same building, and both built by my husband from reclaimed materials. I would not dream of calling either of them a shed. The summerhouse and the garden store are bisexual.
But sheds are for men.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Disposable Dogs

Here is my dog, (thank you 'mm' ).

To appreciate my dog you must go for personality, rather than looks.

She looks a lot better than she did a year ago, when she came to live here. A year ago she had very little hair, she was covered in scabs, and had been so heavily used for breeding that her undercarriage was almost touching the ground.
She was found wandering in the cold, and was taken here, to 'W.A.R.S'.
She's a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a breed I specifically did not want because of their unfortunate reputation.

Animal Rescue Shelters, W.A.R.S. especially, are full of Staffies. Ben, the manager of W.A.R.S. is enthusiastic about the breed. Look at how many he has in rescue, waiting for new homes, at the moment. Staffies who end up at Ben's place are very lucky. Some Shelters won't take them in at all.
Staffies are disposable dogs. They are bred in large numbers, sold for high prices, sometimes used for appalling purposes, and may be thrown out when they have served their purpose.

I did not want a Staffie. They are street dogs, paraded in studded collars by young men with tattoos and baseball caps. They are not dogs for respectable old widows. Poodles, Yorkies, Cavaliers are dogs for old ladies.

So, of course, I ended up with a Staffie. I was doing a bit of dog-walking at the Rescue, to stop me having another dog. Tessa, on reception, rang me: "We have this dear old dog, in a bad way, so much in need of a home."
"Tell me about her," I said.
"She's a Staffie."
"No, absolutely not!" I said, and within four days she had moved in.

The personality shines through. The hair has grown back, the under-carriage has tightened up - and so has mine, thanks to regular exercise. Every time we go out, someone stops us for a talk, mainly to her, but they tend to involve me as well.

She's had a year with me, to recover from whatever horrors she had to face when she was made homeless, and to get me organised into her way of thinking.
Now, hopefully, she's going to start doing a bit of work for 'Pets as Therapy'. She'll enjoy it. She loves everyone. She probably still loves the people who used her and then disposed of her.

Staffies are like that.
(She's been described by a friend as, 'typically late 18th century - mahogany veneer on cabriole legs.' A very classy old bitch. Thank you,'Beth' for the photograph.)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Rough Justice?

A few weeks ago I was woken in the early hours of the morning by loud banging and crashing. Loud, invasive noises which made no sense.

The adrenaline kicked in immediately.
I thought there were intruders in the house, and I forgot that I had a telephone beside the bed. I did the thing you are not supposed to do -especially when you're a lady of a certain age, or more, living alone.

I came downstairs.
I put on the light in the glass porch, trying to make sense of what was happening, thinking to identify who ever was crashing around my house.
I stepped into the porch and unwittingly, stupidly, made myself into a target.

The glass shattered around me with a terrifying explosion. I heard jeers and laughter, coming from the garden. The force of the explosion was so great that I was convinced that I had been shot at.
I used the emergency number and said I thought someone was shooting at me, and that they were still in my garden.
The police were wonderful, and were with me within a very short space of time, as was a helicopter, equipped to catch criminals.

I was not being shot at.
Several neighbours and I were the victims of an attack by vandals, trespassing on the railway line at the bottom of our gardens, and hurling very large rocks at our roofs, windows, and at me, spot-lit in my own glass porch.

The police caught the vandals. They were apparently quite young. They wept and confessed and made many abject apologies. Several different police officers told me that they were basically 'nice young men', who were ashamed and sorry.
I am a sceptical old lady. I said I guessed much of the sorrow and embarrassment was connected with being caught.
How cynical I am!

They came before the magistrates the other day.
They all pleaded 'Not Guilty', so now we have to come to Court.
I received a call from the Crown Prosecution Witness Service.
I have to remain available to go to Court, too. I must not make any appointments for the next few weeks.

I do not want to see the people who attacked my house and my person in a totally unprovoked and violent manner in the middle of the night.
I don't want them to see me.
I have no wish to be involved in any sort of Court proceedings.
They have damaged my ability to sleep properly at night, and to feel safe in my own home once darkness falls.
They have done enough.
I have paid the bills for the repairs of glass and roof slates.
I want absolutely nothing more to do with them.

Who is being punished, I wonder?
It feels like me.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Blooming Britain.

Here is part of my garden in the summer. Today it still looks green, but if you walk on the lawn the water will squelch into your shoes. You will need to wear something warm and water-proof, and your hands will turn blue with cold if you try to do any proper gardening.

Today I sat in a Town Council Committee room. The rain was crashing against the sky-light and streaming down the windows. We all kept our coats on because (hopefully as part of the Council's economic and green policies) the heating was off. I have absolutely no objection to wearing a coat indoors. It's part of my economic and green policy, too. We were plenty warm enough, in that Council Chamber. What was keeping us all warm was mental energy and (in most cases) enthusiasm.

I felt deeply British, deeply patriotic, honoured to be there. To be sitting in a cold room on a dank November day discussing, with some passion, next summer's floral schemes for our town's part in 'Britain in Bloom'. It's the stuff of Rule Britannia, the spirit of Elgar. It's what (once) made Britain great.
It's also pretty competitive!

We were not just discussing the colour schemes, of course. It's much more about involving people. Involving schools and youth clubs, Retirement Homes and the local hospital. About all of us picking up the litter, lovingly tending the town's hanging baskets, making the station look welcoming.

We forgot the rain and the cold. We could see our town glowing with care and pride. We could see happy visitors relaxing in sunny parks, admiring the jewel-glow of the flower beds (we will not be sure about the colours until the next meeting). We saw colour and beauty and warmth and productivity.
Best of all, we saw communities coming together.

What a way to spend a November morning.
If we're not careful we'll be inviting each other into our sheds next!

(Mine is just behind that squareish looking bush (it's a camellia) if anyone is interested.)

Sunday, 2 November 2008


This squirrel was sabotaging a squirrel-proof feeder in my garden.
He or she and his/her friends and family had previously trashed four squirrel-proof feeders. Look at the smile on its little face! They know they can win, every time.
I had not realised that squirrels smile until I saw this photograph, taken last year by my nephew, 'pohanginapete' on one of his all-too-rare visits to England.

The smile on the face of the squirrel raises some interesting thoughts.

My husband and I spent several years creating a wild-life garden. We entered a competition run by a national newspaper to find 'The Wildlife Garden of the Year'. We were glad we didn't win, because the first prize was £1,000 worth of plants, and our garden was already full of them (as were all the other competing wildlife gardens, I'm sure).
What the competition required us to do was to keep a detailed record of all the forms of wildlife visiting our small suburban garden for a twelve month period. This was the really valuable part of the exercise. We were amazed and gratified by the results.
The bird-life was richer and more varied that we had realised, the insects were wonderful. We had a grass-snake zig-zagging across the pond, hedgehogs mating with the most indiscreet noise and fuss beside the dustbins, and badgers at the bottom of the garden.
It was idyllic.

Then we had other things, as the word spread among the wild-life, and the food-chain extended upwards.
For several years we had free-range bantams trotting around; dear little characterful creatures. The buzzards found out about them, as did the foxes.
The birds flung their food around, and the rats moved in. The squirrels wrecked the feeders. Rabbits ate the new shoots in the herbaceous beds. A heron systematically emptied the pond of fish. Crows and jackdaws raided the bird-table in yelling hoards, driving smaller birds away. A sparrow hawk swept in regularly, picking its appropriately named sparrow snack from the bird-table without pausing in its flight.
There are infrequent but well-documented sightings of Big Cats in the area.

Where does a wild-life garden end? Should it ever contain squirrel-proof feeders, rat-traps, anti-heron netting, sonic devices to keep moles out of the lawn and bird-feeders that allow some to feed, but exclude others ?
When you invite wild-life in to your patch, encourage it, feed it, provide it with nesting boxes and little houses and nesting materials - can you then say, 'I'll have you, and you, but not you'?

The smile on the face of the squirrel is similar to that on the face of 'pohanginapete' as he studiously photographed the rats and the squirrels, rather than the honeysuckle, in which direction I was pointing him. We took him up on the hills. Did he photograph the panoramic views? No. He lay face down, lens trained on a particularly succulent orange and grey slug. What a lesson in total acceptance of the wholeness, the fragile interdependence of wildlife!
Beauty, appreciation and understanding is in the eye of the beholder. Squirrels continue to smile. They are safe in the garden (they have their own special feeder now, but still prefer bird-food) as are the herons and crows. The Big Cats are waiting in the wings.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Just Murmuring.

For many years now I have been a most inadequate and shame-faced Oblate of 'Stanbrook Abbey'. An Oblate is someone affiliated to a monastery and its community, and who tries to live according to the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict.

I struggle.
I struggle with many things, but I firmly believe that the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict offers wonderful guidance on attempting to keep some sort of balance in life.

Saint Benedict did not like 'murmuring'.
It sounds all right, doesn't it? Quiet and peaceful? Saying things very quietly that you're not really prepared to say out-loud? But the trouble with mumuring is that it, by its very nature, goes on and on. A continuous low-level disturbance to peace.
Murmuring is likely to be otherwise called moaning, grumbling, complaining, worrying, nagging and, as my sons would say, 'banging on and on'.....which is what mothers do, of course.

Saint Benedict liked peace, but he knew it was not easily attained. You have to struggle very hard; you have to work on it, discarding grudges, trying to be positive, trying to be honest and straight-forward and to hang on to some sort of vestige of another ancient concept called 'purity of heart'. You have to be remarkably self-disciplined, and you must have other, positive types of reflection, action and thought to fill the void which will inevitably be left by not murmuring. No one ever said it was easy - especially Saint Benedict- but you at least have to try!

Living alone should be peaceful. For the first time in my life I am free of the demands and restraints of work. The dog and I can do what we like. I can wear my dressing gown in the garden at ten in the morning. I can read all night (if I can stay awake). I can go for a walk, dig out some bind-weed, run up the phone bill with long conversations with my long-suffering friends .... do anything or nothing. But what do I so often do?
I murmur.

Internal, solitary murmuring is just as destructive as vocalised, social murmuring.
'What if the pension fund collapses? What if I fall downstairs in the middle of the night? Have I got mice behind the fridge? What did he mean, when he said that? Should I take cash out of the Bank and hide it under the mattress? Can I pay the next gas bill? Am I becoming introspective? Oh no! Am I?''
Banging on and on - the small, relentless, damaging voice of disquiet.

Saint Benedict said, 'Do not murmur for any reason whatever', and he was right, because people do not change, and it was as completely pointless in the 5th century as it is in the 21st.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Love Letters

I mourn their demise.
Instant, entertaining, sometimes almost unthinking contact by e-mail or mobile phone is useful, but it cannot replace the gentle, measured, thought-filled exchange of letters, on paper, in an envelope. An envelope which says, 'Private - this is between the two of us'. An envelope which may be carried and held and opened again and again, and which could, in the old days, even be kept overnight under the pillow.

I love letters.
I have none from my sons. I have funny and touching cards, lots of e-mails, telephone contact and sometimes we manage to meet. I'm not sure I would recognise their hand-writing. Can they do joined-up writing yet?
My husband and I wrote long and frequent letters before we married, and after his death I re-read those we had kept.
It was not as I remembered. I was more nebulous (Oxford Dictionary: a clouded speck on the cornea, causing defective sight), he was more sensible: 'Where do you think you might have put the shed keys?'
After marriage our roles reversed. There are notes from him saying, 'Remember it's the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Antioch?' and from me saying, 'Please get two litres of semi-skimmed while you're at it.'

Old, old letters have resurrected people and times I thought lost forever.
There was a time when I worked in the Middle East. I wrote fairly regularly to my parents. There was no e-mail, and telephone contact was virtually impossible. After their deaths I found all my letters to them, carefully kept in their exotically stamped envelopes.
Reading them brought me face-to-face with myself, forty years ago, a kinder person than I realised, more protective of possibly anxious parents '...the weather is beautifully warm, and the skies are indigo...' when it was actually well over 40 degrees and the vultures were circling in a brassy sky.

It would take me then, as it still takes me now, several days to write a proper letter. Several days of thinking, drafting, altering, softening certain comments which seem hard on reflection, firming up others in an attempt not to obscure.
Love letters - all of them.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Just Crusing.

As pohanginapete thinks crusing is confusing, here is some more about Cruse, a UK based organisation which offers a range of support in all types of bereavements.

The origin of the term is Biblical. Elijah had been sent off into the desert, where the ravens brought him bread and meat morning and evening, until such time as he was sent off again, under Godly command, to find a widow to supply his needs. Accordingly he met the widow, out there gathering sticks, as widows do, and requested water in a jar....'Oh, and some bread while you're at it'. The widow explained to this stranger that she had only a small jar (a cruse) of oil and handful of flour, and a son to feed, but Elijah was having none of it.
'Go home and do as you're told,' he said. 'But first make me a cake out of that flour'.
And the widow did as she was told, as widows are supposed to do, and because of her diligence and obedience, the pot of oil and the jar of flour became inexhaustible. Elijah stayed on, and he and the widow and her son ate from the jars for some unspecified time. (The diet may actually have been better and more varied when the ravens were in charge.)

It's good to be inexhaustible, to spread the oil and flour as far as possible, and, of course, you don't have to be widowed to do it.
Lots of us do it all the time.
But for those who are bereaved (no matter how long ago), and whose supplies of oil and flour are in danger of running low, Cruse is there to help.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Learning to be a Widow.

It's a strange word, 'widow'.According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, it may be defined as a woman who has lost her husband through death, and not married again. A widow's 'cruse' is a supply that looks small, but proves inexhaustible. A widow's 'peak' is a growth of hair in the middle of the forehead, while 'widow's champagne' is one of the most expensive and exclusive brands, (only not in this house, where it's cava on a good day).
A widower is much more straight-foward. That is a man who has lost his wife through death, and has not remarried. Nothing about inexhaustible supplies, or odd hair patterning or champagne. Just loss and death. No one, as far as I know, has written an operetta called The Merry Widower.

It is essential to learn how to be a widow, and the first time that one is introduced as such, or addressed in written form as such, it comes as something of a shock. People may not know how to treat you, and you certainly don't know how to treat yourself.
To 'lose' one's husband implies a great deal of carelessness. I did not 'lose' him. I did not put him down somewhere with the car keys and promptly forget where he was.
He died.
It's better to say so.

When you meet me, or someone in my situation, please remember, I am still me.
Please don't avoid me because you are embarrassed and don't know what to say.
Say hello. That will do nicely.