“Where were the adults?”: A 2023 Perspective on 1983

A few beta readers for my upcoming book, An Obesity of Grief, have offered me a new perspective of the events that followed the death of my husband in 1983; a point of view I’d never considered, either while I was going through the worst of my grief or while I wrote the book.

“Where were the adults?” they asked. “Why did no one take care of you?”

A bit of background for those of you who are new to my story. My husband died in a tractor-train collision on a Tuesday morning in March 1983. He was 24, I was 19, and our daughter was 11-days old. I lived on a farm two-hundred miles away from my parents and siblings (ages 29, 27, 16 and 8), and they all came to see me as soon as they heard the news. The funeral was on Friday, and on Sunday, everyone went home. The following week, I learned from my husband’s family that I had three weeks to move off the farm.

The calendar I kept for the 11 days between the time Carlene was born and Bruce died (on the 22nd)

From their 2023 perspective, the beta readers said that if their child’s spouse died, and whether or not they had children, they would stay with them longer than five days. They would nurture and comfort and do all the Mom things their child needed for as long as necessary.

From a 1983 perspective, though, the way everything played out after the funeral seemed perfectly normal. My family had their own lives to get back to, and the farm was a working farm and I was not a farmer.

But I was an adult, and people treated me like an adult. (Well, for the most part. If you read my book, you’ll learn how certain decisions that should have been mine to make were made for me.)

Bruce’s parents and my parents were born in the 1920s and 1930s respectively. They were raised the same way they raised their children: grow them up to be responsible adults. And by god, that’s what they did, the best way they knew how. At 18, we were on our own (and out of the house). Sure, they helped out once in a while, but there was little in the way of coddling.

Considering the question, “Where were the adults?” I think that, today, more parents, siblings, and friends would stick around more than a few days after the funeral. They’d check in more often. Keep an eye out, comfort, listen, and allow more space and time for their loved one’s grief than was offered years ago. After all, what did we know about grief in 1983 other than it was something everyone went through at some point and got over, and in a reasonable amount of time.

Thankfully, our understanding of grief has grown, as has our capacity for compassion. Not everyone, but many more people now are willing to acknowledge and address another person’s sorrow, and do it in a more informed manner.

I wonder all the time what people will take away from my book. Along with offering hope that grief and love can live in the same space, I also hope readers will ask themselves, “How would I respond if my child/friend/sibling experienced that type of loss?” and offer an understanding nod to “the way things were” in 1983.

3 thoughts on ““Where were the adults?”: A 2023 Perspective on 1983

  1. This makes my heart sad. And I hadn’t even thought of it when I read your book, I was just focused on how you were getting by and accepting the culture in your two families at the time. I never thought about how I would have reacted had it been my daughter. I have, however, thought about some of the things my mother did to/about me that I wouldn’t dream of doing to any of my kids. They were of a generation, yes, but I am grateful that we have evolved past our parents in that regard.

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