Good Grief: How A Trans Woman Found Herself In The Most Unusual Sisterhood Of All

Good Grief: How A Trans Woman Found Herself In The Most Unusual Sisterhood Of All

As the big, burly ex-marine took me in his arms and pulled me close, I felt… something.

Not his hand, moving slowly, up my skirt—although that did distract me for a moment.

It was time. It didn’t slow down, like it does in the movies. Instead, it rewound, pulling my concentration away from my corner barstool in the little Irish pub where we nine widows met regularly for wine, cocktails and conversation.

And more wine.

I could sense the presence of Jackie—the only one left after many, many rounds—turning her eyes (her whole body, really) away from me and my tattooed “suitor,” Max. This hunk of a man who sidled up to two moms at the bar to chat us up and maybe have a little fun.

And as my mind rode a tilt-a-whirl of memories, I accepted that’s what I was after, too: an escape, a thrill ride, a temporary diversion from my grief.

Ten months. It’d been that long since my life changed. Since I lost my wife, the love of my life for almost 20 years, to cancer. Not long after that loss, I found something I’d never had in all my years: genuine, goodhearted girlfriends.

Circle of holding hands from directly above

Jackie, Sam, Karen, Cait, Erynn, Michele, Debbie and Laura—and me: The nine of us met every other week at a local support group. Some of us had been going for months, other for years.

But it wasn’t long after I joined that we soon branched out, having emptied the tank of all our stories of struggle, crying through the many milestones together and lamenting why this was our cross to bear.

Two sad women hugging and comforting each other

We felt as if we had graduated and wanted to find a venue that better fit our needs. Most, but not all of us, were weary of having to repeatedly reintroduce ourselves and re-trigger our grief as new widows joined the group.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s immensely helpful to have those who’ve been around the block share their experience and guide those of us new to this odd, horrible sisterhood.

Because sooner or later friends and family step back, unsure what to say or how to help when we tell them, “Yes, it’s still hard.”

Hard because we’re so used to having our other half to share the load, to make the memories, and to hug away the hurt.

Shadow of baby next to woman crying with head in hands

There are holes in our hearts that will never be filled. Our job as single moms is to be everything to our kids—in my case two boys and a girl—and show them how to learn to live with a hole in their hearts, too.

No widow’s story is like another’s—especially mine, I guess.

We are all lone survivors of accidents, fatal illnesses, suicides, overdoses, or hearts that fail. But as much as wish to give back, there comes a time each of us has decided we need to practice self-care.

And that includes going out.

Women Talking Over Coffee

It was in June at a noisy restaurant in Manchester, Connecticut, that my cisgender sister-widows finally felt comfortable to ask me about being transgender. It was my first-ever GNO (girls night out), so I was nervous but they didn’t once make me uncomfortable. We talked, we gossiped, we laughed!

I hadn’t mentioned being trans the first time I attended the widows group, for fear of being rejected.

“Sam had said to me, ‘There’s something different about her,’” Karen confessed. We laughed about it, but I made a confession, too: I had worried about how they might react.

Before I joined, one of the grief counselors warned me that there might be resistance to me joining the group. I asked why, expecting her to bring up the “trans” thing.

Broken Heart

Instead, she replied, “It’s just that, well, you said you two were separated, and that may not go over so well.”

I wanted to scream. Instead, I paused, maintaining eye contact with this usually kind woman.

“I am grieving,” I said in a soft tone, though I felt like screaming. “I loved as much as any one person can, and now I’m alone. Whatever else, isn’t that be something we can all relate to?”

As I hoped, my words resonated with her and I began attending the group the next week. We took turns telling our stories and, truth be told, we laughed more than we cried. But there were still plenty of tears. We bared our souls and found in our shared experience new friendships that evolved into girls-only outings to comedy clubs, concerts and even psychics.

And drinking and dancing at an Irish pub in Plainville.

Colored drawing of three pairs of shapely womens legs wearing heels, seen below yellow skirts.

“Wowww,” said Max, pulling his face from mine and letting his stubble rub against my smooth cheek. It was a sensation I wasn’t exactly familiar with, and it knocked me back into reality.

Meeting his eyes with mine, I whispered back. “Wow? Is that all you have to say?”

“Well, yeah,” said Max, quietly, looking at me with his beer goggles firmly affixed. “I guess it’s just that I’ve never kissed someone transgender before.”

“Oh? Really?” I said, straightening my back in my seat. I restrained myself from making a scene but glared at Jackie to my left.

Max leaned back in to deliver his second stupid statement of the evening. ““So, uh, you’ve had the surgery?”

And just like on that episode of Grey’s Anatomy when McDreamy died, I was done.

I stepped gently but deliberately from my stool, extricating my body from his hands and making some excuse about needing to use the ladies room.

In the film version of this scene, I imagine Jackie jumping off her seat, too, and giving him what for as we make our way to the bathroom—our heads held high, widow sisters forever!

But this is reality, and Jackie sat glued to her seat. Before I walked off I whispered in her ear, out of Max’s earshot, that I wanted to leave—and why.

But to my surprise, Jackie wasn’t budging. We are widows after all, and my disentanglement presented an opportunity.

“It’ll be fine,” she told me. “I can handle him.”

“Okay,” I replied.

Illustration.

I’d never had a wing woman before—nor lost one—so I wasn’t sure what the protocol was. so, I broke formation, took care of my business and made my exit. But not before asking the bartender to keep an eye on Mr. Grabby Hands as he made the moves on my friend.

Outside in my car I got ready to drive off but decided to wait for Jackie, instead, just in case.

After all, that’s what a widow sister does.


Note: Some names in this story have been changed to protect privacy.