The Uncommon Widow

After the death of her husband when she was 31, Catherine Tidd ’98 turned to blogging—and found herself the voice of the recently widowed.

There is sadness, and then there is tragedy. Sadness is watching an elderly parent or loved one go, the long goodbye of dementia or cancer. Tragedy is spending your 11th wedding anniversary planning your husband’s funeral.

Catherine Tidd ’98 knows tragedy.

After her husband’s accident on his way to work on that July morning in 2007, Brad was supposed to be OK. The nurses said he’d be OK. A dislocated knee, some rib damage—he was battered but not broken.

And then he fell asleep, and wouldn’t wake up. It was, Tidd was later told, a stroke, and the doctors had no idea what had happened. He would be paralyzed on his left side, probably confined to a wheelchair. And then his brain began swelling uncontrollably. And then he died, leaving behind three small children, all under the age of 6.

That is tragedy. And over time, it fundamentally changed Tidd. Not in a morose way, though: “I think that once this happens to you, you start paying attention to your journey a lot more,” she says. “You see a lot of things so much clearer than you did before.”

She started looking for answers, for something to help her understand what she was feeling, the feelings she didn’t know she was supposed to have, the things she wanted to do but wasn’t sure were appropriate. (When is it OK to date? To have sex? To redecorate your house? To embrace retail therapy?) The books she found didn’t apply to her; they were clinical, dry, and detached from the everyday—targeted at older widows, not someone in her early 30s. And as someone who has always used humor to cope with difficult situations, she had a hard time finding something that would help her laugh through her grief. 

And so Tidd started a blog. She had a degree in English, and writing became her outlet. She started posting her blog on Facebook, and all over the world, other widows began to take notice. They read and commented on social media—often in the early morning hours, because they couldn’t sleep. She knew that feeling. It got to the point that her little blog wasn’t so little, attracting upward of 400,000 visitors a month.

So she turned her blog into a website, theWiddahood.com—a social media community for widows and widowers, who, like her, didn’t know what to do or how to feel. It became a place where they could interact with each other without feeling judged, all with the sort of privacy and anonymity that Facebook disallows. There are posts about celebrating the holidays alone, dealing with anniversaries (a common thread), and “widow brain”—the fog that overcomes women who are working through their grief and adjusting to their new lives.

And this month, she turned that website into a book, Confessions of a Mediocre Widow: Or, How I Lost My Husband and My Sanity.

“When I started writing the book,” Tidd says, “it was mainly because it was what I wanted.” As a new widow, she had little use for clinical expositions on the stages of grief. She wanted something conversational, something that spoke to her “warped sense of humor,” something readable, something honest. And she figured if that’s what she wanted, there were other people out there probably looking for the same thing. Because things didn’t go like they do in the movies, where the widow collapses into a ball of unquenchable grief—at least, not with her. As she writes in the book about seeing Brad for the first time after she was given the news of his impending death:

It scared me that I didn’t feel like crying. To be honest, I felt like a cold, heartless bitch, and if I felt that way, I couldn’t imagine how my attitude was being perceived. And so I walked into Brad’s room with many eyes watching me and I somewhat threw myself across his chest.

“Oh Brad,” I forced a sob, “Oh, sweetie. Don’t go!”

And for some reason, I felt like that little display made the people around me feel a little better.

That’s one lesson of Confessions: There’s no one right way to experience tragedy. But the lesson Tidd took from writing is not to let life get in the way of what you want to accomplish, the person you want to be. “That has been the most eye-opening to me, ” she says. “Would I have ever thought to write a book [before Brad’s death]? Probably not. To create this community? I would have self-doubted myself into not doing it. You kinda pay more attention to where you want to be.”

The same goes today for her personal life. The kids are older, and the family is doing well. As far as her personal life goes, “I have dated. I’m not remarried. That’s me paying attention to where I want to be.”