“As long as I could remember, I wanted to be a writer.” Artis Henderson has found her voice. Her story will speak to all widows, interweaving her own experience with that of all women who lose their men, most especially those whose loss occurs in the youthful stage of life and love.
Henderson was a bit of a feminist and a freewheeler who took a junket to Paris while in college, trying to find her link to the Lost Generation and all that implied. But when she found a man, he was cut from different cloth. Kind, caring --- but conservative --- and a soldier, Miles was the man she didn’t know she needed, and began following him from camp to camp as a girlfriend and then a wife. It wasn’t always an easy existence; the pay was low and the conditions restrictive, but they were young and in love. When Miles was deployed to Iraq, she had no way of knowing that he would not come back, the only clue being a prescient dream he had had, that his helicopter would go down and he would float above it, watching it burn. It was a freak accident in which Miles and his fellow pilot were lost.
"Henderson makes no attempt to ennoble herself in her grief, but her account is honest and modest, offering no magic panacea for her ailment. Because of that, UNREMARRIED WIDOW is heroic in its own quiet way."
In military terminology, Henderson became “an unremarried widow” in her mid-20s.
The bulk of her memoir tells of coping with the “stunned sorrow” that hit her when she learned of Miles’s death and that has lingered over the intervening years. The circumstances suddenly and powerfully merged in her mind with a plane ride she took with her father at age five, and the traumatic crash that resulted in injuries to her and his death. As these memories filter in, she begins to understand and identify more with her mother, and maintains a connection with the widow of Miles’s fallen comrade.
As her life slowly unfolds with the acknowledgement that she is indeed alone, Henderson endures. She recalls that “people kept giving me space” --- aware that it’s what people do, yet not quite sure there ever would be enough space to contain her feelings. A poignant scene depicts her receipt of Miles’s possessions, two storage bins full of miscellany from his deployment, and his last letter, asking her to “live your life on earth to the max.”
The weeping war widow draped in black is part of the American heritage, from our founding to our future. Henderson makes no attempt to ennoble herself in her grief, but her account is honest and modest, offering no magic panacea for her ailment. Because of that, UNREMARRIED WIDOW is heroic in its own quiet way.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on January 17, 2014