While decorating the Christmas tree, Lara found a place for the special ornament she made for her family this year—a red plush picture frame decorated with little hearts and snowflakes.
Displayed inside it was a photograph of a woman, a woman who is not her.
The woman has big eyes, a strong chin and, as Lara describes, a “million-dollar smile.” Lara knows her face well—there are images of her throughout the house she shares with her husband, Dave, and their four kids.
Photographs placed in the rooms of the three oldest children.
Snapshots tucked in binders on a bookcase in her bedroom. Though she never met her, Lara lives with the presence of this woman, Charlotte, who died by suicide in 2011.
“Otherwise, when grieving happens, I don’t exist.” Lara shares her thoughts and frustrations in an online support group for women like her—the wives and girlfriends of widowers, or WOWs and GOWs as they call themselves.
In this safe, private community, they’ve forged a unique sisterhood, aware that their chosen role can be a difficult one for the outside world to comprehend.
These are women who know what it’s like to experience profound love with a man who may also—maybe even always—love another woman.
Women who are swimming in a massive gray area with very few resources to guide them.
Women immersed in a world of grief that is not their own. “It’s so conflicting, it makes my head spin,” says Rachel, a 42-year-old professional who has been dating a widower for three years.
As a human, you want to show compassion and sensitivity, she explains.