Pati Redmond never took down her Christmas tree.
The ornament laden, beribboned symbol of holiday cheer remained on full display in the living room of Redmond’s Frederick home recently.
“It looked nice, and I liked it, so I thought, ‘why not?’” Redmond, 77, explained as she stroked a branch, adding. “It’s just me here, now.”
Leaving her Christmas tree up year-round was one perk Redmond has enjoyed since becoming a widow. Her husband, Robert Redmond, died in 2007. She has learned to relish her independence, to celebrates the accomplishment of cutting her 1.25-acre lawn with the John Deere mower she refers to as “John Dear,” to no longer feel obligated to cook three meals per day or watch sports on TV.
But learning to live on her own wasn’t always so easy, particularly in the height of her grief after Robert’s death.
As an avid reader and researcher, Redmond eagerly looked for a book or set of guidelines to help her, for “information to help me become a single person again after a 33-year marriage to my very best friend” as she wrote in the introduction to her newly published book, “We the Widows.”
The 196-page work represents the culmination of a decade-long declaration to give to other widows what she looked for but couldn’t find. Written during the course of a three-month stint at Wilderness Presidential Resort in Fredericksburg, Virginia, last summer, the self-published book was released in May.
Redmond marveled that none of the five reviews posted to the Amazon page were from widows, though one was a widower.
She acknowledged the wider applicability of certain sections addressing how to deal with grief and stress, but emphasized that her target readership remained older widows like herself.
“I kept saying that I don’t really care if I sell a lot,” Redmond explained. “I just want to help some widows.”
The book is largely advice-driven, filled with checklists and reminders on topics ranging from arranging funeral services to managing finances, self-care and maintenance work. Physical labor and outdoor work in particular tend to be skills that older women struggle with once losing their husbands, according to Linda Beckman, bereavement coordinator for Hospice of Frederick County.
Hospice offers several grief groups, including one specifically for spouses. Across all types of grief groups, widows tend to be the most prevalent participants, according to Beckman, who echoed Redmond’s observation about the need for more support programs and guidance.
Widows comprise 35 percent of the 17,460 female residents over 65 in Frederick County, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2016 American Community Survey estimates. In contrast, 11.4 percent of the 13,839 male residents over 65 were widowers, according to the data.
And while women might be more likely to seek support through grief groups or counseling, as Beckman observed, it is widowers who tend to remarry more often, according to Redmond’s book. Her stance on the prospect of her own remarriage is clear as she urges readers to consider the ways in which a new man would “cramp your style,” naming as examples more laundry and another toothbrush in the bathroom.
Redmond intentionally sprinkled in jokes and personal anecdotes that gave levity to the otherwise matter-of-fact and sometimes serious content. She named a chapter devoted to inspirational quotes, poems and other philosophical pondering she found comforting as one of her favorite parts of the book.
“It really wasn’t difficult,” Redmond said of the writing. “I just sat down and did it.”
She gestured to a journal beside her, its pages full of scribbled notes from her decade of research: interviews with two dozen other widows, academic and medical research, clipped magazine articles and relevant tip sheets.
What was hard, she admitted, were some of the memories of her husband the research and writing forced to the forefront. Her grief has lessened with time, but it will never fully disappear, nor will she ever stop missing her husband, she said.
She held out a chain with two gold hearts that circled her neck, the same necklace depicted on the cover of her book.
The larger heart was her husband’s wedding ring, the smaller her own.
“I say my heart fits inside his,” Redmond said of the necklace. “I always wear it, and he’s always with me.”
That said, Redmond refuted the idea that widowhood was her identity.
“It’s a part of who I am. But I am much more than that,” she said, citing her roles as a mother and grandmother, a Christian, a traveler, a friend, an interviewer for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, and now, a published author.
And with one book on the shelf, she already envisioned several more, including a collection of the stories of the more than 100 veterans she has interviewed and a version of a children’s book she wrote for her daughter.