Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we chat to writer and lecturer Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became bereaved?
For the past 32 years I have been a lecturer in Political Science at Queens College of the City University of New York. I obtained my Doctorate degree in 1992 and in 1995 I received a Fulbright scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to interview Israeli and Palestinian war widows and other bereaved women.
I was born and raised in Israel. Two years after becoming a war widow in the Arab-Israeli 1967 Six Day War, and a year after becoming an activist on behalf of other war widows, I arrived in the United States for a 2-year period, to work for my government. A year into my stay in New York City, I met the man I would marry four-and-a-half years after I had become a widow, and remained in New York. We have been married for 45 years. I have a daughter and two lovely grandchildren, ages 12 and 9.
When did you decide that you wanted to write about your experiences?
My own story was supposed to be a chapter in a book I was writing as a post-doctorate Fulbright scholar. The book was a compilation of the interviews I had conducted with my scholarship. Since the book was not published (it ended up as an article in a prestigious academic journal and as a chapter in another book), I decided to write my own memoir.
You state that it took you around seven years to write ‘War Widow’. How difficult was it for you to revisit these experiences?
It was very difficult when I began. I took breaks. At one point I had a strange, almost “out of body “experience. I felt as if I was writing about another women, wondering what else could have happened to the heroine of the story, since “she” has had too many woeful experiences, one following the other. But “she” endured, and made a new life for “herself.”
You have said you want to give voice to the ‘young widows who face double standards in the societies in which they live’. Are widows and widowers given enough support in society?
I am not sure about the support widows and widowers get in society at large. I think they do get support from their extended family and a close circle of friends, as many “friends” tend to disappear, or worse. In my experience widows must live up to higher standards than widowers do, expected to be more virtuous than the latter.On top of it, young widows are often being treated like merchandise. My fallen husband’s best friend raped me, and another wanted to “date” me. Both were married; their wives were my friends. There were other men, sugar daddies, who offered me a luxurious life if I agreed to be their mistress. Not only do these things not happen to widowers, but widows and other women who are victimized by men are often blamed for their own abuse.
How important has writing been for you in times of grief?
I began to write about my grief much later than the time I lost my husband. Instead, when I became a widow I painted incessantly. Two years after becoming a widow I was supposed to have an art show in honor of my fallen husband. But life took me to the United States before the show was to open.
How important do you feel it is for people to write about their experiences of bereavement?
I think that varies from person to person. Those who do not have the emotional strength to write about their experience of bereavement should opt for other forms of expressing themselves. As I have already mentioned, painting worked for me. Those who can handle the writing should do so at a comforting pace.
Can you share with us five things, which have helped you through your bereavement?
First was the comfort and understanding I received from my family. At the time of my husband’s death I was pregnant with our first child. Sadly, seeing my husband burnt beyond recognition was too much of a shock, not only mentally but also physically. I was hospitalized for a whole month trying to save my pregnancy, to no avail. Being surrounded by a loving family was crucial for me to go through that awful period.
The second thing was visiting my husband’s grave weekly. Only there I felt free to express my grief of losing both my husband and our unborn child. The third thing was going to work every day. Having to get up every morning, get dressed, be with people who cared, and having to concentrate on work helped. Fourth was expressing my grief through colors and brushes. Fifth was talking about my grief with only a few intimate friends, and yes, eating chocolate.
– What one book?
I do not recall one particular book that helped me during that period.
– What one activity?
Once again, painting.
– What one quote?
I do not recall any particular quote.
– What one piece of advice?
“Get out of the dark before it blinds you.”
– What one song/piece of music?
Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” Not because of its depth because there is none, but because it was our song.
Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft is author of the book ‘War Widow’.
To learn more about ZivaBakman-Flamhaft, visit her website.
This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.