The widows tended to be older than my mother by a decade or more. She had the edge on them, in terms of the time sheet, but these women were immigrant or first-generation Catholics, Italians mostly, who were lost without their husbands, not just emotionally: Some didn't know how to drive, most had never balanced a checkbook, none knew how to change a fuse. Still, what struck me was the way the women struggled so hard to get back to living, and how well they managed. The ones who weren't even trying were the men, the widowers, plainly compelled to attend the group by worried relatives. They were the tragic ones, spending their days at the cemetery, breaking down at the sight of the empty kitchen. They had no interest in life, and if someone had told them to drop dead, they would have been happy to oblige. I didn't even know how to rank them in the contest; they had quit before it started. I knew my father would have been more like them, without the taste or the talent to go on.
Most women are better at dealing with death, I think. Maybe it's because men often believe themselves to be independent, so the shock is overwhelming when they're proven wrong. Women tend to make the opposite mistake, dwelling on their needs more than their abilities, so the correction comes with a consolation prize. We were surprised when my mother suggested we quit the group, three or four weeks in. I don't know whether it made her feel better or worse, cheated or privileged. Had it worked already, or was it not worth it? We were our own group, getting bigger—my older brother was engaged. My mother proposed that we all take dancing lessons instead.