Natso Beridze-Gabaidze, 33, Batumi
I’d like to start telling my story by stating that I am a feminist. It hasn’t been long since I identified myself as a feminist. My surname attests to that – my surname and that of my diseased husband speak of my being a feminist and also the evolution I’ve been through. I have often been asked, especially recently, if I would change my surname, to which I answer: “No”. Back then, when we registered our marriage, changing of the surname seemed like a great adventure and I did not think there was anything wrong with it. Today, I wouldn’t do the same, obviously, but now it is part of my identity and history so I am not going to erase it.
I’d like to use this platform to talk about my experience as a widow. This may be important for other women, because I think that widowed women are a special social group.
My husband lost his life in an accident and due to a delayed emergency care at the Goderdzi Ski Resort in January this year. Temuri had never been ill and I had never thought that I would lose him some day. So I was not prepared either emotionally or financially.
Rather than talking about emotions, I’d like to focus on the attitudes that my new experience brought into my life. My personality as an independent woman had been shaping for years. Temuri had never restricted my independence while we lived together. After his death I found out that it was not only husband that I had lost. I lost my independence in a sense that I became a person who had to be pitied and urged to be strong every single time, because the only thing that was expected from me was weakness. It was hard for me to face the fact that along with losing Temuri I was losing my identity – in the eyes of other people.
I’ll give you an example: Temuri and I lived together with our child and I wanted us to remain in that house after his death. Everyone around me considered this was a bad idea. They expected me to move to my or Temuri’s parents’ home. One neighbor would keep asking me: “So, you are here most of the time?”
During our first three meeting I politely answered: “yes”. And when I was asked the same for the fourth time, I replied in an irritated tone: “Yes, I am here most of the time, because this is where I live.” Had I died, my husband would never have been seen as weak and helpless who cannot live alone. For men, even in mourning, expectations and requirements are different. Temuri might have received offers of help in childcare – something that I will never receive, because it is my job anyway. He would have received many calls offering help in cooking a meal or cleaning the house, etc. While in my case the main problem was that it was not “entirely proper” for a widowed woman to live alone.
Another critical issue is getting rid of black clothes. I know women who have worn black for a long time and I do not judge them. For some, wearing black may be a relief and they, as part of this culture, may think it is respect to the memory of the diseased. I believe dressing a widowed woman in black is a tool of controlling women. In our culture, widowed women wear black for the longest period of time, only exceeded by mourning mothers. A widow clad in black is wearing a uniform, which restricts her, reminds her that if she deviates from the cultural norms, she will be punished. I took off black very soon. To say that I was not subject to criticism, would not be true. However, it is important that criticism did not come from my family. They did not interfere in what I wore or how it would affect my reputation. “Apparently she did not love him very much”, “She’s not that hurt”, “He’s the one to be pitied, she’s fine. She’ll get married and take care of herself.” – such judgment mostly came from the people who were complete outsiders, and had nothing to do with my life.
If the contrary had happened, Temuri would have been advised that he had to get married soon, because the child needed a mother. A woman will NOT be told that in our culture. Besides, I am at such an age that I will not be spared – told it is time to stop mourning and live on. My observation is that only very young girls are allowed to take off black and re-marry after a certain period of time. This permission comes from someone else, obviously. In my case, my unfavorable age is coupled with the fact that I have a son. In this culture, a boy’s mother must not get married and raise her son with another man.
Because it such attitudes, my friends advised me to wear black a little longer. I refused to follow their advice, because I was sure I would be frowned upon anyway when I took off black – after one year or three years, it didn’t matter. People need to get used to the idea that black is not the only way of showing respect. And, generally, my experience has taught me that if you stay alive, you need to live on. Widowed women are deprived of this right in our culture. Unlike many other women, I am very fortunate that my family acknowledge my freedom. Most of these women, after being widowed, stay with the parents of their husband or their own parents, where they are devoid of any private space.
I am well aware of and prepared for the next stage, which is full control of my sexuality. I have to live under constant scrutiny – who I go out with, who I talk with… I have never lived behind locked doors and I am certainly not going to live like that today, because I need to communicate with people now more than ever. My son needs human relationships, that is why, we can often be found in crowded places, where people are having fun. My conduct is definitely going to be judged as badly as my clothes. If we draw another comparison with a widowed man, his mingling with crowd, drinking and having fun would be attributed to his trying to cope with sorrow. Nobody is ever going to say the same about me, if I’m seen drinking. Right?
After Temuri’s death, my friends advised me to get away from here if I wanted to keep living. I could not have a private life free of control. On the one hand, I agree that it is like stepping on red-hot coals and, if not impossible, it is very difficult to keep walking. However, on the other hand, I don’t think running away and hiding is a way out. By staying, we give other people power to fight.
Expectations to sexuality of a widowed woman is very much like that of a virgin girl, i.e. she, just like a virgin, should not and must not have sex. If a virgin girl is obliged “to keep virginity” for her future man, I had a similar obligation to my past and my son. I try to see the lighter side of things but the truth is that it is very stressful to live in the environment where, along with losing your beloved, you have to deal with further restricted freedom.
If you are not mourning ostentatiously, they may easily decide that you don’t care. They can’t wait to see you falling apart. This is especially obvious when it comes to children. They keep telling me that Sandro is young so he will get over it more easily. Those who say it know nothing about child psychology. He, certainly, has his way of expressing sorrow but it does not mean that since he’s young he cannot feel anything. My main objective was to make sure that Sandro knew he was not going to lose me too.
I am often asked if I will make a real man out of my son for Temuri’s sake – a real man who will stand up for himself. They seem to be sorry for Sandro that he is left with only his mother. I reply that Temuri had always wanted a kind and hardworking son, and I am going to honor his wish. And by the way, I always stand up for myself too.”
(By Ida Bakhturidze)