A talk with a "Bad Widow"
Grieving with Resilience and Resolve
The Road to Rediscovery is about reflecting on life’s lessons to learn and grow from them. And, of course, take it to the next level to help others who are struggling through dark times.
Having lost her husband to pancreatic cancer four years ago, Alison Pena has mourned and grieved, and then made a choice to rise back in resilience. Also known as the "Bad Widow", she’s a perfect storm of compassion, resilience, purpose, and resolve.
Here's an excerpt of the episode transcript. You can hear the full episode clicking the link above.
Alison Pena: Thank you so much. I’m really glad to be here with you.
Aubrey: We reciprocate, and we’re glad that you’re here. First off, let’s talk about the name, Bad Widow. What does it mean, and where did it come from?
Alison: I get so much pushback on this name. After my husband died, what I discovered is that people had no idea how to interact with or deal with someone who had just suffered a loss like mine. They would say dumb things; they would do dumb things. They had a lot of ideas about how I should be acting and feeling, and the time it should take me to get back to work, get back to connecting with people, get back to dating. Everybody else was imposing their notions about what they would do in my circumstance on me.
So, Bad Widow came about because there were all these assumptions I was running into, and I’m like, “I just need to blow this stuff up.” It’s not working.
Aubrey: Yeah. You have to shake things up. Right?
Alison: Yes. Shake things up and reeducate people. Actually, help people support someone who has suffered a loss in a way that works for them because what would happen is, someone would say something or do something, and it would be wrong or hurtful. Not that they meant it to be hurtful, but they just didn’t know what they were doing, and I would flare up in anger, and they would step back, or they would leave. None of this is good.
Aubrey: Yeah, you’re right. It’s not. You’re right.
Alison: So, I thought, “If I’m having these problems, other people like me are too. So, I’m going to start changing it up. I’m going to see what my real experience is, and then I’m going to start moving through it and sharing the journey along the way.
Aubrey: In a way, is it fair to say that you intended to – and not just for the sake of doing it, but also for you to move forward. Breaking the barriers of the assumed or the expected personas or someone who has lost a loved one, a widow or a widower, and saying, “This should not be the expected behavior of someone who has lost a loved one for the rest of their lives.” Right?
Alison: Right. Exactly. For me, it was, I was in so much pain. I was literally swimming in grief, especially that first year, and I thought, this pain has got to serve some purpose other than just being horrible.
Aubrey: Ah, sure. It’s got to, and you have found a way to turn that around and find out what that purpose is. Man! That is extraordinary. That is extraordinary! I want to go back in time and share with us. How did you and your husband meet and establish this life together?
Alison: It was pretty funny, actually. I was at a point in my life – it was 1992. I was working at Merrill Lynch as a financial consultant. Dave was an artist, and he had just had an operation on his ear, and his mom said, “Go on this church retreat, and you can relax, and do a painting, or play some tennis, or whatever.” I was part of the leadership of this group, singles in their 20s and 30s.
I was fed up with my whole entire life. I was hating my job; I was hating my roommate; I was done with men. Done! I went up in this car with these friends. This girlfriend said to me, “What you need in your life is a serious relationship.” I looked at her, and I said, “Have you not listened to me complain for the last two hours? You missed this.”
Aubrey: “And you’re telling me I need this?”
Alison: Exactly. There was this new guy there, and she said, “He’s kind of cute. You should go and talk to him. I looked over and [growls]. Then, he was getting hit on by all different women and somewhat odd women. So, I thought, “I’ll go over, and I’ll talk to him, and maybe it will be romantic, or fun, or whatever. There was a dock. We were by the Delaware Water Gap.
I said, “Why don’t we go sit on the dock and talk?” He said, “Oh, wow. I’m really looking forward to getting to bed early.” I thought, “Well, this is going to be very short-lived here.” It was funny. We went to the dock, and there were these two brothers, and they were fishing for eel for their grandmother. It was not romantic, but it was hilarious. Hilarious.
They caught an eel, and David said, “Can I hold it?” So, he takes the eel, and the eel is wiggling, and the guy goes, “Do you know what it’s doing?” Dave said, “No.” You know – serious city boy. The brother said, “He’s wiggling your hand up to his mouth so he can bite it.” Literally, his hand was near it.
Aubrey: It was near his hand. Right?
Alison: It was right by the teeth at that point.
Aubrey: Oh, my goodness. He told him just in time.
Alison: Just in time. So, there was no romance, but we were just so enjoying each other and enjoying each other’s company. We went into one of the houses, and we were talking and talking and talking and talking, making out. Around 5:00 in the morning, I said, “We really should go to sleep.” I had small groups to lead the next morning.
Aubrey: Yeah, so it was later than expected, especially with his response saying he was hoping to get to bed early. Right?
Alison: Much later. He said to me, and this is the moment where I knew I would marry him. He said, “Or we could go down and lie on the dock and watch the sunrise.”
Aubrey: Very nice.
Alison: And it was like a bell went off in my head. Now, it took him considerably longer to figure out that I was the one.
Aubrey: Wow. So how long were you married? Twenty or 25 years?
Alison: We were together three weeks short of 25 years, and we missed our 20th wedding anniversary by three weeks...
About the author
My name is Aubrey Johnson, and I am the Creator and Host of the Road to Rediscovery Podcast!
My show is about reflecting on life lessons and challenges, to learn and grow, and uplift others who are struggling through dark times.