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October 1977 · Vol. 6 No. 4 · pp. 29–30 

Book Review

Alone: A Widow's Search for Joy

Katie Funk Wiebe. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1976. 302 pages.

Reviewed by Luetta Reimer

Katie Funk Wiebe has accomplished an almost impossible task in her book, Alone. She has combined autobiography, history, inspiration, and practical “how-to” in an easily readable style. If the mixture is not always balanced, the sheer potency of the combination is ample compensation.

Personal experiences are always interesting, and most readers will be able to empathize with this author’s search for joy—chiefly because her quest is so firmly rooted in day to day living experiences. She seeks for answers in her own heart rather than in esoteric philosophies or social institutions. She discovers insights through friendly neighbors or her own children, and finds strength in her Christian heritage and biblical faith.

The experience of being a widow is just one of the factors which helped Katie Wiebe find her identity as a person, but it is the dominant subject of this book. The humiliating status of widows in church and society is carefully documented and presented so convincingly that every reader must cringe with remorse as he sees his own stereotypes of widows exposed. I was somewhat amused by the many different metaphors Wiebe uses to describe widowhood: She felt, she said, “like a plant uprooted,” “like a tiny raft adrift on a great ocean,” and “like yesterday’s tossed salad left uncovered in the noonday sun.”

While such metaphors create a vivid picture of the widow’s plight, it was the heavy use of this device which distracted me during the reading of Alone. Some images were effective, but others were so startling that they diverted attention from the topic to themselves. The woman who is dropped from social circles after her husband’s death “will feel as if someone has lopped off her hands and feet with a giant butcher knife and left her immobile,” and the grieving widow may feel “half-shredded by a giant sausage machine.” But my favorite is the description of many Christians investigating faith healing “with the hesitance of someone skinny-dipping in the creek on a nippy spring day.” Who can see past the skinny-dippers to the Christians?

But such petty criticism is inconsequential to the total achievement of Alone. The book offers something for every reader; it is clearly not a book just for widows, and certainly it is of importance and interest to men as well as to women. Wiebe uses her own experience {30} as a starting point but never suggests that her experience is universal. Her practical suggestions on how to combat self-pity, loneliness, and social stigma are an outgrowth of much research and interaction with other women who are “alone.” Frequently she mentions by title and author books which have helped her through difficulty. These sources may be a tremendous asset to readers facing similar problems.

A quick review of the table of contents may suggest that Wiebe has tried to cover too many subjects. Indeed, she not only tells her life story, but also discusses questions like how to respond when God does not heal, how to comfort or relate to an unmarried woman, how to accept the aging process, how to prepare for widowhood, the role of widows from Bible times to the present, and the second class citizenship too often accepted by women in the church. With the exception of Chapter 14, “Widowhood in Church and Society,” these topics are all so intricately related that each is essential to an understanding of the others.

Wiebe consistently asserts that the Christian’s full potential can be reached only through the discovery and acceptance of personal identity. Each woman is an individual with unique talents and gifts, and needs to develop herself first of all as a person, rather than as a female playing a socially defined role. When her own role changed through her husband’s death, Katie says she saw two options:

I could forfeit my life, taking the easy way out by accepting the role the church expected of a woman without a husband—inactive, subdued, content with social contacts among other widows. Or I could take my new existence seriously and remain an individual, doing what I thought God wanted of me as a person. I opted for the latter. . . . As a widow, I had to accept this truth: Faithfulness to God is more important than faithfulness to tradition, or to earlier maps one has made for one’s life.

The results of that decision are reflected in Christine Wiebe’s coda to her mother’s book, “The Year Daddy Died.” In this genuinely moving account of a child’s encounter with death, Christine describes the “metamorphosis” she saw take place in her mother’s life. It is a beautiful tribute to a woman who, faced with seeming tragedy, found the grace to create a new life and now has found the courage to share her struggles and successes with others through this book.

Luetta Reimer
Assistant Professor of English
Pacific College, Fresno

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