Widows and Woodpeckers…What’s the Connection?

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From the beginning, when I first became a widow, woodpeckers began looming large in my consciousness. Woodpeckers were my late husband’s favorite bird and began showing up around me almost immediately.  They were out back in my wooded back yard, they were in the front yard from time to time, they even followed me on vacation. They were around me so often that it became clear that someone was trying to tell me something! As I began to feel a calling to advocate for and help other widows, the calling was unmistakably strong. As one friend at the time said, “Mary Lee? Next time you’re talking to God…tell him you’re not deaf!”








I looked around for an icon, a touchstone for the work I was beginning on behalf of all widows. It needed to fit our circumstances and our spirits. It needed to be inspirational. It needed to be a woodpecker. Why you ask? Because when I researched the symbolic meaning of woodpeckers, here’s what I found. Woodpeckers represent:

  • Purpose

  • Persistence

  • Opportunity

  • Progress

  • Creativity

  • Communication


What do woodpeckers have to do with widows?


Purpose – Initially, almost all of us struggle with rediscovering and redefining our purpose. We re-examine all kinds of things, and chief among them is “why are we here?” It takes us a little time, but eventually, most of us find a new reason to get up every day and contribute to the world

Persistence – Every day after our loss requires persistence, sometimes at such a basic level as getting out of bed every day, getting dressed and deciding to tackle our day…one more time this day.

Opportunity – Our lives have been changed in most dramatic ways and without our consent. Those changes are awful. They are also beautifully charged full of opportunity. We, and we alone, get to decide how we will fashion our lives, define our lives going forward.

Progress –  We will make progress, day by day, whether we like it or not. There is no other choice.

Creativity – As widows, we are faced with so many challenges every day. From figuring out how to change a burned-out floodlight 12 feet up to determining how to preserve our financial resources to learning how to prepare meals without winding up with days worth of leftovers, we get creative. We have to.

Communication – No one has walked our exact path before. No one had the exact marriage, the exact relationship, the exact loss that we did. Those around us founder at how to help us. We learn to get better at communicating what we need, what we want, who we wish to become to people who love us and want to help but are clueless about how. We learn to communicate boundaries. We learn to communicate better as we establish new friendships.


It’s a brave new world and a brave new time to be a widow. Together I invite you to join me as we forge our path into this new year. Happy New Year!


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