A widow vs. the system

My late husband’s name is still in all their databases, forcing me to break the news to strangers over and over.

Illustration by Gracia Lam

IT STILL HAPPENS, AFTER ALL THIS TIME. It happened again today at the UPS office where I went to mail a package.

“Are you in our system?” asked the genial clerk.

He tapped some keys on the computer, and there it popped up, Franco’s name; he is in the system. My heart pounded out of my chest at seeing his name, and I found myself holding the edge of the counter.


“I’m sorry,” I told the clerk, “it’s hard for me. Could you please change the name to Gwen?”

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Last week I went to the optical shop with my prescription for a new pair of glasses. After I gave the optician my name, he opened his computer.

“Well, I can’t find anything under your name. You must have been here more than three years ago.”

“I really can’t remember exactly . . .”

“Here it is, Franco Romagnoli!”


“But he is dead.”

I can’t believe I said that. How could I do that, right there in that shop with other people around? Sometimes I feel as if I just cannot stand it anymore, Franco popping up in machines all over the place but not really there.

“He must have been here within three years because that’s how far back my computer files go,” said the optician, not responding to what I had said. Did he not hear me, is he just pretending he didn’t hear me, or is this moment too embarrassing for him?

“He died three years ago.” I think if I repeat this information he will react to what I am saying. “You should take him out of the computer and just put Gwen in his place.”

Then a few moments later comes a mumbled “I’m sorry.”


It takes a lot of courage to go to all those places and tell somebody that the Franco on their computers or bank statements or letters or magazines or bills is not here anymore. I am always having to tell people that Franco has died, then watching their lips as I know they are going to say: “Oh, I am so sorry.” Over and over again.

People have to say something, even though they may never have laid eyes on Franco. Even if it did happen three years ago, it isn’t their fault; how could they know? It is up to me, the widow, to tell them the news that breaks my heart to say. For them, it is a name on a form or a window on a computer. Unless this has ever happened to them: the unbearable feeling of losing someone you loved, someone so close to you that sometimes you think you are now only half a person.

I remember when I went to the bank to order more checks. I wanted to keep them the same, but the bank manager said he was sorry, I had to order checks with just my name on them. The account should be in my name only, too, and he would “be able to make that change in only a moment.” I waited in the chair while he called somebody up on the phone and told them to please delete the name Franco from the account. Hanging up, he said, “I have taken care of that for you, but it may take a while for the change to show up on the statements. It’s in the system, you see, so it takes time. I’m sorry about that.”

They are sorry, I think, not because he died but because they had to hear my words and then were put in the position of having to apologize.

As time goes on, I find I’m the one feeling sorry, sorry for having placed them in this uncomfortable position, sorry for them instead of for me.

Gwen Romagnoli is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to

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