In Print: a widow's guide to survival | Calendar | Chicago Reader

In Print: a widow's guide to survival 

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A few days before her husband's funeral in 1994, Lula Fulson called her credit card company to inform them of his death. "The lady said, 'I'm so sorry, if there's anything you need, let me know.' Twenty minutes later she called me back and said they'd canceled the credit card, so don't use it. I would have to reapply."

Fulson reapplied for the card, which had been issued through her credit union, and was rejected. Angry, she wrote a letter "giving them a piece of my mind," and eventually received an apology and a new card. "I didn't know that they were still doing that to women until it happened to me. Even though I have a master's degree, I had become a second-class citizen. I wonder about the women who don't have the ability to sit down and write an effective letter, especially after something like that. You are already feeling sad and lost and that's like the ultimate kick in the face."

The episode ended up in Fulson's self-published book, Memoirs of a Widow, an engaging assemblage of personal anecdotes that address self-reliance, guilt, regret, and loneliness, combined with poems culled from her journal and practical advice she found in magazines and newspapers.

Fulson, who lives in Robbins and has four grown children, did not originally set out to write a book. A friend had given her a journal after Larry, her husband of 40 years, died of a heart attack. At first she was skeptical about writing in it. "But when I'd try to talk to people about my pain, they didn't want to hear about it. They want you to lie and say you're fine.

"When things upset me I would just write in my journal about it. Writing about it and going to the support group, I found that other widows and widowers had the same feelings and problems I had. I thought, 'I could write a book about this and it could help other people who were experiencing pain.'"

Though she was the only African-American in her support group, Fulson says the experience "literally saved my life. You still feel a certain amount of loneliness within the group because of the racial barrier, but it's still better than nothing....Some African-Americans think that if you need a support group, then you are a weak Christian. Ninety-five percent feel that you should pray about it and that it should be fine."

Nevertheless, Fulson has gotten a lot of positive feedback from African-Americans who have read the book, which is sold at two local bookstores, African American Images, 1909 W. 95th, and Afri-Ware, 948 Lake in Oak Park. Despite the subject matter, Fulson's take on life is often humorous--especially her examination of relations between the sexes, in which she received a crash course.

"You would think that I would be very desirable to men. Wrong! They are simply not romantically interested in me. They only want to be my friend, unless they are already married," she writes.

There are also several lists. One consists of questions to ask a potential mate, such as whether or not he likes to travel. ("Maybe he's a recluse.") Fulson and her students at South Suburban College--where she teaches job skills--also created a list of things that women don't like about men, which include "foot odor, thinking they're great lovers when drunk," and their inability to "remember any place to take you, but to bed."

Fulson has taken her own advice to keep busy. She has three jobs, reads her poetry in public, works out, golfs, goes camping by herself, and attends church three times a week. She also spends a lot of time promoting her book. She has two male friends she goes out with, though she says there's no one with long-term potential.

Looking back, Fulson says she leaped back into the dating market too soon. "It was not so that I could replace Larry, but I was trying to fill that void, that emptiness and loneliness and pain after you'd been with someone 40 years. I was very vulnerable and the men I was going out with perhaps saw that, and some people take advantage of that."

She sent a copy of her book to one of those men. When she ran into him a few weeks later, "he said that I made him seem like not a nice person," she says. "I said that it wasn't my intention to make him look bad. I didn't tell him that he was right, that he was not a nice person." --Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jula Fulson photo by Dan Machnik; uncredited wedding portraits.


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