Connecting With Other Widows Helps You

Widowed in 1992, Rachel Kodanaz shares the following:

Why is it that when we become widowed, we think we are the first person who has ever been widowed? We have a tendency to cocoon and not look around us to realize there are many others who have walked this horrendous walk before us. Our pain is so overwhelming we cannot imagine anyone could have survived.

The truth is there are thousands and thousands of us who have been widowed prematurely due to illness or a tragic event, leaving behind small children or unfulfilled retirement dreams. We are often told the grief journey is an individual journey and you must embrace it to help you grow and work through your unimaginable grief.

Our friends and family want us to “get better,” “put this behind us,” “move on” and “laugh again.” They suggest finding a counselor or a support group, rearranging a room in our home, going on a vacation, exploring a new hobby and learning to live without our spouse is the way for it to all go away. They tell us what we “should” do and not do and wonder why at the same time we feel distant towards them.

The truth is family and friends who provide immediate support and love after the loss are not necessarily the best help later in the journey. They can provide logistical support but they cannot understand how you feel, what you are going through and how to help you see the light again. While they think they are providing support, we feel they are “preaching” causing us to pull away emotionally and become critical. We feel no connection, which we desperately are looking for.

In reality, the best people to provide support are fellow widows who are walking a similar walk. They understand the daily challenges, they don’t try to fix anything and most importantly add levity and humor that would only be appropriate in the company of each other.

Paying-it-forward by providing love and support for the next stream of widows is a great way to continue to learn about your own grief while helping others. As the newly widow individuals provide their stories, you are available to provide encouragement and support while continuing on your own grief journey revisiting challenges you had when you were newly widowed. Most importantly, you provide hope for the new widow to continue down a hard and lonely journey.

Finding fellow widows is getting easier every day. With the Internet and smart phones ,we now have the opportunity to connect immediately in many different ways. In the past we often coined ourselves as “the widows trapped in suburbia;” now we can remain connected through blogs, chat rooms, Skype, radio broadcasts, Facebook and so much more.

Each of these tools provides an outlet for a widow to find one another at any given time of the day. They can read about how to deal with challenges, ideas of how to memorialize our loved one, how to react to birthdays, anniversaries and milestone events. While the advice is only an opinion, the source is from a “safe” place — a fellow widow who is walking a similar walk; one that you can trust and truly wants to help.

As a newly bereaved widow, following daily blog entries or participating in a grief chat on the internet provides you with an outlet to express yourself but also obtain input on how others can have a good day followed by multiple bad days. You can learn about how others are dealing with parenting, in-laws, financial issues and other challenges in a protected and understanding environment where you will not be judged by decisions or lack of ability to stay focused. Grieving the loss of a loved one is a process and many are involved to help you through the process.

As a more “seasoned” widow, providing input to a blog, chat room, articles and other material offers a ray of hope to the newly bereaved. Just like you look up to an older sister most of you life, looking up to a widow who has been walking the walk longer than you provides reassurance that you will make it through this horrible experience. There are numerous ways we can all help fellow widowers, the support will depend on time constraints, current emotional state and grief circumstances. The best gift you can provide is sharing your experience and becoming a mentor to a newly bereaved.

There are so many helpful topics that can start a conversation. When do I take off my wedding ring? How to deal with anger? How to deal with guilt? When and how do I clean out the closets? What do I do with my husband’s belongings? What should I expect of myself on the first year anniversary? What should I do for his birthday?

Asking these questions to fellow widows provides realistic feedback and a personal story to share with someone who really wants to listen. With the accessibility of the Internet the support does not need to be local. You can connect with another widows in a different city, state or country.

We all want to be connected to someone and when our spouses passed away we lost a connection that is so deep.

If you are a widow and would like to know how to connect with other widows, I will be happy to help you do that.

(Photo Credit: Huffington Post)

Press

“Press”


Lord, I admit it is hard to press on
when it seems what I desire most is behind me.
I long for the love of a man You’ve taken home.
A man You gave me, and then took away all too soon.

Like a horse with a bit, You guide me where I need to go.
But I can’t move ahead when I’m looking over my shoulder.
So I strain to look ahead, even if I’m not sure where we’re going.
I choose to follow Your lead because I know You.

Often, the road before me seems rough, even impassable.
And I’m not sure why You’ve chosen this path,
Yet, You are there, gently speaking words of encouragement.
And our relationship is all that I need.

So I press ahead, with my ears listening for your voice.
Knowing that all else will fade away, but You will never leave me.
I heard Your voice clearly in my love’s last word spoken,
He did not say, “look back” nor even, “remember.”  He said, “Press.”

That Universal Feeling

“Loneliness is a universal feeling.  I think it’s the God-hole inside of us.  God created us to have fellowship with Him, so we have a hunger inside, but we don’t always realize it’s a longing for God.  We look to others for fulfillment, like our parents, friends, boyfriends, or husbands, but people cannot meet our needs and expectations.  Only God can do that.  He is always with us.  We just don’t recognize His presence, because we aren’t looking.  God said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5).  

Sunni Jeffers/Rosemary for Remembrance

Without Jesus

(Photo Credit: Flickr)

“For we are God’s own handiwork, recreated in Christ Jesus, born anew  that we may do those good works which God predestined for us (taking paths that He prepared ahead of time), that we should walk in them (living the life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live).” Ephesians 2:10

If you would have told me before I got married that I would be a widow at age 57, it would have frightened me and I might not have taken that huge step to marry the love of my life.  For you see, I am not a risk taker.  Just think of all the wonderful things that I would have missed out on if I had known what the future held for us………knowing the love of a man who loved me unconditionally,  4 beautiful daughters and 4 wonderful sons-in-law who all truly love and serve the Lord with their whole hearts, 6 earthly grandchildren and 1 precious one in heaven, seeing God provide for us time after time after time and seeing firsthand the power of God in so many ways.

Without Jesus my husband and I would have never made it through those 5 ½ years after he received that horrible news that he was carrying something around in his body that would destroy him.  Without Jesus, we would not have been able to enjoy those last years together tucking away every good memory that came along so that later on I would have something to take out, carefully examine, and cherish.

Without Jesus Bob would not have been half the man that he was in those last weeks of his life showing me more courage and strength than I had ever seen when his body had been so very strong and full of life.  Without Jesus, he would not have been able  in his tears to focus by faith on Who was there with him and the promise of what glories were ahead.  Without Jesus, he would not have had that look of such peace on his face before and after he went to heaven.

Without Jesus I would not have been able to look at that ICU doctor after he told me that my husband’s heart had stopped and say, “It’s okay.  Let him go.  I KNOW where he is”.  Without Jesus I would not have in the midst of the shock of the very worst news in my life experienced the peace that passes all understanding .

Without Jesus I would not be able to get out of this bed every morning,  face my circumstances, and simply go on.

Without Jesus I would not have any comfort whatsoever.  I would not absolutely KNOW that my husband is in heaven and one day I will see him again.

Without Jesus, I do not know how a widow can survive.

Marvin Sapp sang this after his wife went to heaven.

My Tug of War

There are gifts in this place of widowhood.  That sounds ludicrous and totally ridiculous, but I think it might just possibly be true.  There’s the gift of having the chance of finding out who I really am as a person.  During all those years of being a wife and a mother, there simply wasn’t time for that.  I also didn’t find it something that I necessarily needed to do.  My focus was on being a cheerleader and other half for my husband and on teaching my daughters how to be the best women that they could be.  Who I was at that time was important to those precious ones in my family and that made it important to me.

But now I have hours on end of quiet that some days seem to stretch on endlessly.  There is much more stillness to my day.  It’s become a time where I can reflect and examine myself with a magnifying glass.  It’s a time to unearth those things that have needed dug up and rooted out for a very long time.

Because of that gift, there’s another gift that’s even more important.  It’s a gift that none of us would choose because what woman would want to have their greatest earthly gift – that gift of a wonderful husband – gone.  And if you had told me earlier in my grief journey that widowhood and this time in my life is a gift, I would have looked at you like you have two heads.  More than likely I would have run from you shaking my head as I yelled, “YOU don’t even BEGIN to have a CLUE what you are talking about!!!

Yet the light of truth is beginning to vaguely dawn and I’m starting to get a glimpse of it.  The problem is that I am so earthly minded and so small in my thinking that the idea of the trade off of my husband for intimacy with God looks like it is so totally and completely not worth it.  Not that it was a trade off because I did everything I knew to do to keep him here with me and had absolutely no control over whether he lived or died.

My finite mind tries to see an infinite God for who He really is, but as hard as I try, I fail.  I can’t even begin to grasp the awesomeness of God.

I’m too short-sighted to see that there is a much greater value in my personal relationship with God than there ever could have been in my relationship with my husband.  The very idea of that causes a rebellious spirit to rise up in me!  Yet, I know in that special place deep down in my heart that really knowing God is so much greater than any earthly relationship.  It’s a perfect relationship that can only get better and better if I bend my will to His and follow His plan.  I’m stubborn and like a two year old I stomp my foot because I want my way.  It’s an on-going daily battle that wouldn’t be a battle at all if I could only see everything as my husband can see it now.

Peace that PASSES Understanding

Pastor Jon Courson shares how at the age of 29 he lost his wife and a son in a car accident:

Two days later I tucked my three little children ages 1, 2, and 5 into bed.  I went out to our front room, sat on the couch, and said to God, “Why?! Lord, why?!”  It was not a fist shaking at God “WHY!!!”, but a heartfelt, deep grief “Why?!

The Lord spoke to me in such an absolute way that I knew it was the Lord .  HE  said, “Johnny, I have promised you a peace that passes understanding.  Haven’t I given that to you these past days?

I said, “Yes, Lord, You really have given me a peace that passes….I can’t explain it.  It’s just beyond….You have.”

And then HE said, “Johnny, never seek peace that comes FROM understanding.”  And I knew that was huge.  I wrote it down and I’ve talked about it over the years.

Never seek peace that comes from understanding.  And I understood inately if the Lord tried to give us a peace that comes FROM understanding by answering the “WHYS”, we would argue,  “Well, ok, but” or “What about this?” or “Why couldn’t You have done it this way?”  The Lord says, “I’m going to bypass your puny, limited, dinky little brain that you’ll just argue with me.  You’ll never get it anyway.  I’m going to give you a peace that PASSES understanding.  It’s gonna be in your heart.

I personally can say that when the ICU doctor walked into that ICU Conference Room the morning of November 10th, 2009,  and said to me, “As soon as we started the procedure, your husband’s heart stopped. We’ve been working on him for 15 minutes with no response“, I immediately for a few moments experienced that peace that PASSES understanding that I’d been reading about in scriptures all of my life.  And I knew that I was experiencing it because the very first words out of my mouth were, “It’s okay.  Let him go.  I KNOW where he is.”

Ten minutes later the nurse that had been with Bob when he died came to me and said, “I’ve seen a lot back here, but I want you to know that he had peace on his face when we told him what procedure we were going to do and he has such a look of peace on his face now.”

Am I willing to go God’s way only if God goes MY way?  Or am I willing to go God’s way trusting and believing it’s THE best way regardless of the loss of my husband and my identity as the wife of Bob Feathers?  Are you?

What is My Purpose Now?

My Sweet Grandchildren – Lincoln, Jacob, Cole, Elizabeth, Joel, and Levi

For awhile now I have been asking God what my purpose is now that I am no longer a wife.  Others have given me their opinion, but I wasn’t ready to hear it.  Recently God gave me part of the answer about that through a message by Charles Stanley and I want to share it with you because I believe that it is the purpose that all widows have whether they are a mother or a grandmother or neither.  How we live the rest of our lives is going to make an impact on anyone who knows us whether they are family members or not.

My main purpose as a widow is to develop a spiritual inheritance.  This is something that only I can do because there is no other person in this world like me.  No one else touches the lives of my family or those people that I come in contact with like I do.

This is what I heard in that message:

 The word “inheritance” is usually associated with material possessions, but there is another kind of legacy that’s even more valuable. Although it can’t be seen, counted, or measured, a spiritual inheritance is the most priceless gift you can pass on to your children and grandchildren (and others who know you). It is imparted over the course of a lifetime when adults use Godly words and display Godly actions. But remember, you cannot give what you do not have. This is why I am responsible for developing my own spiritual life first.

The apostle Timothy is a wonderful example of someone who was blessed with such a treasure. When he was young, his mother and grandmother shared their faith and knowledge of Scripture with him, and because of it, he had a firm foundation to stand on when he was called into ministry.

What are the components of a spiritual heritage?  What does it look like and what does it involve?  There are many spiritual treasures you can leave  that will have a lasting impact on lives. You can instill:

A. A desire to follow Jesus. Although you can’t pass on salvation, your desire for the Lord is contagious. When your children, grandchildren, or others around you experience the joy you feel when you talk about Christ, they’ll also become interested in Him. Their interest in Christ comes from watching and seeing that He is the center of your life.

B. A reverence for God’s Word. No other book in the world can match the Bible, and I have the responsibility to share it with my children, grandchildren, and others. Let them see me reading the Word so they know how important it is. Be sure to give them Bibles and read to them regularly. As your children and grandchildren grow, challenge them to search God’s Word for answers.

C. An understanding of how to listen to the Lord. The most important thing in life is to learn how to listen to God. He can’t be perceived by our physical senses, so children and grandchildren must be taught to listen with their spirits. Instruct them to ask the Lord for direction and wait for answers. When they think the Lord has spoken, help them discern if what they heard is consistent with God’s Word.

D. A pattern of obedience. Since kids follow our examples more easily than our words, the best way to teach obedience is by modeling it. This means we must let them know when our actions are done out of submission to God. It also requires we admit mistakes and explain why it was wrong for us not to follow the Lord.

E. A faith that conquers the trials of life. Although we want to protect children from adult worries, we also need to let them know some of our struggles so they can see how we trust the Lord in hard times.

F. A forgiving heart. Like all the other benefits of a spiritual heritage, this difficult one must be taught by example. Our children and grandchildren as well as others need to witness a forgiving response from us when we’re wronged. Christ holds nothing against us, so we don’t have a right to do it either.

G. An orderly lifestyle. One of our jobs as parents is to provide disciplined lives for our children. Since they learn how to handle responsibilities from us, it is important that we demonstrate self-control in our actions, finances, diets, and schedules.  This self-control extends out to others in our lives, too.

H. A servant’s spirit. A willingness to serve others is a valuable quality that will benefit not only our children and our grandchildren but anyone that we come in contact with even on a daily basis. It’s up to us as adults to model this characteristic for them by unselfishly putting others first so that others will learn to imitate our servant-hearted behaviors.

I. A generous hand. Every child enters this world bent away from God. As parents, we have a responsibility to teach them generosity because it won’t come naturally. When they see us freely sharing our money, possessions, and time, they’ll understand the joy of giving and how God is always faithful to provide for those who are charitable towards others (Luke 6:38)

J. Sincere love.  Everyone needs to feel loved. As they experience our genuine, unconditional affection, they’ll learn to give it to others. This kind of devotion is not demonstrated by the things we give them but by pouring our lives into theirs.

 We provide a spiritual inheritance to others in three ways. Most importantly, we do so by the pattern of our own lives. Secondly, we pass on the principles that govern our lives to them. That’s why it’s our responsibility to explain the Biblical truths we believe and follow. And finally, we provide a spiritual legacy through the power of our words as we interact daily with others.

I am the only picture of God not only to my family, but to others.  What kind of spiritual inheritance am I going to leave behind?

Life in a Holding Pattern

In her book Believe, Jennifer Silvera describes how she felt in those early months after the loss of her husband Shawn:

“With plenty of doubts swirling around, it’s hard to believe in anything after loss.  Shawn’s death was never part of my plan for a perfect life, but a picture can quickly be altered.  Before Shawn’s death, I was naive and trusting.  In an instant, everything changed.

In the months following the funeral I was plagued by uncertainty, mistrust, and doubt.  At times I’d be suddenly overcome by the reality that Shawn was actually dead, that I’d never see him again on this earth.  I questioned what I’d always believed in, and wondered if this gray place I’d entered would be my permanent residence.

My body continued operating, but without my total self present.  It’s as if my spirit recoiled from the horrible reality.  Some might call this a state of denial, but it’s something deeper.  It’s life in a holding pattern–the body appears to function while beneath the surface the spirit continues to grieve.  This was my new state of normal, and I was frightened by this completely unknown territory.

My believe in the reality of my loss, of my perspectives, and of God became riddled with doubt.  Forty-five days after Shawn died, I wrote in my journal,

I am at a loss of how to express myself.  At moments during the day I try to suppress how I feel in order to continue with the tasks at hand.  In order to function in my role as a mom with young children, I merely endure the slow passing of minutes.

I give myself pep talks throughout the day, trying to convince myself that if I live without feeling too deeply, I will be able to survive.  I rationalize that if I am able to get through a moment without extreme sensation–neither high joy nor low sadness–and can maintain that even level where all feelings are dull or numb, then I will be able to carry on.

Life has taken on a new color: gray.  at present, I don’t see in color.  Nothing is bright or exuberant.  Nothing stands out.  Nothing engages me.  I feel disconnected.

At odd moments I am stabbed all over again that this is a real story, happening to real people, a real mom, and a real baby boy and a real baby girl.  And how I respond to this story will make all the difference in not only my life, but theirs as well.  This is a heavy responsibility.  Especially on days that I would rather cover up my head with my favorite down comforter and ignore the day altogether.

Being a mom doesn’t allow me this luxury.  In the famous words of my grandmother, ‘Life goes on.” Today those words offer little comfort.  The words may be truthful, but I am nowhere near facing the truth.  I still have secret wishes that Shawn will come home tonight.

(Photo Credit: contrailscience.com)

Heaven’s Cheerleaders

(Pictured: My parents with our four daughters)

One of the things that has kept me moving forward in my grief journey has been the thoughts not only of what my husband and dad would say, but also what my Mom would say to me if she were here on earth.

I am the oldest of four children and the only daughter.  After I grew up and got married, things changed between Mom and I and we became very close.  She was the only hint of a sister that I ever had.

Mama was one of those people who never had an enemy.  She absolutely loved people and derived energy just being around others.  She had this warm personality that just took you in and loved on you.  Playing a joke on you was not unusual and laughter was a huge part of her life.  Whenever I had a question about something, Mama always turned my thoughts to the Bible to find the answer.  She was a woman of prayer and believed strongly that it was a powerful force and that all things do work together for good to those who love God.

If Mama was here for me to talk to now, she would say, “You can do it, Candy!  You’re going to make it through this because God hasn’t turned His back on you.  He has promised that He will always be with you and never leave you.  Don’t give up!  You CAN do this!”  My husband and my dad are right beside her cheering me on with their hands raised high and their excited faces lit up with pure joy yelling, “Keep going!!!  It’s worth it ALL!”

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama!  Thank you for all the wonderful memories,  the legacy of faith and stick-to-it-tiveness that you left me.  I miss you dearly, but I’ll see you in heaven someday!

Reality Bricks

Jennifer Silvera found that finding something to look forward to helped her to be able to keep moving forward in her grief journey.  She decided to do something for her husband, to show how much she loved him, and to show people just what a remarkable person he was.   Jim was an underwater photographer who had some photographs that were stunningly professional even though he had never had any formal training.  His dream had always been to have his photographs published in his favorite dive magazine.   So, she began a crusade to accomplish that for him and succeeded.

Other ways a widow can create something to look forward to is to perhaps plan a trip to get away every few months just for a change of scenery.  Yes, your grief goes with you, but I find that a change of scenery somehow breathes a bit of hope into my life even during those times when I felt the most hopeless.

If you are a younger widow with children at home and cannot plan a trip away, then plan a few hours or even a day out with a friend to give you something to look forward to.

Another idea to give you something to look forward to is to create a collage of your husband’s life for yourself and have copies made for those in your family who would truly appreciate it.

Even though you plan something to look forward to, the reality bricks will still hit and this is what Jennifer says about that:

“They were cement blocks falling from the sky and crashing on my head.  I might be doing pretty good, considering the cards I’d been dealt, then something would trigger the knowledge that, indeed, life as I knew it was over.

I call them ‘reality bricks,’ and they still fall.  Even though I had added a powerful new took to my therapeutic skill set — something to look forward to — I also learned that reality would always find a way to slap me upside the head as a reminder of September 11th and the end of life as I knew it.  Some of the bricks came from other people.  Some came by themselves, unbidden.  Some came daily.  Some still do.  Such as:

*  Waking up every morning and realizing that this is not a dream.  For months, I would cry myself to sleep, then upon waking, just as a sliver of consciousness forced its way in, even though my eyes were still closed — BAM! — a reality brick dropped like an anvil.  Then came the thought suddenly like a knife at my throat — It really happened.  He’s not lying next to me.  He never will be again.  He is dead.  So I’d cry myself awake.  The days began and ended with tears.  The mornings were always — and still are — the worst part of my day.  I still have to force myself to get out of bed each morning, dreading the fact that I must face yet another day without Jim.

*  Every holiday, birthday, and anniversary.  It’s the classic ‘Empty Chair Syndrome.’  The fact is made blatantly obvious by the occasion that someone is missing, someone who is supposed to be there but will never arrive.

*  Reading Jim’s obituary in the newspaper.  When I wrote it, I was definitely on mental autopilot.  I simply summed up his thirty-eight years into four paragraphs, scanned a decent photo of him, and sent it to the newspaper via cyberspace, as if I was sending someone a recipe or something.  It just wasn’t real until I saw it in the newspaper a few days later.  Seeing it in print on the daily page dedicated to World Trade Center victims, that’s when the brick hit — and it was a big one.

*  Shopping for greeting cards.  I never realized I’d never buy another husband card again, nor would I ever again receive a wife card.

*  Opening his closet or dresser drawers.  At the time of this writing, I avoid doing either.  and if I absolutely have to go in there, I have a meltdown.  Right there on the spot.  A big part of this is what I call ‘olfactory overload.’  His clothes still smell like him, so if I open Jim’s closet, I get slammed with a scent that triggers a nerve in my brain, and that nerve triggers another nerve, which fools me into thinking — for a split second — that Jim is there in the room with me.  Then that nerve triggers the reality nerve, and the whole thing goes downhill from there with bricks flying everywhere.

*  The day I took my last birth control pill.  I won’t forget that one.  I stayed on The Pill for a few months after September 11th because I knew that if I stopped them immediately, the combination of my unstable emotional state and my roller coaster estrogen would send me into hormonal anarchy.  So I continued to take my pill every morning, and that reality brick hurt so badly each time I swallowed it.  Here I go again, taking a pill for which I now have absolutely no use whatsoever.  I will never again make love to my husband.”

Jennifer Sands/A TEMPERED FAITH