When There’s No One to Listen

When you first lose your spouse, everyone rallies around you to comfort you and listen with eagerness to whatever you might have to say.  However, as time moves on, those very same people begin to find it uncomfortable when you continue to share all that you are feeling in your grief.  So, in order to make them feel better, you put on a mask as soon as you walk outside your door and even when you answer your phone.

There are those friend gems who do care and want to know how you are feeling, but they are very few and far between.  So, what can a widow do to keep from stuffing all of those emotions back inside and slamming the lid on them?  What can she do not to further complicate her grief?  Instead of running from her grief, how can she share those deepest parts of her heart?

Journaling……writing down all of those thoughts and things you want and need to express and say before you explode.

Why are so many of us afraid to do that?  One excuse may be that you’ve never done it before and you aren’t a writer.  That really doesn’t matter because after all, who else is going to read what  you write?  Journaling is for you and your eyes alone unless you decide to share your thoughts with someone else.

Ken Gire says, “When we journal, it’s like taking a Polaroid of some moment during the day that has caught our attention.  Only we do it with words instead of with film.  But like that film, what we have looked at often develops right before our very eyes as we’re writing, revealing things we hadn’t seen before.”

When we journal, we let down our hair and take off all of our masks.  We strip ourselves of all pretenses and get down to where the rubber meets the road.  And, in that process, we come before God as the real us.  Not the person that others want us to be – someone who is not hurting any longer, is finally happy and moving on with our lives.  No.  We are stripped bare of everything and are sharing our raw pain and shattered heart.

Journaling is a way, too, of reflecting back on our lives to see who we were and where we have been.  It helps us to see ourselves as we really are and enables us with God’s help to make any changes that need to be made.  Writing opens up our Pandora’s box and allows us to deal with all of those past issues, deep hurts and even anger that we’ve swept under the rug for perhaps years.  It’s a place where we can completely and fully empty ourselves out and then begin to heal.

Another reason we might be afraid to journal is because we are afraid to turn around and take a good look at not only ourselves but all of those people, places, and circumstances in our past.  We don’t want to look at ourselves in that full length mirror for any length of time nor even catch a glimpse of ourselves without those masks because we may not like what we see.  After all, we’ve worked so hard all of those years to be put on those masks and keep them on.

I have found that sharing my deepest thoughts and emotions on paper or in my case on my laptop is a place where God shows up because I am giving Him permission to show up.  When you get right down to it, there is no one who understands all of my pain and my grief like Jesus.  Others may try and yes, other widows do “get it”, but no one understands it completely like Jesus.  Not only does He understand, but journaling gives Him a chance to speak to my heart.

So, how do you begin?  I had never sat down and written anything personal in my life before my husband went to heaven.  At the suggestion of my christian psychologist, I began writing letters.  I wrote letters to the following:  my husband, God, from God to me, to my daughters, to my in-laws, from my husband to each of my daughters telling them what I thought he would have wanted to say before he died, to anyone who had hurt me, to grief, to anger, to depression, to anxiety………….and the list of emotions can go on and on, but you get the idea.  I cannot even begin to tell you how very healing this has been for me.

Maybe you would rather just sit down and write to no one or no one thing in particular.  That’s okay.  Just try writing something in order to channel out all of those feelings that are trapped inside of you just bursting at the seams to come out.  They need to come out in order for you to perhaps start moving forward and to keep moving forward.  Who knows?  Maybe one of these days someone else you know will become a widow and you will be able to look back over all that you have written so that you can share your journey with them.

I challenge you just to try it if God speaks to your heart and urges you to do so.  There’s just something about putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard and just letting it all out.  It’s a place of humility and release.

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Definition of a Widow

Recently a widow shared with me what picture came into her mind when she thinks of her new title – WIDOW.  Her exact words were. “Something old and used up with lots of baggage that nobody has any use for anymore.  I have no clue where that imagery came from, but when I became one that’s immediately what I thought of – and it brought shame with it.”

My picture of a widow before becoming one was of a little frail sweet white-haired lady. But the truth is that widows are many different ages – young, middle-aged, and older – and that picture changed when that title became my title. At first it was a broken-hearted, shattered faith, vulnerable, helpless woman because that’s how I felt. But now it’s a woman who has gone through the deepest, darkest pain in her life and is still standing.

It’s a woman who has had to rethink her life, start rebuilding her relationship with God and others, a woman who is figuring out and setting new boundaries, a woman who has had to figure out who is real and who is not and let go of those who don’t really care.  It’s a woman who has discovered that she is so much stronger than she ever knew she was and that it is only by the grace of God that she was able to walk through the death of her husband and not lay prostrate under the bed over in a dark corner and never come out again.

A widow is a woman who crawls through that first year in a fog, but is able to make more important decisions in her life than she has ever made before.  Her second year that fog lifts and the reality of her situation hits her so strongly that she doesn’t know if she can go on.  But she keeps waking up to another day where she gets up out of bed, puts both feet on the floor and places one foot in front of the other just because she really has no other choice but to do so.  As that third year rolls around, she sees her journey now as a singular one instead of a “couple” journey and she has the courage to begin finding out who she really is as someone other than a wife. Yes, she still struggles to “do life alone”, but she is finding that her tandem journey with God is becoming more of what is “normal” for her now.  Beyond that third year, I don’t know for I am not there yet.

A younger widow becomes the main provider and protector for herself and her children.  She is no longer a co-parent.  She’s the ONLY parent and the strength that she has to have to make all of those myriads of parenting decisions alone is greater than ever imagined.  This widow must somehow allow her children to see her grieve, yet at the same time be strong enough to help those children in their grief.  Then at night after the children go to bed, her walls come crashing down and she faces life without the love of her life for a few hours until morning dawns and she starts the process all over again.

The older widow faces the reality that she will have no one to grow old with unless she chooses to take a chance at love again and risk losing another husband.  Not only that, but this widow realizes that she will have no soul mate at her side if and when her health fails and she will have to face it all alone.  Yes, she may have adult children, but no one can ever truly comfort her and take that special place in her heart that was occupied by her husband.

Both younger and older widows, who know the Lord as their personal Savior, now discover that there really is no one in their lives like God.  Yes, she may feel like God has betrayed her and doesn’t really love her, but somehow she knows in the very depths of her heart that there is one else that can truly understand what she is going through.  There is no one else who is there all of the time to hear her cries of “OH GOD!  PLEASE HELP ME!!  I DON’T THINK I CAN DO THIS ANYMORE!”  She grovels in the dirt of her soul digging for that tiny grain of a mustard seed faith and when she finds it, she holds onto it as tightly as she can.  She reminds herself that her husband is up “in the balcony” cheering her on telling her not to give up, but to keep on going because it’s going to be worth it all.  Her focus is on her and God now.  Things of this world are no longer important because her priorities have changed.

What is a widow?  She’s the woman that death has thrown on the ground and stomped on as he waves his hands together in the air in seeming victory.  And she may stay on the ground for awhile, but then God helps her find the courage to crawl up from those ashes and rise like the phoenix.  Her ashes are just a part of the testimony that she wears in her title – WIDOW.  She becomes persistent and her own champion in standing up for herself simply because she has to.  She wears the title WIDOW as a banner of love showing others that she is someone who was deeply loved and not willingly discarded.

If she allows it to, widowhood shines a bright light down into the darkest recesses of her very heart and soul.  Widowhood deeps her giving her even greater value and worth.

I dedicate this post to all widows but especially to Sandra who was vulnerable enough to share her thoughts with me.

Living in the Moment

Recently a life coach challenged me to begin learning how to live in the moment and to see God in those moments.  That challenge led me to reading the following book and to consider living the reflective life in the moment.  How many times since my husband went to heaven have I been unable to see the gifts of the present moments in my life?  I’m realizing that I don’t want life to just pass me by without my seeing what God is doing in my life through those that He puts into my life every day.  Not only that, but I want to truly desire to embrace those gifts and reap the blessings of those sacred moments from Him.

Excerpt from Seeing What is Sacred by Ken Gire:

The reflective life is a life that is attentive, receptive, and responsive to what God is doing in us and around us.  It’s a life that asks God to reach into our heart, allowing Him to touch us there, regardless of the pleasure it excites or the pain it inflicts.  It’s a life that reaches back, straining to touch the hem of Christ’s garment, allowing Him to turn and call us out of the crowd, regardless of how humiliating it is to stand before Him or how uncertain we are as to what He will say.

Regardless of the uncertainty, we can be certain of this: the words He speaks are words of life.  That is why we must reach for them, receive them, and respond to them.  Whatever they may say, however they may sound, whatever implications they may have for our lives, the words that proceed from His mouth offer life to our souls.

Those words are how our relationship with God grows.

Living reflectively is how we receive them.

The life we have been given can’t be bought or bargained for.  It is a gift.  Every good and perfect gift comes from above, James tells us, coming down from the Father of lights in whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17).  If our day is indeed a gift from God, something of the Giver should be evident within that gift.

Abraham Heschel said, “There is a unique kind of transparence about things and events.  The world is seen through, and no veil can conceal God completely.  So the pious man is ever alert to see behind the appearance of things a trace of the divine, and thus his attitude toward life is one of expectant reverence.”

It is a great loss that we awake to so many gifts on a given day, not only without opening them, but without knowing they are even there for us to open.  When each of us awakes, it should be with a splash-of-cold-water-in-the-face awareness that it has been given me another day to live.  To me.  To others that gift has been withheld.  The sun rises, but their eyes will forever be closed to its light, its beauty, its blessings.  But to me another day, for whatever reason, has been given.  Another day to give gifts and to receive them.  To love and be loved.  To embrace God through the moments of my day, and through those moments to be embraced by Him.

Each new morning that God’s mercies dawn on us with the gift of another day, we should greet that day with an attitude of expectant reverence, as one kneeling to receive the sacrament of some holy communion, for truly, it is.

His Story

Being confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” Philippians 1:6

God is the author of all of our stories.  He is present in all of my story.  He is writing a genealogy of grace bringing us to place where we have to have a Redeemer to rescue us.  And through all the ups and downs and twists of life, He is doing something way beyond what we normally can see that will someday be for His glory and our good.  These are the things that bring us to Jesus.”  Steve Green

My story has taken what I view as a drastic detour that I can only be honest and say that I do not like.  It is definitely not going the way that I would have written it because if it had, my husband and I would have grown old together and then have been raptured together into Glory.

It is a good thing that God does not give us a preview of our lives because there are some parts that are just too painful. If I had known beforehand just how this part of my story was going to be written, I would have been grieving from the beginning of my marriage just thinking about what was going to be ahead for us.

There is no doubt that it is easy for me to say that I am at a place in my life where I need a Redeemer to rescue me out of this journey of grief.  The death of my husband has not taken God by surprise.  He knows my pain, my sorrow, and my grief.  He did not leave me comfortless and my story is not going to end here.  Because of God’s faithfulness my story, no matter how “changed” it looks to me,  is going to end in victory even though I cannot even imagine that at this point.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow!

Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see!

All I have needed  Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Emptiness

Widow Miriam Neff talks about emptiness in her new book WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?

“Empty is usually uncomfortable.  There are a handful of very human tendencies for filling the void when we sense that empty space, that yawning place left vacated by our loss.

We hoard.  We accumulate, often at great expense to our wallet and reducing the comfort of our living space.  Retail therapy is shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer’s mood or disposition.  Often seen in people during periods of depression or transitions, it is normally a short-lived habit.  Items purchased during periods of retail therapy are sometimes referred to as ‘comfort buys’.  The dangerous tipping point from therapy to hoarding is when we get stuck in depression and don’t make a healthy transition.

We hand out.  We give, hoping that we might get something in return that will make us feel better.  A better word might be bribe.  A young widow or widower may overindulge children, hoping to compensate for the absent parent with things.  The widow or widower of adult children indulges those adults with things or events, hoping to keep them even closer, filling some of the void left after losing their spouse.  That empty space is large and widowed people want more of their children rather than less.  That expectation asks for disappointment.

We hunger.  We consume our favorite comfort foods or relational fixes.  Those relational fixes are never really quick.  There are always residual regrets or strings attached.  Taking to satisfy is incomplete at best and destructive at worst.  Only mutual give-and-take satisfies.

We hide.  Rather than let others see us wounded, we withdraw.  Hiding may also be an attempt to not subject ourselves to another loss.  The risk of being wounded again is just too great.

We hibernate.  Our hiding time becomes long, not temporary.  We avoid the harsh climate of life by not participating in the human race.

Have you found yourself doing any of these things since the loss of your husband?

Complicated Grief

What is complicated grief?  What are the causes of complicated grief?

1.  Cumulative losses

The idea that “we all have a breaking point” is surely apparent when people have a double loss, such as losing a spouse and a child in close proximity. This double tragedy is catastrophic, taxing the powers of making sense of it and adapting to a totally altered life. If the spouse was a breadwinner, the grieving person may also experience financial losses and the need to live with diminished resources. Depression following multiple losses is a common occurrence.

2.  Phobias and fears

When a child dies in the family, the siblings have memories of the loss, but they also experience the parents’ grief and fears for their safety. Parents may become overprotective, afraid of every minor symptom that occurs in their healthy children. The result can be to sensitize the child about vulnerability to illness. We sometimes see this reaction in adults who have excessive fears and phobias of illness, appearing to stem from their parents’ response to the death of a child and their fears about illness of their remaining children.

3.  Earlier psychological problems

If you have experienced significant psychological problems in the past, you are vulnerable to more severe grief. If you had a problem with alcohol or drugs in the past, you should be alert to avoid using them as a crutch. If you have been seriously depressed, you are vulnerable to the return of depression. Recognizing your vulnerability is important so that you seek help early.

4.  Complicated feelings toward the person who died

At times, death comes to a person who had caused pain and anger to others. A son or daughter might never have resolved feelings toward a difficult father. A surviving spouse may have had a marital life that was a mix between affection and hostility. On the surface, it would appear that these circumstances should make grieving easier since there was less attachment. But it doesn’t work that way. Grief that is colored by mixed emotions is more difficult. It is hard, when someone is gone, to admit to the negative feelings and harder yet to express them without feeling guilty. Counseling may be needed to sort out the mix of feelings accompanying this grief.

Taken from “Patterns of Grieving”

(http://oralcancerfoundation.org/emotional/patterns_of_grieving.htm)