In My Time Away……

It’s been almost a year since I have written anything on my blog. In this time away I have tried to focus less on grief, but discovered that the loss of a spouse is something that changes you deeply and affects every area of your life. You are not the same person that you were.

Priorities change. What was seemingly most important before becomes meaningless. Things you never thought about become forefront in your mind. Your thinking takes on a deepness that was not there prior to the death of your husband.

Sensitivities become more pronounced. You simply look at things differently. What may not have bothered you before can now make you sit up at attention. For example, you hear a wife complaining that her husband never picks up his sock and how much that irritates her. You want to shake her and say, “Do you not realize how little an issue that really is and just how very blessed you are to have your husband alive, well, and here with you?!”

If you have a personal relationship with God, that changes. Either you tell Him you are done with Him or you for the first time become really REAL with God. You honestly tell Him how you are feeling. If you are angry, you tell Him. If you are overwhelmed, you say so. If you are full of anxiety and fear, you cry out and let Him know. If you don’t know how you can live life alone, you express that. After all, He knows all of these things already because God knows our thoughts and our heart. You aren’t the first widow God has ever dealt with. I am a firstborn child, a people pleaser and a caretaker. So, I thought by voicing my true feelings after the death of my husband that I would be disappointing God. It wasn’t until my Christian psychologist told me that God is big enough to take whatever I could say to Him and still love me that I was able to finally be really REAL with God.

Friendships change. The death of your husband can bring fear to others. They realize the possibility that they, too, could lose their husbands and you are a constant reminder of that. Others aren’t able to see how as a single widowed woman you can now fit into their couples world. Some just need to move on and make new friends.

Responsibilities are totally different. If you have children still living at home, you become the sole financial provider. There is no husband to help carry the load, take care of the house and car maintenance, make financial decisions, balance the checkbook, tweak the monthly budget, etc. You are now in charge of everything alone. A widow living alone is totally and completely in charge of every part of her life.

Your emotional life is depleted. There’s no husband with whom to share your deepest thoughts, new ideas or dreams. Your love life is gone. There is no one to tell you every day that they love you; no one to pray with you about your deepest needs that you would never dare share with anyone else; no one to encourage you and just boost your spirit; no one to put their arm around you and tell you what a great job you are doing and how much they appreciate all that you do for them and for your family.

There are just way too many secondary losses to even name here. Yet, there are new things that you gain after the loss of a husband…..good things.

  1. Newfound confidence that you ARE capable of making good and wise decisions
  2. A renewed and closer relationship with God on a much deeper soul level.
  3. The reality that God is truly right here right now and will never ever leave you.
  4. Ability to look at life from a whole new viewpoint.
  5. A sense that there IS a purpose for you as a widow……a new purpose.
  6. A tenderized heart that now takes time to sense the needs of others.
  7. Ears that listen in a new way and hear more easily the heart of others.
  8. Patience.
  9. A gentleness toward others that you may not have had before.
  10. New strengths that rise up out of the ashes of grief and pain.
  11. Courage to let go of people in your life who don’t want to be a part of it, who aren’t good for you, or are no longer needed.
  12. Courage to let go of things in your life that no longer serve a purpose.
  13. Acceptance of new people and possibilities that God brings into your life.
  14. Wisdom in new areas of your life.
  15. Faith to take the next breath and the next step.

What about you? Perhaps you are newly widowed. I offer HOPE to you. You CAN get through the loss of a spouse. It’s not something that you can run through quickly. You have to have the courage and intentionality to face your grief and take whatever time you need to process through it. Make the decision to be a consistent widow. If it has been several years since the loss of your spouse, determine to take time to retreat, get quiet and simply look for the positive things that have come into your life. Write them down. Think about how very proud your husband would be of how far you have come and what you have been able to accomplish. If you have chosen to be in a personal relationship with God, thank Him for all that He’s brought you through and comfort yourself with the truth that He will never ever leave you or forsake you. He’s in this with you. He’s got your back, front, and both sides. You are not alone.

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God Prepared Me to be a Widow

Yesterday I listened to an interview with Tricia Lott Williford who is the author of And Life Comes Back (her widow story), Let’s Pretend We’re Normal (single parenting) and her newest book You Can Do ThisThere were several enlightening moments, but in the second part of the interview when interviewer Rabbi Eric Walker began methodically and very carefully expounding on what happened to Tricia as a 4th grade girl, he opened up a whole new way for Tricia to look back on her life and see what God has been doing.

I began to wonder if God had done anything in my own life to prepare me to be a widow. What I am seeing is really quite amazing and I decided to share those things with you.

I was brought into the world by parents who fell in love with God a few years later. He became the focus of their lives and they daily sought after Him. Their example drew me to Christ and I accepted Him as my personal Savior at the age of nine. Though my faith was shattered the moment I lost my husband, that same faith is what has kept me from giving up on life and on God even in the midst of all of my questions.

My mother loved life no matter what challenges were thrown at her. She was a strong woman who never ran from hard things. In fact, she embraced them and learned from them. My memories of her serve as an example to me now. If she could be here and say anything at all to me now, it would be, “You can do this, Candy! You can do this!”

God designed me with an introverted personality that does not need another person around to energize me. Even as a young girl, I enjoyed being alone in my bedroom. I can see how that shaped me and prepared me to live life without a husband.

I was also given a voracious love for reading that helps me feed my soul. Not a day goes by that you don’t find me reading something. That love allowed me early on to seek out books written by other widows which, in turn, affirmed what I was feeling and am experiencing, showed me I am not alone in what I am going through and encourages me to continue on. Reading also allows me to travel to other places in my mind without the need for money. Certain books are like friends who draw you in, share their lives with you, and let you know that life can go on.

Despite being an introvert, God gave me a strong will and a desire to keep going even when I am too tired to go on and so very sad that my husband is no longer here doing life with me. That will keeps me from throwing up my hands and saying, “I quit!”

When I was seventeen years old, my parents moved our family of six from the Gulf coast of South Texas to the vast prairie land of Alberta, Canada. That move opened my eyes and showed me that even when change in my life happens that is out of my control, there is life afterwards. It may not look like the life that I had imagined for myself, but it can swing wide the doors of new ways of doing things and new heights to climb that reveal more strengths than I thought that I had.

As I continue to look back at my life, I come to the place where God gave me a husband who was always faithful and true to me and who always loved me unconditionally. He was my earthly picture of the love of God.

Those thirty-six plus years with Bob taught me many things that I would not have otherwise learned. Bob could fix anything around the house. From watching him, I learned how to problem solve and how to use tools. I never knew that I could do those things, though, until I became a widow. I draw on those resources so much now. He also saved us much money on car repairs. I learned that certain noises or issues can mean certain things. That makes me very aware now of any changes in the function of my car. I can’t actually make the repairs, but I know when my car needs to be taken care of by a reputable mechanic.

God also gave me a husband who had the forethought and wisdom to make preparations to take care of me should he go first. I cannot tell you how often I thank God for that and what a tremendous blessing that is to me.

The extended family that God designed for me also prepared me for being a widow. I have two aunts and uncles that love the Lord and have never turned their backs on Him. Their stories of what God has done and continues to do for them in their troublesome times are my inspiration. Their strengths and determination are my examples to keep on keeping on. I also have a special cousin who really understands who I am as a person. That gift alone is priceless.

Wisdom is another gift God prepared for me. During those early months of my first year of grief when the pain was so bad and the widow fog was so thick, I had the wisdom to know that I needed professional help to deal with complicated grief. This was the first time in my life that I admitted that I needed help and that was no small thing. When you come to the end of yourself, you have to find a way to go on and you cannot do that alone.

My relationship with God was never more close than it was the year leading up to Bob’s death. Looking back on my life, I can see that was preparing me to know God on a much deeper level and established a oneness with Him that I would need as a widow. Yes, there were times of great darkness when I could neither see nor feel God with me. Now I can see that He was there all along carrying me. God continues even now to carry me when I can’t walk, to walk beside me when I’m able to get back up on my feet and to be faithful to me every precious moment of my life.

Take the time to look back on your own life to see how God has prepared you for this place of widowhood. It’s am amazing exercise that will strengthen your faith. I also encourage you to listen to Tricia Lott Williford’s interview with Rabbi Walker and to read all three of her books.

 

Fighting Forward

One thing that I find very affirming and healing is to read books written by Christian widows and some widowers. To this date I have read over fifty and have found that there are several books that are my top three. One such book is a new one called Fighting Forward written by a remarried widow Jan Owen from Alabama. For those widows who find themselves struggling greatly with their shattered faith, people who have lost a loved one or someone who wants to understand the grief that their friend is going through, this book is a must read.

Jan’s story sharing what life has felt like to her after the loss of her husband is one that is very raw. She chooses not to sugar-coat her words in order to just be real. There are those Christian widows who may not feel that they can ever take off their mask during grief thus giving others the impression that they are doing alright. Jan rips off her mask and allows herself to become openly vulnerable. As a result, she lost some friends.

Her intent in writing this book is to let others know that it is okay to share your grief in totality from the deepest parts of your heart. In fact, it’s very healing. After all, God created us and knows exactly how we are going to react when we lose our spouse. You cannot hide all that your are feeling from Him. As my Christian psychologist Dr. Dan Trathen always told me, “This is not God’s first rodeo.” God is not surprised or taken aback at our rage or anger towards Him. Our questions don’t cause Him to be disappointed in Him. Instead, He uses those questions to draw us into a much different and much closer relationship to Him if we allow it.

Choosing to live when I’d rather not is the bravest thing I’ve ever done”, says Jan. When my husband first died, I wanted to curl up in a corner with a blanket over my head and never move again. Closing down is always an option for a new widow or even one further down the road, but it is never a healthy one. It’s far harder to stand up, take that blanket off our head, put on your boxing gloves and begin to purposely take one step forward at a time. There are times when we’ll find ourselves taking a few steps backwards and that is normal. Those backward steps come when a grief trigger hits or when we just become so very tired in our journey that a rest stop is needed. The key is to never stay in that backward spot. It takes more guts to fight forward and God gives us the strength to do that.

God can and will use that deep, deep soul pain that you go through after the loss of your spouse. Whether it is to walk alongside another widow and encourage them in their journey, gathering names of new widows throughout the year and then sending each of them a special box for Christmas, sending out widow resources to new widows that you hear about or going to grad school to become a grief counseling specialist such as Jan is doing, your grief will not be without a purpose.

Have you chosen to fight forward? Or are you still lying on the mat struggling? No matter what your answer is, this book is one that will help you and allow you to know that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to fight forward! You can find more information about Jan and her book on her Facebook page called Fighting Forward.

Grief Light

“Grief is our finest, most enduring labor of love as we remember, honor, and rebuild our life for the future. Through the work of grief we learned the unforced rhythms of grace–the grace of God, the grace of rest for our soul.”  Julie Yarbrough

Over the course of time since becoming a widow, I have read over fifty books written by Christian widows and a few widowers. Grief Light by Julie Yarbrough is one of the top three best books that I can recommend to other widows. This author has experienced firsthand the loss of a husband, a father, and a mother in less than a decade. She knows the pain of anticipatory grief and the all-consuming responsibility as well as exhaustion that a caregiver experiences.

Grief Light allows the reader to emotionally walk through that time with her as she processes every facet of grief. Julie is very candid and frank about her responses to all of the emotions that she feels. She does not tiptoe around the issues and allows herself to share the effects of grief and even the thoughts she has about things that people say to her. Holding herself up to the standard of “Super Christian/Super Widow” is something that Julie does not do. Nor does she wear a mask. I found her raw honesty to be very refreshing.

There are many different kinds of grief that Julie talks about that such as scrappy grief, collective grief, empty grief and delayed grief. Most of these were types of grief that I had not heard of or read about. Because Julie had wonderful relationships with her husband and her father, but did not have a good relationship with her mother, she experienced different kinds of grief and is thus qualified to talk about them.

I was especially moved by the comparison of grief to a slow-moving train that the author gave and feel it is important to share a bit of that here with you because it is so easy to picture it in your mind.

“…I thought about how grief moves through our lives, much like a slow-moving train. It’s not at all difficult to name the freight cars of our grief–fear, worry, despair, anxiety, loneliness. But if we look at what’s under the train, guiding its path, directing the way, we see tracks–simple yet ingenious in their design and purpose.

The tracks are a little like our life. We name the two heavy rails of our spiritual support–trust and faith. Upon the rails of our life are evenly spaced ties of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22 NRSV). The ties distribute the weight of our grief so that we’re able to bear the load of our life without the one we love.

The train’s track system is embedded in ballast–small pieces of broken rock packed together and leveled to keep the rails and ties in place. Ballast gives the track a stable base. The ballast and bedrock of our grief are the steadfast love and faithfulness of God….(Psalm 36:5 NIV).

The rails of a train track are set at a fixed distance apart. The gauge corresponds precisely to the wheel specifications of the train. The train can’t run without the tracks, the tracks have no use except for the train. The tracks lead somewhere–there’s a destination….

We’re not intended to sit idly at the railroad crossing of our life worrying about when life will move on or where life will take us. We wait for awhile–with frustration and anger, or with forbearance and hope–as the train of loss and sorrow moves slowly through our soul. We know with certainty that every train ends, with or without the finality and promise of a red caboose. When at last the tracks of our life clear, we’re on the move again. Our end station is life beyond our grief. When our direction is certain, we move ahead….”

Julie also shares that one of the most difficult challenges of grief is waiting–“waiting on God, waiting on life to unfold, waiting to feel better, waiting to be better…….When we grieve, somewhere deep within we long to soar again. It’s what pushes us to struggle with what’s happened and find within our soul God’s power lifting us up to new heights of life and love and faith.

Grief Light is one of those books that is important to read whether you are a new widow or a widow who is years into her journey. No more than three pages are written on each topic that Julie discusses making it one of those books that is easy to read and to absorb. As I read this book, I found a better understanding of my grief and had one of those “God lightbulb” moments that answered one of the questions that I’ve been asking God for the last six years.

Julie was kind enough to send me an extra copy of this book to give away. The first person that lets me know via a comment below in this blog post that she would like to read this book, I will be very happy to get a copy of it to you in the mail.