A WIDOW’S FIRST YEAR ALONE
No, I’m not really alone. I never have been, and I never will be.
But grief is hard. My husband died exactly one year ago. I don’t think I’ve ever been through anything so exhausting – not OB-Gyn residency where I’d spend long nights in the hospital with little or no sleep, not the weeks caring for my husband as he became increasingly unable to completely care for himself. They say losing a loved spouse is like losing an arm or a leg. I think it’s more like losing most of who you are.
Grief hurts. In some very real ways I’ve come to terms with the pain, and most of the time I focus more on the future than on the past. But there’s a treasure in grief that you can’t purchase any other way. Words don’t do it justice, and you’d never choose the pain you have to endure in order to get it. But for those of you who are walking a similar journey, perhaps these ideas will help you find your own treasure.
This is in response to some of you who have asked me to share more about my journey as a widow. I’ll try here to share some thoughts about what helped, and God’s place in the journey of grief.
You Need People
As Al became increasingly ill his world became smaller and smaller, and mine did too. That’s a common occurrence for caregivers, I’m told. I had struggled to stay engaged with others even professionally. And after Al’s death I realized that outside of family I had no truly close friends. Enjoying grandchildren and grieving with others who miss him too has been incredibly valuable, but I’ve had no one I was “doing life with” previously to be there for me and help me see the future.
Some of that was because Al’s health was already declining when we moved to this area, and some was a result of my own personality and lifestyle. But it has meant I’ve had to exert a great deal of energy in finding ways to connect with people, invest in friendship, and build a life I now choose. That’s hard work.
Some people have said things that were helpful, and some people occasionally still say things that make me want to scream and run away. Perhaps most helpful of all has been a newer friend who has simply continued to ask, “How are you?” Pause. No fixing. Sometimes I talk, sometimes silence. And then, “Just know I’m here.”
My advice: realize that both family and friends are important. There will only be a few people around your deathbed; how well are you investing in them? Family connections are worth putting up with, risking yourself for, and spending time with.
It’s just as critical to have one or a few close friends you do life with. When grief comes, someone who’s not grieving but who knows you very well can be an invaluable source of support. Choose your friends proactively and wisely – NOW.
And if you’re the friend of someone who’s grieving, don’t try to fix it! Just be there.
Time Passes; Time Alone Doesn’t Heal
Healing isn’t something that just happens to you. It’s something you choose to believe in, seek, find, and decide to take into your being. It’s an active process, one you must invest energy in.
When I came home from the hospital after Al’s death I sat down with a cup of coffee and my Bible, and opened it to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s treatise on death and resurrection. I knew the place to go. All my previous investment in my relationship with God came into play at that time. But it didn’t lessen the pain. It’s not supposed to! Death is not normal in God’s universe; we were made for eternity. We still sorrow. It’s only in eternity that God will wipe all tears from our eyes. (Revelation 21:4)
In some ways it seems like Al died just yesterday. Time doesn’t deal with all his personal things, make the pain go away, or build a life. I get to decide whether to stay stuck or to step forward. I get to choose what memories to embrace, how to honor his life, what to carry forward, and what to build into my future. The speed of those decisions doesn’t matter nearly as much as deciding to decide.
During the initial weeks and months I would feel depressed every evening. When my mind was clear in the morning I’d have a few hours when I could focus on writing, work, or other productive matters, and when I’d get tired and sad later in the day I’d just have to stop. Quit. Rest. Do nothing. That has lessened a lot now, and most days I hold on to hope and joy and feel energetic all day. Doing the work of grief makes that possible.
My advice: don’t worry at all about how fast you move forward, but do worry a great deal about choosing whether or not you will move forward. Do the work of grief. Deal with the stuff – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Do it at your own pace, but do it. Decide to decide. Choose healing. There are no medals for speed, but determine that you will not quit, no matter what.
Head and Heart are Both Important
I attended a GriefShare group for a few months after Al’s death. As I told the facilitator, my head knows all this but my heart needs the human connections. Frankly, theologically I was somewhat disappointed in the videos, workbook, and email messages, but that’s not why I went. I knew I had to do the hard work of connecting with people if I was to move forward.
Early on I was so concerned about doing grief right. Am I feeling what I’m supposed to feel? Am I doing the right things? Confusion, anxiety, exhaustion, and sadness made it difficult to think at times. I read books: A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis), Understanding Your Grief (Alan D. Wolfelt), Experiencing Grief (H. Normal Wright), Grieving with Hope (Samuel J Hodges). I finally realized there is no “right” way to grieve. I often wished for a roadmap, a timeline. But I learned to keep walking even when I couldn’t figure it out, and experienced again that God is always there.
Doing things to remember Al has also been important. I retraced our most memorable anniversary vacation. I had a memory quilt made from some of Al’s clothes. I made a shadow box of items related to his funeral and included our wedding rings. I’ve watched over and over the slideshow of pictures we prepared a year ago to remember his life. When an ambush of grief washes over me emotionally, I take time to stop and cry. And yes, those ambushes happen much less frequently than they did during the initial weeks.
My advice: consciously give both your head and your heart attention. Seek out godly wise input from books, support groups, people, Scripture, etc. Study grief, so to speak. Doing so does not make it OK, but it helps you find your own path through the wilderness.
And also find ways to honor the emotional journey you are on. God created us human beings with feelings, limitations, emotions, desires, needs, fears, etc. Embrace them. Go there! But then make the decision to keep going. Don’t park there. Feel it, and then take one more step no matter how difficult it is to do so.
The Future Exists
My head knows this. My heart sometimes still struggles to feel it. But there are a few things that I know for certain:
- As long as I’m still alive, God has a purpose for me here.
- God can and already has used my pain to minister to others.
- In eternity God will wipe my tears away, and it will be enough.
Who I am as a person has deepened in significant ways as a result of my journey of grief. I’ve realized an increased depth in my own writing. The kinds of issues people talk and write to me about have deepened – not necessarily about grief, but about life. The well of what I have to offer is significantly richer in many areas. There’s an increased substance to what I bring to ministry and to the world in general.
I believe that has happened because God has honored my decision to not quit. I’ve brought the totality of my stuff – my past medical and ministry training, my painful experiences including my grief, my strengths and limitations – and given God permission to do what He will with them. He is a miracle-worker in taking our stuff and making it into something meaningful and valuable.
I’m not going after comfort or happiness. I’m blessed with a certain measure of clarity about the mission for which God has me here on Earth, and that’s what I’m about. Knowing God does not make it not hurt, but He provides the reason to keep going. He is the Source of healing as you seek for it. He is the safe place you can always run to.
My advice: choose to believe in the future. If you’re alive, God is not finished with you yet! He still has something here for you to do. If you’re grieving, God can take that pain and use it. Worry not at all about how far into the future you can see right now. Simply worry about which direction you are turning your gaze.
Embrace the memories. It’s good to treasure them. But then make certain that you are turning your gaze in the direction of the future. God is already in your future, and He will meet you in the next moment, the next day, and all the days yet to come.
Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!
This is a guest post by Dr Carol Peters-Tanksley, and first appeared on her website http://www.drcarolministries.com. Dr Carol is an OB-Gyn physician and Doctor of Ministry, and she would love to connect with you on her website also.
By Kathy Illum
When Virgil died several years ago, I was thrust into a world not of my choosing. I had weathered transitions in my life, but nothing prepared me for this one. The love of my life, best friend, and ministry partner was gone. My social status changed. My finances took a major hit. Even my place of residence changed. I went from having a well-defined, fulfilling ministry to seemingly no ministry.
My natural tendency was to have an extended private pity party, but I knew that was not an option (though I still succumb to a tiny one now and then). God’s Word and honest prayer became my lifeline. I knew the call God placed on my life nearly 50 years prior had not been rescinded.
But what to do with it now?
I gradually became more involved in my church and community. In time, discipleship translated into prayer team, Communion coordinator, Women’s Ministries board, mentor, Bible study teacher, and speaker in various venues.
Discipleship involves discipline (I saw your eyes roll), a quality that grief can sometimes override. Being Christ’s disciple does not mean we deny our loss and stop the grieving process. Rather, it gives us the strength and courage to keep going.
The discipline of knee-time is essential, recommitting our life and ministry to the sovereign Lord who called us. Beyond that, we must become aware of what needs to be done. Nursery workers are scarce; a youth pastor’s wife needs a mentor; schools and hospitals look for volunteers. Opportunities abound for a mature, single woman with ministry experience and a humble disciple’s heart.
God may have bigger doors for you to walk through, but allow Him to open those doors in His time. You are still Christ’s disciple. Patiently follow wherever He leads. He can make this transition one of growth and blessing as you trust His plan.
Kathy Illum and her husband ministered in Colorado. After her husband’s death, she moved to Springfield, MO.
Facing the New Year Alone
By Beth Chilcoat
As I approach the beginning of a new year, I reflect that it has been more than three years since I faced the trauma of losing my beloved husband of 37 years to Lou Gehrig’s disease. After this length of time, one might assume that I am finally feeling better. But to be honest, the grief journey has been both relentless and painfully difficult. But I have learned many things as I have walked this unwelcome way.
Be gentle with yourself. Say no to things that are overwhelming – uncomfortable invitations or demanding tasks. I attended my grandchildren’s soccer games because they got me out of the house but demanded very little emotionally. I enjoyed bike rides, occasional antiquing, and simply driving in the countryside.
Stay connected. Take the initiative to get together with others. A grief group was helpful since we all shared the same daunting adjustments. Don’t be afraid to draw strength from friends, family, and church.
Cry when you need to. Don’t keep a stiff upper lip. Crying is very cleansing.
Give yourself the luxury of time. The relationship you had with your loved one didn’t develop overnight, and the grief won’t disappear instantly either.
Seek the God of all comfort. When I needed a listening ear, comfort or strength, I sought the Lord since He promised to be a husband to widows. Focus on all His attributes, place your pain and grief in His mighty hands, and rest in Him. Then wait for Him to act in His time. God understands exactly where you are and loves you tenderly. Pray the Scriptures. If you can’t pray, go to a friend and ask for prayer. The Lord promised to use all things – even death – for the good of those that love Him (Romans 8:28).
Live one day a time. This wisdom helped me especially during the years of David’s illness. We did not want to ruin the days we had together with worry over what might happen or constantly focusing on what we were loosing. This gave us the freedom to appreciate each day as a gift. This same focus helps me as a widow. To dwell on the future years of being alone only immobilizes me from adjusting to the new life I have. I have learned to get up each morning, fully participate in the day God has given me, and leave the future in His capable hands.
Winter of the Soul
by Dr. George O. Wood
Except for snow sports enthusiasts, most people probably would not identify winter as their favorite season of the year, particularly in places where heavy snow and frigid temperatures prevail. In those regions, for some, winter is a time of bitterness, barrenness, and darkness. They long for the vitality of spring and summer and the beauty of fall.
Life’s journey too has its seasons of growth, development, and productivity. We move through seasons of change and adjustment as we seek God’s direction in our relationships, vocations, and callings. Yet, unlike seasons in the natural world that come in predictable sequence, life’s seasons can change unexpectedly. This is particularly true of winter.
While life’s winter season often pertains to advanced years, great loss, pain, and grief can come at any point in our lives and plunge us into the frigid grip of despair, depression, and loneliness. Its imposing darkness can pervade our lives, dimming any hope of joy and blessing.
If that is where you find yourself, remember that winter is only a season. As in the natural world, seasons change. Winter gives way to glorious spring, new life, freshness, and vitality. While life’s circumstances might threaten to steal, kill, and destroy, like the thief in Jesus’ declaration in John 10:10, we have His promise, “I have come that they [you] might have life, and have it to the full” or “more abundantly,” as the King James Version renders it. Winter will not last forever.
Remember also that despite the chill and barrenness of winter in the natural realm, life is not absent, only dormant. As frigid temperatures give way to the warmth of spring, as snow melts and streams of water nourish the earth, life bursts forth in all its wondrous beauty. So it is with the winter of the soul. Hope, joy, love, and blessing are there. Though dormant and shrouded by pain and grief, they are waiting to be awakened by God’s presence, His pervasive love, and His grace. Trust in that today. Know that God sees where you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Look to Him and others who care about you for the strength and encouragement you need and allow the winter of your soul to give way to glorious spring. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, KJV).
George O. Wood is general superintendent for The General Council of the Assemblies of God, Springfield, Missouri.
Through Death’s Door
By Peggy Musgrove
Death’s door opens differently for each of us on the journey of life. Some come to the door unexpectedly; others see glimpses of the door months or years ahead. Though our journey to the door may vary from that of our friends, seeing a beloved spouse walk through the door is the same for all of us. The door slams shut as we helplessly stand by, knowing we have come to the place of irrevocable change.
Change then defines all our activities and relationships. For me, the settlement of financial and legal issues had to be dealt with first. Then came other changes: learning to relate socially as a single woman, finding someone to sit with in church, making decisions about the car, filling time on a lonely evening at home in an empty house. A tough one was changing my Facebook status from “married” to “widow,” a word I had never thought of applying to myself. Coping with these monumental life-changes consumed my time and thoughts, yet I was still grieving for the loss of the man with whom I shared life for more than 60 years.
The words of an old hymn have come often to me, “In every change, He constant will remain.” Much to my joy, I have discovered that what we have sung about so long is really true. God’s abiding presence sustains us in every step of our journey. Though I have not walked death’s valley before, He has, and He knows the way through.
Family and friends have come along beside in a nurturing way, giving me the strength I need to make the transitions in life. They have been kind enough to let me rebuild my life slowly, allowing solitude when I need it for handling grief or helping me find ways to enjoy life again.
While being thankful for the help of the Lord and others, I have had to make some personal decisions about facing life alone. The calendar reminds me that I do not have many years left; I want to make them fruitful for the Kingdom. I cannot get caught up so much in grieving my loss that I do not appreciate what I have and what God is doing in my life. I want to honor the Lord, and my husband’s memory, by living my life in a way that is glorifying to God. Death’s door will open to me before long; I want to walk through it triumphantly praising God for His goodness. With His help, I will.
Peggy Musgrove, former director of Assemblies of God Women’s Ministries, is the widow of Derald Musgrove .
A Legacy of Following God
by Deborah Burke
Irreversible coma, two words that no wife wants to hear. The brain tumor he had battled had now taken his life. I sat in silence as I listened to the doctor tell me that my husband was gone. I would like to write that since that moment I have been strong, but that would not be true. Memories are still very vivid, but at the same time they seem foggy. I remember telling my two boys that daddy was now in heaven. My 7-year-old’s first thoughts were about the people of Inner City Church, not his own loss. I realize that he didn’t understand the finality of death at the time, but his focus was on what his dad was passionate about.
As the fog lifted, I knew God was leading me to take over the ministry that Robert and I had started. I honestly didn’t think I could do it. Every part of me said, “There is no way! You have two children, and it was Rob’s vision, not yours.” Through this tragedy, God chose me to carry on the ministry of Inner City Church.
The month after Rob’s death, I attended ICAG, handling the duties I could. I called on minister friends to speak and incredible volunteers to help. Right after Christmas I went to the Oklahoma District Office to share what I believed God wanted me to do. I was officially appointed as pastor and was ordained with the Assemblies of God the following year.
I’ve been the pastor now eight years and God is forever faithful. People come to me and tell me how strong I am. I cannot help but tell them that it’s not me, it’s God. The verse in Isaiah 41:10 is what I stand on: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I only want to leave a legacy of someone who trusted and followed God. It is not, nor will it ever be, about me.
Deborah Burke is pastor of Inner City Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the widow of Robert Burke.
Taking Care of Me
by Peggy Musgrove
“Take good care of yourself, you belong to me.” When I was a teenager, Frank Sinatra crooned these lyrics from Button Up Your Overcoat. While the song is for someone’s sweetheart, this phrase could also be a message to believers from the Lord.
How easily we get caught up in the busyness of life and neglect self-care. We sometimes place a higher priority on caring for others than taking care of ourselves, particularly those of us who have spent a life-time of caregiving in the ministry.
If we find ourselves falling into that thinking, it is good to remember the admonition of flight attendants to parents traveling with small children. “If the oxygen mask drops down, first apply your own mask and then apply the child’s.” The implication is that, by caring for themselves first, parents are more likely to be able to care for the child. Both might succumb to lack of oxygen if the parent tries to care for the child first.
Good self-care includes monitoring all dimensions of our lives: physical, mental, spiritual, financial, and relational. These areas are so interrelated that neglect in one area affects all the others. Sometimes maintaining our physical well-being demands much of our time, occupying our minds, escalating our financial expenditures, and affecting us spiritually and relationally. Therefore, caring for ourselves physically becomes extremely important.
I have read several books on maintaining health. In each book, the recommendations seem to come down to monitoring three areas: diet, exercise, and rest. Currently, my daughters and I are reading Eat Move Sleep, by Tom Rath. The book caught my attention even though the title simply restated the “big three.”
Basically, Rath encourages making small changes for large gains, instead of looking for a new diet or exercise program. He emphasizes the importance of doing whatever it takes to get a good night’s sleep, something often neglected in our sleep-deprived society.
When reading this book and thinking about the importance of self-care, the still small voice I hear is not Sinatra crooning, but it seems the Spirit is saying, “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Wow! If that is what God thinks of me, maybe I should give more thought to taking care of myself.
Peggy Musgrove, former director of Assemblies of God Women’s Ministries, is the widow of Derald Musgrove .
Continuing a Legacy
By Dr. James Bradford
One morning in 1888 Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, awoke to read his own obituary. The obituary was printed as a result of a simple journalistic error. It was Alfred’s brother that had died and the reporter had carelessly reported the death of the wrong brother. Any sane person would be disturbed under the circumstances, but to Alfred the shock was overwhelming because he saw himself as the world saw him – the dynamite king, the man who made his fortune blowing things up. In spite of his true intentions to break down barriers to peace, he was simply viewed as a merchant of death.
As he read the obituary with horror, he resolved to make clear to the world the true purpose of his life. He did it through the final disposition of his wealth. This would become his legacy – a lasting endowment of six annual prizes for outstanding contributions in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economics, and peace. Today we know them as the Nobel Peace Prizes.
Most of us will not read our obituaries before we die, but what will our legacies be? It is here that the apostle Paul gives us great hope: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58). This word vain in the Greek means “empty and lacking in content.” But “labor in the Lord,” as Paul tells us, never leaves the legacy without content.
It is easy to be appropriately unimpressed with ourselves and yet inappropriately despairing of what we have accomplished with our lives, especially compared to others. But Paul speaks here of a kind of labor that lasts, of work for the Lord that God’s Spirit leverages into lasting results and eternal rewards. Those of us who have served the Lord for years, often in obscurity, will not be left in the end with a life that is “empty and lacking in content.”
Heaven will be full of surprises for this very reason. Someday, with resurrected eyes, we will see “the rest of the story.” We will meet people, see outcomes, and connect dots that represent the truly lasting importance of our work for the Lord. So may we keep serving, giving, and loving in Jesus’ name, knowing that our legacy will be eternal!
Dr. James Bradford is general secretary of the Assemblies of God.
I Am A Widow
By Dr. Billie Davis
I remember the first time I put an x in the little square before that word. I was filling out some papers to settle some of my husband’s business. He was gone and I was a WIDOW. The idea struck me suddenly: I was a different person. And I began to think of all that could mean. I thought of the stages through which I had lived. First I was a baby, then a child, a teenager, a young adult, a single, a wife for 63 years.
And now a WIDOW. When I think of my life in stages, I begin to see a pattern—a purpose for being. So my mind is taken away from feeling something lost, to feeling a new beginning. Who am I now and what do I have to offer? I can add up all I have gained in every stage of life! That means I have something to offer, something to teach to persons who are now in those various stages. I have a pretty good idea of what is needed in each stage. I can help mothers understand more about how to treat their babies and young children. I can understand the needs and behaviors of children, teenagers, young adults, singles, and wives!
Living through the stages has helped me to develop the essential quality for teaching and helping others. That quality is empathy. “I have been there and I can truly say I know how you feel.” Unless we can see their situation from the other person’s point of view we can never be of much help to them. I have learned this from my study of education. A good teacher must see every lesson through the eyes of the potential learner. Now, having lived through so many situations, I can see through the eyes of others. There is almost no limit to the situations in which I might be of help to someone.
Call it the joy of being a WIDOW.
Dr. Billie Davis, retired Evangel University professor and missionary, is the widow of Rev. George Davis.
How to be a good Samaritan
by Ann Floyd
When Jesus was asked by an expert in Jewish law to explain who a neighbor is, He told a parable. The following is Jesus’ checklist for becoming “a good Samaritan” from Luke 10:33-35:
- “A Samaritan … took pity” (v.33, NIV). Check.
- “He bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine” (v.34). Check.
- “He put the man on his own donkey” (v.34). Check.
- “He took him to an inn … and took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper” (vv.34,35). Check.
You may not have the means to do all the above to be a good neighbor, so let’s put this in a 2015 setting.
- Be aware of the broken and disenfranchised in your circle of influence. My widow friend, Annie, cooks for the homeless in Springfield. She tells of peeling pounds of potatoes and fixing them at home, because she doesn’t have access to a commercial kitchen. A recent request from a homeless man was salmon patties, so she obliged.
- Minister healing in the power of the Spirit. At a recent Girls Only retreat, a 16-year-old confessed her struggle with low self-esteem. The sponsors invited her to be seated in the middle of the room, while we prayed for her. Weeks later I remarked that her countenance had changed. She replied, “I’ve found one good friend.” I assured her that was enough.
- Provide transportation. Look for opportunities to drive friends and family to appointments. Our community has a transportation service for older adults. With a CDL license, you could become a driver. Volunteer to deliver Meals on Wheels.
- Provide lodging and/or financial assistance. If you are on a limited income, use caution in both areas. A friend uses her guest room for missionaries or those who are in town for short-term stays. I hosted a Master’s Commission student for a semester.
The expert in the Law to whom Jesus gave this parable got the message that the one who showed “mercy” was the true neighbor. Then Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” (v.37)
Ann Floyd is the widow of David S. Floyd. She lives in Springfield, Missouri.
A Bigger Picture
By Mim Testasecca
I have several memories of my grandfather’s funeral, but the most significant one is the vibrant congregational singing Jesus’ words to Martha in John 11:25-26: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die (KJV). This chorus has been a source of encouragement to me many times, but recently I’ve been thinking about the significance of what Jesus said.
Lazarus had been dead four days, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were grieving the loss. When Jesus arrived at the family’s home, both of the woman said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32). Jesus did not condemn them for a lack of faith because their words expressed sorrow, not disbelief in Jesus as Messiah and Healer. Both women were facing the reality of death. A healing miracle was out of the realm of possibility.
I, like Mary and Martha, have had similar thoughts when faced with deep sorrow. Lord, you could have prevented this. You power could have changed my circumstances, but You chose not to and it’s too late now. Jesus doesn’t condemn us for such thinking, but just as He did with Martha, He asks us to look at a bigger picture. He wants us to look beyond present circumstances–beyond the deep pain of death–and realize what He provides: eternal life. What Christ provides through our belief in Him is far more precious than physical health or an earthly existence without pain. Eternal life guarantees that physical death has no power over spiritual life. In fact, eternal life begins when we accept Christ as Savior.
Lazarus’ resurrection only could have happened through his physical death. Is it possible that God has a greater miracle planned–something that would not be possible–without the pain you are experiencing? Mary and Martha had no concept of the miracle that was going to take place that would turn their sorrow into great joy. Because you and I are finite, we too do not know the good things God has planned for the future. He only asked us to belief that He can resurrect life out of dead dreams, bleak futures, depressing circumstances, and the desert places of our lives.