We Remember

As women, we have memories of incidents with our husbands that bring us great joy: what we wore on that first date or the night he proposed, those small gifts or a single rose during courtship that demonstrated his love, and the small details of wedding planning. The memories are endless as we reflect on those first years of marriage, the birth of our children and all their special events, and the life we shared.

636088591906232338-sept03

All of us who experienced the tragedy of September 11, 2001, also will never forget the images of the destruction of the Twin Towers, the damaged Pentagon, and the disaster near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The day is forever etched in our memories. We wonder how this could have happened in the United States and what deep-seated hate of humankind could drive a person to participate in such an atrocity.

I remember how beautifully blue the sky looked as I drove from work that day. My co-workers and I were sent home since we were uncertain if other attacks were in process. I quickly bought a few essentials and gas from a nearby Walmart and went home to an empty house. I had been a widow for four years and was accustomed to being alone. But I remember sensing a loss that was hard to explain. I felt the sting of not having anyone with whom to share my sorrow and fear, and I remember the awareness that everything had come to a screeching halt. I live a few miles from an airport and since all air traffic stopped, the familiar sounds of incoming and outgoing planes had ceased. The silence was eerie.

Although we will never forget that experience, we want to remember to pray today for those whose lives were forever changed, especially for the hundreds of women who became widows and single mothers on 9-11. Their sense of loss is possibly greater because it’s linked to a national crisis, and the photos are so real that it seems as if the carnage happened yesterday.

We may not be able to personally comfort those who experienced loss on 9-11, but as we reflect on this great tragedy, may we not forget to reach out to that woman in our neighborhood who suffers the pain of losing life’s companion.

A Personal Knowledge

The young man acknowledged my presence with the nod of his head and a soft “hello” as I maneuvered into the seat beside him. We waited about 20 minutes to begin our journey from Providence, RI, to Chicago, and I sensed that he was preoccupied and did not want to talk. Finally we were on our way and waiting on a runway. Then as the plane accelerated, we heard strange noises. The young man looked at me with obvious alarm. I’m sure my eyes were as wide as his. “What was that?” he said. We did not return to the gate and the captain said nothing, so we breathed a sigh of relief and assumed that everything was okay. Then we began to talk.

I knew two things about him before he told me about himself: He liked Starbucks (He was carrying a Starbucks mug.); and he was a musician. I had observed him earlier carrying a viola with a well-worn cover over what I thought might be an expensive instrument. He told me his home base, the orchestra he was part of, and that he had been performing in New England.

I asked, “Have you ever played at Tanglewood.” (This is the summer home of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and my husband and I had been privileged to be there several times.)

“Oh yes,” he replied. “Twice.”

With great joy and emphasis I said, “I heard Yo Yo Ma at Tanglewood!”

“I had dinner with Yo Yo Ma,” he replied. I was impressed for sure!

Since our conversation a few weeks ago, I’ve often thought about the difference between the young man and me. My knowledge of Yo Yo Ma, the great cellist, is not personal. I only know him through listening to his music. Even at Tanglewood, I could only hear his music. I was with the crowd outside the pavilion who could not even see the great performer’s face. This young man actually spent time with Yo Yo Ma and talked to him face to face. His interaction was intimate, and his communication was personal.

I may never personally know a famous person on this planet, but I do want to know God personally and intimately. For that to happen, I need to spend time in His presence. I will not see Him until I reach heaven, but through His Word, I learn who He is and the depth of His love for me – a love that was so unfathomable that He sent His Son to this earth so that I might have eternal life. It’s though His Word that I gain wisdom and direction. Through prayer, I communicate as friend to friend. I tell Him my deepest concerns, and I know He hears every word.

As widows, we need a friend on whom we can depend – one we can speak with anytime, anywhere when the storms of life seem overwhelming. I can’t ask Yo Yo Ma to help me. I don’t know him. But I can ask God, and He has promised to “meet all my need according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And He has promised to be with me always (Matthew 28:20).

Our Amazing Limbic System

During this past week, I’ve listened to part of Dr. Daniel Amen’s book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. The book has helped me to more fully understand the grief process that we, as widows, go through and why we have recurring memory flashes. The chapter I’m now on describes the limbic system in our brains. This set or collection of structures contributes to our emotional life and is significant in the formation of our memories.

I now realize that we miss our mates’ touch, smell, sight, sound, and presence because all of this was recorded in the limbic systems of our brains. For instance, although I was in another part of the house, I knew when my husband opened the back door and stepped into the kitchen even before he hollered, “I’m home.” The way he opened the door and that first step was recorded in the limbic system of my brain during those first weeks of marriage. Several years after my husband’s death, I looked at the man walking in front of me and almost gasped. His walk was the same as my husbands’. Those strides had been recorded in my memory decades before.

Our limbic system is an emotional center. As widows, we do not have the same emotional support we once had, making it more probable that we experience increased stress during difficult times such as those in which we are living. In the past during times of danger, sorrow, and pain, our husbands’ touch and words were recorded in the limbic system of our brains as an emotional sense of comfort, strength, and well being. We now have a sense of loss when facing a challenging situation.

As we face these desperate days of economic uncertainty and national insecurity, we want that hand to hold and comforting words. Since our husbands are no longer with us, we need alternatives. As strange as it might seem to you, the first step is to make God your new husband. Consult Him about everything: employment, friendships, children, purchases, problems, health needs, and finances. He is quite capable of giving expert direction and wisdom.

I usually sense something is right or wrong through the peace I have or don’t have in a given situation. Last summer my refrigerator broke. I found just what I wanted at a great price in one store and purchased it. The refrigerator would be delivered in a couple days. Overnight I began to have second thoughts and sensed the bargain was not right. When I checked the reviews, I learned that those refrigerators rusted within a couple of months. It was God who gave me that sense that something was wrong.

As widows we can take great comfort in Psalm 68:5 where God is described as a “father of the fatherless and protector of widows,” and in Isaiah 54:5 where He promises, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is his name.” He promised everyone, which includes widows, to be a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

We also can establish friendships with other women with whom we can discuss our concerns and pray. Dr. Amen wrote in the same chapter about ending the “ANTs” in our lives – Automatic Negative Thoughts – that cause stress, rob us of sleep, and give us a sour disposition. He also spoke of practicing the discipline of gratefulness, which actually helps to heal the limbic system. He suggests that every morning we make a list of five things for which we are grateful.

These are difficult days to be alone, but with God’s help and the help of dear friends and family, we will make it through.

The Price of Freedom

american-flag-4-1.jpg

Five summers ago, my then 12-year-old grandson Daniel and I took a road trip East. We visited Washington, D.C., with my sister and walked the National Mall, seeing the Lincoln and Washington Monuments. About dusk, we came to an open area with a large pavilion with a  sign saying, “President’s Own U.S. Marine Band in Concert at 8 p.m.” People were just beginning to gather, and we found perfect seats on a concrete ledge. The delightful music that evening further enhanced our feelings of national pride and the awe of being part of this great nation.

100_4297

Today we celebrate our nation’s birth. We enjoy freedoms that were certainly not free. Some men and women gave their lives; others invested their fortunes and devoted much time and energy to build a lasting foundation for the new nation. Now, 240 years later, we see the fabric that made this nation great being torn apart. We no longer base some of our laws on God’s Word. Instead of “One nation under God,” we serve the gods of greed, deception, materialism, and lust. We forgot the Psalmist David’s admonition in Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” and Solomon’s advice in Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”

Sometime today will you join me in praying for our great nation? Our prayer must be based on 2 Chronicles 7:1: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” The apostle Paul tells us that we also should pray for our leaders: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Several months ago I learned of a free app, Give Him 15, that helps with praying daily for our nation. This is today’s prayer from that app: “Father, I thank You for a founding document that honors You, honors life and honors the equality of people. I thank You for founders that looked to You for the words and justification to remove themselves from ungodly rule and to set up a nation out from under oppression. I lift our current government leaders to You (list as many by name as you can). Please lead them by Your sovereign guidance, or remove them and replace them with those that can live according to our founding document. I worship You, Father, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.”

We honor those today who serve to keep our nation free. As citizens and as widows, our contribution for freedom can be daily prayer for God’s mercy and grace to surround us as we face these troubling times.

A Summer Adventure

Feeling the intense heat of a summer day and seeing a large hollyhock bush yesterday brought a wonderful memory to my mind. My sister Rachel was about 4 years old and I was six. Our summer ritual included a quiet time when we did not have to sleep, but we could read or play quietly in our room.

My sister and I were bored with reading the same books so our entrepreneurial spirits clicked in. We decided to make hollyhock and clothespin dolls to sell so we could buy new books. We worked diligently and then, much to our mother’s chagrin when she learned about our adventure, we went door to door around the block selling our wares. (We weren’t allowed to cross the busy street.) We collected quite a sum, enough to buy several books. (I’m laughing as I write.) Then a neighbor told Mom what we were doing. She didn’t become angry and we weren’t punished, but I remember her total embarrassment as she returned the money to the neighbors.

During these summer days, you may be thinking about the wonderful excursions you shared with your husband. One of my husband’s and my treats on a summer’s day off was to take the 15-cent ferry from Pt. Judith, RI, to Newport, RI. We walked the streets and seawall, looking at the beautiful mansions and well-groomed yards. Of course, the ocean breeze was refreshing.

As a widow, you may find it difficult to share a few hours of relaxation without your spouse, so at times you simply stay at home. If you are a mother with children still at home, plan an outing with a picnic lunch, walk through a park, or go to a ballgame. Even plan something with a mother who is single through divorce. This could be an encouragement to both families. Simply build new memories with the kids.

If you are alone and your children are scattered across the United States, be an instigator. Organize a trip to a museum with a few widows or go to a new restaurant or teahouse. Plan a shopping trip to an outlet mall or simply have a few widows to your home for lunch. Summer days are full of opportunities to share with others.

Solomon said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). We may not be able to experience the same wonderful vacations or times of refreshing that we once enjoyed, but we can discover new things–even simple things–that bring joy. Then we can bring pleasure to others through sharing.

A Memorial Day Tribute

 

(Photos I took two years ago at Antietam Battlefield near Sharpsburg, MD.)

As I write, it’s early morning on Memorial Day when we honor those who have sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy living in a nation that’s free. While thinking of those who IMG_0208have died, we also must not forget the living whose inner pain has left them scared for life. Some are even unable to share the atrocities they witnessed, so they bear their grief alone.

I grew up about 25 miles south of the Mason/Dixon line and our three counties in West Virginia sided with the South in the Civil War. The rolling hills of the nearby battlefields are beautifully groomed national parks and thus conceal the carnage of those battles. As a child viewing the memorials and statues, I did not understand that more than 620,000 soldiers died in those terrible conflicts. Towns and the battlefields like Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Sharpsburg, Maryland (Antietam Battlefield); Manassas, Virginia (Battle of Bull Run); and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, were attractive to me.

In recent years as I have read about WWII, it is anything but attractive. I cannot understand the cruelty of Hitler and his army as they slaughtered the Jews and Christians who protected them, the disabled, and elderly. It’s absolutely unthinkable that one human could treat someone with such disdain. Reading Night by Elie Wiesel, which graphically depicted his experience as a teenage in a concentration camp, moved me to tears.

Today, we are saddened as we watch young American men and women return home from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan with missing limbs and wounded emotions. And we are horrified as we see ISIS crucify Christians, rape women, destroy villages, and even kill babies. Once again I am stupefied how anyone’s ideology could justify such actions.

WWI was the “war to end all wars,” but peace lasted only about 20 years then. Now peace hardly seems possible. But we long for a lasting peace and true justice. Jesus told us in Matthew 24:6 that we would see “wars and rumors of wars,” and we know that true peace will only come when Jesus, the Prince of Peace, reigns (see Isaiah 9:6). We look for the day when “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples; they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 4:2).

New Memories

A recent women’s magazine featured a seascape that awakened memories from the early days of my marriage. We lived just two miles from Narragansett Bay, New England’s largest estuary that opens into the Atlantic Ocean. Usually once a week at dusk—in warmer weather, of course—we would walk hand in hand on the beach, discuss the day, plan for the week ahead, dream for the future, and stop at the Chinese restaurant for egg rolls. The lapping of the waves and the calls of the sea gulls brought a sense of serenity that can only be found – at least in my opinion – at the ocean. Wonderful memories!

The memories from the latter years of our marriage were not as pleasant, although we shared many good times. Our life seemed to surround doctors, hospitals, disappointing surgeries, long recoveries, and rehab. I had to force myself to remember those early good days. For months after Tony’s death, those painful memories were prominent in my thinking even though I did not talk about them. Even walking into a hospital to visit a friend seemed dreadful.

At first after Tony’s death, I even felt guilty for enjoying myself. Little by little the grief and sadness began to lift as I developed new memories with friends. But I believe the cycle of that pain was broken one night when several of us celebrated a birthday at a local amusement center. We ate pizza, had great conversation, and tried several games. The real fun came when Alice and I decided to ride in the same go-cart. The boisterous laughter that ensued was healing.

Solomon said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22). A large dose of laughter with good friends will help us as widows to form new memories that don’t include our husbands. I do not know how it has happened, except by God’s grace, but my new memories have replaced the painful ones and have left intact the memory of those good times in our marriage.

The Psalmist David said, “Give thanks to the Lord … to the One who remembered us in our low estate. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136). So I’m grateful today for good friends who helped me through the grieving process, brought laughter into my life, and helped me to form new memories.

 

 

To Err Is Human

About 12 years ago, my 4-year-old grandson taught me a lesson that continues to be beneficial today. When I arrived at my son’s home, Daniel was using an art software program on his dad’s computer to draw pictures. As we talked about what he was doing, he said, “Grandma, I learn lots of new things when I make a mistake.”

What a positive attitude and different from my thinking at the time. I hated making mistakes! I’m not referring to willful sin or knowingly making choices that could lead to great disappointments, but those that normally happen through being human. Most of us have heard from childhood that we should learn from our mistakes, but we are still embarrassed and have a sense of guilt when we realize we’ve erred.

From my grandson’s simple statement, I had a paradigm shift and began to realize that mistakes are part – even an essential part – of our growth process. They allow us to see our strengths and weaknesses, show us the need to ask for help, increase our knowledge, help us to learn new skills, and even teach us about others.

As widows, mistakes are inevitable. This is an uncharted path – not just a bump in the road but a mountain to climb. Through our mistakes, we can help other widows avoid the same pitfalls.

Several Scriptures remind me that God looks at our imperfections with grace and mercy:

“Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me” (Philippians 3:13).

“Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

“If any of you lack wisdom, he (she) should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (her)” James 1:5).

The antidote for condemning ourselves when making a mistake is to admit our error, and view it as a learning opportunity. We can ask God to give us peace in the circumstance and move forward with confidence knowing that everyone makes mistakes.

Thoughts on Holy Week for Widows

With the commemoration of Christ’s death and burial just a few days away, we as widows reflect on our experience with death. For some of us, it was “the long good-bye” as disease took our spouses slowimages-2ly. For others, it was that horrible phone call telling us our husbands’ lives were snatched away quickly. But death for each of us changed our lives significantly. We would forever think and act differently. We would experience pain and loneliness that only another widow would understand; and we would feel the depth of helplessness, anguish, grief, rejection, and abandonment.

What’s remarkable is that Jesus’ last words on the Cross reveal He felt these same emotions.
**  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
**  To the criminal on the other cross, He said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
**  “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19:26,27).
**  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
**  “I thirst” (John 19:28).
**  “It is finished” (John 19:30).
** “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Jesus, however, did not stay in that tomb. Three days after the crucifixion, He rose in triumph. Death had no power over Him.

If you are a new widow, I can assure you that you will not always feel despair. The day will come when you feel whole again, and the sense of loss will be vague. God, in His mercy, gives resurrection life on the other side of death. He will help you work through every negative circumstance. His resurrection life is available to anyone. We only need to ask Him to renew His life in us.

The Challenge of Decisions

A friend and I were talking recently about the difficulty we have as widows in making decisions. Her husband died about nine months ago, so this journey is rather new for her. She said, “I always felt confident in decision making, but it’s different now. What’s wrong?” As we talked further, it became apparent that she had lost her sounding board.

I remember my first large financial decision about two or three months after my husband’s death. I discovered termites in one of the large trees in the back yard. Even the trunk was unhealthy. Knowing this would be my first significant financial decision as a widow, I wanted to get it right. So I called three tree removal companies and made appointments for them to see the diseased tree. We discussed what needed to be done and each gave me written estimates. Gingerly I chose the one company and signed a contract. I wish I could tell you that everything turned out well, but the man did not complete the work as promised.

I made several mistakes: I didn’t ask friends for advice or recommendations. I didn’t check if he was certified and bonded. I didn’t ask him for a list of other work he had done; nor did I call the Better Business Bureau. I relied on his impressive ad in the Yellow Pages and his imposing large trucks that I saw around the city. I can’t remember if I followed the directions in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” It’s certainly true that we learn by our mistakes.

Making big decisions is rarely easy. Assessing the problem, gathering information, and listing and analyzing the pros and cons are not problematic. It’s setting aside fears, taking that last step, and trusting our ability to choose wisely. In her book, A Doctor in the House, Candy Carson says that she and Dr. Ben Carson discuss the situation and then ask themselves four questions when making big decisions. (Let’s suppose we’ve been offered the opportunity to take a job in a new state.)

  1. What is the worse thing that can happen if I move.
  2. What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t move.
  3. What is the best thing that can happen if I move.
  4. What is the best thing that can happen if I don’t move.

I like these questions. We can also think about what we would tell a friend if she had this decision to make.

Articles on decision making often say to “trust your intuition.” To me, this means that if I don’t have peace about a decision, I should say no. A couple years ago, I was asked to teach again in Romania, but I had no peace about going. Months after I said no, I learned that the situation would have been very difficult.

The best advise in decision making comes from a wise Old Testament man: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5,6).