“What are some of the tools in your grief survival kit?” This question was posed on Quora, a site I sometimes respond to. I thought it was worth mentioning some of the items that helped me survive after the devastating loss of my first husband. They included the following:
Family/friends who allowed me to be exactly where I was–numb, inattentive, distant, glazed, aching–and didn’t try to “fix” me.
Faith in the God who has promised never to leave me nor forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)
Participation in a grief recovery program along with other new widows and widowers. At www.griefshare.org you can enter your zip code and find a group, as well as resources in your area. Processing loss with a trained facilitator and with others in the same life crisis was very helpful to me in understanding some of the impacts, and the timeline, of grief.
Prayer – my own and those of others for me.
God’s promises through scripture, such as the one at right which He gave me following Jerry’s death.
God’s promises encouraged my heart
Reading some excellent books on grief, its impact, process, recovery. I didn’t read these immediately after Jerry’s death. I needed a bit of time to get through the initial shock before absorbing others’ ideas about grief.
A body pillow I purchased to hug at night.
A heating pad for those times when my body, in shock, couldn’t get warmed through. A great tip from my nurse friend, Fritz.
Work, or projects (like cleaning out the garage!) that kept my mind from focusing only on my loss.
Writing … whether a journal, notes to others, or blogposts … was another way of releasing the feelings tumbling about in my brain and heart.
These were some of my tools. What has helped you deal with grief?
Falling in love and committing to a new marriage after losing a spouse took time. Was I willing to join my life with another after having been widowed? Did loving someone new mean I loved my first husband less? Was it in any way a betrayal of our love?
I wasn’t the only one who had the question. My friends also wondered how, when Jerry and I loved each other deeply, I could make room for another man in my life.
When I emailed a photo of Don to two of my close girlfriends, one wrote back a very short response. “Wow. Didn’t expect that. Wow.” I asked what she meant. She thought Don looked very much like an older Jerry. I didn’t see that resemblance myself, but I think my friend wondered if I was trying to replace Jerry.
Later she and I had another conversation where I tried to explain what it was like to love again. “It’s like I have two windows in my heart; Jerry is in one and now Don is in the other; it’s not a replacement, but rather an addition.” And what an addition, a gift from our good Father, he is!
On a recent trip to Israel together
Since Don is significantly older than I am (‘tho young in mind and body!) my friends also feared watching me go through go through widowhood again. It wasn’t easy the first time, for any of us. Not only did they love me; they loved my husband. And they watched me grieve, wept with me, let me go through the steps I needed to in order to heal. They didn’t want to see me in that kind of pain again.
But for me, the choice was to enjoy this second love for whatever time God gives us–or to walk away from it in order to protect my heart. I had asked God that if He had someone else for me, to bring that man to me. I didn’t want to be part of the dating game. While that works and is probably fun for some, it’s not where I wanted to spend my energy.
So God brought this gracious, loving man to me (and me to him) when Don and I met in a widow/ widower grief recovery group about two years after Jerry’s death. Neither of us attended the church where the group met; we came from homes twenty-seven miles apart…not in the same geographic location at all. While it took me awhile to commit, once I met Don there simply wasn’t anyone else for me. A God-thing, no doubt!
Seeking God’s guidance
God has blessed many wonderful women (and men) with the gift of being single after death or divorce. Their lives are full and complete as they follow Him in that new life, unless or until God brings someone else to them. But as more of my friends are widowed, I remember the adjustments needed both by my friends and myself in entering a new marriage. God may bring another special person along: making room for that someone is not only a process for the single person, but also for her family and friends. Honor that. Talk to them about your feelings, needs, desires; help them to know your new love so they can accept and begin to appreciate and love him (or her) too, as my friends have done.
And when feelings are hurt, as mine were when my friends didn’t understand, trust God. Talk about it, to God first. Ask Him for direction for yourself, and also for their openness. I realized that I’d rather have five good years with Don than none! (And we’re now in year eight, for which we both thank God.) And I needed to trust God and my friends with the rest.
Don cleared the table while Mom and I discussed the difference between the average time to remarriage of a widower versus a widow. A few years ago, widowers remarried on average one year after their loss, while widows on average waited three years after the death of their husbands. Mom suggested that in part, the difference could be that a woman generally must wait to be asked, while a man can pursue. Makes sense. I turned to Don.
“Don, why do men remarry earlier than women? What do you think?”
He walked toward us, his face thoughtful. “Is this a question my answer can win?”
Mom and I broke into laughter. Actually, I think I chortled.
Wise man! Too often when we question someone, we have a preconceived notion of what the answer should be–one that will enhance our sense of security or affirmation. Do I want to hear the real answer, or is the question no one can “win” by answering honestly? (Particularly if that person is one who lives with us and is most touched by our responses and moods).
Don’s response was that men need communication; that even though they’re big and strong and in charge in a work environment, at home they need a woman’s nurture and love. Makes sense to me.
The comfort of a friend
I think another factor may be women’s friendships, which are often deeper, more feeling based, and therefore more nurturing than those men share. So when a woman becomes widowed, she has a stronger support group than men do.
So, while we continue building our relationships with our girlfriends, let’s also communicate in ways that invite, rather than repel, open conversation–where an honest response is always a winner. And … let’s encourage the men in our lives to invest in friendships, Bible studies, activities with their male friends as well.
Why do you think men tend to remarry sooner than women? Is this a nurture or nature thing?
Driving alongside a very low reservoir en route to the Santa Cruz area last Thursday, I thought of the four college girlfriends with whom I would spend the next few days.
Judy, a tall, striking brunette (now stunning white) was one of the popular crowd. She always had an answer for those who teased her, and the boys loved being around her. Fun, full of confidence, her lovely soprano voice added much to both the college choir and small groups.
Shirley, a lovely Canadian whose family had just moved to Fresno, had another beautiful soprano voice and developed deep friendships with her servant’s heart, often using gifts of hospitality she learned at her mother’s side.
MarJean, a beautiful brunette with a soaring soprano, had also lived part-time in Canada. Jeannie was quiet, pursuing art, music, and deepening her walk with God. She, like me, is a writer. She is now also a beautiful white-haired woman.
The four of us sang together, usually three at a time – alternating voices and parts according to the song and our strengths.
I didn’t get to know Marilyn as well during college. A pretty blonde, she fell in love in our freshman year and married Don after our sophomore year. I still remember the “candlelighting” ceremony when Marilyn announced her engagement to the women’s dorm. But how I’ve learned to appreciate her love and care for her family and her gifts of hospitality!
I lived in Canada until my ninth year, when we moved to California. At Fresno Pacific, Shirley, MarJean and I learned our birthdates, all the same year, are within three days of each other – September 25, 26 and 27. Judy, Shirley and MarJean lived mostly off campus, since their families were in Fresno. But the deep conversations we shared about faith, challenges in our lives, the laughter that rang out when we were together, were gifts that have lasted over fifty years now.
We used to think 73 was old. How perceptions change as we grow and learn that the depth of friendship, faith, and laughter continues!
What rich memories we share. Four married men they met at Pacific. I graduated without an “MRS” degree and waited another fourteen years to marry.
But those gifts didn’t stop after graduation.
Our lives continued to intertwine over the years, as we lost husbands to death or divorce. Several have gone through significant physical challenges themselves, or with much-loved family members. We’ve earned a few more wrinkles, some parts replacements, and some changes in hair color.
So this weekend, just after the last of our 73rd birthdays, we gathered at the lovely beach home of one of our number. We laughed, cried together, shopped (note the “Husband Day Care Center” in the Capitola shopping district), and talked nonstop ’til the wee hours both nights we were together. We encouraged each other and enjoyed the long-time friendships which have woven in and out of our lives over these 50-plus years.
So I’ve been thinking about friendship, and its importance in our lives. I’ve had several precious friendships, these and several others, for decades. Newer friends add joy to my life. Friends grace us in many ways.
With shared friendship, laughter, and tears through the stages of life–from single to marrieds, to widowed or re-single, to remarriage; children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews.
With hearts and ears that listen and don’t try to fix us. Job’s “friends” tried to fix him and God rebuked them (Job 42:7). They could have just sat in the dust and mourned his losses with him without judging him. Shirley was the first person to whom I told the whole story of my first husband’s last day on earth. She listened, voiced sympathetic sounds, but didn’t try to fix me. I felt ‘heard’, and that was precious.
With honest feedback and sometimes, correction. “An honest answer is like a kiss of friendship.” Prov 24:26 NLT
With forgiveness when they’ve seen us at our worst, and encouragement when we’re doing well. “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9, NLT
With calls or visits in times of crisis, from marital trouble, to death, illness, or family crises.
With the freedom to hang out even when we are numb and disengaged because of our own pain–and to let us be right where we are at the moment.
With the support we feel because of their loving friendship.
I’ve been blessed with two terrific husbands. But someone once said that most women will have their girlfriends longer than their husbands. I’ve known these four women longer than either husband!
A writer younger than I saw a group of 50-ish women laughing together, and commented on their obvious bond. In an article in the Huffington Post, Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis relates that one of the women told her:
“’Don’t ever lose touch with your girlfriends, sweetheart. The older you get, the more you’ll need them.’
Kampakis continues: “The women in the elevator that day were spot on. And now when I see a group like them having fun, I realize the laughter is only part of the story, what comes after the complicated grown-up stuff. And while we certainly need the wonderful men in our lives, for they play a crucial role, too, men simply aren’t designed to understand us like one of our own.
“Sometimes it takes another woman to intuitively recognize what needs to be done — then do it. Or to sense what needs to be said — then say it. Or to take the thoughts and emotions we don’t voice — and know what to make of them.
“Having great friends is largely a matter of being a great friend … girlfriends matter in good times and bad, laughter and tears, and through the highs and lows that reveal who’s with us for the long haul, and who’s willing to share in our suffering so that one day, when we’re laughing again on the beach, there will be a history that makes the laughter sound richer and stirs the curiosity of anyone in earshot.”
The laughter and conversations my girlfriends and I shared this weekend is richer because of the history we’ve walked through together.
What has made your best friendships rich? Are there friends you need to forgive? I’ve had to forgive and be forgiven; and the friendships that have remained are richer for having gone through the fire and persevered.
Friendships. Important? Critical, even? YES.
“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.”
Healing following the death of your spouse takes time. Allow yourself the freedom to grieve in your own way and your own time. Ask for help from a pastor, therapist or grief support group. No one can tell you how long you should grieve, or that you should be “over it” by now.
But over time, you will again choose to move on. After awhile, I began to write seriously, volunteered with three-year-olds in Sunday School, and mentored a younger woman. A few years later I met the wonderful man who is now my husband. But I didn’t see any of that when in the throes of my grief.
And yet, God doesn’t waste our pain.
The late Senator Harold Hughes, an alcoholic depressive who was holding his gun, ready to kill himself when God stopped him, later claimed the promise that “… I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.” Joel 2:25a (KJV)
My friend Susan, whose husband passed away a little over two years ago, just told me, “God is giving me new things in my life.” Not returning what was in the past, but giving new life, opportunities, interests.
God stores our tears; they are precious to Him and do not go unrecognized.
And if our God keeps track of all our sorrows, collects our tears in his bottle, and records each one in his book (Psalm 56:8) , they are not wasted. They may make us more tender to the pain of others; they may draw us closer to our heavenly Father who will never leave us; they prepare us to speak into the lives of others. If we acknowledge and consecrate our grief to the Father, not ignoring our loss or pain, we can submit it to Him for His purposes.
A new believer recently told me, “You encourage me because your life hasn’t been easy; you’ve gone through some very hard times, yet your faith has remained strong.” Praise God–He has not wasted my pain–and He will not waste yours.
I find comfort in the words of II Corinthians 1:3-5.
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”(NLT)
How have you seen God work through your pain to encourage others?