Today marks the fourth anniversary of my husband’s “promotion.” That’s the term I prefer to use instead of “death.” As a Christian, if I believe what the Bible says about Heaven (which I do), then moving from this life to the next really is something to be celebrated.
But as the one admitted to the “Widow’s Club” at a relatively young age, it hasn’t been total bliss. Sometimes, I feel as though I’ve been singing every verse of a hymn called “Hard.” And at times, the key goes up a notch or two, and I think the song has just moved out of my range. However, the countermelody that has consistently played over the last four years is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” God has shown me His love, His reliability and His faithfulness in ways I never could have imagined.
In an effort to provide support and encouragement for others newer to this journey, and to equip those who love them, I offer some of the most significant lessons I have learned. I subtitle this “Jody Grows Up.”
Among my ah-ha’s:
1. Everyone grieves differently. There is no “right way” to process grief. And if someone tries to tell you how you “should” do it, politely thank them and keep moving. I highly recommend participating in a GriefShare program in your area. (www.griefshare.org) It provides a great framework to better understand the grieving process as well as to get support from others on the journey.
2. “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.” The decisions and challenges you face may feel insurmountable. Instead of focusing on your mammoth problems, address the next issue. And then the next one. Take one day at a time. Baby steps. Breathe. Don’t worry about what will happen in five years. Focus on the next five minutes.
3. Don’t try to numb your pain. You might be tempted to assuage your hurt and loneliness with food or drink or shopping. The pain relief won’t last long, and you’ll just end up gaining weight, struggling with self loathing or drowning in debt (in addition to the pain). Yes, your pain is real. Admit it, face it, and move through it one day at a time. I promise it will lessen over time.
4. Old dogs can learn new tricks! Perhaps you had very clear delineation of duties with your spouse, and there are things you’ve never done life-to-date. You’ve convinced yourself that you aren’t up to the challenge. News flash: if you’re still breathing, you’re capable of learning new skills. Whether it’s learning to grill on a Big Green Egg, pay bills online, or put up a Christmas tree, you can do it! You might need a little coaching, but don’t underestimate your potential to learn.
5. Drop the expectations. Otherwise you’re bound for disappointment and/or bitterness. No one knows what you need except for you. Friends may not be offering to do the things you’d like, but so many are probably willing. Humble yourself, vocalize your needs and ask for help. People aren’t mind readers.
6. Have a home inspection done. Fearing that significant problems might be lurking, I hired a reputable home inspector as though I was a potential buyer. Thankfully, that inspection revealed some major problems that could be handled proactively. When it comes time to hire workmen, ask your friends for recommendations. And keep searching until you get some references that come with rave reviews. Going for the “cheapest” solution will rarely be the best in the long run.
7. Accept the reality that the first year is just plain hard. The milestone events, i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays, are especially hard. My daughter and I tried doing different things for those first holidays, thinking that a change of scenery would make the holidays easier. It didn’t. We both wished we had been at home, enjoying the familiar while working through the pain of loss.
8. Leave nothing unsaid. Even after a person has died, you can gain closure by writing a letter “to” them. It’s very healing to express the things about them that you will miss (as well as the things you won’t miss) and to express your forgiveness for hurts inflicted and received. On the first wedding anniversary after my husband’s death, I went to the cemetery, sat on a bench near his grave, and read the letter aloud. It was a small, but helpful part of the healing process. (I would not recommend putting all of this in a letter while a person is living, by the way!)
9. Keep a Grace List. A brain fog definitely accompanies the early days of grieving. That’s why it’s so helpful to write down all of the ways you experience God’s love and faithfulness. He truly is a “defender of widows and a father to the fatherless.” Keeping a Grace List allows you to look back and remember. You’ll have those days when you feel completely alone. Remembering past examples of God’s faithfulness strengthens you to face new challenges and an uncertain future.
10. Realize there are no casserole men. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “casserole ladies” that quickly appear at a man’s door when his wife dies. Let’s just say, “casserole men” don’t seem to exist. At least in my town. Said another way, keep your sense of humor! As sad and difficult as it can be to lose your spouse, there’s always something to laugh about. Instead of getting despondent or upset about your learning curve, look for the funny side. I guarantee…there is one!
Unless you’re facing prison time, widowhood is probably not a role that you have chosen. But it is one where you can experience tremendous growth, and best of all, where you can experience God’s faithfulness in new and deeper ways.
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