A Widow’s First Year Alone

Four Big Ideas and Advice

First Year AloneNo, 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.

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What to do with Pain as a Widow: 2 Critical Keys

The most helpful truth I learned

There’s no way to make death and grief OK. Death is an aberration in God’s universe, and every time we meet it there is suffering. We try all kinds of things to delay it, ignore it, and pretend we can evade it, but not one of us can escape death. Death hurts – a lot.

Grief is many things; loss, loneliness, anxiety, stress, anger, depression, exhaustion, and so much more. Grief comes in waves, and each one is different than the one before. If you’ve lost someone close to you, even caring friends are unlikely to fully appreciate its deep and long-lasting impact on your mind, heart, and life.

I think the best word to describe the impact of death on those of us left behind is pain. What do you do with the pain as a widow? The death of my husband Al last year wounded me deeply. And yet I’m still standing. Some days are harder than others, but I keep going. Some have asked how I can do so. It’s more than simply knowing God, although that’s important.

Several things have been helpful in my grief journey, but there’s one thing I’ve come to know that has made the most difference. And it is this:

It’s not supposed to not hurt.

You could take out the double negative and it would still be true; this is supposed to hurt. This is not OK. And when we as Christians try to make it OK we cripple our own hearts and miss out on the empowerment God would like to gift us with.   Tweet that.

For those of us going through grief it often seems that if we could just make the pain go away everything would be alright. But that’s not what God promises, at least not yet.

And it’s not even true. If the pain would magically go away, so would the memories, the love, the gift of that person in your life. That is true even if the relationship also included suffering.

Pain means we care. Pain means we loved. Pain means this is not the way God intended our lives and the world to be. Pain means our love was deep, our lives are different because of that loved one’s place in it, and their time on this earth changed us forever. Those are good things. Would we really not want to hurt at the death of someone we cared about so deeply?

It’s not supposed to not hurt.

So what do you do with the pain? How do you go on? Can you even go on?

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No Christmas Tree for Me! (Singing the Holiday Blues)

A Baby is God's opinion that the world should go on!

Holiday Blues at ChristmasIn my neighborhood many families go all-out with Christmas decorations. Thanksgiving leftovers are still in the refrigerator when the blow-up Santas, twinkling multi-colored lights, huge red bows, and evergreen wreaths appear on many of the trees, doors, roofs, and lawns. Tall Christmas trees are visible through living room windows. The only thing missing is the snow.

But I won’t be putting up a Christmas tree this year. I’m not sure I’ll even be able to hang the wreath on my front door. I’m gluing together the broken pieces of the little wooden crèche I’ve carried around with me for 15 years; that symbolizes more how my heart is doing right about now.

You see, this will be my first holiday season without my beloved husband Al. He loved Christmas! We loved Christmas together! Last year we had a really big real tree – and I decorated it while he sat in his chair, too sick to help. We made it out of the house for a Christmas Eve family gathering – barely.

And two months later he went home to be with the Lord.

So you can see why it’s just too painful for me to put up a Christmas tree this year. I’ll do good to get the pieces of my little wooden crèche glued together.

There are still things I’m looking forward to this year. Giving gifts is a joy. There are some Christmas carols that open up the deepest places in my heart. I will be spending Christmas Eve with wonderful family. I love celebrating the amazing gift of Jesus as He entered our world as a baby. It’s just that the heartache and sadness are so acute during this season.

Holiday Blues

Are you singing the Holiday Blues like I am?

Something about Christmas makes us want everything to turn out like a Hallmark movie. Come December 25 everything will be OK!

But you don’t always get a boyfriend for Christmas. Your son or daughter doesn’t always make it home for the holidays. Your grief doesn’t go away; it probably gets worse. A box of groceries and firewood don’t always end up on your back porch. Families don’t always reconcile just because of a date on the calendar.

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Raging Against Death: The End of the Story

Why you must not give up before the end

Bible with Dead LeafYou can handle a lot – for a while. You can handle separation from your sweetheart if you know you’ll be greeted with an embrace on your return in a few days. You can put up with a horrendous mess as your kitchen is being remodeled – for a couple weeks. You may be able to tolerate the grueling radiation or chemo for your cancer while you count down the six weeks until it ends. Knowing the end of the story makes things easier.

But what if you don’t know the end of the story? Jim Collins writes of his interview with Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times times during his eight-year imprisonment, Stockdale was credited with helping other men deal with the torture, instituting an elaborate communication system among his fellow captives who were often held in solitary confinement, and exchanging secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters. When questioned about what allowed him to make it through that time with his sanity intact, he credited his ability to be both brutally honest about his present circumstances and at the same time confident that he and the others would get out and prevail in the end. He told Jim Collins,

This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. (Good to Great, p. 85)

Jim Stockdale was confident of the end of the story even though none of the circumstances around him provided evidence of such. That makes me think of our own circumstances – and of the end of the story that we are each a part of right now.

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Can You Be a Little Bit Saved?

Making Certain Things Are Right Between You and God

HeavenWhen my husband Al met his Maker some weeks ago his eternal destiny was already settled. The decisions about where he will spend forever were made during his life. I believe I know where he is, and that I will see him again in glory. But if that is true, it’s not because he was just a little bit saved.

Some in today’s culture become bothered by the idea that there is any such thing as truth and error, right and wrong, good and evil. They may espouse some vague ideal of moral goodness, but only as they themselves wish to define it. They have some vague hope that if they live their lives more good than bad, they will one day get to heaven.

Would that mean, then, that you’re “sort of” saved if you live a “sort of” good life? By whose definition? And what’s “good enough?” Does a little bit saved get you a little bit of heaven?

In truth, you can’t be a little bit saved any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. Tweet that. It’s either Yes or No. As a woman, if your pregnancy test reads “Positive” it’s only the beginning.

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