As death is inevitable for each one of us, many of us will be the one left behind to walk this lonely road, alone. Yet, the impact of grief and widowhood is not something for which one can prepare, even when the death is anticipated.
Studies show that widows lose 75 percent of the people they believed were friends when their spouse passes. No longer part of a couple the widow is not included in couples events. When she runs into a friend they may insist they will call her to get together, but they never do. The loss of friends seems insignificant compared to the huge loss of a husband. However, losing long time friends is unexpected and widows grieve the loss of friends while grieving the loss of our loved one. A widow’s identity and role change when she went from wife to “widow”.
The loss of her partner, compounded by this loss of identity (where she no longer participates in activities in the role of someone’s wife) has a profound effect on her sense of self-worth and can trigger low self esteem. Widows hate the label of widow, which carries an awful stigma all its own. Strange noises in the middle of the night is nothing compared to the emotional pain of feeling alone and forgotten. When faced with the greatest darkness she has ever felt, everything seems broken and friendships gone. The pain is overwhelming and she doesn’t want to be alone.
FEELING LIKE A MISFIT: Social loneliness is experienced due to one not feeling like they are a member of their community and/or no close friends or family to rely on. A person can be either emotionally or socially lonely, or both. Widows are likely to have more friends if they belong to a church.
From the moment of her loved ones death the widow starts the slippery slope downhill. One pastor described widows saying they move from the front row of the church to the back, and then out the door.
On forums where widows can post anonymously, time and time again we see these sentiments:
- We move from serving and singing in choir to solitude and silent sobbing, and then on to find a place where we belong. We were very involved in our church. Now when I go, I sit on the back row near a door so I can escape as most of the time, I just have to leave.
- We may think that in a community of believers, we support each other, but I haven’t heard from anyone from church in many months.
- Church members said that they would come by in the beginning and check on me but no one has. I haven’t been there either since my husband died. It’s too painful and I know I’ll fall apart. I haven’t lost my faith but I do feel abandoned sometimes.
- I am legally BLIND and would so appreciate a ride to church if anyone lives near me.
James 1:27 says that true religion is to take care of widows in their distress.
Widows tell us:
- If you aren’t a widow you cannot not understand what a widow is going through.
- We wish churches would have for widows only groups; not an organized grief therapy, not a dating service or gathering for Senior citizens, but a support group, made up just of widows and one for widowers just for widowers. We have found that the greatest support and compassion is not from churches or a therapist but other widows.
- We don’t necessarily know who the other widows are in our church. We’d love it if our church would just help us make a connection to other widows. Our self esteem is low and we don’t want anyone to reject us. Even a shy person can be helped by a small group. If the church would simply give us a place and time for widows to meet, we could take it from there. “Small groups” where widows and widowers meet are volunteer driven; minimum time is required from pastoral leadership. (Widowers chimed in that they need a widowers group made up just of widowers.)
PRESERVING THEIR DIGNITY. WIDOWS WANT THE OPPORTUNITY TO GIVE BACK One widow said she believes that everyone should always be given the opportunity to do something in return for receiving a “hand up”, because otherwise it is a “handout”. Please let us be and encourage us to be involved, instead of making us feel that we are to be pitied and that our life has no meaning anymore. 2 Thessalonians 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.[a] 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12English Standard Version (ESV)
Further, doing something in return allows them to feel they are a part of something and are needed. When anyone, including a church member, does something to help her (such as working on her house, giving her groceries or looking at her car; saving her money) she should ALWAYS do something in return, even if it is small. “People’s most basic need in life is relationship. People connected to other people thrive and grow, and those not connected wither and die.” (From the book “How People Grow”)
EMBRACING THE WIDOWED A church that embraces widows will find that widows, who may seem fragile, at first, have a whole lot to offer, including time and knowledge. The widowed can be a real help to the church if they are encouraged to be a part of something which gives them hope that their life isn’t over. The church helps them; they help the church.
Most of us want to help when we see someone in need but we often don’t know how.We tell the widow, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” In shock, struggling with deep grief and overpowering waves of loneliness and confusion, a widow doesn’t know what it is that she needs….Friends stopped trying when she didn’t answer the phone, not realizing that she was in the middle of a crying jag and simply could not talk. Assuming that she didn’t want to hear from them. Feeling like they must be bothering her they gave up trying to stay in touch.
A widow believes she must be strong so others aren’t forced to cope with her pain and sorrow, she puts on a big act to appear normal. She stays busy to fill the void convincing everyone with her wide smile that she is doing great.
HOW A WIDOW WANTS YOU TO SEE HER Bumping into them at the grocery store the widow forcing that fake smile, she declines offers of help by reassuring that she is doing just fine and keeps the pain inside. She doesn’t want to be a burden or whine or complain or have anyone know that she still continues to grieve. She doesn’t want to appear weak.”Taking her at her word that she is doing well and doesn’t need help, offers of help are few and far between.
THE REALITY: When she is alone she says she is often sobbing in a heap on the floor. Every day is a struggle. Only another widow might realize the excruciating pain she is in. that leaves her unable to even clean her house or cook.
There are more than 100,000 widows in Oklahoma. 800,000 in the US become widowed each year, making widows the fastest growing demographic in the United States. Almost half the women over 65 years of age in the United States in 1997 were widows and nearly 70 percent lived alone.
Facebook: A Heart for the Widowed