Are Churches Failing the Widow?

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.[a2 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. 


 Purple heart Facebook: A Heart for the Widowed

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20 Responses to Are Churches Failing the Widow?

  1. Allie says:

    I read this about Americans dying of loneliness:
    In a recent survey conducted by psychologist and best-selling author, Dr. Leo Buscaglia, ninety percent of those questioned responded that they had not one person with whom they could share their most intimate secrets.

    The simple act of hugging improves health by raising the hemoglobin level in the blood stream. It removes barriers between people; tearing down walls that cause alienation and loneliness, which can cause people to give up.

    In certain parts of California patients often hire a friend for seven dollars an hour to hold their hand while they are dying! Hospitals are recruiting volunteers to go into surgery and hold a patient’s hand during surgery.
    Yet, many people are afraid to reach out, to touch, to visit, to make the first move.

  2. Allie says:

    We don’t need answers. The bottom line is not why our loved one died or where they are today but the fact that THEY ARE NOT HERE. We need to learn how to live with them not being here.

  3. Wilson says:

    The husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, died in May 2015, in a treadmill accident while exercising at a Mexican vacation resort.Read Sheryl’s post on Facebook.

    Also note that experts say people can grieve for weeks, months, even years, following a death. People might seem ok, but it is not unusual to fall back.The first year is a whirlwind of trying to get everything taken care of. The second and following years may be harder. Grief is complex and everyone’s experiences are different.

    If you are working and are diagnosed with PTSD following your loss you might be able to evoke the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows eligible employees to take an unpaid leave for 12 weeks.

  4. Wilson says:

    There is life-giving power of having social connections. People who live longest have people around them. Having friends trumps just about everything else when it comes to your health.

    Those with stronger connections were half as likely to die as those with weaker ties.Belonging to a faith-based community (attending services four times a month) can add up to 14 years to one’s life.

    An activity that motivates you gives your life meaning. … Why you wake up in the morning. Researchers found that the 569 participants who died had scored lower on ratings of life purpose and social relationships than those who survived. Their conclusion: Having a purpose in life provides a buffer against mortality, no matter your age.

    Sense of purpose can come from a variety of sources, but volunteering is a common one. “There’s growing evidence that it not only keeps you healthier but might help you live longer.”

    Having a sense of purpose might contribute to longevity by lowering the stress hormone cortisol. “Chronic stress leads to inflammation, which is associated with every age-related disease,”

    Join a club or take a class …. increase your social network just by planting a community garden in front of your house.

    Read the whole story

  5. Jan B. says:

    Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Mark 25:40

  6. Kelli says:

    Sometimes old friends stay away from those suffering from grief because they don’t know what to say, or fear that it would be too difficult for them.
    Try to not allow your grandmother to isolate herself.

    *Arrange for a tea or luncheon for a small group of her friends
    *A pet, (not puppy, they can be too much to handle) but an older dog or kitten or cat can bring much comfort and focus a caring nature.
    *Senior center close by may have something to offer. She may find comfort in doing for others.

  7. Ellie says:

    Read this on someone’s blog.

    This unforgettable experience changed Valentine’s Day, from simply a celebration of love, to a celebration of God’s love and the value of life.
    Debbie Query’s husband was tragically killed in a car accident, leaving her a widow, when their youngest child was only 2 years old.

    It’s common to feel like you don’t fit in when you are alone, especially at Valentine’s Day when couples will usually be celebrating with a special meal or gifts.

    Several years ago Debbie and her four children started a tradition by hosting a Valentine’s banquet/luncheon just for ladies who don’t have a Valentine with them because of tragedy, divorce or abandonment. The Querys prepare all of the food for the lovely luncheon: tea sandwiches, beautiful green salads, fresh fruit salads and tea.

    Dressed in white shirts, black bowties and black dress pants young men act as hosts escorting the ladies to their seats and presenting each a little gift. Some will serve as waiters for the banquet. Children really seem to enjoy being a part of this unique Valentine’s Day event by being able to show the ladies that they’re loved, and that this is a special time of the year for them, too. The ladies feel cared for, encouraged and loved even though they may not have their own Valentine with them.

    Violinists and harpists or other musicians play soothing, beautiful music during the banquet. There is often a speaker and pictures are taken of the special event for the ladies to take home and enjoy.

    In the first few years, the banquet was held in the Query’s home. Now, with nearly 100 guests, the event has been moved to a larger location.

    Comment: Debbie Query, who lives in Gravette, AR is an amazing, kind, generous and selfless woman who uses her pain to help others. Continuing to live their faith by example she acknowledges single ladies in her community who might feel forgotten on this day, by creating a beautiful Valentine’s Day event. A HUGE Thank you to Debbie and the many hands who are willing to serve in this ministry. We have seen Baptist churches doing this and hope this will be copied by many other churches, so no one feels left out. We all need each other!!!

  8. Tom says:

    It is hard to be looked at and not seen; to be seen and not talked to. ~ Willie Brimmer, a German immigrant who goes to Walton’s mountain, just as Germany invades Norway and Denmark during World War 2 explains what it has been like for him and his family.

    Isn’t this what we have been doing to widows; treating them like outcasts?

    Shame on us! Being needed is what gives meaning to life.

  9. Brian R. says:

    The church often will lose a lot of their volunteer help when the church does not show a widow respect and love by staying in touch with her or providing some type widows group.

  10. Tristan says:


    Sadly, little is known about the effects of grief and the process of mourning, more importantly the time it takes to accept its effects as a normal human experience.

    Grief becomes a complex problem to our health when we fail to come to terms with loss and don’t allow our feelings to surface in the normal way. We need to talk, to weep, to feel angry, guilty and get it out of the system, NOT be forced into habitual escape routes and other ideas about what we should feel and think and do to get over it.

    Each of us finds our own way out when our grief is understood and accepted for what it is. Problems invariably gets worse for us when issues from past experiences surface at the time of loss that may leave us with a pathological depressed state of mind, unable to rise out of the ashes. Grief, attachment and loss prove to be a complex problem when we don’t look ‘inwards’ for the answer, which is a natural maturing process and a pathway to a healthy body and mind.

  11. Andrew says:


    The grief of losing a spouse or partner affects not just emotional and mental health, but physical health as well. Numerous studies show that the surviving spouse or partner is likely to develop health problems in the weeks and months that follow. In broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, symptoms occur suddenly after extreme emotional or physical stress,even if you’re healthy and have no history of heart disease. Grief due the death of a loved one, is known to be one of the most powerful stressors

    According to the American Heart Association, in broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions.

    Women are more likely than men to experience the sudden, intense chest pain shortness of breath, chest pains, an acceleratedheartbeatand may be misdiagnosed as a heart attack because the symptoms and test results are similar. Tests many show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances that are typical of a heart attack, but unlike a heart attack, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome.

    Broken heart syndrome is usually treatable. Most people who experience it make a full recovery within, usually within days or weeks (compared with the recovery time of a month or more for a heart attack) and they’re at low risk for it happening again (although in rare cases Broken heart syndrome can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure and can be fatal).

    Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) or cardiogenic shock also may occur with broken heart syndrome. Cardiogenic shock is a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, and it can be fatal if it isn’t treated right away. (When people die from heart attacks, cardiogenic shock is the most common cause of death.)

    • Janice says:


      A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that individuals who had lost a spouse or partner were more likely to have a heart attack or stroke within the next 30 days. Researchers at the University of Glasgow conducted a large study of more than 4,000 married couples, ages 45 to 64, and found that widows and widowers had a 30 percent elevated risk of death in the first six months after their spouses had died.

      According to a Harvard study when a husband or wife dies, the remaining spouse’s risk of dying is 66 per cent higher in the three months after their partner’s death. A large percentage of widows die or have serious health problems shortly after a loved ones death. For senior citizens, this type of sudden heart injury can be especially dangerous when combined with pre-existing conditions and their age.

      “Emotional stress will clearly wreak havoc with the sympathetic nervous system, and that can lead to problems as the authors described,” says Dr. Peter Stone, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior physician in the Cardiovascular Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for revving up the body’s fight-or-flight response.

  12. Lauren says:

    There is also a tendency after such a profound loss for the surviving spouse or partner to disregard his or her own health and become resigned to dying, “There’s a kind of giving up or self-neglect that can set in, and some people just really don’t want to go on.

  13. Lori says:

    From talking to other widows everyone tends to agree that most church leaders believe that they are taking care of their widows yet the vast majority of widows do not feel that they get what they need from their church.

    Most widows will not speak up, being very cautious as they do not want anyone think they are disparaging their church.

  14. Gorden says:

    Asked if there were many widows in his church, one said that his church didn’t have many. Well, HELLLLO, people. Why can’t we seem to put it together why they stop coming??? Shame on us!

  15. Brenda says:

    Ask people, even older people, how many widows they know. Surprisingly most will say they don’t know very many. Come on people there are tons of them out there!

  16. Tyson says:

    People who always think they must be paid for anything they do don’t realize that
    it is volunteer work that can open the door to many opportunities that they would otherwise never be able to
    get in.

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