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.)

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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)

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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.

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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. 

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 Purple heart Facebook: A Heart for the Widowed

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One Response to Are Churches Failing the Widow?

  1. Allie 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, though,being very cautious as they do not want anyone think they are disparaging their church.

    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.

    Asked if there were many widows in his church, one gentleman said that his church didn’t have many.

    The wife of retired minister who pastored a large church in Tulsa for over 30 years actually claimed she really didn’t know widows.

    HELLLLO, people.There are tons of widowed out there! Could it be that they stop coming to church because they are often made to feel like a misfit? Shame on us!

    Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 (NIV)

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

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    Matthew 25:31-46 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25:31-46

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    Luke 10 :25-37 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+10%3A25-37 what is required to receive eternal life -loving your neighbor

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    I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.
    I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
    I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
    I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
    I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
    I was lonely and you left me alone to go and pray for me.
    You seem so holy, so close to God.
    But I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.

    –Author unknown

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

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    https://vimeo.com/120736379 What they are doing in Duncan, OK monthly for widows. It is called A Beautiful Day. May God Bless these compassionate ladies.

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    Many widows refuse to go to a typical “support” group with a non-widow therapist or leader. They need simply other widows who will listen as only another widow can understand. Ask a widow what is hard for her and she will NOT tell you. Put her in a small group of 3-5 other widows and they’ll talk and be relieved to learn that they aren’t the only ones dealing with loneliness, depression, grief that goes on for years when other think they should be over it.

    What is needed is a way to connect widows. Valentines’ Day should be a day of inclusion, not a day of exclusion. A Valentines banquet is a great way to introduce widows to each other. From there they can be invited to a widow ‘small group’ at the church.

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    Let’s not forget the widowed.

    Debbie Query, of Gravette, AR became a young widow when her husband was tragically killed in a car accident, 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 celebrate with a special meal or gifts.

    Using her pain to help others Debbie and her four children started a tradition by hosting a Valentine’s luncheon for ladies who don’t have a Valentine with them due to tragedy, divorce or abandonment.

    As soothing, beautiful music is played in the background, by violinists, harpists or other musicians the ladies are escorted to their seats where young waiters, wearing white shirts, black bowties and black dress pants serve a lovely luncheon. While enjoying tea sandwiches, green salads, fresh fruit salads and tea with a special dessert they listen to a speaker. The ladies receive a small gift and pictures are taken of the special event for the ladies to take home and enjoy. Even though they may not have their own Valentine with them, they return home feeling encouraged and loved.

    The banquet, first held in the Query’s home, has grown so much that the event has been moved to a larger location.

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    Anniversaries and holidays, especially Valentine’s Day, that used to mean joy and celebration can be among the toughest days of the year, as she is reminded that her sweetheart is no longer here..
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    Some churches, understanding the importance of ministering to widows, encourage others, to acknowledge single ladies in their community, thereby changing Valentine’s Day, from simply a celebration of love, to a celebration of God’s love

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    The first Valentines day after the loss of her beloved husband of 54 years everywhere she turned was another reminder that she was all alone now. Cards, flowers, chocolates, red and pink stuffed animals, heart-shaped balloons, commercials for romantic dinners.

    Her youngest daughter took her out to a nice restaurant for dinner, causing her to realize that there were other widows who were completely left out. So, the next year she invited all of her widowed friends to her home for a Valentine’s Day luncheon- served on her finest china and crystal. While there were tears as they shared stories about their husbands, there were a lot of smiles and laughter.

    Valentine’s Day can be incredibly hard for those who have lost their spouses, but something as simple as a Valentine’s luncheon can become a blessing as they celebrate the love they had each shared with their sweethearts.

    – Guideposts Magazine Feb 2012
    We feel a sense of loss on anniversary, holidays or when we least expect it. We may still feel a lump in the throat years after the loss because healing does not mean forgetting, and because moving on with life does not mean that we don’t take a part of our lost loved one with us.

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    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.

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    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. https://www.facebook.com/sheryl/posts/10155493238390177

    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.

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    BROKEN HEART SYNDROME

    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 accelerated heartbeat and 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.)

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    SPOUSES WHO DIE CLOSE AFTER THEIR LOVED ONE’S DEATH

    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.

    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.

    http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/death-spouse-partner-can-lead-heart-attack-stroke-201402277055

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    AARP has lots of info about isolation and the fact that it is NOT good.http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/isolation/

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    A new study in Psychological Science found that people who feel they have a sense of purpose in life are less likely to die over a 14-year period. “Make a new friend, pick up a new hobby, or volunteer,” says Dr. Leipzig.

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    Volunteer work can open the door to many opportunities that they would otherwise never have. https://simpleactofkindness.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/volunteer-work-leads-to-job-promotion

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