Death is a compulsory stage of life that grants exit from our human activities. When death comes the sudden and permanent disappearance leave sorrows and pains for the spouse to bear. At this point, grief is notable as is devastating.
Widowhood is an experience no one prays to have. But no matter how it is resisted, it will surely rear its head into our midst and turn in experience of lifetime.
The experience of grief is both uniquely personal and universal. Our personality, our relationship with the deceased, the manner in which the deceased died, our life stage, and many other contextual factors matter and impact grief, and yet there are many experiences, phases, stages of grief that are universal. Those who are grieving deeply or who are farther along in their healing are often trying to understand grief and its realities. It has been said that people die but relationships do not.
Statistically, one third of all women who become widowed are younger than age 60, and half of those widowed become so by age 65. In fact, seven out of ten baby boomers can expect to outlive their husbands.
Here are nine things you need to know about the ever increasing member of society, the widow:
1. A widow’s deepest pains last longer than a year. Immediately after a death, the church community is adept at responding with flowers or a casserole but far less gifted in maintaining a ministry to her long-term. Her experience can feel like major surgery—a radical amputation, to be specific. She may be numb for several months. After the cards and letters stop, the visits drop off, and friends return to their normal lives, her hardest work has just begun.
2. A grieving widow who lives alone may go several days without hearing another human voice, especially months after the initial funeral. Emails and text messages are good; however, phone calls and visits may be better. While this may not seem like the most efficient use of your time, efficiency and effectiveness are sometimes mutually exclusive.
3. A grieving widow’s pain is unique and volatile. What encourages one woman may be painfully unhelpful to another. Grief is like a virus that waxes and wanes with intensity. Emotional mine fields such as these may require intimate knowledge of the bereaved. A close friend might be better suited to visit than a newly hired pastor. Don’t confuse compassion for a church acquaintance with a call to take personal action. If you don’t know the widow well, allow one of her close friends to direct your ministry efforts.
4. A grieving widow is often physically and emotionally exhausted. Don’t call her late at night or early in the morning. Be patient if she is slow in responding to your acts of kindness. Graciously accept her “no thank you” when she says she’s not up to going to dinner. She isn’t refusing help or/ harboring bitterness. She may simply need rest.
5. A grieving widow loves her children. Watching her children suffer is a misery that compounds grief and one in which the body of Christ is uniquely suited to offer comfort. Loving a widow’s children is loving the widow.
6. A grieving widow often feels second (or third) to everyone else. This is one of the stigmas this status feels. She may position herself intentionally backward, leaving situations for chances. In some cases, they are treated as vulnerable in the midst of the people.
7. A grieving widow’s life is not a tragedy but a gift. When she is ready, encourage her to serve. In many cases, the death of her spouse did not hamper her gifting. Quite the contrary, it is part of how God heals her. Don’t look at her through the lens of her loss, but rather chose to see God’s faithfulness as she deepens her trust in her Savior.
8. A grieving widow’s finances may dramatically change after the loss of the primary breadwinner. More than half of elderly widows now living in poverty were not poor before the death of their husbands. She may have life insurance policies, long-term savings plans, and family to lean on, yet still find her finances overwhelming. After my husband’s death, two of his friends—one an accountant, the other a senior bank vice president—helped me work out a budget based on my lower income level. And these two did not treat me like an obligation. Every time they left my home, a piece of my burden went with them.
9. God loves a grieving widow. He does not despise her tears nor shudder when she doubts her faith in the darkness. The widow knows much of Jacob’s wrestling with God. He walked with a limp the remainder of his earthly life, but gained a changed heart.
A grieving widow needs gospel-drenched compassion and not pity. While compassion walks beside the bereaved, pity stands off at a safe distance. To offer compassion in any circumstance is to share in another’s suffering, and in so doing, we reduce the resultant effects of the pain. For after the grief period comes relief if the intensity of the sorrow is well managed and the bereaved is adequately taken care of. In all, our consolation is found in the Word of God which states; sorrow may last for a night but joy comes in the morning.
Adunke Olatunji is President Tabitha New Life Foundation