Nobody wants to think about life after the death of a spouse. Yet, when we said our vows we promised each other, “until death do us part.” At the very outset of our marriage we are prompted to consider the end. Oh, that’s just morbid. I don’t need to consider it now; we’re so young! Wrong. You need to think about it, talk with your spouse about it, and plan for it now. You can’t know how long you will have together and the chances of you leaving this world simultaneously are incredibly slim.
Let me tell you a little story about two of my neighbors. One I will call Mara and the other Naomi. (In the book of Ruth, Naomi, or pleasant, was crushed by the loss of her husband and son and so she told everyone to stop calling her Naomi and begin referring to her as Mara, or bitter. See Ruth 1:20-21) We’ve lived in this neighborhood for four years, and on several occasions, we’ve tried to make friends with Mara. She actually turns her back and pretends she can’t hear us. Still, we try to help her out in small ways without being too intrusive, like plowing out her driveway in the winter. Despite our many attempts to connect with her, she is not interested. We recently discovered that she has been a widow for seven years. She stopped going to church, stopped interacting with the friends that she and her late husband had made, and stopped engaging in life.
Mara confided all of this to our neighbor, Naomi. Naomi and Mara are both in their sixties and both women are widows. Naomi was devastated when Mara quietly confessed that she was terrified because her son and his family went on vacation for a week. Mara explained that they are all she has and she wouldn’t know what to do if something happened to her. She has no friends, no other family, and no connections to her neighbors.
Naomi couldn’t be more different. She’s full of energy and spunk. She’s the kind of woman you like as soon as you meet her. And a few weekends ago, my family attended Naomi’s wedding. What a beautiful, glowing bride!
I sat down with Naomi over the weekend and asked her about her late husband. She spoke fondly of him and told me how much she still loved him. He was her world for 38 years. She smiled when she told me about him and loved sharing stories of their life together. I asked her what was the most difficult part of being a widow. Her answer: being alone. She told me about how she spent many nights sobbing in prayer mourning the loss of her husband and how she sought out Scripture for comfort. Naomi went on to explain that she decided she needed to connect with new people and start living again. She had no desire to remarry, but was open to whatever God brought her. It just so happened that God brought her a new love. Not someone to replace her lost love, but a whole new person and a whole new beginning.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about these two women; how different they are and the ways that their approach to widowhood have changed the trajectory of their lives. There are important lessons to learn from Mara and Naomi:
Mourn but not indefinitely. Some people take longer than others, but at some point it is necessary to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and choose to start living again.
Let God comfort you. Pray, even if the prayers are silent, hot tears. Pour over Scripture, especially Psalms. He promises to comfort us, but we also have to accept that comfort instead of closing ourselves off and becoming bitter.
Engage with people. Become active in your church, volunteer in your community, get to know your neighbors, and allow old relationships to continue blooming while nurturing new ones.
Be open to the next chapter. We can’t possibly know what God has planned for us after such a loss. Perhaps we are to comfort others going through a similar struggle, pursue a new calling on our lives, or maybe, just maybe, we should be open to the opportunity for God to bring us new love.
We will get to choose how we will handle losing a spouse. We aren’t victims of the loss, but victims of our attitudes toward the loss. These two women have fostered a much-need conversation between me and my husband. We needed to discuss what we expect of the other in the likely event that one of us passes first and give each other our blessings to move forward with life.
My message to my husband is this: miss me, remember me, but continue to live and to love.
Abide in His Grace,