It is possible to move through a grief journey in an empowering way when we realize who empowers us to do so.
Six months after my first marriage failed, I received a call one September evening from an old acquaintance. Walking alone for months as a single mom of three young children, I welcomed Jeff’s call.
A little over a year passed and we were married with happily-ever-after plans but life changed dramatically when our son was born with chronic kidney failure. It was the beginning of a long and unknown road for our family. Jeff was a strong and positive guy, always responsible and a great new dad to my children. However, certain situations in life can make us feel alone even when there is someone beside us. Helpless, even. And there were many times along the way that I felt helpless.
Through endless years of hospital stays and transplants, Jeff was there to lend support and courage even after he became weak with multiple health issues. His illness together with our son’s was often overwhelming. I felt pulled in opposite directions, but always wound up in the same place – a hospital room. There were times when our son was admitted to an inner city hospital while my husband was in another hospital forty miles away. It was a daily step of faith to trust God and put one foot in front of the other.
And now, I must continue to do the same as I walk a new path without Jeff. Widowhood. The day the doctor called me out of the dialysis clinic to say, “I’m sorry, there just isn’t any more that we can do for him,” I could almost hear an audible thud as life dropped out from under me. My husband was dying from the same tragic illness our son was born with.
Leaning against the cold corridor wall, I knew in a whirling instant that this was the ending of one journey and the beginning of another far beyond my ability to get through on my own. I returned to Jeff’s side to see a frail body of the once strong man who had held me up countless times and suddenly I felt just as frail.
In one eternal moment I gazed at the one who captured my heart decades before and listened to his heart now fade away. The stark reality hit, this is who I am now. Alone.
Yet in that solo place when I met widowhood dead-on, decisions still needed to be made. So, within the month, I packed up my life and what remained of his in cardboard boxes and relocated closer to my children. Shortly after I moved, I lost my job of twenty-one years when our office closed. Another epic transition.
No matter how hard I tried to keep things the same, nothing remained that way – not my calendar, not my shopping list, Sunday afternoons, the look in my children’s eyes during holidays and certainly not the darkened home that now welcomes me instead of candles lighting each window. Only the scenes that paint a new picture, the one none of us are ready to be part of.
We know there will come a time when the vow we share “till death do us part” will become true for one of us. But somehow we never really part – only die in part at the sound of a favorite song, driving down a familiar road, or sitting in the same old crowded church pew where one is missing.
Those who have walked this path before say that friends and family are supportive mostly in the first year. But what happens in the second year when the loss seems greater?
Death is a different and a more final alone than divorce. The only similarity is that each experience has taken me to a deeper level in my relationship with God, empowering me to move past the darkness in the strength He provides. Solitary times teach us what we seem to find only while we’re there.
I’m learning as I walk alone, the title of widow will not define me. On the beautifully-devestating journey of aloneness, I’m realizing that change is good as I discover a self-awareness of who I am and who I can be, while cherishing the moments that take me to each place.
The strong bonds of friendship have helped me navigate through the shifting seasons. Women need women. They somehow have an intimate and intuitive wiring to one another.
The best advice I’ve received during this time is from an old friend who simply stated, “Maybe it’s time for you to be you now.” She was there through the struggles in my first marriage and also during the past decades that have been riddled with hardship. Her comment suddenly made sense out of the backdrop of my life as preparation for now.
It’s a mystery the way God creates new things out of the old that takes us to the next chapter in our story. Loss is change. We can choose to embrace the new beginning or linger in the aftermath of what was. The beauty that comes out of the journey is when transformation results from the loss and leads us with confident expectation into what lies ahead when we fix our gaze on the One who knows the way.
Verna Bowman is a writer and speaker. Her experience in leading Bible studies, serving as retreat coordinator and MOPS mentor, has offered a place to share God’s Word to encourage women of all ages. Learn more at vernabowman.com.