“Finding Community” by Sheryl Gehrls
Each of the ten Refocusing Principles speaks to a specific area of being a widow. Although they may seem to overlap, they are each unique and carry their own set of questions. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be looking at each one separately. The first deals with the importance of finding new community after the death of your spouse, especially among other widows.
Principle #1: I have experienced the profound grief of losing my spouse. Because only another widow can truly identify, I choose to seek help and support from other widows in a safe environment where I can share my pain, my struggles, and my victories.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
Recent Census Bureau statistics indicate that nearly 700,000 women lose their husbands each year and will be widows for an average of 14 years. There are approximately 17 million widows in the United States and nearly 300 million globally. One survey showed that ¾ of the population over the age of 70 is female, and that 90% of all married women will be widowed at some point in their lives. The grim reality is that most women will outlive their husbands.
One of the difficult things about becoming a widow is the profound loss of family and friends who were previously a part of our lives. Some studies indicate that this might be as high as 75% of a widow’s entire support structure – 3 out of every 4. This statistic is nothing short of shocking! While there are lots of reasons for this, the fact remains that every widow wonders where all her friends went!
While losing your spouse changes every single thing about your life, the reality is that the rest of the world doesn’t come to a screeching halt! Life goes on for other people, and we can’t take this personally. Some friends will be uncomfortable around you because you remind them of their own mortality, which they are not willing to consider. Other friends may not immediately disappear but fade away after a few weeks. They don’t know how to help or what to say to you. Some friends were there because they were business associates of your husband. Some were realistically only his friends, and you were an acquaintance. There are the couples who don’t know what to do with you because you’re now single. Some couples were friends simply because you were part of another couple. If these were close relationships, reach out to them.
In the middle of the emotional turmoil, we find an odd conflict going on within us. We have a need for community, and at the same time we seem to shout, “Leave me alone!” Our friends that are reaching out and trying to stay connected often get a big “NO!” from us. We don’t even understand this ourselves, let alone know how to explain it to someone else. Many of our friends simply stop asking because they find us frustrating! Personally, I had to tell several of my friends to keep asking because one day I would say “YES!”
Considering all this, we’re pretty much forced to find and build new relationships and support structures no matter how unwilling we might be. Hearing the story and journey of another widow can be encouraging and helpful. Only another widow can completely understand. We need those who can acknowledge our loss and not be afraid to talk about it. You will treasure those who can sit down with you and talk about your spouse, even though they may not have known him. They can relate because their need is the same.
Community is vitally important to our healing and our ability to manage the grief. It is part of the image of a highly relational God in us. He created us for relationships, and when those are missing, we find it impossible to function normally. Because it’s so important for us to have people around us who understand, identifying our “tribe” should top our list of priorities.
Although we may resist even being called a widow at first, we need to reach out to other widows who truly understand the loss. It’s helpful to talk with those who can relate. Just as you can benefit from other widows, be intentional about reaching out to new widows who can benefit from your experience. By now, you’re probably asking, “Where do I find this new community?”
Bearing in mind that this will stretch you at a time when you want most to isolate, here is a list of suggestions. These suggestions have been gleaned from widows who found them to be helpful. Some of them may be more helpful than others for you but push yourself to try! After all, you never know where you might meet that new best friend!
- Ideally, your first support community should be your church. This isn’t the case for everyone, but friends and small groups within the church can be a huge support to a new widow.
- Make a weekly trip to the library for such light reading as mysteries, biographies, and inspirational books on widowhood. Don’t just order books on your Kindle!
- Enroll in an exercise class suited to your physical capabilities and not those of a 16-year-old ballet dancer.
- Start investigating and collecting information about classes, volunteer jobs, hobbies and training. Many non-profits are crying for volunteers and would love to hear from you!
- Join a weekly widows-support group. Grief Share is a good place to start, as it’s generally hosted through churches. Search online for local grief support groups or check the funeral home. Most of them will do grief follow-up, and it may be a good place to make new friends.
- Get out and mingle with people and do it with a purpose.
- Make an appointment to have lunch or dinner with a friend at least once a week. If they don’t call you, call them first. Isolation will lead to depression, so socialize a bit.
- Tape this sign to your bathroom mirror where you can’t fail to see it every night:
DO NOT GO TO SLEEP WITHOUT A PLAN FOR THE DAY AHEAD.
If you’ve struggled in this area of community, it’s likely that you’ve found some ways to build new relationships. Please feel free to share them in the comments below so that others can benefit from your experience. We’d love to hear what has worked successfully for you!
As always, you can email me with your thoughts or questions at email@example.com.