[Carol Noren Johnson writes of an experience few of us have known, or are likely to know: widowed not once but twice, she brings us a story of God’s faithfulness and the blessings of the community of his people.]
June 23, 2014, marks the second time I became a widow. I didn’t want to be a widow again. I didn’t do it well the first time. The first time I was totally unprepared for grief-bursts. How I coped was not appropriate. I dated too soon and let women who took advantage of me stay in my home because I was lonely.
The First Time
After my first husband died, I remember Diane from my church asking me a significant question:
Carol, we want to help you, but you will have to tell us what to do.
I remembered her offer and asked her to babysit me when I got my first husband’s clothes out of the house. She brought them to the church for the yearly rummage sale, and that year I didn’t volunteer to help with the rummage sale. My pain would be too raw when I saw someone buy familiar clothes.
And the Second Time
When my husband was diagnosed with dementia in December of 2008, I knew that another widowhood was coming again. I didn’t like it—the road was familiar. For a time I withdrew emotionally from my husband. One day he asked me if I was having an affair.
No, Sweetheart. I am your loving wife who follows Scripture. I wouldn’t dream of having an affair.
From that day on I concentrated on those vows to be there in sickness and in health until death us do part. We lived our lives and did things together for as long as possible. We camped and took trips, even when it was hard for him to walk. I hoped that he could be in our home all his days and with the help of Hospice we were able to accomplish his being home. I had to remind him that it was our home, but we had a hospital bed in our master bedroom with my bed by his side. Our dog Ziggy would travel between the hospital bed and my new twin bed when the king-size bed was removed.
People are gifts to us, not possessions, for however long they are in our lives. When people or things become our possession, we are closed off to the spiritual journey of life; we think life is all about us–our rights–and what is owed to us. I am coming to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” as Job did when he lost everything. Christ’ s beatitudes included my suffering as a widow: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
My first experience of death was when my mother died. She was in her early 60s. I am older than she is now. My father taught me valuable lessons about widowhood then.
He quoted James 1:27 on undefiled religion and together we went down the street to visit a widow (an act of “real religion undefiled”). I was honored to be with my father when we ate food that my mother had cooked. I understand my father’s wish to be with me when we ate my mother’s cooking. I now need to be with people as I take the mourning journey.
Widows have a special place in Scripture. 1 Timothy 5 has a lot to say about us. We are to be honored (vs. 5). Our family is to be there for us (verses 8 and 16). With both of my widowhoods I have had help in the home, such as the time the pastor sent a crew to my house one Saturday to do yard work and repair things as needed after my first husband died.
As my second husband went downhill, people started to help me. A volunteer began to mow the lawn and make repairs at the house. Sometimes I asked for that help—learning that lesson years ago.
A caregiver becomes a shut-in and at the end of my husband’s life people stayed with him so I could get out and even so I could go to church. When the garage door became a problem I asked someone to come and fix it. Thanks to life insurance (something I didn’t have with the first widowhood), I am able now to pay for dental work that I didn’t have time for when I was a caregiver.
I have sad days and moments as I observe grief. However, widowhood is an opportunity for others in our churches and communities to serve us as we begin the process of forging a new life. We dare not isolate ourselves. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn has said,
The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keeps out the joy.
I count my blessings—my joys even though some days are hard. For a week on Facebook I posted three things each day that I am grateful for. The first blessing I posted was “The LORD’s strong hand during the past months when my husband went downhill and passed away” and noted Psalm 23:4.
Who do you know who is in mourning? Be with them. Hug them. Ask them to tell you what you can do for them. It is real religion—taking note of widows.