Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Young Widow

How do you deal with this?

How do you approach them?

What do you say?

What do you not say?

A friend from college lost her husband last night in a tragic car accident.  I don't know the details.  I don't know the arrangements.  I simply know she is now a widow.

She is my age.  She's been married around the same length of time as me.  She's young.  She's beautiful.  She’s a widow.

Widow.  That word is hard to say.  It’s even hard to say about women who are ‘of age’ to be a widow.  Not that there’s ever a good age to become a widow, but when we think of that word we typically think of older women.  Not a 29 year old.

Over and over today I’ve scrolled through my Facebook news feed to find different people’s reactions to this news.  The common denominator is prayer for the family.  The thing I’ve been studying about.  The thing I’m supposed to be good at because I’m a Christian.  The only thing that might bring comfort to her.  But when I start to say a prayer I don’t have a clue where to begin.  I don’t have a clue what words to use.  I don’t have a clue how she feels.

Saying things like “bring her comfort and peace during this time” just don’t seem adequate enough for the massive loss that she’s going through.

When we say our vows “until death do us part” when do we really think death is going to come?  When we’ve been married for 50+years, right?  Not 4 years.  Brittany and Bradford would have celebrated their 4 year anniversary on July 10th.  I was looking through their wedding pictures earlier today.  I wasn’t at their wedding, but I can imagine it was one of the best days of their life.

Marriage - leaving your father and mother and become one flesh (Matthew 19:5).  She no longer has a spouse.  Who does she cleave to?  Part of her is now missing.

Even though Brittany and I haven’t talked for some time and I don’t know the next time we will talk I wanted to be prepared.  I did a little research from other young widows of things to say or not to say.  I know we get wrapped up in the moment and just start blurting out things, but I hope to keep this in mind for any future encounters with her or any other grieving spouse.  Also, every person is different so some of these things might be ok to say to one person and not ok to say to the next.  Regardless, I want to be aware of the words that I use in times like these.

Not to say:
"Let me know if there's anything you need." – I’m the world's worst about saying this.  I’ve heard it before, but I need to begin following this rule…don’t leave this as an open invitation for them to call you because they probably don’t know what they need.  Instead tell them what you’re going to do.  For example, “Hey I’m going to bring you dinner.  Which night works best for you, Monday or Tuesday?”

"At least you're young..." – I liked how this young widow responded... “At least I'm young? Hmmm. Wow. I'm pretty sure that being young does not make this any easier. Every age of widowhood presents different challenges, but being young does not make it any easier. I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person and being young enough to be able to spend it with someone else is of no comfort at all.”

How are you doing? (in a slow, low, monotone tone) – another one I’m completely guilty of.  When we ask this question what answer are we expecting to hear?  Do we ask this out of true concern?  Do we ask this because we really care?  How many people actually tell you the truth rather than “I’m doing ok”?  I don’t necessarily think this is a completely wrong question to ask, but I do think this is one they probably hear a lot and have no idea how to answer.

"I know exactly how you feel..." - This response really made me think because this young widow has experienced several different losses - "Please keep in mind,  many individuals have gone through a family loss.  However, losing a spouse, it is a whole different ball game.  Words cannot begin to describe what we are going through.  Just because you lost a family member doesn't mean you understand how we are feeling.  Empathize with us, but don't take away our right to our pain.  To us, it is worse than an uncle, aunt, sister, father or mother.  I've suffered loss also. In fact I lost my mother to cancer just a couple years before my husband.  I will tell you now, it really hurt to lose my mom, but I can't begin to say how much pain I felt when my husband passed on.  It is the end of the world to us.  Realize this."

Things to say/do:
Please do stay connected. There is already a huge hole in our universe. Do not assume we need ‘space’ to grieve. 

Please do say you are sorry for our loss. We would rather you tell us you do not know what to say than tell us your story of loosing your friend or even close relative We may be able to listen to your story later, but not now. Do not tell us you understand. 

Do call and ask specifically, “Can we go for a walk together? May I run errands for you? Meet you for coffee? Do not say, “Call me if you need anything.” 

Do refer to our husband’s acts or words—serious or humorous. We are so comforted by knowing our husband has not been forgotten. Do not leave our husbands out of the conversation. 

Invite us to anything. We may decline but will appreciate being asked. Do not assume we no longer want to participate in couples events. 
Do not assume we go through the outlined grief process ‘by the book.’

Walk the talk. Do not make ‘conversation only’ offers. “We’ll call you and we’ll go out to dinner.”—and then not follow up. Yes, we are sensitive in our grieving, but we’d rather hear you say, “I’ve been thinking of you.” than make a ‘conversation only’ offer.

I loved what this young widow had to say about grieving:

"A safe general rule in grief is to let the griever set the tone for interactions. If the griever is in a calm, more content moment, share that moment with her. If she is weepy and taken over by a wave of sadness, stay steady with her but don’t try to fix her like a broken toy. I would have been insulted early in my grief if had anyone suggested that a future relationship would improve my happiness; it would have sounded to me like that person was saying my husband was disposable. However, as I healed and began to look up and past the clouds of the moment, I began to have hope for the future and that included the possibility that I might eventually love again, but I needed to get to that place on my ownHow a spouse processes the deep grief of loss is profound and extreme and primitive and very, very private. Trust the griever. Trust that she did the hard work whether it took her 5 years or 6 months to face down that dragon. Trust also that she doesn’t owe you any explanations about it."

So join me!  Even though I might not know exactly how to word a prayer on this matter, prayer is the most important thing that can be done.  Pray for Brittany.  Pray for the Higgins and Anderson families.


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1 comment:

Brian Anderson said...

I just came across your blog from a link fron Brittany's. I thank you for your concern, for your prayers, for your love and friendship. Brittany is continuing through her grief process and your thoughts have helped her tremendously. May you continue to be aware of and look for opportunities to reach out to her and others with your research, thoughts, and deeds that will help them through the tough times that they do and will face.
As a family, we all felt God's help as His children were praying for us, lifting our burdens before His throne, even as you were writing these words.
May He richly bless you and your family as you continue to serve Him and your fellow man.
His servant and yours,
~Brian Anderson
(Brittany's dad)