words by: Ferree Hardy
Are you in one of those families where birthdays and anniversaries cluster together in certain months? In my family, October is full of birthdays, and February has several more, including my mother’s and my own. February also marks the day when life changed instantly for my children and me—the day my husband Bruce died of a brain aneurysm.
The next day was my forty-fourth birthday. I felt torn in half and cried constantly. How could I live without Bruce? What would I do for the next forty-four years? Would I grieve for the rest of my life? Why should I even have a life?
The early days of widowhood were very numb and empty. I can hardly remember them anymore, and that is a blessing I choose to receive. I’m grateful that I was in shock because otherwise, it would have been too overwhelming. It was hard enough to breathe at times. Life felt unreal, like a bad dream. I desperately wanted to wake up, but unfortunately, I was already awake.
As I look back on that fateful February day, some hard-earned lessons emerge. How does the saying go?—I wish I knew then what I know now?
If I could have come alongside the forty-four-year-old me, here are some of the lessons I’d want her to understand so she could go on, so she’d feel worthy of having a life, and so she’d know that the burdens of grief would lighten and become bearable. Grief is a season of life. It changes us forever, but it doesn’t have to last forever.
1. Grieving is Hard Work
The death of a spouse tops the list of life’s most stressful events. Physically, it’s very important to eat right, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of exercise. Consult with a doctor if you cannot sleep or have heart pain or other symptoms. Mentally, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and forget many details. It’s hard to concentrate, so ask for help from a variety of qualified people. When you meet with them, take notes or have someone take notes for you. Write down questions before appointments or meetings. You might think you’ll remember, but you won’t. You might even get lost going to places you’ve been to before. All this is normal at first, but see a good doctor if it continues to interfere with daily routines.
2. Grieving Takes a Long Time
We understand it’ll take time, but most people think a month or two is long enough. It’s not. At first, the tears flow often, almost constantly. Then you notice the crying is not as constant; it’s several times a day… then only a couple times a day… once a day… once every couple days… once a week… a couple times a month… once a month… once a year. I’m down to once every few years now. There are things called “grief triggers” that bring on the tears—certain holidays and places or events like a wedding or birth. Crying is a healthy release for our memories. As long as we love, we will remember, and there’s nothing wrong with love. Don’t worry about how long it takes, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
3. Wrong Choices Can Make Grieving Last Longer
Sometimes people think that actions like immediately getting rid of all their loved one’s belongings, getting married again, isolating oneself and hiding from people, or moving away will end their heartache. But these things are like trying to walk on a broken leg without a crutch. It’s good advice to wait at least a year before making any life-altering decisions. Let your heart heal. Try not to cause more loss, like changing friends, family, or a place you’ve called home for many years. If you are forced to move—then that’s the right choice for you, but brace yourself for the possibility of more grief and seek extra help, counsel, and support to have at hand in case you need it.
4. Realize That We Do Have Choices
This was hard for me to understand. Life as I knew it was pulled out from under me. I felt helpless. All stability was gone. From what I’d just experienced, I knew my life could change again in another shocking instant if anything happened to me or the children! Where was the choice in that? Eventually, I realized that I could choose some good values in spite of the fear. I loved Bruce, and Bruce loved me and our children; he loved his life and had very few regrets because he always sought to follow God’s Word. So should I cower and worry about when the next disaster will happen, or should I seek to leave a legacy of love, gratitude, and good stewardship? Which would Bruce want? Which would God want? Once I got these values figured out, I realized I really did have choices, and they were much easier to make.
5. Realize That the Bible Can Give Us Direction
Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Widowhood is like walking blindfolded, feeling our way very carefully, hoping we won’t step off a cliff. Wouldn’t it be helpful to see a spot of light through that blindfold? That’s what daily Bible reading did for me. Most of the time, I couldn’t even recall what I’d read every morning, but my day had started off on the right foot: God was in charge. As the exhaustion and stress of grief began to subside, I learned to catch what the Bible would say about wisdom, new life, worry, joy, and other aspects of widowhood. The Bible became my “travel guide” along the widow’s path.
As a final lesson, although there are many more, I’d tell my younger self that these five “lessons” are a good start, but other people who’ve walked this path have valuable wisdom to learn from too. Get to know them. Respect them and be a kind and gentle person who they can trust and talk to. The comfort and lessons God gives us are meant for sharing with others. On the lonely path of widowhood and grief, we’re really never alone, and that’s the greatest lesson of all.
Ferree Hardy has helped thousands of widows through her book, “Postcards from the Widows’ Path,” small groups, speaking, and personal coaching, but touching one life at a time is what matters most to her. She holds a BA from Moody Bible Institute, and was a pastor’s wife in Ohio for over twenty years before her first husband died. She’s happily remarried now, and her readers know that moving seems to have become a hobby for her. But she also enjoys backyard chickens, aims to read fifty books a year, and loves to bake. Learn more by visiting her blog.