There are a lot of hard things we face in life.
Loss. Sickness. Divorce. Financial struggles. Singleness. Childlessness. Mental heath battles.
Some of those I can’t even imagine others I am more familiar with.
The struggle I am probably most familiar with is being a young widow.
I was 29 and 6 months pregnant when my life changed in the space of a few hours, with no warning, the future, hopes and dreams, my best friend there one minute literally gone the next.
And you have no choice, no control, there was nothing you could do to stop it.
Like anything we go through in life rarely can we really understand unless we have walked a similar journey and even then each story is uniquely different.
People rally around you to begin with, the collective shock and sadness reverberates throughout your people and your communities – family, friends, work colleagues, church community, people who you went to school/uni with, people who know your friends, who have heard your story. When my daughter was born 3 months later I had to write over 100 thank you cards, many to people I didn’t know – she was one well-dressed baby!
But as the months go by everyone else’s lives go back to normal and why would they not. It wasn’t their life, their family, their future.
People don’t get it, and that is not a criticism. I don’t understand what it is like to have a child with learning difficulties, or a disability or to live with a chronic illness or to not know how I am going to pay the bills.
Can I tell you some of the things that being a widow looks like?
In those first few months and years there is an agony that underpins everything. You were one half of a whole and you are now just a half, that one flesh has literally been ripped apart and the pain is too much. Thankfully the pain doesn’t come all at once. There are times when you feel ok, or numb and I honestly think that is the way we are designed because when you face massive loss if you felt it all at once it would be too much.
I would expect the phone to ring in the middle of the day just to say hi – it no longer did. I would think as if I was still part of a unit when it was now just me. I missed my person – I had amazing friends and family but they came in and out of my life, they weren’t all my life. I missed my best friend, the person who was for me and with me in everything.
I felt out of place wherever I went. To now have to walk into a room on my own was terrifying. Holidays no longer held the same excitement because there was no one to share them with. I didn’t belong anywhere anymore.
And the lives around me continued as if nothing monumental had changed. I wanted to scream, “how can you act as if nothing has happened” to a stranger walking down the street. I could easily be reduced to tears at the old couple holding hands because I knew I wouldn’t get that. Or I had very ungracious thoughts as people stressed about things which just really didn’t seem to matter. I felt jealous and angry that this had happened.
Kids. Precious, beautiful kids. Suddenly fatherless. You find yourself a single parent when that was never part of the plan. You have to deal with your own grief, your own doubts and questions but then you have these other lives that you are responsible for, when all you want to do is curl up and hide away. You don’t get that choice because they need feeding, they need to be ferried around to school, to activities. It is exhausting and it is lonely. Widows with little ones cannot leave the house after 7pm because they have run out of milk. If you can offer to babysit for a widow to give them a few hours space you will never know how much that means because those moments of space rarely come and yet are so needed. And not just in the year or so after the loss but in all the years that follow.
My personal story meant there would only be one baby, a beautiful baby who is now a beautiful 15 year old and even though this may sound like bragging she is probably the thing I am most proud of in my life because I think she is pretty amazing and I am incredibly proud of how we have not only survived but we have thrived! I did it on my own (well not quite – that army of people who stand behind us played a pretty big part!) and I did ok.
My child though will never know her Daddy and I cannot even imagine how you work that out in your head. She regularly gets told how much she is like him and then she says to me but I never knew him and I will never know him. She misses the siblings she didn’t get to have. She struggles to answer the question “What does your Dad do?”because people aren’t expecting the answer “he’s dead”. I was talking to a friend who was recently widowed leaving her with little girls to raise and we shared how we often wonder who will walk our girls down the aisle if and when that time comes. Last night my daughter was on the phone chatting through some decisions with my brother, her uncle, who has loved her so well but she will often say to me “but he has his own girls I will always be way down the list.” Those moments break your heart.
Then there is the sadness that the one person who loves these kids just as must as we do is not here to see them grow, to know them at the different stages of life.
Can we talk about the practical? The financial?
I am useless at the practical but I have to do it all on my own or pay someone. If you know a widow or even someone who does life on their own reach out and ask if you can practically help them because it is hard having to do those things on your own, to make all the decisions and carry the financial burden.
Money. As a widow and a single parent you carry a heaviness/a weight of working all of that stuff out on your own. If I never meet anyone else will my pension provision by enough. Right now I am acutely aware I need to be putting money aside to pay for uni. I work full time and I have a good job, but it is still tough. I want to life generously and open-handed but equally our family is reliant on my income alone.
I implore make sure your house is in order. We had just moved house and so whilst there was some life insurance there wasn’t as much as there would have been had we updated it. Please get the life insurance – money doesn’t make the loss better, it doesn’t take the pain away but it certainly helps provide a level of security which eases the load.
Emotionally even years on (and I am 15 years on) I have the triggers, the scars – the fear of loss, the worst-case sceanaroing (I am an expert in this one). The what ifs. The thing is the worst has happened and so you know it is entirely possible that the worst can happen and may happen again.
After John died my brother listened to the song “Timshel” by Mumford & Sons:
“And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance.”
It steals your innocence. It gives you so much too. I passionately believe that loss and grief is one of the biggest gifts in my life whilst at the same ripping me apart. My life has been put back together, with plenty of marks and scars, but with a richness that I would never have known without death coming to my doorstep but it did steal my innocence.
This post is not a list to make people think “poor you” but to help people see life isn’t ok again after a year or so. Life is never the same again, it is irrevocably changed. Grief is hard, it comes to us all at some point, in different ways, but being widowed young is a hard journey to have to walk.
I am so very thankful that 15 years on my life is good – it does not look like how I would have hoped but it is good. I have so much to be thankful for. But it took a long time to get there. I had good people around me, a good God who has been incredibly faithful to us and I survived and not only survived but in many ways thrived. It was though a long and hard journey getting to this point.
I sat on a zoom call a few weeks with 4 other widows and it was so life giving. I came off that call and I realised I had never sat with other widows like that. It’s a club that no one wants to be part of but these are the women that get it.
It reminded me of the power of doing the journey with people in similar places to us, the power of telling our stories, of being heard and understood by those people that do really get it.
It reminded me of the importance of walking close with people in their pain, of sitting with them in the mess, there is nothing more beautiful and precious when your heart is breaking – of reminding them that they are not alone. Invite them to be part of your families, your holiday times (holidays are hard), invite them for meals, remember the big dates and anniversaries, to say their names and remember the stories. They need you, they really do. As a side note – single people too, they need it!
It reminded me that we all need people in our journey who are a few steps ahead of us, who can cheer us on, who can say “I get it, I really do, I have been there, but it will get easier, you can do this”. To bring hope. When John first died, and even now to a lesser extent, I was hungry for stories of people who had been widowed young but who had gone on to live again – I needed to know that was possible when I couldn’t see the way ahead. I needed to know there were people out there that had lived a good life following their loss.
I have known for a long time that God was stirring my heart for something new and I am so excited to begin working with a ministry in the US called Songs in the Night whose whole purpose is to bless widows, to support widows, to love on widows, to be a safe place for widows, to be hope, to help the healing process. They provide care crates to widows full of books, and little presents to bless. They offer support by way of zoom groups and retreats. It is in its early stages in the UK, baby steps and pushing doors but I feel so passionately about this. So please share because we would love to hear about young widows who would be blessed by receiving one of our care crates and might benefit from some support, in a faith context. And if you want to donate we need to funds to put these crates together and we have an amazon wish list. And if you are a prayer pray for us. I have dreams of what this could look like but ultimately I am trusting this into God’s hands, asking for his plans and purposes for it and for the beautiful hurting hearts out there.
If you want to know more drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you xxx