by Miriam Neff
©2008 Used with permission
What do we have in common? We discover we are vulnerable as never before. We are pressured to purchase products we neither need nor can afford. Salespersons use their influence as ‘our friend’ and even fellow believer looking out for us. “Safe” takes on a new meaning. I discovered this as I saw my lone image reflected in the dark glass of a Chicago building window. It was winter, dark, and I was hunched over into the wind with my hood up on my long black coat. In my haste to the train station, I passed only two other people and that was as I hurried over the dark waters of the Chicago River. “I’ve never done this before in my life,” I thought. Widows experience so many firsts that we stop counting.
We are concerned about our finances. Most experience financial decline. Women experience fewer years of employment and less income which often impacts their preparation for being alone or retired. In my decades as a church goer, I have never heard a message on I Timothy 5:8 (a passage which admonishes believers to provide for their family) which included appropriate attention to wills, trusts, and life insurance. The likely event that one person in the marriage will exit to heaven before the other with its financial implications are important to address. While in Biblical times, God’s people were told to take care of the widows and orphans among them, it is assumed now that the government through Social Security and other programs will care for the invisible among us – a theory for which the numbers do not work.
Our emotions change more drastically than the reversals on the extreme Sheikra roller coaster ride at Busch Gardens – a ride I entered ignorantly rather than have my grandsons unaccompanied through the long line. I regretted that ride immensely as a 200 foot drop rearranged my insides. Imagine this contrast. Two become one in marriage. At nineteen years of age I embarked on my journey with Bob that lasted 41 years, 2 months, and 21 days.
In an incredibly productive season of his life while serving as Vice President of Moody Broadcasting, treasurer of National Religious Broadcasters, and board member of HCJB (Heralding Christ Jesus Birth – an international broadcasting group), Bob fell. The inconvenience and pain of a dislocated shoulder began the journey to doctors through disease, through sorting through our theology, to facing the bleak reality: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is untreatable, fatal, and had gripped Bob’s body.
Less than three years after that fall he entered heaven willingly: I gave him up with more than reluctance. Our ‘one’ was now ripped in ‘two.’ My inarguably better half was gone and the gaping wound created by his exit had every nerve ending screaming even though I was supposed to be numb. The ride on the Sheikra was docile compared to this.
While every widow’s story is different, we all share the common understanding of a loss that is final beyond description. There will be no phone call, no plane delayed but still landing, no second chance to right our past regrets. Sitting curled up on the cold ground watching the gardener gently work the grass seed into the fresh dirt on my husband’s grave set me apart forever from the life I once had. Other widows understand that.
What else do we share? We gain a fresh perspective on Scripture. II Corinthians 1: 3, 4 is so relevant. No one can comfort us like another widow. In turn we are moved deeply when we see another woman enter this experience and we want to comfort her in her grief. We study the 103 Scripture references to widows with desperation to find whether we are invisible to God as well. With gratitude we discover that we are not only close to God’s heart, but He measures everyone by how they treat us. (James 1:27) This is both a comforting and sobering insight. Widows, orphans, prisoners—the voiceless – God chooses to speak for us.
He instructs that our needs be met (Deuteronomy 24:17) through the church’s tithes if necessary (Deuteronomy 14:29; 26;12; Acts 6:1-4) He instructs that in our vulnerability we be given our legal rights, (Isaiah 1:17; Luke 18: 1-8) He commends us for our sacrificial giving. (Mark 12:42-43) He tells our story – the widow at Zarephath and her generosity, (I Kings 17: 9) the widow, her pot of oil, her faith and obedience. (II Kings 4:1)
On my journey as a widow, I have learned that we all change. And much of the change is good. We become faith filled because we cannot face the day any other way. We become strong because we have no other choice. We are compassionate because our heart has been broken. As I listen to other widows stories I am awestruck at what they have learned and accomplished. Stories surface from history that I never noticed before. Betsy Ross, the seamstress of our first flag, was widowed three times. It was in her alone time after her first husband’s death that she had to learn upholstering to support herself. Her husband had been in the navy resulting in George Washington’s awareness of her new profession and skill. She became a successful career woman with a thriving upholstery business, remarried twice, and had seven daughters. This woman of faith grew strong and left a legacy through her loss.
One of my change points occurred in Africa. I traveled to follow in Bob’s footsteps to a place I had not been able to accompany him. I was connecting with believers whom he had assisted in broadcasting. Prior to my trip, I received an email asking me to speak to widows groups there since that was now my reality. “Of course.” In one season of my life I had taught Bible studies and my interpreter would be Bob’s friend. This would be a way for me to give back in Bob’s footsteps.
No one can comfort us like another widow. In turn we are moved deeply when we see another woman enter this experience and we want to comfort her in her grief.