If you get us all in a room, those of us who earned the unasked for title of widow, you might hear uncomplimentary commentary about non-widows or even of other more seasoned widows. Commentary born out of the ravages of early widowhood experienced when we were most vulnerable and most likely according to research to even die ourselves. Yet forced in our angst to ward off words, some more hurtful than healing hurled our way filling the bereft air with sound. Sound we could barely listen to but somehow made the speakers feel better.
Not for the attempts or the actual help usually wrapped in foil and smelling divine when hunger was non-existent. Even in the depths of our despair we recognized these gestures as acts of love. No, push back would be for the words uttered as we in recent widowhood stood shocked into fake smiles receiving stuff we would rather deflect or run away from while enduring phrases which really has no bearing on what happened to make us widows or what truly constituted support in our present moment of realness.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
God has a plan
Let’s start with this gem. Really? Did God sit upstairs in the control room of the world planning for an August river to act like an early June river? Did God plan for the state of Wisconsin, the county of Sauk to simply be unable to post a red and white danger sign like every other beach in the United States can? Did God plan for a beach full of people to be incapable of rescuing my husband Tony before he went under? Did God plan for the boys and I to witness the day of Tony’s death? I don’t think so, not the loving God walking with me then and now embracing and giving grace in the face of pain.
This too shall pass
Look, let’s just get something completely straight here. I didn’t lose my job or have a fight with my best friend. Okay I get grief changes over time and with tons of therapy. But it doesn’t pass away or die like my husband did. Loss stays more and more in the background as the months pass. But it’s still there. Visits me in the middle of the night or when I’m tired. Brings me to tears in public again and again especially in the aisles of big box stores. Reminds me daily that life is not nor will ever be the same. Grief like life marches on but healing doesn’t happen without work–real emotional, gut wrenching work which takes courage every day to face everything anew while attempting some understanding of the confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed.
My aunt, an unexpected widow herself said to me a few months into this muck, “You will get stronger.” With these words she supported my bereavement as hard work. Not just a putting my time in watching the clock. Preparing to punch out of this horrid job called gut wrenching grief.
God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.
This statement belongs with the God as ultimate planner quip. It too connotes God hanging out in the control center of the universe deciding who can handle what. I doubt any child caught in a war zone reflects, if they survive, that they handled war well. Or a victim of sexual violence, male or female, thinks gratefully God thought they were strong enough to endure such suffering. This statement infers what happens in life is something to be managed or a challenge to be won. As if grief is something to be manipulated and not lived in and through as a possible part of human existence. God didn’t think “Jen can handle a complex and violent by nature death of her husband, Tony. She’s a tough cookie, she is,” as if God imparted a gift on my poor human soul. If grieving this death is a gift, I’m returning it for a full refund. No re-gifting from me either.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Okay. I’ve got to say most days I’m not concerned in the least about my braun. And the word “kill”? Well it is a grating, disgusting word to hear at any time but especially when grief is raw. And even now nine months into this unwanted journey, I still utter internal commentary something akin to tired of being strong all the time. Once again this kind of grief does not stem from getting into a fender bender or being diagnosed with diabetes. It requires deep empathy and compassion on the part of the speaker. Not sympathy offered at arm’s length coded in a worn out utterance.
Still More Words…
There are more words uttered during this time which I can do without. Usually when asked a question I want to scream get back to me in a year! Like when people ask me how this grief experience will impact how I pastor. As if I can fully reflect on something so devastating while I’m still in it. Grievers and therapists know we grievers can’t…yet. And the reality of grief, sudden grief especially, is that the brain slows down. For me my spoken words come with a great deal of arduousness as if my brain is experiencing a blockage of some sort like coming across a highway made impassable by a rock slide. My reflective abilities marred in the mess. All I can think when I’m able to climb out of the rock slide for a moment or two long enough for a few gulps of oxygen is as a pastor I won’t use any of the word combinations I’m trashing here.
The other statement I hear ad nauseam attributed to Pastor Nadia Boltz-Weber is “share your scars not your wounds.” I told a friend the other day I will vomit the next time someone shares this phrase with me. I think when I’m feeling somewhat centered in my journey I would like to read her books or even meet her. I imagine we might laugh at the overuse of her phrase taken each time I’ve heard it out of context applying it to any of life’s traumas as if all trauma is the same when in fact the experts know each trauma like everything else in life is nuanced by the specific traumatic events, the past of the people involved, and the help received from the git go.
Grief takes time. Lots of time and lots of tears and prayers and even some therapy, maybe even lots of therapy. But through everything and everyone who brings true solace, we who grieve understand gradually our own abilities and capabilities now. And in time and with work we are awed by what we have accomplished in our day to day lives while existing within the worst emotional circumstances. And the person we lost in this life, the one we grieve, that person is so very, very proud of us. And if we can hear our loved one or think we can in the quiet of night or early morning or even in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, we won’t hear any of the comments I’ve batted away here. I won’t. Not from Tony.
Instead I hear the words imprinted on a silver bracelet Tony once gave me. During a time when I doubted myself and this thing we mainline Christians refer to as call. Most days this bracelet lives on my left wrist right above my wedding ring. Nudging me forward. Speaking words I can hang my weary heart on.
Remember your strength