Masthead header

Closure: What it is And What it Isn’t

 

unnamed-7Confession: I visited Steve’s grave last week for the first time. I don’t know why I put off going, but I know I did. It wasn’t an accident or an oversight or, “Wow, look how time has gotten away from me.”  It was intentional avoidance of what I thought would be painful, though I wasn’t sure why.  I know that’s not the real him.  I know it’s just a little plot of land that marks his earthly life while his eternal life is vibrantly strong and whole.  But still I waited.

 

I went on his birthday.  We had put off ordering a head stone as we debated what we wanted to write on it – turns out, it’s a lot of pressure to pick the words that will literally be written in stone to mark someone’s life for the rest of all time.  I was under the impression the cemetery would put a temporary marker at the site, so we hadn’t rushed our decision, but I was wrong about that.  My first feeling upon arrival was disappointment and guilt that my husband was in an unmarked grave, with weeds growing around it.  I don’t love flowers – especially silk and/or dead flowers – so we brought golf tees with little tags tied around them to put by the grave.  It seemed like a perfect idea at home, but they ended up looking tiny and inadequate.  It was a disappointing and difficult experience.  And it didn’t dawn on me right away, but in the days that followed, as I sifted through some of the emotional fallout, I think I figured out what was so hard and it’s this:

 

 

Visiting Steve’s grave doesn’t reconnect me to the real him, but to the old me; the Wife part of me.

 

 

That grave is my responsibility.  It is, in fact, my only remaining responsibility from my 30-year run as Steve Stern’s wife.

 

The day before the visit, I shared some concerns with a friend of mine who then wished me “closure.”  I’m not actually sure closure is possible or necessary in regard to the sorrow of losing Steve.  That seems like it will be a lifelong journey with different levels of angst or pain along the way.  However, my friend was right. After I ordered the headstone, I felt it.  Weighty.  Crushing. Closure.  The wrapping up of my Wife Life.  These past few days have been like emptying out the house that had contained my hardest, happiest work and handing the keys back to Jesus.  And it has been really hard.

 

I know it might be tempting at this point to jump in here and tell me I’m still a wife and I’ll always be Steve’s wife and I still have all my memories and other things that I know are meant to comfort, but please resist.  This is a road I need to walk and words like that tend to minimize what’s been lost and aren’t actually helpful. I loved being Steve Stern’s wife.  I loved cooking for him.  I loved hearing his theories on life and golf and friends.  I loved encouraging him when things got rough.  I loved taking long walks on summer nights. I loved being someone’s very best friend. I loved knowing there was a good chance that, at any given moment, he was thinking about me.  I loved knowing that if I disappeared, Steve Stern would search for me til his very last breath.  I loved sharing Saturday mornings with him.  I loved going to Costco and weddings with him.  I loved sitting with him in church.  I loved the way he let me read in bed instead of making me go to another room. I loved opening a bottle of wine before we paid bills together. I loved sharing a home and children and a whole, big, wonderful, difficult life with him.  These are the things that made a we out of Steve and me and these things cannot be replaced.

 

Closure. This season is over so much sooner than I wanted it to be.  And, yes, the memories remain and I’m grateful for them.  But the memories don’t make me feel like a wife any more than photos of vacation make me feel like I’m still in Mexico. Grief, I’m convinced, has no closure.  But seasons do.  Seasons begin and seasons end.  I thought closure would look like comforting resolution, but for me it’s been a sort of painful, gasping resolution.  Both work, I suppose.

 

What happens next?  I guess the same thing that happens when you hand the keys of a house over to a new owner.  You move into the next one.  And even if the next one is a grass hut with a mud floor, you’re still going to hang a few pictures on the walls and find a nice throw rug, you know? I might not get to choose the house, but I think I do get to choose what I make of the place.  I want to make this new, single life a good place to call home.  I am, in fact, quite determined to do exactly that.

 

I argued with myself (as I often do) about publishing this one. It feels a little raw to share openly.  In the end, I decided that I wanted to put it out there for those of you navigating the shadowlands or the pain of divorce, but also for those of you who are married. I harbor the hope that you might take the chance today to love your sweetheart a little deeper, give grace a little longer and work a little harder to care for the gift you’ve been given.  Maybe take a walk or pay some bills together or go on a fancy date to Costco just because you can. That’s my hope, because I love you and I love love.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

P.S.  One note:  I understand that I’m still in process here and that where I land today may not be where I land tomorrow.  My feelings will change, but I think there’s beauty in chronicling the way things unfold in real time.  I also certainly know that my journey is not universal.  The details will be different for everyone; I can only write about mine.  Hopefully they will be helpful for some.

 

April 25, 2016 - 7:58 am

Karen - So glad you did.Sold glenn’s house and call it rounding a corner. Some days there is still no oxygen in the air to breathe, especially when the bell rings for the next round. Your struggle makes me feel normal. Thank for living in a glass bowl. #notawifeonlyasister

April 25, 2016 - 8:03 am

Hugh Caldwell - Once again, it feels like you’ve been seeing into, and writing about my life experiences of last year. Amazing, Pastor.

Thank you.

April 25, 2016 - 8:03 am

Rhonda - I don’t know if this makes any sense but the way you write always inspires me to do a better job of living life…even in the most mundane details of each day. Thank you for sharing even the rough raw places and for finding the courage to not “just survive”.

April 25, 2016 - 8:05 am

Shirlee Bolliger - Oh Bo,…you are amazing and what a call God has on your life. You are such an example of how much God loves us. Thru all of this you’ve been encouraging and ministering to women everywhere. Every post is a testimony to the greatness of God.
Lord bless Bo in the next amazing season.
He’s got you.❤️

April 25, 2016 - 8:11 am

Jennifer Baker - Very beautifully written. Thank u for being u and
reminding me of my blessing….my husband

April 25, 2016 - 8:36 am

Sherri - It most certainly is beautiful, Bo. I love you.

April 25, 2016 - 9:38 am

Kate Pentz - I waited longer than many of my friends to be a wife, and the reasons you listed are my favorite reasons to be married to my groom. Thank you for sharing and encouraging us to life fuller lives. Your grieving puts words to my grieving as well and its so hard to do that. Thank you so much for publishing raw things.

April 25, 2016 - 10:04 am

Holly Migas - Not a perfect ending to the way you thought things would go but it is perfect words for where you are right now in this moment. It allows me to see and understand in a deeper way! Love to you my friend!

April 25, 2016 - 10:35 am

Angela - ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️Beautiful, real and inspiring. It warms my heart to know I’m not alone on this journey of grief.

April 25, 2016 - 10:51 am

Lori - definitely opening a bottle of wine next time he pays the bills (that will be my contribution), and loving him a little and a lot deeper. Thanks for sharing the resounding rawness of your journey.

April 25, 2016 - 12:53 pm

Nat Gitnes - My husband was/is Jewish, so must wait a year before installing a grave marker, and in all things Jewish, it has to be a ceremony. It was horribly painful because his ex-wife decided to come and one-up anything I said. I have not had the courage to return to his grave or my parents graves. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t go….maybe one day I will. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

April 25, 2016 - 1:57 pm

Marci - Raw? Yes. Beautiful too. Thank you.

April 25, 2016 - 5:55 pm

Hope - I was lent and read your book Beautiful Battlefields last winter. Six months later my husband’s chronic health concern spiraled out of control. He was flown to a major surgical center and for 4 weeks I lived in limbo hoping he would make it. When he died and I returned home the friend who had lent me your book told me your husband had also died and you were blogging about your journey.

When one of your posts appears in inbox I SO look forward to reading it. Often I share your experiences and perspectives but even if I don’t I appreciate having insight into your journey.

We chose together to have our ashes cremated and he chose where his are to be interred. His family flipped out. But standing at his hospital bed when they took him off life support I heard the words of the angel to the women in the garden: “Why do you look for the living among the dead, He is not here: He is risen’
I know…hugely out of context…but as I looked at the bloated, mutilated shell of the man I loved, I felt the absence of his spirit and I knew he was in the presence of the Lord. As a family we are planning to disperse his ashes as he wished this spring. I carry him in my heart and will never forget him even without a tombstone.

I come from a culture that had a lot of rituals around cemetaries and grave care. But at the moment of his passing I knew I didn’t need this.

April 25, 2016 - 6:40 pm

Helen - Bo, thank you for being real and raw. It gives us a glimpse of what to pray about for you and for others.
It also reminds me that we each see from a different vantage point. When I first saw the photo, my thought was “what an brilliant idea”. Because I could only see the close-up but you could see the panoramic view. But I remain grateful that God watches over you from both a close-up and panoramic perspective. Hugging you from Portland xoxo

April 25, 2016 - 8:49 pm

Edie - Once again I’m moved to tears. Thank you for being real and honest, it is so rare. I only visited my parent’s graves once. It was just too hard, maybe I’m a wimp. But I thought, “why do I torture myself with this?” They are not there. They are with us in our memories. I don’t fault anyone else for going, I think they are braver than I am. I’m so glad you can share your process so openly with us. Thank you. Love you.

On Navigating Heartache: Is it Ever Time to See a Counselor?

Heartbreak creative timber Wallpapers HD 1280x720

I had this light-bulb moment the other day as I was thinking through the advice I give to hurting people who contact me.  Actually, I was thinking through the advice I don’t give.  At least, not typically.  I rarely say: you should see a counselor.  And I rarely refer to it in my blog posts.

 

This is a pretty significant omission and the reason for it might surprise you.  I am familiar, and have a lot of experience with, the school of Christian thought that says counseling is bad.  All you need is Jesus and your B-I-B-L-E (you stand alone on that thing, for goodness’ sake!)  I am not of that school of thought; not by a long shot.  The primary reason I rarely mention seeing a counselor is because I pretty much assume that someone going through deep levels of grief has already heard that advice.  I take it for granted, I think, and that’s dumb of me.  The secondary reason I don’t mention it, is because I don’t want to offend an already-overwhelmed person by implying that they may need professional help – this is also dumb of me.  On some level, we probably all need a little professional help.  I know I do.

 

l started seeing a counselor just before my husband was diagnosed with ALS.  Shelley helped me process my thoughts and deal with the overwhelming sorrow and anxiety in healthy ways.  When I felt like I was drowning, she helped me learn to breathe underwater.  I don’t see her regularly now, but I do when I run into a roadblock in my thinking. That happened last week.  I hit an issue I could not resolve on my own.  I was getting some conflicting advice from people who love me and I knew it was time to bring in the big guns.  I sat on her couch yesterday and spilled a million jumbled thoughts.  She helped me pick them up, one-by-one, really look at them and decide which could stay and which should go.  She helped me adjust my self-talk.  And, more than anything, she reassured me that – nine months in – I’m doing okay.  I left her office feeling sort of wrung out and exhausted from the process, but I also felt ordered, clear and hopeful about the future.  You know what I didn’t feel?  Ashamed.  I am not embarrassed that I can’t figure everything out on my own.   In fact, I am proud of myself for being willing to ask for help when I need it and I think I’ve avoided a lot of time in emotional ditches because I know when to call the tow truck (that’s a weird analogy, but I’m sticking with it.)

 

As a pastor, people come to me for counseling often.  They tell me their issue and I listen and offer biblical perspective.  But if the thing they are facing is not primarily spiritual, then I often refer them to a counselor.  I don’t have the training to deal with emotional or mental crises and I also don’t have the time that is required to give it the attention it deserves.  I’m very particular about who I refer them to because – just like dentists, doctors and hair stylists – there are those I would trust and those I would not.   And just like those other professions, sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right one, but the search is worth it for those who are truly committed to building healthy, happy lives.

 

I don’t know why it’s taken so long to address this on my blog, let’s blame widow-brain, shall we?  The conclusion of the matter is this: If you are in a season of deep heartache – for any reason – or if you just need help getting your thoughts to come together and work for you rather than against you, please would you consider making one appointment with someone who can help?  The days of the counseling stigma are over, or at least they sure should be, so go ahead and ask your friends for references.  Try someone out.  Give it a chance.  It just might be the very thing that helps you escape (or avoid!) the ditch.

 

Comments are open – feel free to leave questions you might have and I will answer them if I can.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

PS:  Hospice offers free grief counseling for their clients and families as do many life insurance companies.  If you feel you can’t afford counseling, there are resources out there for those who are willing to do a little digging.

 

 

 

April 20, 2016 - 12:32 pm

Kathy - Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.
For sharing your heart in your journey.
Your courage to speak openly about
grief.
sorrow.
loss.
has blessed and encouraged me more than I can express.

April 20, 2016 - 6:22 pm

jacquelyn strayer - Would you mind giving out the name of the person you see?….Or someone else that you could recommend? … Particularly grief counseling?

April 20, 2016 - 6:59 pm

Marci Floski - Bo, thank you for this! I think this message is much needed, especially among Christians.
I am not ashamed to say that, fairly early in life, I realized that what was being dished out was more than I could navigate alone. So I sought help and I’ve never regretted it. It hurts me to remember the numerous times when I have shared this among believers, I have come away feeling shamed, like I am somehow less-than; not good enough, lacking in faith, not praying enough or in the right way. I soon learned to be very careful who I said anything to about my journey in therapy. Now, a bit further down the road, I am intentionally less careful and more forthcoming. I believe, someone may hear my story and, because of it, feel they have permission to seek help. I also live with the sorrow that my sister, who suffered greatly in life and now lives with dementia, never gave herself the permission to seek help. She bought the LIE that to ask for help is weakness, rather than, as you so correctly pointed out, strength.

Peace to you Bo,
Marci

April 20, 2016 - 7:57 pm

Lori - I remember coming to see you for the first time. You said some unexpected things that set me free from helping someone that was bringing harm to our family. When I think back on our story as a family, your brief counsel was a turning point and your words of encouragement often replay. You are the one blogger I always read, and never regret the time. I still learn so much from you, friend.Thank you.

April 21, 2016 - 10:21 pm

Julie Kennedy - It has been a year since my Steve was diagnosed with ALS and your honest, often raw, writings have been of great comfort to me. My family spent a good portion of last week watching this dear man fight for his life after suffering a pulmonary embolism. He is home now and we feel so blessed and grateful. We were buoyed by the many prayers of friends and family. I more clearly understand the title of your book, Beautiful Battlefields. We feel like our circle of love and prayer has only grown out of this terrifying experience. Thank you for your latest post. Seeking out help from others is not a sign of weakness but a prayer in itself. Wishing you peace.

April 21, 2016 - 11:55 pm

Victoria - Since our teenage daughter died two years ago, my husband and I have separately attended counselling and have found this enormously helpful. I have learned that a good counsellor, irrespective of their own personal beliefs, is there to support, not to advise and will always affirm a client’s core values.

The Thing About Waiting & Wandering

10632339_1727292727515958_1950011111_n

Just a quick note on a beautiful Monday, and it’s mostly a note to myself. It’s a placeholder for a year from now or a decade from now, when I might sift through the words of my history and come upon these and be reminded who I am.

 

I’ve been wandering a bit recently.  Not literally, but emotionally.  Faced with a life I haven’t lived before, so many decisions that used to easy are now complex. Things that used to live outside my world are now right here in my own living room.  I know my metaphors are vague.  That’s on purpose and I’m truly sorry, because I hate when people are vague, but trust me when I say: the details wouldn’t matter much if you knew them.  So here’s where my wandering landed: on my couch, in a bit of a heap, asking God to show me something that would help me figure out my future.  At the risk of sounding woo-woo, spooky, spiritual – here are the words that came to my mind. I believe they were Spirit-inspired and I think they might help someone else who’s living in a waiting, changing season.

 

You are like a little girl at an airport, waiting with her Dad for a flight to you-don’t-know-where, but you know it’s good.  And you don’t love waiting.  It’s boring. And frustrating.  And it steals the joy of anticipation of the trip.

 

You see a hallway.  Just a regular, old hallway and you wonder where it leads.  You ask your dad, “What’s down that hallway?”  

 

He answers, “Nothing.”  

 

You ask again, “Nothing?  Really, nothing?”

 

 “Yes. Nothing.”  

 

You wait a bit and try not to think about the hallway, but it begins to consume your thoughts.  It becomes the road less traveled.  And so you try again, “But can I go see it?”  

 

Your dad smiles and says, “It’s a dead end, Bo. There’s nothing to see.”  

 

“But pleeeeeze?  I just want to see it and all I’m doing here is waiting.”  

 

Again He smiles and says, “Okay, but don’t stay too long or you’ll miss the flight.”  

 

Suddenly, you remember: the flight.  This is, after all, why you’re here at all.  But…that hallway.  This is a conflict that seems easy to resolve.  “Okay,” you agree, “I’ll be back with plenty time to spare – what time is the flight?”  

 

Your Dad says gently, “I’ll tell you when it’s time.”  

 

Well, that’s a problem. It will be hard to enjoy the hallway if you have to keep running back and forth to Gate 56 and checking in with your Dad.  And yet, you know better than to question Him outright.  “So, can you give me a general time frame? Ten minutes?  An hour?  More?  Less?”  

 

He shakes His head,  “I’ll tell you when it’s time.”  

 

Frustrated and weary from waiting, you ask, ” Why can’t I know when the flight is going to leave?”  

 

Your Father smiles again and says simply, “Because both of us can’t be sovereign. “

 

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

April 18, 2016 - 8:27 am

Christine - I have been feeling this lately too. I was invited to the final Sac Kings game in the old arena by a client who paid $850 for my seat. We’ve been friends for years so I didn’t think anything of it until he put his hand on my knee and I froze. What was that? How could he do that and yet how could I have been so naive? I am reminded that this hallway has many doors that I don’t want to or am not ready to open. I will wait upon the Lord……..letting go and letting God.

April 18, 2016 - 8:28 am

Karla Jeltema - Oh Bo, that hall, that long “what’s down there, hall.” Thank you for bringing back hard memories, but a very good reminder about ten years ago when I was asking those questions after a very difficult divorce. I was never on my knees more than that time frame and made a habit of carrying my Bible around my apt., because just holding God’s words gave me comfort. From it I decided to live one day at a time and then one hour at a time and, finally, one moment at a time. that’s when my real healing began. I focused on the very moment I was in and listened. I waited for God to tell me. He did, as He always does. Ten years later, I couldn’t be more thankful or blessed. One of the doors in the hallway opened up and the most beautiful life started to unfold. Thank you for your words, for the reminder of how awesome God is, even when we may not feel it. And sometimes, the wait is really worth it. Love you, dear cuz!

April 18, 2016 - 8:36 am

Randy - You hit the nail on the head. There is only one sovereign God. I need to remind myself of this in my battle with possible ALS every day or I start to wander in hall of fear and anxiety. Randy

April 18, 2016 - 10:29 am

Pam - I feel the same way: waiting and wondering and wandering. I see a hallway, too, but instead of a bunch of nothing, I see so many things. Sparkly things. Interesting things. Dazzling things. Other people’s things. The waiting makes me impatient and restless and I’m so tempted to walk down that hallway and get caught up in the pretty, shiny things that are not mine, but I know if I do I may get so distracted I will miss my flight. MY flight. MY life. The life my Good Father has for me. And so staying focused is essential but oh so very hard for a girl like me. Sigh…

April 18, 2016 - 6:31 pm

Dana - Wow, I can so relate. My husband passed 2 years ago. My father just a little over 2 months ago, he passed and services were held nearly on the 2 year anniversary of my husbands passing. The emotions….. have been deep and heartfelt, nearly swamping. Life goes on.

April 18, 2016 - 7:01 pm

Tammy A - This gives me chills. It came to me at the PERFECT time. Thank you for being so perceptive.

Letters to a Grieving Spouse: On The Question “Why God?”

Every day, I hear from grieving spouses. They are either in the process of caring for a terminally ill spouse or have recently lost him or her. The question I am asked most often – by a landslide – is some variation on “Why would God let this happen?” Because I’ve written a lot about the beauty that comes from battle, people often assume that I don’t deal with this question or that I’ve found a magic answer, but neither is true. I don’t have anything in the way of a formulaic answer, but I do think I’ve learned a little about what to do with the question itself. For the next couple of days, I’m going to write about what has worked for me on this and you can feel free to take it or leave it. Also, this may apply to situations beyond losing a spouse after a lengthy illness, but I can’t say that I know that for sure. I write from my battlefield and I know some principles will cross over, but I don’t know how many. Having said all that, here’s Part 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Friend,

 

 

I know you want to know “Why?” I know the question is screaming at you for an answer. But the first thing I want to tell you, need to tell you, because I wish someone would have told me,  is: you are not okay. I mean this with all the love and grace I possess. But, really, you’re not. If you are in the middle of caring for a dying spouse, or have recently lost one, you probably also:

 

 

1. Haven’t slept well in months, maybe years.
2. Have learned to ignore your own physical and emotional needs in order to keep the needs of your spouse first and foremost.
3. Are dealing with a myriad of external stressors related to long-term illness like insurance and money and doctors and paperwork and stuff with children, friends and relatives.
4. Are perhaps even dealing with a fair amount of PTSD.

5.  Are really, really sad. 

 

 

These things are completely normal, but they do not make this a good time to tackle deep, philosophical or theological questions. Imagine a rescue diver who just kept someone afloat in an ocean for hours, treading water, dodging sharks and praying they would both survive it. Now imagine, that as that diver stumbles into the boat, exhausted and overwhelmed, he is presented with a three-page test on bio-chemistry. He might know the answers are out there somewhere, but he is going to need a little time to restore and recover before he can trust himself to think coherently, much less solve complicated problems.
And the thing about this question – this big, beefy, large-consequences question – is that it will wait. It will be there when you’re back at your fighting weight. And when you get to that place, there’s a really good chance the question will look a little or a lot differently than it looks right now.

 

 

Let me be clear: you own this question and you have every right to tackle it whenever you want to. But nine months on the other side of my husband’s passing, I’m glad I waited. I’m glad I gave myself permission to shelve some of the big stuff while I learned to know myself again. There were moments when the question thumped like a drumbeat in the background, and I would have to say out loud: “This is not the time for that.” Instead, I focused on breathing deeply, eating well, sleeping again, journaling often, running some trails, loving my tribe and letting something that looked like “normal” seep back into my being. Once I arrived at month four or so, I felt a definite shift in perspective and I could see more clearly, think more comprehensively. Was the question still there? Yes. Sort of. But it wasn’t as weighty and desperate as before. And I had a broader frame of reference to bring to the process of answering it.

 

 

I have more to say about the Why God question, but for now, just know this: even if you’re not okay, that’s okay, because you are amazing. You are still standing and still fighting for hope and that makes you heroic. You have questions, I know, but you also have my awe and respect for the way you live and love. May you find all that you need for the day at hand.

 

 

With hope,

 

 

Bo

 

 

Photo credit:  www.lifelovelauren.com 

 

 

 

April 6, 2016 - 12:56 pm

Linda Poplees - Thank you for your encouragement. I just lost my second husband in 8 years. I feel alone but know God saved me from further heartache. He has a better plan, and even though I may not like or understand His ways, I do trust Him. It is hard and lonely but He is protecting the widows and is our source. I can’t wait because I know the best is yet to come. God bless you!

April 6, 2016 - 4:45 pm

Nikki - I am not dealing with the same kind of grief, but it certainly translates to many other forms. Thank you for helping the restlessness with big questions, rest. 🙂

April 6, 2016 - 6:40 pm

Karen Thomas - It’s been a long road for me. Like the one not traveled at all.Thank you for what you have shared.

April 6, 2016 - 9:16 pm

Edie - I’ve known a different grief and I can say this is good advice. Wish I had read this back then. But it will be light and hope for many I’m certain. Love you Bo.

April 6, 2016 - 9:39 pm

Alicia - Have you ever noticed that God often uses the simplest phrases to touch our hearts? He only needs a few words to shift our perspective, change our attitude, and give a fresh outlook. Today, he used your words, “you’re not okay” to do that for me. I’ve been hanging in there so long that it feels normal. I forget that this situation is far from normal (whatever that is). There is a reason I feel emotionally fatigued and find it difficult to truly study His Word the way He deserves. Those few words today gave me permission to not be lazy, but to offer what I can and not beat myself up over the rest. That, sweet lady, is a beautiful thing.

April 6, 2016 - 10:22 pm

bo - Alicia – your comment blessed me more than you could know. Thank you for sharing.

April 7, 2016 - 6:40 am

KS - Bo, YES, yes, yes 1000x YES. I’m in awe of the perspective you have a short (!) 9 months after your husband died. Just wait! Just wait until a year has passed! The clouds continue to lift for me, now 3 years later, and I am amazed, AMAZED at the clarity. I’m also amazed at the, yes, still, lack of clarity…but expect life will continue to unfold, as it does…

The Question Widows Answer All. The. Time.

 

924427_311437545704164_1576684737_n

(I can’t knit mittens, but I love my grandboys more than anything.)

Someone sent me an article recently about how widows in America are perceived.  The author concluded that we are lumped into two categories and they are – hold onto your hats – Grandma or Vixen. The “grandmas” are those who decide to throw their energies into kids and grandkids and – oh, I don’t know – knitting mittens and baking cookies and other things that our tiny minds ascribe to excellent grandmothering.  They stop coloring their hair, stop fighting the wrinkles and embrace the wisdom and invisibility that comes with old age.  The “vixens” are those who  have decided it’s not too late for a second act.  They take singles cruises, shop dating sites, invest in botox and aren’t often invited over to couple’s homes for dinner (I’m not making that up – turns out widowers are included far more often in couples’ events, since the women planning the events are not threatened by them.) (I’m also not criticizing the article – it wasn’t bad or accusatory.)

 

 

I know. You’re shocked by that grossly oversimplified compartmentalizing of an entire group of women. I was too.  But the more I think about it, the more I believe that the heart of it is this: widowed women are generally perceived as either wanting to remarry or not wanting to remarry.  In spite of the fact that the institution of marriage has taken a beating in the last few decades, it’s still a central focus in American society.  We still love love and romance and weddings.  We still subconsciously gauge someone’s happiness by their relationship status.  Every time I go out to dinner with couples, I feel the weight of their sympathy at the end as I walk to my car alone.  And the reason I think I feel it now that I’m single is because I remember feeling it towards others when I was married. We are a society obsessed with belonging to someone and we assume that most widows are focused primarily on the will I or won’t I question as well.

 

 

I certainly don’t speak for all widows on this subject, but I can give a little bit of insider information from those I’m privileged to know.  While a few women in my circle have decided that remarriage is absolutely, positively not in the cards for them – now or ever – most have not made that decision.  However, I also cannot name a single woman who is dead set on remarriage either.  Because it’s so much more complex than that.  The idea of marriage is different at this age and stage of life than it was the first time around.  Couple of reasons for that:

 

 

 

  1. We’ve already done it and we know it’s pretty hard.  Even those of us who were married to amazing men have very realistic views on the complexities of joining two lives together in holy matrimony.
  2. We have kids and families in the mix now. Part of what held Steve and I together during the seasons when marriage wasn’t fun was our shared love for the children we created together.  It’s hard to imagine sharing a marriage with someone who doesn’t also share your love and commitment to your children. I know it isn’t impossible, it’s just hard to imagine from this vantage point. It’s also hard to envision the seamless mingling of two family entities.
  3. For widows my age and older, we just don’t need marriage for the same reasons we used to.   There are definitely still reasons to want it, they’re just not the same as they were when we were twenty.  When I married Steve, I was focused on the family we would create, the home we would build, the ministry we would share, the money we would save.  Now, I have all those things, which means I’m making decisions through a different grid.
  4. We are afraid.  We have endured the death of a beloved.  In some cases, we cared for them through the long, treacherous process.  The idea of loving to that degree again is all tangled up with the very real risk of losing that love again.  And it’s almost impossible to consider surviving it again – at least it is for me.

 

 

So you can see why it’s a hard question to answer with a Yes or a No.  And, I tell you what, I am asked this question a lot (or I wouldn’t waste blog space on it.)   At first I was shocked that people asked – not offended, just shocked. Now I’m neither (though I am thankful no one has so far asked:  Grandma or Vixen?)  My answer – and I believe this would be reflective of many widows I’ve talked to – is this:  I haven’t made a decision about the idea of remarriage and I don’t think I need to.  The institution of marriage, in and of itself, will never be enough to overcome all the concerns I have enumerated above.  However, the possibility exists that somewhere in this great big world is an actual person who could convince me to take a risk on love.  Not yet. Maybe not ever.  But also: maybe.  Someday.

 

 

I do not kid you when I say I feel zero inclination to push my way forward on this or to spend any precious minutes worrying about it.  I feel 100% peace in living and building this amazing life God has given me, while trusting Him with every person, project and possibility that exists in my future.  I don’t want to disappear into grandma’ing, though I love it.  I’m also not going to fight my age (except I still color my hair and I won’t apologize for it!) or live on the lookout for someone who will please, please love and validate me.  I just want to live out every minute in an all-caps YES toward the plans God has for me and the days He’s already written for my life.  And most widows I know are in the very same place.  So maybe, in the final analysis, our categories are too weak to hold the weight of life’s complexities.  Maybe we should just let widows be women.  Regular, wonderful women who want to live and love well with the days they’ve been given.  Wouldn’t that be a good start?

 

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

 

March 29, 2016 - 10:18 am

Mitzy Zahm - My feelings exactly. Especially, over all else..#4. A reason that most don’t even entertain. We know that this ‘in sickness and in health’ is real, and real hard!

March 29, 2016 - 12:13 pm

Molly - Absolutely Bo! Live life, love God and those kids! Keep preaching n keep writing! You da best!

March 29, 2016 - 1:01 pm

Deb - The obtuse thing about a question like this is that it assumes there is a whole conga line of eligible men dancing circles around you! I used to get similar questions/comments as a late 20’s singleton. People would be like ‘Why aren’t you married?’, and I’m like ‘Cause the last guy that tried was a socially backwards chap that lived in a shipping container. That’s why.’

March 29, 2016 - 2:00 pm

Cathy Denney - I’m not a widower, but I am single now. Not exactly by choice, but because of a complex set of circumstances. I feel the deep loss of my loved one. I am moving on with my life and have been asked this same question many times too. This so speaks to my heart and puts into words my thoughts and feelings. Your gift of the written word continues to bless and inspire me! Thank you Bo!

March 29, 2016 - 2:28 pm

Kathryn Vai - Well Bo, once again you have nailed it. When, after looooong consideration and efforts to choose otherwise, finally divorced my ex-husband, I was shocked to discover that I also lost my entire social network. I had NO idea that people (mostly other women) would perceive me as a threat and that I would instantly become friendless. All but a very few people from my church (at that time) reached out to me, mostly to offer understanding, but after one phone call, I never heard from any of them ever again.

It’s been ten years. I am more convinced than ever that I did the right thing, and since that time I have made new friends composed primarily of other single women. Some are widows, some divorced, some never married. It’s a supportive and loving group that has been there for me over the past ten years in ways my church never was. Pretty pitiful commentary on the church, when I stop to think about it. I have a career and can support myself, volunteer, spend time with my now adult kids and my new friends, and try to do good where I am. But I am constantly aware that I am not welcome in the land of couples any more. I am mostly okay with it after having ten years to figure it out.

Since you are a leader in your church, I can imagine that your experience is different from mine, but I tell you what, I can still remember the shock of discovering myself really alone that first Thanksgiving. It really sucked.

March 29, 2016 - 6:31 pm

Tammy A - This is the most adorable picture. Just pure joy!

March 29, 2016 - 6:47 pm

Nancy Shaw - Lesson – 1 Don’t ever say ever. Every time say that it’s so have to eat my words.

2 You are to young into widowhood to be entertaining such thoughts

3. Time will tell you if you will marry or not. If one has had a marriage that was comparable and you were friends as well as spouses. The day will come. When one will start missing things they didn’t necessarily to much about
At first loss. For instance, just being able to sit with another man and have a
Woman to man adult conversation. Someone to have coffe with I. The mornings or someone to cuddle up next to at night. And then if one does get remarried they realize how much they have missed the physical.

March 29, 2016 - 7:26 pm

bo - Nancy – I didn’t say never and I don’t think there are any rules about how soon is too soon to think about the future. My point was that I am just trying to follow the plans God has for me without pre-determining which direction those plans will go….so I think maybe we’re saying the same thing and maybe you misread my post or I am misreading your comment. Bless you, friend.

March 30, 2016 - 12:39 am

Amy Crombie - Bo, You are one of the most incredible women I have encountered. You have such a beautiful and authentic view of life and you inspire us all to open our hearts and minds to all the possibilities in this big ol’ world. I love that you share with us all, and I pray that this new Chapter of your life is bursting at the seams with joy, laughter, and new memories. Regardless of if you remarry or not someday…you are a beautiful radiant light in our lives and deserve every blessing under the sun. I hope you feel all of our love.

March 30, 2016 - 10:28 am

Megan Robertson - My dear Bo, I just love reading your blogs. I usually never post a word, but today I felt compelled to say that reading your words never fails to uplift and inspire me. Love and light to you!

March 30, 2016 - 12:51 pm

Susan - Bravo, this is perfect! I would love to be married again, but I have a pretty darn good life now, and I don’t want to mess it up. I am focusing my energy on raising my daughter. If God wants to bring someone into my life He will, at just the right time.

April 4, 2016 - 12:06 pm

Lottie Ennis - Bo, my husband passed away from ALS a month ago on March 3. My friend gave me your book (Beautiful Battlefields) to read when we were in the midst of our journey. Then, she forwarded me a couple of your blog entries this week. I have signed up to receive them because they have truly helped me as I’m navigating this new journey. Thank you for sharing!