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

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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

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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…

April 27, 2016 - 5:12 pm

Barbara Miles - Hi Bo, I just found your blog this evening. I know God had a hand in leading me here through Charisma magazine facebook page My husband of almost 42 years, was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon/liver cancer in ’13. After 2 surgeries and endless chemo we are facing his growing weakness in the face of it all. I trust God, but sometimes feel that Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.i am tired Thanks for what you are sharing. I have lots of supporting friends and family but not many who have gone through these particular trenches. I will bookmark your blog and come back often. Thanks again. B

The Question Widows Answer All. The. Time.

 

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(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!

The Care and Handling of Newly Single Friends

 

 

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The question I am asked most often right now is: What is the best way to relate to and care for widows and widowers?  It’s usually closely followed by, “I’m afraid I’m going to do something wrong, so I don’t do anything.”  First,  it’s such a good question.  Secondly, I struggle to answer it.  I know the ways my community has blessed me, but my situation is only mine. I don’t have a complete worldview on this issue.  So I turned to my friends who have been widowed in the past year or so and they sent me amazing input.  Then I had a conversation with someone who was recently divorced and was struck by how different our experiences were.  That’s when I decided to talk to a few people who haven’t experienced the death of a spouse, but they have experienced the death of a marriage.  Now, I’m not sure which one is harder – they’re both so difficult and so different, but both leave us all in the same place: the land of the newly single.  We’re different than the always-single.  Used to being part of a couple and usually part of a community of couples, this strange land is fraught with frustration and heartache and, in some cases, shame.

 

These ideas are not my own, though I do share most of them.  They are the collective thoughts from my conversations with some of the bravest people I know.  They are by no means exhaustive nor universal, but I hope they inspire you to new levels of love and compassion toward the newly single in your life.  Here are our thoughts:

 

 

It’s never bad to invite us to…well, pretty much anything.

Holidays can be hard and lonely, but so can regular old Tuesdays. Events with mostly couples can be hard, but invite us anyway – we’ll decide if we can handle it or not.  And even though we’ve said no once or twice or five times, please keep asking us. Our ability to move out into society changes from day to day, so please don’t be offended if we have to decline a kind invitation – it still felt so nice to be asked into your world.

 

 

 

Be willing to listen long.

We have, in most cases, lost our primary processing person. We don’t necessarily need answers as much as we need to be able to talk our way to a conclusion or solution which is why we may cover the same ground over and over again.  It’s tempting to want to give a lot of advice and it’s okay to offer some – but those who listen well are an amazing gift to us.

 

 

We appreciate your love for our kids – especially when you run it through us first.

Again, this one can be difficult to navigate because whatever it is that made us single has undoubtedly caused heartache for them as well. We have our eyes out for signs of fallout in their hearts and are cautious to expose them to anything else that might be hurtful.  Offers to take them to coffee, or school clothes shopping or on your family vacation are so kind, but there may be reasons it won’t work, so just ask us first.

 

Here’s a tricky one: be careful in your attempts to set us up.  

So, so careful.  Some of my  newly single friends are eager to welcome the involvement of their married friends in their dating lives, others are not. And across the board, my friends expressed a fair amount of shock and awe at how they’ve been set up and with whom.  Let’s tackle those separately, shall we?  Now understand, please, that I’M not in the dating market, but I’m going to speak collectively for the people who trusted me with their insight and so it will sound weird, but that’s just how this is going down.

 

  1. HOW to set up your newly single friend.  Here are the don’ts:  No blindsiding.  No secret invites of other single friends, hoping they’ll meet, mingle and marry (totally going to trademark Meet, Mingle & Marry for a new dating web site. Because I have time for that.)  Here are the do’s:  Do ask permission. Do be honest about your motives (wanting to introduce two people who may become friends or more is not bad, it just becomes bad if people feel tricked)  Do give your friend a way out if they are not comfortable.
  2. WITH WHOM:  This one is a little tricky to talk about, but talk about it we must.  We understand that the dating pool gets smaller as we get older.  However, that does not mean our standards shrink along with it.   We want someone who shares our beliefs and values.  We want someone who has character and integrity.  We want someone who – and I can’t stress how many times I’ve heard this, so it must really be a thing – is not crazy. I get that crazy can be subjective and a little crazy can be cute to some – but use good judgement here.  And here are some random don’ts:
  • Don’t put your friend in a situation that you yourself would not want to be in.  Ask yourself:  If roles were reversed, would I think this person was a legitimate option for my dating life?  Then, add in all the pain and sorrow that comes from divorce or widowhood and multiply by 17 and you have the level of caution and disorientation your friend is feeling as he or she faces the whacky world of dating.
  • Do not be offended if your friend asks to see a picture or a Facebook page before committing to a meeting. You would want one, too.
  • Do not be offended if, after viewing said Facebook profile, your friend takes a pass.
  • Do not be offended if, after one date, your friend doesn’t want another.  Love and attraction are entirely subjective and what makes sense to you may not make any sense at all to them, and that’s okay. Almost every one of my friends made a comment along the lines of, “I’d rather have no one than settle for something that doesn’t feel right.”  In my conversations, people who had lost their spouse to divorce were much more adamant on this point than those who were widowed.  Though walking a spouse all the way to the end of his life is difficult, it also re-emphasizes the beauty and strength of committed love.  Those who have watched the wedding vows die, on the other hand, do not always enjoy that same faith in relationships.
  • Do not offer the possibility of finding a mate as a source of comfort.  “Don’t worry, you’re  young  – you’ll love again” just really isn’t comforting.  It implies that what we lost is replaceable and often times, the thing we lost was our faith in the safety and sanctity of marriage itself.  So “again” is loaded with all sorts of emotions.

 

 

 

Speaking of people who have been through a divorce or difficult break up:  This one is very tender.  Every divorced friend I spoke with had a word in their lexicon that the widowed group did not, and the word is a powerful one: shame.  They are carrying the weight of failure, whether perceived or actual.  They are often locked in bitter battles for children or property or reputation.  They haven’t just lost the friendship of a spouse, each one expressed the depth of pain in losing half their friends or their church or their in-laws. Sometimes they feel that married people eye them suspiciously when they get near their spouses. It is sorrow on top of sorrow.

 

 

Widows and widowers usually receive an outpouring of love and sympathy (at least initially), but divorced people are often tragically neglected as communities choose sides and scatter.  The bottom line here, however, is love.  Be willing to love your divorced friends without condition and without needing explanations or apologies. And in those situations where the social dynamic must change in your relationship  (you probably won’t keep having your ex brother-in-law over for Christmas dinner), refuse to get caught up in the mudslide of gossip and slander that so easily rolls through communities (and social media!) in the aftermath of a marriage breakdown. Refuse to throw mud. And love instead.  For the sake of broken hearts and hurting children and in honor of the grace of Jesus, choose generous, covering love.

 

 

Finally, stay in the game.

Many I talked with mentioned feeling that their friends gradually began to slide out of the picture.  Sometimes it’s friend fatigue, sometimes it’s just forgetfulness.  Once the initial shock is over, the surrounding community returns to their regular lives while the newly single person stands in the wreckage, wondering if rebuilding is even possible.  If you’ve lost touch with someone you love who is rebuilding, it’s never too late to reengage. So many people have told me how sad they are for neglecting to stick close to their hurting friend and that they’re now too embarrassed to reach out.  Don’t be that friend.  Reach out.  No need to over-explain or over-apologize, just say, “Hey I love you and I miss you and I want to get together whenever it works for you.”  And then make it work.  Because we’re all in this together, guys.  And from my side of the newly-single fence:  I need you.  And I’m so glad you’re in my life.

 

And hey – single or formerly-single friends – comments are open: what did we miss?

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

March 24, 2016 - 2:22 pm

Kayrin - Thank you Bo! I am married to a man who was widowed very suddenly and unexpectedly at age 35. There was no handbook for what he was going through, or what I went through when we began dating. I LOVE hearing your perspective on this. Thank you.

March 24, 2016 - 2:43 pm

Debbie Wilson - I lost my husband last July too. You have hit the nail on the head for most of my questions. However, how do you transition your adult kids in seeing you as not only ‘mom’ minus dad now, but a woman that sees many changes ahead? Like, moving out of a family home, the potential of a new partner or even just traveling. Mine seem to picture me at home in this lost state, forever.

March 24, 2016 - 3:11 pm

Joy - Dearest Bo: I cannot be certain, never having experienced the heartbreak of losing a partner to death, but having had the experience of a delightful, long-term (23 years) marriage ending in divorce and the horror of all the losses involved, I’d have to say that this kind of divorce is worse than death. How often in the days and months following divorce did I long for the peace and comfort of death? Daily. What did I lose, exactly? My confidant, best friend, lover, pastor, peanut gallery, admirer, fellow life-warrior-at-arms, accountant, navigator, sounding board and co-parent. I lost the one person who faithfully said “Is it just me, or is this THE best meal you’ve ever tasted???! !!” I lost upwards of 50 people, many of whom exchanged “I love you”s with me for more than two decades…literally overnight. Gone. Without a trace, without a word and I still have NO idea what they were told to cause them to vanish when he decided to depart. But vanish they did. To the accompaniment of my broken heart. I also lost nearly every legalistic friend of our then-circle…which was nearly everyone. I also lost the confidence that I was called to be an excellent wife & mother because what kind of a woman would lose her husband to such a degree that he who loved her so deeply now openly hates her??! I lost the benefit of the doubt that maybe there were two sides to this story — because our circles? OUR circles “knew” that a truly excellent Help Meet could not possibly let her husband stray. I lost my son. He was 18 and felt like leaving might be the grownup thing to do, you know, since his dad was doing it. I lost all financial security. All of it. When I asked one of my formerly “dear” friends why she never checked to see if my girls & I were even hungry during the months after he left, she said “Well, you didn’t seem to believe the way we do.” I asked her if she knew he had left & she said “I heard it but didn’t want to believe it.” Why were we talking now? She had called to make sure I wasn’t moving away & taking any of her homeschool books I’d borrowed with me. I cannot even express the blow to my heart. Multiple blows. There is more, but this is hard. I will say more later, perhaps, but for now it’s been six years & I am just now gaining my balance and learning how to live single and strong. I say I believe divorce (from a happy marriage) is worse than death because I lost the heart & soul of my life — the one who said I was his rib, his bestie, his destiny…and overnight my “I love you to the moon & im not worthy of you!” became “I hate you and you are a witch!” Over. Night. It took a hella long time before I stopped crying in envy when I’d hear of someone dying. I never considered suicide nor took to my bed. I plugged along doggedly surviving in the hope of thriving again someday. But the peace of death in exchange for my lover’s hate-filled, lava-laden words was a heady thought indeed. And the loneliness and rejection from people’s fear of my Divorce Disease? Indescribable. Truly. The memories of a dearly departed’s adoration of his surviving partner & family is a beautifully healing balm. But this? This adds fiery darts of insult upon injury that just never lets up. And it stinks, honey. It really stinks. From all directions. But my love for you grows daily, Bo. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your journey and inviting us to share ours. It’s cathartic. <3

March 24, 2016 - 4:07 pm

kat - I just want to say, even after 25+ years from a divorce, i am still experiencing some of these feelings. Failure, lonesomeness rejection. And the why am i alone? Along with so many other feelings. Watching your world you knew slip away, and facing life alone, and watching friends slip away seems to be a thing that happens even after all these years.
But i do know i am over the top thankful for the unconditional love of our Lord. He is my everything. Thank you for the post Bo. God bless.

March 24, 2016 - 5:27 pm

Teresa B. - Joy- I am so sorry for what you have gone through. Please know that I will be praying for your continued sense of being and Independence. Continue to rest upon the Lord and he will be beside you at all times. Thank you for this Bo. I wish I could send this to all my dad’s friends. He is in the “newly divorced” area and has many friends who try to set him up. He gets invited to ball games, concerts, and every time there is an extra female along for the ride. He said to me “I just want to enjoy being single!” Hes started to decline invitations because of the prospect of having a “blind date” and then he doesn’t want to be rude to turn them down for a one on one date. So the dating comments are so very very true and something everyone should consider, it may even be the #1 point!

March 24, 2016 - 8:56 pm

Sally - Oh what good reminders these are to reach out and reach out again to the widows who continue to hurt.

May I add another category? Those of us who are in limbo; in my case a spouse who is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. As Pauline Boss says in her book Ambigious Loss he has said goodbye without leaving. He is still very much in my life, but he has said goodbye. I have a husband, but I am not part of a couple. I am still committed to caring for a husband who does not even know my name. Long time friends have drifted away. Neighbors ask how he’s doing but don’t offer to help me shovel snow. My church family is busy visiting people who are dying of cancer or having surgery or are unemployed. They grew tired of this long ten year illness

I’m partly at fault. I don’t return phone calls because I don’t always want to discuss the latest decline, I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to hear how you understand because your grandmother or your mother had Alzheimer’s. You could visit your mother at the memory care facility and go home to your normal life with your husband. I go home with his dirty laundry to an empty house.

March 25, 2016 - 7:20 pm

Marlys Johnson - Great info for friends and family of the newly single!

If I could add one thought to your list – speaking as a 16-month widow – it would be this: Don’t be afraid to tell stories and share memories about my husband in front of me because I love to hear them. My brother-in-law mentioned he was thinking of posting something about Gary to Facebook, but wasn’t sure how I would take it. — Yes, please do! — And so he posted a photo of Gary and said that March Madness wasn’t the same without him, and that he missed him (Hubby, computer geek, maintained an annual computerized March Madness Johnson family pool, which kept us connected to each other throughout the basketball series, including some good-natured trash talking).

His post was honoring of his brother. And I felt honored, as well.

March 27, 2016 - 2:45 pm

Kimberlie Ott - Dear Bo, Your post today was beautiful. I have been following your blog for the past few years, and Steve’s too, up until his final post. This resonated with me as it was 16 years ago you walked into the Bend Blockbuster and said you had heard through the grapevine(our mutual college friends) of my divorce and how sorry you were. I remember that meeting as clearly as yesterday as I was overjoyed to see you , and then mortified with the wave of shame and loss that came with the knowledge that the world knew my problems. I have been on a long journey of healing since………….walked through many years of pain and frustration at not “succeeding” where others did……but since, I have seen God’s grace enter my life and fill my children’s hearts with peace…….I remarried a widower whom I had known for many years and together we loved a blended family of 8 children whose hearts were torn with loss from cancer and divorce. God came in and remade a broken heart and I am still learning to trust, in my maker and in my husband. My children’s dad died almost four years ago………and we remained friends (as best we could) for the sake of our children. Losses………..deep and abiding, of church family, friends and others who pick sides caused such pain, but God brought new connections and new paths…….learning to walk and traverse those paths is a moment by moment testing of my faith. I pray for you continually……..the beauty of this blog is so evident……you are spot on in your musings and have gleaned much from dear friends. Keep your head held high………His Grace does carry you through the storm, when the quiet hours are sometimes the hardest. Much love for your future.