“Until Death Do Us Part”
HOW many couples have joyfully repeated those words on their wedding day—perhaps without reflecting on the eventual implication? Old age, sickness, or accidents are common occurrences that can tragically end the life of a loved one, leaving the surviving mate to face loneliness and grief.—Ecclesiastes 9:11; Romans 5:12.
Statistics show that nearly half of women who are 65 or older are widows. Indeed, because women are three times more likely to be widowed than are men, bereavement of one’s spouse has been called a “female phenomenon.” This is not to say that men do not suffer too. The fact is that millions of people have experienced this stressful circumstance. Are you perhaps one of them?
Male or female, if you are in this situation, what can you do? Is the Bible of any help in dealing with such grief? How have some widows and widowers coped? Although there is no one formula that is applicable in every case, there are principles and suggestions that can help.
Facing Up to the Loss
Although some think that crying is a sign of weakness or is even harmful, psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers, herself a widow, likens tears to emotional first aid. Actually, crying is a normal part of the grieving process and helps to relieve the pain. Do not be ashamed of your tears. A good example of this is found in the Bible. Abraham was a man of outstanding faith, and he enjoyed the privilege of being called God’s friend. Yet, when his beloved wife died, he “came in to bewail Sarah and to weep over her.”—Genesis 23:2.
While it is normal to want to have some time alone, do not go into isolation. Proverbs 18:1 warns us: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing.” Rather, seek the support of relatives and friends who are empathetic. In this regard, a marvelous provision is the Christian congregation, where spiritually mature men can offer support and advice when needed.—Isaiah 32:1, 2.
Some have found it helpful to answer letters and cards of condolence. This opportunity can be used to put into writing the good things that you remember about your mate and the moments you shared. Making an album of memories with photographs, letters, and notes may also help you to heal.
It is normal for a recently bereaved person to feel disoriented and lost, but adhering to your customary schedule and activities will help. For example, if you have a specific time to sleep, get up, eat, or do certain chores, try to keep this up. Plan ahead for what you will do on weekends and special days, such as your wedding anniversary, when the loss tends to be overwhelming. It is especially important to keep up your spiritual routine.—1 Corinthians 15:58.
Judgment may be clouded when one is under great emotional stress. Perhaps people with bad motives may even try to take advantage of your situation. Therefore, avoid making hasty decisions regarding such matters as selling your home, making a major investment, moving, or remarrying. A wise proverb says: “The plans of the diligent one surely make for advantage, but everyone that is hasty surely heads for want.” (Proverbs 21:5) Any such major life changes should be postponed until your emotions are more settled.
Dealing with the personal effects of your spouse can be very difficult emotionally, especially if you have spent many years together, but it is part of the grieving process. Putting it off can unduly prolong the anguish. (Psalm 6:6) Some prefer to do this alone; others find that a close companion with whom to share the memories evoked by the task is helpful. You might also want to seek the help of a friend or relative in taking care of any paperwork, such as obtaining death certificates; notifying government agencies, banks, and credit card companies; changing titles to property; obtaining death benefits; and paying medical bills.
Remember that we live in an immoral world. Now that you are alone, your efforts to remain chaste may be put to the test. The words of the apostle Paul are certainly as timely today as ever: “Each one of you should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in covetous sexual appetite such as also those nations have which do not know God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:4, 5) It is wise, therefore, to avoid romantic or sex-oriented movies, books, and music.
Above all, understand that recovery takes time. USA Today reports that studies done by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research show that a bereaved spouse needs at least 18 months to begin to recover physically and psychologically. Pray to God for endurance, which is enhanced by the fruitage of his spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Although you may not think so at present, each day will get better as time goes on.
How Some Have Coped
For Anna, who was happily married for 40 years, the recent loss of her husband has been devastating. “I lost my mother when I was 13 years old, then my father and two brothers, as well as my sister. But I can truthfully say that none of these losses affected me as deeply as the loss of my husband. It was as if I were cut in two. The pain was overwhelming.” What has helped her to deal with this pain? “I have made a huge book of e-mails and cards filled with wonderful expressions of love and appreciation for all of Darryl’s fine qualities. Each one mentions some particular thing about him. I am sure that Jehovah too remembers him and will bring him back in the resurrection.”
Eighty-eight-year-old Esther comments on what has sustained her: “After 46 years of companionship, the most difficult trial has been loneliness. But I have noticed that staying busy in spiritual matters has been of much help. I have not stopped my routine of attending Christian meetings, sharing the Bible’s message with others, and reading it myself. Not isolating myself has also helped. I seek the companionship of friends who listen to me. They do not always have something comforting to say, but I appreciate very much that they give me their time and listen to me.”
Robert, who lost his wife to cancer after 48 years of marriage, relates: “It is very hard to endure the loss of a mate with whom one could talk, make decisions, enjoy travel and vacations, and share the day’s experiences. It has been a struggle, but I am determined not to give up but to get on with my life. Staying active physically and mentally has helped me. Prayer has also been a source of much comfort.”
A Meaningful Life After the Loss
Even though the loss of a beloved spouse is one of the most traumatic experiences a person could have, it is not the end. Looking on the positive side, you may now see the opportunity to participate in activities for which you formerly had little time, such as hobbies or trips. These activities can help fill the void. For some, there may now be the opportunity to share more fully in the Christian ministry. The joy and satisfaction that come from helping others in this way is guaranteed, for Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
Do not think that you can never be happy again. Be assured that Jehovah God cares for you if you turn to him. The psalmist David said: “The widow [Jehovah] relieves.” (Psalm 146:9) It is heartwarming to know that the Bible not only describes Jehovah as “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort” but also says of Jehovah: “You are opening your hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (2 Corinthians 1:3; Psalm 145:16) Indeed, the loving God, Jehovah, is able, willing, and ready to come to the aid of those who earnestly look to him for help. May your feelings be like those of the ancient Israelites, who sang: “I shall raise my eyes to the mountains. From where will my help come? My help is from Jehovah, the Maker of heaven and earth.”—Psalm 121:1, 2.
[Blurb on page 19]
Millions have experienced grief and loneliness because of losing their mate. Are you one of them?
[Box on page 21]
What About Remarriage?
The Bible indicates that death brings an end to the marriage bond, thus presenting the surviving spouse the opportunity to remarry. (1 Corinthians 7:39) Still, such a decision is entirely personal. It is important, however, that children be aware of their parent’s decision and be supportive of him or her where possible. (Philippians 2:4) Andrés, for example, was at first against his father’s remarrying. He had loved his mother very much and felt that no one should take her place. “But I soon realized that my father had made a good decision,” he says. “Marriage cheered him up again. He began to do things that he had not done for some time, such as travel. And of course, I am grateful to his new wife for taking such good care of him physically and emotionally.”
[Pictures on page 20, 21]
Keeping busy and praying to God for endurance help the process of recovery