When Marica’s husband died after a long illness, she thought she was prepared to handle living alone. She never imagined the loneliness she would face, or the physical, emotional and spiritual changes that would occur.
Rita had a similar experience. A widow at 55, she thought she was coping and dealing with the emotional part of losing her husband, but she learned emotions are unpredictable.
“It really hit me when I was filling out a questionnaire, and I had to check the correct box: married, single, divorced or widowed,” she recalled. “Somehow I drove home through tears streaming down my face.”
The emotions individuals face after the death of a spouse are intense. Loneliness, anger and disappointment are all part of the grieving process and can all happen at the same time — a term counselors often refer to as STUG, a sudden (or subsequent) temporary upsurge of grief.
“When the funeral is over, you go home, and people surround you with love and care for a month or so,” said Bob Terry, editor emeritus of The Alabama Baptist, who lost his first wife, Eleanor, in 1998. “But that begins to ebb as normalcy returns to their lives.”
The grieving spouse often feels alone dealing with all those emotions, said Terry, whose book, “Struggling Toward Hope: Life After the Death of a Spouse,” shares not only the personal lessons he learned along his grief journey, but also practical tips for survivors as they learn to live after a loved one dies.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are some 15 million widows and widowers in the U.S. Most, 11.4 million of them, are women.
“Although some churches have programs specifically for widows, this is one area that may be the weakest part of the church program,” one widow said. “We are often a forgotten group in many congregations.”
The Southern Baptist Convention has a special emphasis Sunday each year in November to recognize widows and orphans — this year, it falls on Nov. 13 — and the Bible mentions the welfare of widows more than 100 times, including 1 Timothy 5:3–16, James 1:27, Deuteronomy 24:17, Isaiah 1:17 and 1 Kings 17:9.
Some widows gain a fresh perspective on Scripture as they seek assurance that they are not invisible to God. The Bible says widows are close to His heart, and He measures others in the way they treat widows.
For that reason a church’s ministry to widows is important. Data shows 50% of widows leave the church they attended as a couple, which means a second loss for the church family. And after the COVID-19 pandemic, there are more young widows in our congregations, which is why ministry to widows should not be just for senior adults, but rather an organized and structured program of the church.
A ministry for widows can start as a small group. When it grows, it’s usually best to start another group since a small group has advantages over larger groups. The group can plan a monthly luncheon at a favorite restaurant; transportation to medical appointments; church and community events; or an afternoon of board games or crafts. There is no limit to a ministry to widows, but it should include physical, emotional and spiritual support that meets the specific needs of widows and widowers.
Barbara Eubanks, a widow, author, conference leader and member of Sardis Baptist Church in Boaz, Alabama, understands the need for physical activity among women. She organized a cruise for widows and other single women. Each morning they met for spiritual discussion, and the rest of the day was open for tours or interacting with others on the ship.
Eubanks believes God wants His people to rejoice, and to rejoice with others. Her latest book, “Fear to Fearless,” includes some suggestions for widows who may be finding it hard to cope with the fear and grief that follows the loss of a spouse.
“Fears come in different sizes, forms and shapes — some rational and some not,” Eubanks writes. “From falls to foes, heights to hell, storms to swamps, people are prone to fear. Fears are known by different names: phobias, anxiety, terror, worry and dread, but regardless, any of these that disturb our calm and serenity hinder the life God desires for His children.”
The grief journey is not a straight path, Terry said.
“Sometimes you walk in a circle, sometimes you take a wrong direction, and sometimes you fall,” he admitted. “I want people to know that, and if they end up at a dead end, it’s OK to start again.”
Churches can help by walking beside widows and widowers in their grief and helping them find their way forward. (Carrie Brown McWhorter contributed)
Online resources for widows
- Sisterhoodofwidows.com — Grieving and healing together.
- hopeforwidows.org — Articles and helpful information from the Hope for Widows Foundation and the blogging community.
- alightersoul.com — Free widows’ support group; includes a list of relevant books.
Practical tips — Serving widows after the death of a spouse
- What to say in a card or on the phone: I’m praying for you; I’m so sorry; I’m here for you.
- What to say during a visit: What can I do for you? Do you need to talk? What errands can I run for you?
- What tangible gifts can I offer? Consider fresh fruit (many will bring heavy meals), sodas, water; disposable containers for leftovers; restaurant gift cards; paper products like trash bags, plates, cold and hot cups, tissues, napkins, paper towels.
- Loan tables and chairs for extra guests.
- Offer to help clean the house or babysit.
- Express concern and let the conversation remain about the deceased. Avoid sharing personal experiences.
- Just be present. Words may not be necessary.
Tips provided by Cynthia Walker Watts-Barrineau (Read more here.)
Example survey for ministering well to widows
Years being a widow______________ Age_________
Age of children_________ Do you attend this church?______
What is your greatest need?____________________________
What is your greatest fear?_____________________________
How can we help?________________________________
What events would you be interested in? (Rank preference, 1 – low; 5 – high)
___ Discussion group
___ Bible study
___ Social events at church like game nights or crafts
___ Social outings off campus
___ One-time seminar of resources
Name and addresses of other widows who might benefit from this ministry.
What topics to include in studies and discussions?
(Adapted from widows.connection.com)