Category Archives: women

When Husbands Die

Soon after my husband’s death I read When Husbands Die by Shirley Reeser McNally. The author who was a widow herself surveyed a group of women who had been widowed within the previous ten or more years, and organized their responses into a book. 

It was what I needed to read at the time, a sort of controlled support group, where I didn’t have to interact in real time with anyone, but could glean comfort from hearing from women who were in the same situation and who knew what I was going through. It’s strange, when I think about it, that an experience that is so common to humanity, the death of one’s spouse, can be so outrageous and solitary and impossible to prepare for.

One reason for the solitary aspect is the uniqueness of every relationship, and of each griever. This collection of women’s stories was interesting in that the women were all educated and able to write articulate and thoughtful responses to the questions, whether they were in their first months of grieving or years down the road. Most of them did not have to struggle financially, even if their husbands had died fairly young.

Shortly after reading the book I told people that it was something like reading a sociology textbook, and a little dry, but now I think, wasn’t that what I needed? I certainly didn’t want to read anything dramatic about someone else’s trauma. C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed was not as helpful, partly because it was only one person’s story, and that of a man, one who hadn’t been married very long. I am a woman who had been married a long time.

I especially liked hearing from women who were at a later stage of grief, about how their lives had changed over the years since their husbands had died, and the ways in which they had built new lives that were good. I went back this week and reviewed the passages I’d highlighted on my Kindle. Here are a few of those favorites:

“…the shared stories indicate that women must work through three to five years of grief and change before they feel well on their way to a recovered, reinvented life. The hard work of grieving must be accomplished before healing takes place.”

“…disorientation, fatigue, loss of self-confidence, feelings of abandonment, shock, and bone-deep sadness.”

“…our culture…is not open to the commonality of death, and how important it is that we come to terms with it in our lifetime.”

“I think women are better able to cope. We are greater realists and more skilled at accepting change as part of life because of our biological natures: monthly changes, pregnancy, childbirth, etc. Widowers tend to remarry sooner. They don’t know how to nurture themselves.”

“Is it ever possible to have no regrets; to have accomplished all you wanted to do; to have said everything, done everything? No. Omissions you recall later may bring sadness, sometimes guilt, until you understand that it was important for you and your husband to do things in your own way. That’s the only way you and he had.”

“…dying is something each of us has to do alone, at least in a human sense? The moment must come when, in dying, we move beyond our surroundings into another space.”

“…it is a sudden time, when things must be left unsaid and undone.”

A few more helpful gleanings.

With my youngest daughter Kate getting married in just a few days, you’d think I’d have precious little time for writing here. And that is so true, which is why I’m mostly passing on some more gleanings from my recent readings. If you ever pray for bloggers you don’t know, add me to the list this week!

1) Leila writes about some of my favorite things in her post Housewifely. I specialize in ironing and wearing an apron, but the other G & S 6-85things are also high on my list. She writes, “When you put on an apron, you do not merely protect the garments. You also announce your commitment to the task at hand, your willingness to suffer the slings and sputterings of the pots and pans, your resolve to see the work out to the end.”

I wish I had written this post. Sometimes I think I could write a whole book about aprons alone, and how practically and symbolically they are so significant to my own homemaking. I don’t only wear a apron in the kitchen, but to clean house and dig in the garden.

Aprons were one love that I shared with my now-departed friend Bird which is why I made her a new apron at a time when she had no obvious need for one. Bird and I knew that she did in reality use one, as a way to keep herself on the continuum of the woman she had always been.

2) Daphne writes common sense and wisdom about dating and marriage.

43 m&l
My cousins 70 years ago

“Start dating after you are ready to get married, and date people you can actually see yourself marrying, as doing otherwise is typically a colossal waste of time. ”

“A good marriage is intentional and dating should be too.”

“And none of them live in magical fairy tales; no matter how it’s arranged a relationship always involves confusion, mistakes, and heartache. Crossed wires are built into every human interaction. ”

3) This article on acedia I found to be revealing of all the many ways self-love manifests itself. Fr. Aidan Kimel quotes a 4th-century desert monastic on the eight fundamental passions or thoughts; acedia is central.

“Frustration and aggressiveness combine in a new way and produce this ‘complex’ (that is, interwoven) phenomenon of acedia.”

“’A despondent person hates precisely what is available,’ Evagrius writes, ‘and desires what is not available.'”

4) The last thing I offer you, which was most helpful to me at this time, is Father Stephen writing about Comforting One Another, which is also about comforting ourselves — or rather, not comforting ourselves. You see, we try to comfort ourselves by running away from the heartbreak or pain and suffering, running to pleasures that we think will ease our hurt. They often bring us further pain. We have to make ourselves not run away, but turn to Christ and let Him truly comfort us by His being and presence.

“For it is when our hearts are broken and do not run away or hide that we can call on God to comfort us. And He does….That comfort is the gift of His own life within us, a sharing of His own joy and love.”

Edith Schaeffer

Edith Schaeffer died today!

I only heard by just now reading this blog post, from a friend of mine whose mother and I are friends and fellow home-lovers. Edith Schaeffer through two of her books, What is a Family and The Hidden Art of Homemaking, helped me in many ways to develop my own style and philosophy of homemaking.

Several particular principles and practices, from the importance of caring for the sick to table decorating, became part of my being and contributed to the joy of being the woman of my home. She was the first decidedly Christian person I read who understood the importance of beauty in the home, and she gave many (I remember I thought almost too many!) examples of how one might create a home environment that was rich in all the important things, even if worldly riches were lacking.

I am very thankful for this sister in Christ. May she rest in peace, and may her memory be eternal.

Sorting lentils and words and….

A Woman Cleaning Lentils

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

— Zahrad

I found this provocative poem on this blog post, and have been keeping it in the back of my mind until today when I read a comment by Celeste on this blog post, about her own need to “re-sort.”

The household and garden chores that I pile up around me every day, the practical love for husband and children and grandchildren, the worship of God in His Church such as I enjoyed this morning, the good books and blogs I read, the writing I am compelled to do — they all seem to be represented and connected for me in the images of these lines.

Here I am, once again in the middle of trying-not-to-be-frantic trip preparations, but God gave me an extra hour this afternoon, which meant I could eat some leftover frittata and read a comment on a blog, and look what happened! More sorting of thoughts and realities, with the unspoken urge to order my affections aright and find His peace and strength for the next few hours and days.

Suddenly a word.
A life.