Like so many other widows, I’ve learned over the years that our suffering can become a balm for others who are facing that same reality.
You can spot us in a fancy restaurant. We’re at a table for two from which the waiter has discreetly removed a place setting. We put on a good face as we sip our glass of wine and sample our salad. You might think we are people that simply love experiencing life alone. You might imagine us touring Europe all by ourselves and enjoying every moment.
Another widow, however, knows the courage it takes to dine alone in public. She knows the little stab of sorrow that troubles the heart when there’s an empty chair at the table. She has experienced that panicky feeling when couples at Mass are hugging each other during the Sign of Peace, and she turns to her side, but her husband isn’t there.
There is a secret understanding among widows. We have all experienced the surprised look in the eyes of others, who find it hard to believe we still miss him after five years, after eight years, after a decade has passed. They don’t quite “get” the fact that we wake up in the middle of the night and reach for him beside us. They find it surprising that we’re still dreaming about him. Aren’t we over it by now? Haven’t we moved on?
We’ll never be over it, because his absence stalks us wherever we go. The empty space in the pew at Mass, the lonely chair across the living room, the silence in the house. When you have spent three decades at the side of another person, when you have shared life’s events with him, whether that means the first sighting of a hummingbird or the approach of a gigantic storm, you don’t easily move on. His image is stamped on your heart.
It has been eight years since my husband and I had our last conversation. We had just returned from a vacation in Florida, and he was going to return the car we had rented. The temperature was in the 90s that afternoon, so I suggested that I follow him over to the rental place in our car, then drive him home. But he wanted to take his daily walk, and the distance home was about three miles, which wasn’t a big deal for an avid walker.
On his way home, he suffered a fatal heart attack, and that meant the event I had dreaded ever since our wedding day — when we made our vows “until death us do part” — had come to pass. I had gone to bed the night before as a wife, and that night, I would cry myself to sleep as a widow.
Like so many other widows, I’ve learned over the years that our suffering can become a balm for others who are facing that same reality. The books that helped me I now loan to other women. The tips I learned along the way can be offered to others. Don’t try to run away from the pain, because that makes it worse. Throw yourself into Jesus’ arms and you will find peace. Be grateful you had such a deep love, even though its loss comes with great grief.
As the anniversary of my husband’s death approaches, I will request that a Mass be offered for him. I will turn over in my heart the memories of the last time I saw him, when my tears saturated the blue shirt I had chosen for his departure. I will take comfort in the verse that countless other widows have turned to in sorrow. “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.” How blessed I was to have 33 years with him, and how grateful I am that God now has him for all eternity.