God built us for relationship. He wants to have a relationship with us and created us in His image. It is our very nature to seek out relationships. We depend on our closest friends and family to help us navigate the currents of life. We find joy, knowledge, adventure and a myriad of emotions and treasures when we allow ourselves to interact with, respond to and engage with the people around us. There is a strength and force we experience when we work in unison with others.
Widows face many losses after their husband goes to heaven. Our husband was our closest and most intimate relationship possible.
One falling leaf forever changes the tree.
~Genevieve Davis Ginsburg, M.S.
Secondary losses form from the voids our loved one left behind. They are often incredibly personal and sometimes private. Ongoing losses resulting from the initial bereavement each bring their own way they compound grief. These secondary losses require coping and adjustment to the unanticipated changes in life created by the primary loss.
There has been a lack of recognition of the range of stressors, the multiplicity of losses, integral to the bereavement experience. Not only is there the loss of the person, but adjustments have to be made with respect to many aspects of life. (Stroebe & Schut, 1999)
It can be difficult for widows to receive understanding and acknowledgment for the secondary losses or accept offers of support. Especially in that first year, many widows are wrapped in a fog that is trying to numb the crushing pain and overwhelming grief. We need time to process all the consequences of losing our most intimate and transparent relationship. He was our confidant, helpmate, playmate, and closest friend. We trusted him with our secrets and fears. There is no one who can take his place in the most important support beams we once cherished.
A big change that comes as additional loss many of us might not expect is not having the same type of relationship with friends and family members. When one major life-changing event takes place, a series of mini-events follow and have a strong impact on daily life.
In some degree, the changes in these relationships may be a result of our own identity changes because our defining role as wife is different. We might be struggling to redefine who we are now because our sense of purpose changed. Sometimes death can cause us to question our faith, values, and beliefs. We must also wrestle with all the changes in responsibilities, finances, and surviving children, on top of any legal issues and practical day to day living.
Many widows talk about family and friends who are still present but treat them differently now, and some who simply disappear from their life. Some family members who are also grieving may have changes in their identity as a result of this loss.
Time passes moment by moment in the beginning, like a slow motion camera emphasizing every nuance, yet I couldn’t absorb it… recognize it… or react to it. It was like being encapsulated in a cloud, numb and unable to move, while the world whizzes on in all its busyness and confusion, seeming oblivious and untouched my world crash landed and lies in complete destruction. I can scream as loud as I can and still no one hears me.
I know you’re clueless why I’m sitting here, closed off from the world I once knew, seemingly unwilling to engage in what you deem normal conversation. You can’t understand when I consider trying again to have a conversation, I feel like I’m chained to a judgement seat, and the judge and jury have already condemned me. In the fine company of Job’s so called friends, his miserable comforters. I am repeatedly blamed for my situation and feelings. As humans in a fallen world, we decide someone must be to blame. I feel like you blame me.
Deep heart-crushing pain must be given a voice, to be acknowledged and validated so the wound it leaves can be cleansed and begin to heal. Having a tremendous capacity for love leaves you with a mirrored capacity to hurt if that love is lost. Over and over again I read it from other widows, the despair fueled by the careless comments, outright disgust and exhausted impatience they receive when they attempt to put into words how much pain they feel.
I don’t know who I can trust. You have no idea how badly I want to trust you, but I can’t risk it right now. There are things I wish I could say, things I desperately need to talk about, but I don’t believe you can understand, or worse, I don’t believe you want to understand. It magnifies the pain of the loss of my best friend and confidant—the person who loved me enough to encourage me to put my thoughts into words and listened… who knew when to let me keep going until I could get it off my chest and when and how to offer the right words to soothe my troubled heart.
I’m more lost in the confusion of transition than at any other time of my life. But I am able to keep putting one step in front of the other because I am anchored in the supernatural peace that passes all understanding because I have a personal relationship with my Triune God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the holy Spirit.
Secondary losses confound an already overwhelming loss. These individual losses are unique and complicated in their own right. Add them together and they give an intimidating new meaning to the saying… The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Relationships can be simple. They can be very complicated. Some are casual and carefree, yet even fleeting encounters may leave lasting impressions. We don’t always have a choice in some relationships… like family, people we work with, go to school with, or are members of our church or organizations we are a part of.
If you are struggling with the pain of changes in relationships with family and friends as a result of losing your husband, I’m deeply sorry. It blindsided me at the beginning of my journey. It’s taken me some time to try to come to terms with this. Some people disappeared from my life. With some, trust is broken. I choose to forgive all of them. I won’t let their bad choices hurt me anymore. I choose to find new friendships where necessary and to keep moving forward on this healing journey. I lean on my relationship with God to be my guide.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way! This world we live in, broken from the consequences of sin, is not what Father God envisioned for us. He hurts when we are unkind and impatient with each other. God’s plan was love. God’s plan was living in unity and harmony with Father God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. His intention is for us to uplift and encourage each other. He tells us to rejoice together in the good times, and to mourn together when sorrow strikes. He tells us when we love the one who is hurting we love Him. He instructs us to care for the widow and orphan… in other words take care of the vulnerable and ones in need.
The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. ~Henri Nouwen