“I’ll be OK,” Joyce Rogers told her husband of 54 years as she anticipated his death. Looking back several years later, she wrote, “I don’t know if he heard me, and I didn’t exactly know what that meant. I just knew from the depths of my soul that God would take care of me. And, indeed he has!”
Her experience of how God brought her through “that incredibly difficult first year” is described in “Grace for the Widow, A Journey Through the Fog of Loss.” Her late husband, Adrian Rogers, pastored Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis.
For many widows, Rogers said there’s a sense that is comparable to a destructive tornado “that sweeps away our home while leaving another next to it unharmed.” Lacking an explanation for why “one is taken and another is left,” she sought to discover God’s purpose for this new stage in life.
“I felt like I’d been hit in the stomach,” added Karen Collett, whose husband died in 1997 after nearly 23 years of marriage. “There is just a numbness there. It stayed over the year. It lessened, but it was still difficult.”
MANAGE AND ‘COPE’
“We probably don’t ever ‘recover’ from grief; instead, we learn to manage and cope,” explained Barbara M. Roberts in her handbook “Helping Those Who Hurt” for those involved in caring for others during a crisis.
Speaking at a Women’s Leadership Consultation session held earlier this year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Collett outlined the needs of widows at the time of the spouse’s death as compared to the months and years beyond. She serves as women’s auxiliary coordinator at SWBTS where she maintains contact with widows across the United States through the Widow’s Might prayer ministry.
When a terminal illness stretches out for months, the family benefits from the provision of meals, assistance with errands, transportation, babysitting and when appropriate, relieving the caregiver, she said.
Encouragement is greatly appreciated, but consideration of the individual’s time is important, she advised.
“Phone calls can be very overwhelming. You’re trying to be there with your children and you’re saying the same thing for 15 minutes each time.”
Her husband, Dana, pastored Covenant Baptist Church in Columbia, Md., when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Some families take advantage of web-based technology that allows posting of updated information on a person’s condition through one entry. Prayer chains should be succinct, taking care to pass along only accurate information, she added.
It often falls to a minister to guide a grieving widow through the steps she must soon take. Roberts’ handbook outlines the initial decisions to be made at the mortuary and the process of planning a funeral service.
“If the death has been sudden, the shock stage will be severe. The care needed in that situation is much more intense,” she wrote.
At the time of a death, many widows begin operating on autopilot, Collett shared.
“Just be there for them. Your whole security and support system gets ripped out from under you,” she added.
“After the funeral is over and loved ones have gone home, you are faced with the mundane decisions of what to do,” Rogers wrote in her book. She provides direction on tackling the long “to-do” list that ranges from writing thank-you notes to making financial decisions.
Julia Moore, the wife of a Southwestern Seminary student who died in 2006, recalled being so overwhelmed by the day-to-day events that she often forgot who had offered to help.
“Hundreds of cards and notes of sympathy arrived in the mail, phones calls and visitors were constant and food arrived daily like clockwork during the two weeks after Donald’s death,” she said. “Then the widow is left in a fog, wondering what just happened and where did everyone go?”
The simplest efforts sometimes make the greatest difference in a time of need. “Sometimes you have a small voice that you recognized as God telling you something as simple as call this person, write this letter,” shared Anita Onarecker Wood of Spring, whose first husban