Carrying a Widow’s Cross
Practical Ways Faith Helped 1 Woman Through Grief
The telephone rang as I was unpacking my suitcase. My husband, Jef, and I had returned the day before from a family reunion at Daytona Beach. He had left the house a few hours earlier to return the rental car and said he’d walk back home.
I listened with growing panic as the social worker told me he’d collapsed on his walk and was in the emergency room of a nearby hospital.
“The doctors are working on him,” she said. I raced out of the house and drove the short distance to the hospital, praying all the way: “Dear God, please let him be all right.”
Once there, I was escorted to a family waiting room, where I sat beside a young minister, the only other occupant. After a nerve-racking half an hour, the door swung open and the doctor entered the room, pronouncing the words that changed my life forever: “We did everything we could, but we lost him.”
The love of my life, my best friend, my sweetheart, my husband of 33 years was gone without even a good-bye. I later learned he had died of a heart attack and fell upon a thick patch of clover on someone’s lawn. The tears that poured from my eyes, as I went into the hospital room and kissed his beloved face and brushed my hand against his fuzzy hair, marked the onset of a journey into the darkest valley of grief I had ever experienced. Through the grace of God, I eventually managed to climb out of the depths and find peace. Since I know many readers are also struggling with grief, here are the steps that helped me move from darkness to light.
First, I began attending daily Mass that was held in a nearby lovely chapel with stained-glass windows that shone like jewels. Offering my Communion for the repose of Jef’s soul became a precious gift I could give him each day.
I desperately missed the little ways I’d shown my love for him, such as sewing a button on his shirt and cutting his thick, unruly hair. Now I could ask God to give him the greatest gift of all, the graces of Communion to help him journey from purgatory to heaven.
The loneliness was devastating during the first year, especially when I returned home from running errands and expected to hear him call out, “How’d it go, Hon?” Fortunately, Mass assuaged the loneliness, since it brought me in touch with daily communicants, many of whom were also widows. We prayed for each other and talked after Mass, and some days these folks were my only human contact.
Second, I found a grief counselor associated with a Catholic group called Holy Family Counseling. I was raised to believe crying was a sign of weakness, but after losing my husband, powerful waves of grief would arise unexpectedly and I couldn’t hold back the tears. The counselor, Julie, helped me see that tears are part of the healing process for people who are grieving.
Counseling also helped me control the automatic thoughts that plagued me as I faced the frustrating practical world of widowhood. When the water heater flooded, when the air conditioner broke, when the car needed servicing, I’d become overwhelmed and think, “I can’t do this alone.” Julie taught me to say, “This is hard, but God will get me through it.”
Third, I pored over the Gospel readings to discover meaning in my loss. I was familiar with Christ’s invitation, “If you would become my disciple, pick up your cross daily and follow me.” But this was the largest, heaviest cross I’d ever borne, and there were days when I thought it would crush me.
I discovered, however, that many people were helping me bear its heavy weight. One was Msgr. Richard Lopez, who had been our confessor and friend for 20 years. He offered Masses for Jef, prayed for me and answered desperate emails when the pain was excruciating. In one email he wrote: “You are keeping Christ company in his dread in the Garden of Gethsemane ... hold on to the rosary even if you cannot pray it. It is a rope reaching up to heaven.”
Gradually, I saw that Christ’s words in the garden had to become my daily prayer: “Father, take this cup from me, but not my will, but thy will be done.”
Bowing to God’s will had been relatively easy when Jef and I were enjoying his homemade wine on our porch, boating in the Florida marshes and going to church together. Now I saw how deeply difficult these words become when someone you love dies.
It is now five years since my sweetheart died, and God has repaired the shards of my broken heart, although it will never be the same. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Over time, I saw this promise fulfilled, as I found solace in being grateful for the wonderful life we’d shared. As I pictured Jef in his downstairs art studio, creating a gorgeous scene with oil paints, I thanked God. As I envisioned him in the kitchen, conjuring up a special supper, I thanked God again.
C.S. Lewis compared the death of a spouse to the loss of an arm. Although the amputee over time may learn to navigate life, he will always be aware of the loss.
I will always notice the empty chair at supper, the quiet place next to me in bed and the painful moment at Mass when husbands and wives share the Sign of Peace.
Still, a great comfort of my faith is trusting I will see my beloved husband again.
And sometimes I picture myself walking along a distant shore with clouds rising like castles in the sky. Suddenly I become aware that someone is walking behind me, and I turn around — and my sweetheart is there.
He takes me into his arms and gazes at me with tears of joy on his face. And then he says something that assures me that I am at last, finally and truly home: “How’d it go, Hon?”
Lorraine V. Murray is a columnist with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Georgia Bulletin. Her books include The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey and a comical mystery titled Death of a Liturgist. She serves on the board of Birthright Atlanta and lives in Decatur, Georgia.