Like most of life’s changes, new widowhood brings many mini-adjustments. Nate’s mother and my mom were both widows for well over a decade, so I got to look at that up close. But finding myself in the same category now, I’m realizing most of their day-to-day rethinking took place behind closed doors or deep in their hearts, changes that were invisible to the rest of the world.
I have several close friends who faced widowhood in their fifties, women who shared candidly with me. But the truth is, we can’t understand what it’s really like to undergo a major life-shift unless it’s us.
Hundreds of my adjustments to being a widow have taken place inside my head. Tonight my sister and brother-in-law invited us over for dinner. There were 11 of us around the dinner table, including two little ones, and the chatter was happy and animated as we ate Mary’s delicious pork chops, rice, corn-on-the-cob and fruit salad.
But I missed Nate, who had loved getting together as we did tonight to share a meal and interesting conversation. While I ate, I tried to imagine Nate’s presence at the table. The first thing that came to mind was his back pain. Absent the cancer, if he’d have been with us, he would have been suffering.
His back issues had been steadily escalating, so in reality, he probably wouldn’t have been at the dinner at all. He would have been home, lying in bed on ice packs, trying to get away from the pain. I probably wouldn’t have been at the meal, either. Although I wouldn’t have been a widow, other negative life adjustments would have been ongoing.
Nate had a multitude of back maladies: stenosis of the spine, five bulging disks, arthritis and bone spurs. He’d lost three inches in height in the last few years because of a compressed spine, and although surgery might have given him temporary relief, over the long haul the developments would have all been downhill.
Tonight as I walked out the front door by myself after our dinner together, I felt teary and frustrated. Neither scenario was any good: Nate still present but with a hurting back, or Nate out of the picture and me a widow.
I know I’m not alone in this type of dilemma, though, where the only options are unpleasant. All of us get there sooner or later, many people again and again. Fighting what we can’t control is useless, but acceptance takes work and determination.
There is an up-side to all this, though. Whether Nate would remain with us in great pain or die of cancer, both extremely negative, it hadn’t been me who was bearing the burden of choice. I’d had no say in the matter. The burden was God’s. And he made the decision in an interesting way. Included in it was the directive that I become a widow, yes, but the other part of his choice was that Nate be released from chronic pain.
Of the two scenarios, God chose the best one.
“Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time… No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.” (Isaiah 57:1-2)