Today a Chicago area friend and I spent the day together in Michigan, talking, laughing, biking, praying, wading, sunbathing, eating and walking. It was a meaningful day of simple pleasures most anyone could enjoy… anyone but a new widow.
Several months after Nate died, I remember a dark time of sorrow and gloom. One day in particular stands out as a low point. I was walking Jack in the pitch black of a winter evening, shivering with the cold but also with the misery of missing Nate. Passing a neighbor’s house, I saw through the window they were entertaining friends, and I was overtaken by sharp loneliness.
While standing in the road watching six adults talk and laugh in a warm living room, I felt like the little match girl of storybook fame, homeless and cold, looking in on a family holiday meal. I had a home and plenty to eat but like her I was on the outside looking in.
A week later, other neighbors invited me to dinner. I said “no.” It was crazy to reject a chance to be part of the happy conversation “on the inside,” but that’s new widowhood, a hodge-podge of emotions that make no sense: “I’m lonely, but leave me alone; I’m excluded, but don’t invite me in.”
So what’s to be done for a new widow?
Not too long after my forlorn experience in the road, I walked into a neighbor’s kitchen, though I can’t recall the reason. Once inside, I saw a long dinner table set for a crowd and realized they were having company. A big pot of stew simmered on the stove, and fresh bread lay on the counter.
“Our small group is coming tonight,” my friend said. I nodded, and then she did the perfect thing. She filled a bowl with beef stew and handed it to me. “Why don’t you take this with you? I’d love for you to have it.”
Gratefully I accepted her gift and stepped into the cold night with my warm stew, feeling included but not with the pressure to meet new people or make small talk. It was exactly what I needed.
Showing love to a new widow is difficult. You might be refused repeatedly and be wounded by rejection. After several rebuffed invitations, you might think, “What’s the use. She wants to be left alone, so I give up.”
But from experience I can say, “Please keep trying.” Her in-and-out behavior of living on the fringes is her way to cope with the complex and unwelcome role of widowhood. If you don’t give up, eventually you’ll receive a “yes”, and you’ll know you’ve helped end her days of standing on the outside looking in.
The Lord said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)