Widows contribute much to the Church and family Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

Losing a beloved spouse to death is one of the most painful human experiences. I saw this pain in my mother, two sisters, and other married women when their spouses died. I have also listened to men, whose wives died, pour out their grief.

The word “widow” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning empty. When a woman loses the husband whom she loves, she often experiences pain, emptiness, and even temporary anger. So does a widower. A good marriage joins the couple as two in one flesh, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. To marry is to open oneself to love and joy, but also to pain.

In her classic book Widow, Lynne Caine expresses her grief, “After my husband died, I felt like one of those spiral shells washed up on the beach. Poke a straw through the twisting tunnel, around and around, and there is nothing there. Whatever lived there is dried up and gone.”

In her article, “One Widow’s Perspective,” widow Maureen Kramlinger, wrote, “three out of four women outlive their spouses. The average age of widowhood is 56. By age 65, more than half of all married women are widowed.” Consequently in this article, I will focus primarily on widows.

Through grace, widows survive

Some women become widows at an early age when they must carry the burden of raising children by themselves. Others become widows at a later age when they are poorer, sicker, and more likely to have developed emotional attachments to spouses whom they love. For older women, losing a husband and starting over can seem almost overwhelming. The journey is long and hard, but widows and widowers can learn to live with their loss.

Most widows are survivors who, through grace, have picked up the pieces and carried on with life as best they can. Many struggle through settling an estate, illnesses, bills, taxes, insurance claims, funeral expenses, and more. Some quietly manage a household, raise children, vote, or do volunteer work. Others serve the Church as sacristans, religion teachers, caregivers, teacher-aides, worshippers at daily Mass, or serve in other ways.

St. Elizabeth Seton, founded the Sisters of Charity and laid the foundation for the American Catholic School system after she became a widow. St. Jane Frances de Chantal, a widow, founded the Visitation Nuns. Mary was probably a widow when Christ appointed her Mother of the Church.

Ministries of love, support

The Old Testament Jews had a special concern for widows because they were vulnerable and could be exploited by others. Jesus continued this concern by healing the daughter of the Widow of Naim and in other ways. In the early Church, the diaconate arose because of the Church’s desire to help Greek-speaking widows. This concern is continued in First Timothy 5:3-17 and in other Scriptures.

Today’s Church sometimes offers support ministries for widows and widowers. These ministries offer spiritual guidance and peer ministry by others who have experienced the pain of becoming a widow or widower. The Naim Widow Support group helps widows and widowers adjust to their loss by bringing them together with others in similar situations. It helps them cope socially and spiritually as they work through the grief process. There are also Widows of Prayer support groups in the Appleton and Milwaukee areas. Other similar groups exist.

Fr. Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, had to temporarily leave his seminary studies to care for his family when his father died. Consequently he wanted the Knights to offer insurance and care for widows and orphans as they do.

When my mother became a widow at age 69, her family, friends, and faith supported her through days and nights of grief. Neighbors dug Dad’s grave free of charge, while others donated food for the funeral dinner and encouraged, supported, and visited Mom. This support continued after Dad’s funeral through visits, prayers, and phone calls.

Pray for widows, widowers

Perhaps no one ever gets over the loss of a spouse whom they deeply love. But my mother’s relationship with God and friend kindness and support helped her to live with her painful loss and share her gifts with us and others. Every morning and evening she faithfully said her prayers, which helped her through the loss of her spouse and best friend.

As we approach All Souls Day, certainly we can remember all widows and widowers in our prayers and concrete prudent support.

Loving God, please give widows and widowers strength to survive the death of their beloved spouse. Heal them of their grief. May their sufferings make them more compassionate to others’ pain. Send Mary, Jesus’ widowed Mother of Sorrows, to comfort them with her gentle motherly embrace. May their prayers and good memories strengthen them to say “your will be done,” as Jesus did.

Teach them to offer each day to you, conscious that you still have good for them to do on earth. May they be reunited in heaven with their beloved and join the angels, saints, and loved ones in praising You forever and ever. Amen.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.