By Kitty Hinkle
Not everyone who was close to Tom has an easy time carrying on a relationship with his widow.
Those relationships that dangle without your husband on the other end can become a challenge for you as a widow. It’s a common experience with loss, so it’s something I’ll write about here, in hopes that other widows might not feel alone in their struggle.
Most Holiday visits with family and friends go easy for me.
Most, that is. We all want our loved ones to share in those “Hallmark” moments, but we can’t always make every situation into a “Hallmark” commercial!
Like so many families, there are those few relationships in mine that make me sigh—the same way Tom sighed, but kept trying with them. For the purposes of writing about this topic, I identify these individuals as “dear ones”, but please know I don’t mean that patronizingly, but more as a label of reverence. These close friends and family members are even dearer to me than the ones that are easy to get along with. Their heightened emotions come from deep love for Tom and perhaps, me. Far from patronizing, the term “dear one” reflects the deep level of love I have for them.
The dear ones I’ve come across show their sweet love and intentions only to whip around with biting offense according to causes they feel I bring on.
When their sweet love is being shown I might get lovely hand written letters, deep conversations over lunch or tearful phone calls. I too have reached out, sometimes with memorial photo collages or a sentimental gifts, or advice or support when needed and asked for.
After experiencing their love, I find it tough when moments or days after such a sweet connection, they hit me with destructive emotional reactions like judgment, false accusations, cold shoulders, and slanderous gossip, so unpredictable I find myself unable to trust them enough to have any safe connection with them.
Are you struggling with a “dear one” relationship, yourself?
If so, consider what I’ve learned through Godly counsel. By praying and stepping back to examine the relationship, I’ve observed something significant. These aren’t new patterns.
The same pattern of deep attempts at showing love followed by angry retorts when they aren’t happy showed itself in their relationships with Tom. They loved him so much. Tom struggled to convince them how much he loved them and hoped they would grow into more steady healthy patterns.
Sometimes it would really get him down. He would ask himself where did he go wrong? Will they every come back, or pull their emotional lives together? Sometimes he would jump in and rescue them, give them hope, encouragement, and discipline. He wondered through it all could they ever really know how he simply loved them just the way they were? Throughout my life with him, Tom expressed his confidence that they would eventually understand how he loves them and not feel it necessary to live a roller coaster of emotions.
But time wasn’t given.
In the wake of his death, these dear ones have double the scars—the loss of Tom and the loss of any opportunity for closure other than in their hearts. They no longer have him to work through whatever it is they need to work through.
Sometimes I now feel like whatever they couldn’t work out with him, they angrily turn to me to resolve. It’s like I’m the physical representation of the loss. I become a target.
Has this happened to you? Share if it has. I’d love to hear. Here are some steps I’ve taken. Perhaps they might help you as well.
Look in the mirror and don’t let pride cloud what you see.
It’s easy to assume it’s the other person—that your “dear one” is acting out inappropriately. Jeremiah tells us the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and he was right. When a loved one takes our inventory for us and tells us how awful we are, we want to reject it all. Accept that you aren’t perfect. Shroud yourself in the love of Christ to allow yourself to look in the mirror and not be horribly shaken by what you see. Then separate the false accusations from what needs to be owned and handled.
Don’t be afraid to be judged – rightly or wrongly
I remember my kids watching an episode of a cartoon by Bill Cosby called “Little Bill”. Little Bill’s kindergarten classmate picked on him by teasing him about faults. His grandma (they called her Alice the Great) told him to say the meanest thing back to the kid. The meanest thing was one word—“So?”. What power there was in that retort. When my dear ones insult me and they are right, I answer, “so? Are you going to forgive me or what?” And if they are wrong in their accusation, I recognize that sometimes the accusation was put out there just to get a reaction and I use the most powerful response of all, silence. After all, if someone’s insulting you to get a reaction, they’ll use your reaction as fodder for the next attack. Why give it to them?
Look to God for real truth-
Pray for guidance and protection in this relationship. In one case, the Lord told me quite clearly that I am to continue with love but wait until they are ready to be steadier in their interactions.
Consider what you have on your plate
There are seasons in widowhood where you don’t need to tangle with someone who creates chaos. You’re going through loss in the worst way—he was your husband, your best friend. You may have children to raise alone now or elderly parents to care for alone, or you may have his business affairs to wrap up or take on. Just getting back on your feet is an ordeal!
One individual who struggled with her need for Tom’s love and support was at such a loss after his death that she talked to me constantly for hours at a time on the phone, weeping in despair and begging me to make life decisions for her. Meanwhile the four little ones tugged at my feet while the phone stayed glued to my ears. When someone’s dependency and emotional needs get too large for you to take on along with the responsibilities you’ve been left with, it’s time to recognize you can’t do it all.
Set the right boundaries
In the example of the dear one who needed more counsel and time and attention than I could give her, I told her. She didn’t like hearing it, but I didn’t leave her hanging. I found her resources to help. In her case, I looked to a senior family member who could take on a father-figure mentor like role for her. I made arrangements to add a little financial support her way by setting up a small account for her and placing the control of the account in this mentor’s hands, letting both know that she always needs to go to him for advice before using the funds. His mentorship was invaluable to her, and allowed me space to focus on the minor children.
Sometimes a dear one might try to tangle with you over finances or legal decisions. I’ve learned to consider three things: What’s true according to the law, what’s true according to God, and what’s worth standing up for. I’ve dealt with a death before. After my father passed away, there were disagreements between my siblings over how to handle his estate. We had to draw some tough legal boundaries to protect the interests of everyone in the clan including a disabled sibling who needed her inheritance for her future needs. Another disagreement arose. This time the perpetrator dug her heals in over a disproportionate, but substantial amount. While this sibling was wrong, the consequence of fighting it would be the destruction of family ties. In that case, we gave that dear one what they wanted for the sake of peace. No one has since ever regretted the loss of that money. The family peace was worth it.
Consider it all joy
James tells us to consider all your struggles joy. If you’re in a situation where your husband has died and others are mad about what you did with his car or his stocks or any other assets, you feel attacked. Read this blog post from Pastor Carl Thomson who talks about where to turn in the Bible when you’ve been wrongly accused. Pastor Carl helps me remember that when I’m falsely accused, sometimes the best response is gentleness.
I’d like to wrap up here with wise words from Pastor Carl’s post. Consider it this Christmas as you stand strong before God, a widow, beloved by the Father.
“The world is anxious to see believers who act differently in the face of adverse situations. To give sincere praise in the face of adversity and unprovoked attack is the most powerful witness we can give. The world is anxious to see believers who act differently in the face of adverse situations. To give sincere praise in the face of adversity and unprovoked attack is the most powerful witness we can give.”
Merry Christmas, dear sisters. Please keep it joyful as you celebrate with your Heavenly Husband.