What I Wish People Knew About Grief

After she lost her husband, she discovered a lot of the advice she had heard was wrong. 


- Posted on Aug 15, 2018

Closeup shot of two unrecognizable people holding hands in comfort.

Ella Wall Prichard is the author of Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows

I am a widow, and many of the books and blogs I read advise new widows to avoid social situations while they are still emotionally fragile. Widows post:  Please understand why I turn down all your invitations. Please keep asking me. Someday I will accept. 

That is terrible advice. Isolation is a breeding ground for depression and has been shown to contribute to a decline in mental and physical health. Regrettably, new widows often withdraw from their friends, increasing their grief, anxiety, and depression. 

When I could not find comfort and encouragement anywhere else, I turned to prayer and Scripture. Jesus’ public life was full of celebrations and quiet times with his closest friends. His first miracle was at a wedding feast. His last act before his arrest and crucifixion was a meal with his disciples. 

Paul wrote unequivocally to the Romans, Practice hospitality (Rom 12:13b, NIV). Widows are not exempt. Instead of throwing pity parties for ourselves, we can fill our homes with friends. For whatever reason, we seem to forget how to entertain. We slip into neutral gear, waiting for others to invite us. And then, too often, we say “no.”

I took the advice of my twice-widowed mother-in-law, Helen Matthews. Shortly after her second husband died, when she was in her early sixties, she announced, “I am going to accept invitations to go out. At first you don’t feel like seeing people, and so you turn down invitations. People want to be kind; but if you keep saying ‘no,’ they will soon forget you and move on. Then when you’re ready to be with friends again, they’re not there for you.”

My husband Lev died of congestive heart failure in April 2009. After his service, friends gave me hugs and promised they would be back in touch after I had time to rest and recover. They did not know how desperately I needed people around me to fill the void left by his departure. Other suddenly singles—divorced as well as widowed—report the same experience. Friends disappear. Invitations to dinner and evening parties dry up. 

Many friends want to be kind and extend the obligatory, one-time invitation to lunch or dinner. I emulated Helen and tried to say “yes” to everything, but I quickly realized that I not only needed to reciprocate but also to initiate occasions if I wanted to be invited a second time. I did not want to join the widows who sat home alone every night. 

Most of my friends were still married. Lev and my social life had been a life of activities with other couples. Over the years I lost contact with one-time friends who were divorced or widowed. They surprised me when they reached out to me after Lev’s death. When I went out with them, I tended to forget my aching loneliness. They learned that if I was cooking my dinner when they called, I would put the half-cooked meal in the refrigerator or garbage can and go out. That sisterhood proved invaluable, for they understood what I was going through. I could be honest with them about my pain and fear because they had been there. Their example gave me hope. 

Since they had more experience as a single than I, they taught me how to enjoy life without Lev. They introduced me to their friends and included me in their activities. We discovered mutual friends, and new friend groups formed. I learned more about art and classical music, I went to lots more movies, and I tried more new restaurants because of their friendship.

Women are easy to entertain, because food is simply an excuse to get together. Jesus’ time with Mary and Martha confirms that the quality of time with friends is what matters, not the perfect house or meal (Luke 10:38–42). 

No one needs to feel like her home is too small or her budget too modest to entertain. We can invite a few friends over for wine and cheese before a movie, concert, or art exhibit or have them come by afterwards for coffee and dessert. Better yet—we can gather a few friends around our table for a simple, casual Sunday night supper—a casserole, a hearty soup in winter, or a big salad in summer.  

My social life slows down on weekends, when my married friends spend time with their spouses and other couples. A Sunday night supper fills that hole: Friday, grocery shopping; Saturday, getting the house in order; Sunday, cooking. Friends with full social calendars are most likely to be free on Sunday, while most widows are glad to have a social event to anticipate, to end the weekend on a high note.

As widows, we can live on our memories of the past, or we can create opportunities to live with joyful anticipation—always one more thing on the calendar to look forward to. When we throw a party, we share that gift of anticipation with our friends. We can take those very events that are our sinkholes—holidays, anniversaries, long weekends—and turn them into keenly anticipated and enjoyed moments. And as we practice hospitality, we nurture strong relationships that enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

 

Ella Wall Prichard is the author of Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows. She was married to Lev Prichard for 46 years, until his death in 2009. She is the president of Prichard Oil Company, a mother and grandmother, and a frequent speaker on the subject of widowhood and has encouraged and supported widows around the country. Ella blogs at www.ellawallprichard.com, where other resources on widowhood can be found. She splits her time between Corpus Christi, Dallas, and her “happy place,” Nantucket.

Tags: Grief
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