Playing the “Widow Card”

Image Source: Brent Peeples

I don’t talk about it much, especially not on here and especially not the past year and a half.

By “it” I mean that I’m a widow and/or a single mom.

I don’t talk about it because I don’t want it to define me.

I don’t talk about it because most times it’s not relevant to what I do want to talk about.

I don’t talk about it because I don’t want to become bitter or whiney.

Et cetera, et cetera.

The last year and a half, though, I’ve not talked about it because someone saw me mention on here the difficulty of being a single parent and saw me post on Facebook last year an article about suicide awareness month and accused me of “playing the widow card.”

I’m not even entirely sure what they were trying to say, but I was hurt and shamed. They told me they didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to deal with my husband’s death and suicide and grief because I hadn’t wanted to stay married to him anyhow.


We had problems. Big ones. I thought they were too far gone to fix. I thought that if the problems couldn’t be fixed I wanted out of the marriage. I thought that problems too big to fix were an excusable reason to break my vows.

For the record: I was wrong.

But wanting the problems to go away and thinking separating/divorcing would do that is a far cry from wanting someone to die.

I didn’t want him dead. I didn’t want him to take his life. I didn’t want my boys to lose their dad. I wanted more and better, not less and worse.

So I’ve been quiet about the grief and the hurts and the struggles of loss and of picking up the pieces.

I was shamed and ashamed. But there’s been such spiritual richness during this time too that it’s a shame, too, not to share my various questions and thoughts and experiences.

So I’m done feeling shamed and ashamed.

I accept God’s grace. And I extend grace, too, to the person who made the comment. Like Jesus said from the cross, “Father forgive them; they know not what they do.” That’s not to be self-righteous because I’m part of the “they” who knew not what I did too. We all need grace.

And if some part of my experience — the good or the bad — can minister or help someone else, that’s awesome. That’s why I share, not to seek or gain sympathy but to put out there something real and genuine that may seem hopeless but isn’t because with God we are never without hope.

And maybe someone out there going through similar things will feel not so alone and will feel hope.


It’s Not Well With My Soul … Not Yet, Anyhow

Commit to the journey, long or short, that leads back into living life.

“People who handle grief in a most healthy way are those who are willing to admit, ‘This hurts. I don’t particularly like it, but I really want to go on,'” says Pastor Buck Buchanan.

God will reward your sincere willingness to commit to the journey and to press on.

“Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14 NASB).

I was shredding the last of the checks from an old joint checking account and realized — these are the last checks ever that will have mine and John’s name on them. I cried. Isn’t that such a dumb thing to cry about? I tell ya, some of this widowhood stuff is a little crazy at times.

In my spirit, I found myself saying I don’t want to do this. Not shred checks, specifically. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want John to be gone. I don’t want to be a widow. I don’t want Finn and Caden to grow up without him. Etc.

As I sat there, in tears, shredding old bank checks, the words to the song “It Is Well” were brought to mind, specifically the line “whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well, with my soul.”

I believe it was the Holy Spirit who sent me those words. And my response to God was it’s not. It’s not well. Not yet, anyway. John’s death and all of the circumstances surrounding it is not well with my soul … yet. :) But I’m working on it, and God is going to do it in me and for me in His right time. He’s not in a hurry or on my timetable. He knows these things take time, and I’m appreciative of his patience and endurance of fickle, stubborn me.

I shared this story with my GriefShare group last night, and then my GriefShare devotional for today was the above quoted portion. The verse and the encouragement coincide perfectly, I thought. I think that means I must be on the right track.

A Commendation

This past weekend the boys and I accepted, on John’s behalf, the above Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, given to John for some of the work he had done and was doing as an officer in the Navy Reserves. The inscription reads:

“for meritorious service while serving as modeling and simulation intelligence analyst lead, Navy Reserve Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) 2109 from April 2008 to July 2010. Displaying outstanding initiative and direct personal involvement, Lieutenant Smith expertly led an analysis team of five sailors in the verification and validation of four high priority naval surface-to-air missile simulation models for the Farragut Technical Analysis Center. Additionally, he developed a two-day training course in infrared technologies that was attended by over 20 ONI active component intelligence analysts at a cost savings of over $40,000 to ONI. By his noteworthy accomplishments, perseverance, and devotion to duty, Lieutenant Smith reflected credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Wanted: the Ability to Forgive

I have a bunch of head knowledge about forgiveness — the benefits to the forgiver, the freedom that comes with it, how it’s all about us and not the one who’s wronged us, etc. Several people have spoken truth to me about forgiving and even called me out on whether or not I’ve forgiven John.

First, there’s a lot of things there that I need to forgive him for. I often think I have. In general I don’t feel like I go around with a grudge. I am surprisingly, even to myself, rather sympathetic to his situation.

But when our 5-year-old son comes into my room crying that he wants his daddy, my feelings of anger creep up. I’m holding by baby telling him “I know” and “I’m sorry” — the only things I know to say — and in my heart I’m mad at John that I’m having to do this. Is that unforgiveness? How do you forgive and not have resentment creep back up when you experience moments like that one that make me mad all over again? Can you forgive and still be disappointed and/or mad at the impact caused when someone has wronged you?

Ambush Moments

This video is from Finn’s preschool music program four years ago. Wasn’t he an adorable 4-year-old? Such a cutie, then and now.

I stumbled upon it on my Youtube channel the other day and watched all of the videos from the program.

The woman you hear laughing is my mom, who was quite tickled by Finn’s and the other children’s silly motions in the song.

But around the 1:53 mark Finn falls down and you hear male laughter.

That’s John.

Watching this video the other day was the first time that I had heard his laugh since his death.

His laugh was a very distinctive chuckle — you hear it again around 1:58 and 2:18. I hear it and I can picture how his face looked when he laughed like that.

In GriefShare they call those “ambush moments.” They are moments that you don’t see coming, when you’re in another world doing something that totally doesn’t seem related to the death or to grief, and then wham! something causes grief to hit you.

In this week’s GriefShare video a woman told a story about one of her ambush moments that came many years after losing her child. On a family calendar she kept up with her children’s activities by placing their initials next to the event belonging to each child. Years later, one of her grandchildren had the same initials as the child she lost, and it was as she was writing on her calendar an event for her grandchild, using the same initials she had used years ago for that deceased child, that the sorrow and grief of her loss struck again, and she cried.

Grief is like ocean waves, I’ve been told, where there is calm and then waves come, sometimes big waves and sometimes small ones. Sometimes ones that knock you off your feet, and sometimes ones that lap at your toes.

Sitting in a Black Chair


I was sitting in that black chair, the one closest to that blue tissue box. The investigator was sitting in the black chair on the other side of the table, and in the chair next to me was my dad.

This is the room where they told me what happened and where they told me that John didn’t make it.

I took this photo earlier this week. It was the first time I had been at the ER since that day. My mom was there getting checked out for a possible medical problem, just as precaution. I was on my way from town to home when I got the message from my dad that mom was at the ER. With little to no detail in dad’s message, I decided to stop and see what was going on.

As soon as I got close to the parking garage entrance I remembered pulling in to the parking garage that morning. I sighed and thought here we go.

I parked and navigated my way inside. I checked in to the visitor’s desk and was told how to get to where my mom was.

On the way there I passed several trauma rooms including the one he was in when we identified him. I wondered, Is that the room where he spent the last moments of his life? We don’t really know if he died before they got him to the hospital or after.

Then I passed the room above.

I paused.

I looked inside.

I remembered.

I reflected.

I took a picture.

When I was ready I walked down the hall to visit my mom.

My mom is fine, as far as we know. She has follow up appointments to be sure what happened to her was indeed or nothing, or if it was something what was it. But God is doing more than one thing at a time. At any given time He’s doing a million an infinite number of things. So while we may find some medical issue that my mom needs to know about and that will be one purpose behind that day in the ER, I believe also that the events of that day were orchestrated by a higher power to bring me to that place as part of my healing process, when the time was right.

I would not have experienced being back in that ER they way I experienced it any other time than this present time. Six months ago it would not have affected me the same way, because where I am now in my grief is a much different place than then. Then, I was still mad.

Now, I’m … less mad. I’m more … something else that it’s a struggle to put words to.

I’m seeking peace and still waters.



I sat there on a comfortable couch, in a room of 9 strangers, with a book on my lap that read “GriefShare, Grief recovery support group.” Just for a moment I had the feeling of an outer-body experience, like the real me was hovering just inches above the me that was sitting on the couch, and wondering How did I get here? and she wanted to cry.

The me that was hovering doesn’t fully understand or comprehend all that has transpired that lead her to this place.

As I sat there, something in me didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t the group or anything to do with the curriculum. It was that I don’t want to be a widow, or a “suicide survivor,” or a mom to children who’s father died. Plain and simple, I just don’t want to.

But I am, whether I want to or not.

I was reminded of Moses who didn’t want to go to Pharaoh and he told God that he didn’t think he was the right man for the job because he didn’t have a good speaking ability. God took care of what Moses saw as a problem to doing what God wanted him to do. Not in the way Moses had hoped, because I suspect Moses probably hoped God would say, “Oh, ok, you don’t speak well, I didn’t know that, I’ll go find someone else.” No, God said he’d take care of it and he did.

I talked with my counselor earlier Tuesday, before the first Grief Share meeting, about this sense of dread that’s come over me lately. I dread the birthday where I turn older than John was able to turn. I dread the next 50+ years, or how ever long God has for me to live, walking the path of someone who has been widowed, of telling people my husband died and having them ask what happened and giving them the difficult answer, of parenting my sons who will feel the effects of this in unpredictable ways at every stage of their life. I think about it and my mind just says I don’t want to do it. Who would, right?

But just like God chose Moses to talk to Pharaoh he chose me to do this, whatever this turns out to be. He’s sovereign. I believe that with my whole heart. It was no surprise to Him when or how John died. Is it what He wanted? I don’t think so. But remember He never wanted any of this, never wanted sin to separate us from him or for it to wreak all the havoc that it has.

People Like Me

I’d been wanting to talk to other “people like me,” as I put it, people who had, if nothing else, dealt with having to plan a funeral on moment’s notice or having to decide what to do with someone’s “stuff” or deal with all the emotions and questions you have when someone as close as a spouse dies. God’s timing is perfect.

I was concerned about whether or not there would be childcare during the group, so I called the church Monday to ask. The church secretary put me through to a ministry leader who’s voicemail message told me I could contact a different ministry leader. I recognized that second ministry leader as woman who had worked in the daycare when Finn was just an infant. *I should note here that the church facilitating the group is the same church where the boys went to daycare/preschool.

I called Jennifer and left a voice message something like “Hey, you may not remember me but I’m Finn’s mom whom you had as infant in the daycare …” I proceeded to tell her I was calling to find out if there was childcare for schoolage children during the group. That was on Monday around lunchtime.

By Monday evening I hadn’t heard back and told my mother that I wasn’t sure I was going to get to go to the group because I hadn’t heard back about childcare. Mom watched Caden for 5 hours or so while I was at the doctor with Finn Monday afternoon so I didn’t want to ask mom to watch them two days in a row (although she later offered and would’ve done it to help me, I know). I decided just to wait and see if I heard back. If I did and there was childcare, we’d go. If I didn’t or there wasn’t, then we wouldn’t go.

Tuesday afternoon around 2 o’clock I got a call back from one of the Grief Share leaders that yes, there was childcare, and they would love to have me.

We walked in to where the children were going to stay and there was Ms. Brenda. Ms. Brenda had also watched Finn as infant, not at daycare but in the church nursery. She also has an in-home daycare and cared for Finn there for several months before there was opening at the church daycare. He’s stayed with her other times too, when school was out, etc. My heart just melted when I saw Ms. Brenda and I just knew that this is where God wanted me/us to be. Not only had he provided someone to watch my kids, he gave me someone I knew and someone that I think He knew I would recognize as a sign from Him.

I stand amazed at what a master Orchestrator He is — each step along the way I was being ferried along, so to speak, by someone He had placed in my life at an earlier time. And not just random people whom I had met at one time or another (although He uses though too), but people I had a relationship with, people who cared about me and my children and would help  and support us. Some may call it coincidence — I don’t. This is a huge church, and I know full well that that church secretary could’ve sent me to any number of people to answer my question, or that the woman she sent me to could’ve been at her desk or could’ve not left Jennifer’s contact information on her voicemail. Instead, God chose to use Jennifer, someone who I knew me and my situation. Similarly with Ms. Brenda. From the moment I saw her happy smiling face I had peace and was just amazed at God’s preparation, like a computer program running in the background for years, for such a time as this.

Permission to Cry

Warm tears rolled down my cheeks like butter melting on a hot roll.

We all told our loss stories, and each story is sad in its own way. All of us in the group have in common loss and grief, yet our losses are still very individualized. Only one story brought me to tears, and it was for totally selfish reasons. A man talked about losing his wife, and the way he spoke about her touched my heart. I cried not really because of his loss, although it was very moving, but because the way he described his feelings for his wife was the way I wanted John to love me. Maybe John did and struggled with expressing it or … any number of other explanations.

I imagine there will be a lot of tears shed in this group, but that will be a good thing. One of the ladies mentioned, and then I looked it up on wikipedia, that tears brought about by emotions have a different chemical make-up than other tears. Emotional tears contain more protein-based hormones including one that acts as a natural painkiller.

God’s working and moving in every life and family represented there, and as much as it hurts I’m thankful He’s brought me into it and anticipate how He’s going to use it for His glory. Because it’s not about us — none of this is about us — it’s all about Him.

More to come, I’m sure.