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March 11, 2024

Dealing with Grief in Your Widowhood Journey

Here is a special guest post from Dr. Bart Brock, who shares part of his widowerhood journey of loss and grief into the acceptance of a new life. Dr. Brock draws from his personal experience after losing his wife of 36 years, and shares some of the answers he found, such as finding purpose beyond the pain, thankfulness through the tears, and the amazing faithfulness of God.



On the day Mary, my bride of 36 years, transitioned from earth to heaven, life changed forever. And for the first time in my life, I was really alone.

We married very young, and though we never had children of our own, she lovingly mothered any child in her radius over the years. I called her "mother to many," but these many had now gone their own ways in the world.

Friends surrounded me whenever possible, providing more support and care than I could have imagined. But the long nights inevitably came. Dark nights and dark thoughts seemed interminable as overwhelming grief—grief I call guttural—hovered over and settled into my soul.

The following is an excerpt from my book The Widower's Night and includes some answers I found when wrestling with faith and the future during guttural grief. My prayer is that you find some hope in your journey as I share mine with you.

About grief and loss
Although your pain is unique to you, I too have known grief and I testify that even in great loss there remains hope. Grief seems a strange and unwelcome gift, but Jesus tells us the Father only gives good gifts (Matt. 7:11). So how might that be true for those in guttural grief? There are many ways.

Grief reminds us of the true depth of our love. Imagine losing someone who means so much and having no feeling. What kind of dismal world would that create? To remove grief is to also remove the possibility of love.

Grief confronts us with reality. This life is temporal; sooner or later our life on earth will end. This is knowledge we avoid by surrounding ourselves with illusions of busyness, entertainment, or other diversions. But grief confronts us with our own mortality. It enables us to see past these illusions to gain an understanding previously obscured.

Grief swiftly overwhelms our minds and routines; it urges us to improve our paths, to rely on God rather than on ourselves. Its confrontation allows us a choice. What will we pursue? Will it be mundane or truly meaningful, temporal or eternal?

Grief signals our need for healing. Just as physical pain often alerts us to rest or take action to avoid permanent damage, so grief indicates our need for rest, reflection, and relation. Ignoring grief can lead to soul damage as surely as ignoring physical pain can lead to bodily damage. Both are painful but necessary for healing.

Sometimes the healing will hurt and sometimes the healing will be more peaceful, and I've never mastered discernment of which is which, so I try to trust God. It's not easy, and while there are days filled with overcoming faith, the truth is most are not.

During these times, I gradually learned I could not drive away the shadows. I could not confess amazing strength or faith, and I could not flippantly say everything would be fine.

But what I also learned was to deliberately choose to trust that God is here and He will move the shadow when it is time.

Purpose beyond the pain
A question bombarded my mind moments after my wife's last breath brushed her lips, "Who am I now?" It was rooted in a deep need for purpose as I immediately realized things would never be the same. My purpose had centered on being husband, provider, caretaker; and my plans were largely focused on ensuring her sustenance after my departure. But now she was gone, and my purpose was gone with her.

I was to learn that grief is a place of purpose. Our pain is not in vain.

In this place, I must decide whether to wither away or be willing to let Jesus bind up my wound (Luke 4:18-21) and lovingly graft me further into himself where life could bloom and fruit could be borne (John 15:4-5).

God reveals to us in the book of Isaiah that the rain and snow he sends do not ineffectively evaporate into the heavens. They water the ground which supplies seed to the sower and bread to the eater (Isaiah 55:10-11); they have a purpose.

Though this season of grief seems unabated winter, our weeping will not be wasted; it waters our soul and will bud forth God's eternal purpose. The seeds your loved one sowed in your heart are not lost. Though they be buried, they will bring forth life.

Things will not be the same, but they will be different. There is a purpose beyond the pain.

Thankfulness through the tears
It was the day after Thanksgiving. God blessed me with a wonderful friend-family to share the day, and it was full of blessing to me in so many ways. But as I drove home after the gathering, the tears rolled. Sharing times with others is wonderful but it often punctuates the loss of our loved one.

I do not have pithy or trite advice on these times, but I can speak truth to them. I believe the secret is thankful endurance—thankful endurance in the context of our relationship to the Father.

We read that even Jesus "…for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…" (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus endured the cross because he knew the Father had a greater purpose, and his eternal relationship with the Father was greater than the temporal anguish.

There is no value or strength in denying these times or tears, but let us recognize them and be thankful for what they are—they are the late, dark hours before the joy that is set before us.

Faithfulness of God
There are moments of great uncertainty when we imagine the future to see nothing but a blank screen. Yet when we've determined we can trust the God who allowed us to get hurt, we can hold onto the fact that he is faithful above all others.

He has committed that he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). The apostle John reminds us of his faithfulness to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9), and the prophet Jeremiah confirms God's mercy and faithfulness even in the midst of great grief (Lamentations 3:22-23).

When things overwhelm—and they will—let us remember Jesus is our faithful friend.

Will I ever have peace?
There is a call to peace in mourning. It is a call to trust and to acknowledge God in all our ways (Proverbs 3:5-6).

I have found that talking about my wife and this journey, focusing on God's faithfulness, and acknowledging how he directed our paths even when I did not understand or want his direction, brought me inexplicable peace.

This may have been what Paul meant when he wrote:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Yes, there can be peace beyond our pain when we finally lay aside our demands and rely on the One who is beyond our understanding; this is the true substance of things we hope for, the evidence of things we've not yet seen, and the peace that surpasses understanding (Hebrews 11:1; Philippians 4:6-7).

***

W. B. Brock, Ph.D. serves as Associate Professor of Accounting and Finance at Colorado Christian University. Prior to serving in academia, he spent more than 20 years in executive management with more than a decade in CFO and COO positions for well-known consumer brands. Dr. Brock is also on the board of the James Dobson Family Institute.