In February 2012, Gwen, Kathi, and Roseanne met together for the first time as a Stand in the Gap “Kindred Community.” Each of the women was in a different stage of grieving her husband, but each could share a similar story. They could relate to the memory loss and unusual decision making that often accompanies extreme grief. They could empathize with changing family and social dynamics. They shared God Sightings and, through each other, learned to more fully rely on a trustworthy God.
“Nobody can tell you how your life changes when you have a child,” says Roseanne. “You can read books and talk to people, but you don’t get that sense of love and responsibility that hits you when you have a baby. You do it and then you know. Losing a spouse is the same way; nobody who hasn’t done it can really get it.”
Roseanne remembers receiving grief newsletters from her husband’s hospice program. “It was interesting to read them, and there wasn’t anything I’d say was incorrect, but those words on the page were nothing like talking to real people who had been through it.” Kathi jumps in, “When we are talking to each other, it doesn’t matter what step of grief you are on because either someone else has been through it, or they have a word for you.” And Gwen agrees, “Everyone walks this differently. This is a place we can be real.”
The women are “real” with their good days and bad days alike. In many cases, they found their experiences to be similar and relied on each other for wise advice and encouragement.
For example, Gwen, Kathi, and Roseanne’s husbands were each wonderful, strong “men after God’s kingdom,” but Roseanne points out that “when a person has died, a lot of people tend to make saints out of them, they did no wrong and so on…But that’s not exactly who they were.”
At one point, Kathi felt that her children were putting her husband on a pedestal and forgetting to acknowledge her own positive contributions to their lives. When she told Gwen and Roseanne what she was going through, she discovered that she was not alone; they had found themselves in similar situations.
The insights and experiences of her friends were invaluable to Kathi. She says, “If I had gone to anyone else, who had not experienced it, they would not have had the same perspective.” Roseanne adds, “These are the kinds of feelings that you do not talk about with just anyone.”
Each of the women had a distinct memory of the first time she socialized with old friends as a single person. Kathi says, “I really didn’t think it would be awkward, but it was so awkward. You know they love you but…” Gwen jumps in, “You’re still at a table for 12 and you’re the 13th.”
Roseanne hosted an annual Christmas Eve party in her home one month after her husband’s death. She said, “I didn’t want to break the tradition and I thought it would be good for everyone. But I will never forget that night, people just did not want to acknowledge” all that was missing.
Early this summer, Gwen, Kathi, and Roseanne went out for dinner to celebrate Roseanne’s birthday. Roseanne told stories about how funny her husband had been. Gwen and Kathi listened and laughed along with her. The three kindred spirits shared a meal, memories, prayer requests, and many, many, laughs.
Kathi says, “Every time we are together, I come away refreshed. That in itself strengthens my faith. God is creative, he knit us together, and he encourages us through each other.”
After four years of being a widow, Gwen can say with confidence that the pain and sadness doesn’t end. “I still have a hole in my heart, but it’s just not so ragged anymore. I used to feel a little foolish that I was still troubled. This group gave me a new kind of strength.”
Roseanne says, “I saw a counselor at my church and went to a grief group at the hospital, but these two women are the ones who helped me, and still are helping me, through this process. They have been such a blessing to me—I can’t express it. After we met, I felt like I wasn’t the only crazy person in the world; and that maybe I wasn’t even crazy. They showed me there was hope.”
In such a short time, there is a lot of history between these three women: a lot of laughter, a lot of encouragement, and a lot of tears.
Kathi says it all when she says, “I wish more widows could have what we have.”