Saturday, June 7, 2014

Reflections on a Year of Widowhood

As the one year mark of Paul’s death approached, I knew I wanted to sum up the year in a piece of writing.  I had not anticipated it being quite so long.  But, with my gift of verbosity, I find it difficult to condense just about anything.  I’m definitely not going to be short on words with the magnitude of what has happened..  But if I have to be concise about it, my experience with widowhood comes down to one single Name.


My beloved Father…I knew Him before, but in the weeks and months that came after June 6th, I knew him.  He whispered in my ear words of comfort and promise.  I heard the voice of God so clearly in my heart that I knew it could not be anything else.  He showed me over and over how loved I was and how much He cares.  There were many moments I felt so utterly close to Him and yet, there would be times this first year when He seemed so far away.  I suddenly understood the Psalmist’s laments.  When I was weak, He carried me.  When I was weary, He became my strength.  When I didn’t know how to make decisions, He showed me the right path to take.  When I needed comforting, He held me.

He has been all I needed.  When I stubbornly insisted that no, I needed my husband, He reminded me that His ways are perfect.  When I struggled to see any possible good that could come from widowhood, I was reminded that God can only be good.  When my future seemed so bleak, I was reminded that God has a plan for my life – a good plan.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”
 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler[a]
And from the perilous pestilence.
 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
 A thousand may fall at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
 Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.
 Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
to keep you in all your ways.
 In their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
 With long life I will satisfy him,
and show him My salvation.


A year has passed.  One year ago today Paul fell off our bed and stopped breathing.  A year ago today, a sheriff’s deputy crossed my front lawn and informed me gently that I was now a widow.

I remember that moment so clearly.  I knew things were serious from the moment I attempted to rouse Paul from what I thought was just another seizure and he wouldn’t awaken.  But, still, my mind would not let me go to the place of wondering, “What if he’s dead?”  My mind had already leapt to being concerned about the possibility of brain damage, but the thought of him dying was so absolutely horrifying I couldn’t even think it.

I am amazed now that I remained upright as the deputy delivered the news.  I remember hearing a roaring in my ears, like a rush of water, and feeling like I was drowning.  But I remained standing.  I didn’t wail, I didn’t scream, but in that moment my heart was splitting right down the center, shattering all the way.

Many moments of the rest of that night and the next few days remain crystal clear in my mind. I know that they are memories I will never forget.  Others are shrouded in a distant numbness.  I do remember having to tell my children that their father had died in the night.  I remember how I looked at their faces, lined up on the couch, and thinking, “I’m about to shatter their entire world” before I delivered the news.  As I look back on that on that moment, I have no doubt that I was held upright by angels of strength and comfort.  There is no way I could have done what I had to do in that moment by myself.

The above chapter of Psalms first became very precious to me in those early morning hours.  It has remained my “go-to” passage this entire first year.  My pastors and wives were our first visitors – at 1 in the morning.  They were the ones who held Will and me as we stumbled around in shock and disbelief.  Our pastors scrubbed Paul’s blood off the bedroom floor and prayed with us.  Our senior pastor’s wife spent the night on my couch.  We talked about death and dying for some time, I remember. I think she may have snagged two hours of sleep that night, but not much more.  I remember sitting with her at 6 in the morning with my Bible.  We pored through the entire Psalms and read snatches of them to one another.  Marcia wrote down every reference that caught my eye.  I still have that list.  Psalm 91 was one of the ones we read to each other that horrible, raw, but numb first morning of widowhood.  I ended up using a portion of it in Paul’s funeral brochure.

I will never forget the funeral, which was amazing.  I still remember being so surprised by the packed-out church.  I had no idea Paul was important to so many.  I have listened to the messages many, many times in the past year.  Each time, they have brought comfort.  I continue to be amazed by the words that my 18 year old spoke that June morning.  I really believe God filled his heart and became his voice that day.

I remember the summer.  I almost hate to think about it because it immediately brings up a feeling of pain that erupts from the pit of my stomach – a pain I carried with me for months and months until it slowly began to shrink in size.  I remember every day waking up and being disappointed that I was still alive.  But then I’d hear my children’s voices in the other room and knew I had a mission that wasn’t yet accomplished.  I still wished I was dead, though.

But I also remember the love of that summer of 2013.  Never before in my life was I surrounded by so much love!  Meals were brought for weeks and weeks.  Card after card arrived in my mailbox.  I had phone calls from friends I had not spoken with in person in decades.  I had more visits from people than I ever have in my life.  Financial gifts took away my immediate concerns for how I was going to support these children without Paul’s employment.  I received so many hugs that hugging became nearly instinctual with me.  And I am not a “hugger” by nature!

The reality of widowhood began to settle into my heart.  I was devastated.  Paul was everything to me.  We had been sweethearts since we were 19 and had celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary just 3 months before his death.  Paul was my spiritual advisor.  He was my protector, my conscience at times, my confidant, my lover.  He was my very best friend in the whole world.  I say all that and it sounds like we had this idyllic marriage, complete with wheat fields to dance through and rainstorms in which to kiss!  There were struggles.  We faced some hard times – some of our own doing and some due to circumstances we couldn’t control.  As much as I loved Paul, he was the person who could make me madder than anyone else, too.  I’m pretty sure he felt the same way about me!  Fortunately, time and maturity was a huge blessing to our marriage.  We joked about growing old together, although, curiously, I could never actually picture that happening.  Now I understand why.  We used to say that we would have to die together because neither one of us could survive without the other.  That didn’t happen, obviously.  But there have been many times this last year I have been convinced we were right – I could not survive without Paul.

I was overwhelmed most of the time, incapable of making the smallest decisions, it seemed.  I longed for the day when the crush surrounding me would dissipate and I could finally figure out what living without Paul was going to look like. 
It came.  When the dust finally began to settle I began to reassess what was left of my existence.  To my disappointment, I had lost some friends in the mess that had become my life. To this day, the very thought of them brings sadness.  I don’t know if they thought death was contagious.  More than likely, they didn’t know what to say and erroneously thought that saying nothing was better than perhaps saying the wrong thing.  Maybe they just were not true friends, after all.  I don’t know.  But I have to balance that with the discovery of new friends – acquaintances and even complete strangers who reached out to me in my time of need.  God abundantly filled the hole left by others.

Encouragers continued to come alongside me.  So many friends continued to offer help, listening ears, and kind words.  After awhile I realized that this was actually God, reaching down to me in my darkest hours.

I began to figure out the whole single parenting thing.  I discovered that I loathed the term, “single parent” because it implied choice.  I didn’t choose this.  The kids and I would spend the first year experimenting – with activities, family times, different choices.  It was like we starting out our family all over again from scratch.  Aside from a few bumps, it went amazingly well.  Frequently, I would be asked how the kids were doing and I almost felt like I was letting down those that inquired by telling them that the kids were really doing great!  It almost seemed like everyone expected the children to grieve to the point of not being able to function.  They did have their moments, of course – the occasional tear squall, the temper tantrum that wasn’t really about the issue at hand, but rather the new hole in their heart.  I made an effort to try to bind us tightly together as a family.  I don’t know if I did it well enough; time will tell.

We plunged into a house remodeling project with every ounce of strength we could muster. I look back and think we might have been a little crazy to attempt this during the first, emotionally fragile year.  Will made the choice to delay college by a year.  During that time, the men from our church did some major structural work to our house.  Will did all the rest – drywalling, electrical work, plumbing, making complete new rooms, yard work – everything.  He had been Paul’s little shadow from the time he could toddle and it paid off big-time.  I have a beautiful home now (I think, anyway).  It’s one of those things where I wish Paul was here to share it with me, but yet, if he were still alive, the house would still be years away from the way he had planned to complete it.  But I at least wish I could show it to him and let him see how we finished the plans he had for it all along.

There were terrible things that happened this year that I couldn’t blog about.  I didn’t lose only my husband, but I ended up losing his entire family. I had to make difficult, searing, choices to protect the children and me.  The whole situation has left me crushed in spirit much of the time.  I know it’s time to release it from the power it holds over me.  I’m working on that!

And now, a year later I’m in a different place.  In many ways it still feels the same, though.  It doesn’t take much of anything for a quick memory of Paul to be triggered.  I still cry, but not as often as I used to.  I’ve learned how to live with the constant presence of grief.  The more time goes on, the more tired I am of hurting.  I want to be in a pain-free place.  I want my old life back.  Since I can’t have that, I just want to be able to wake up and anticipate the future. I want to feel better.

And yet, hope does glimmer.  I remember the night after Paul’s funeral.  Everyone had left and I drove up to the cemetery.  I sat there for a long time, cried, and talked to Paul.  The ground was disturbed and already, the flowers we brought to the gravesite were beginning to droop.  I just knew that that day more than Paul’s body had been lowered into the ground.  Our plans were in that casket, along with any hope of future happiness and joy.  The remaining years of my life that I’d probably have to live out stretched, before me, brown and barren.

But a year later, small green shoots are appearing.  The earth is still scorched, but life is tentatively beginning to make an appearance.  I miss Paul terribly.  I grieve – deeply – and will for a long time yet, I think.  But I have survived a year.  With God’s grace, I will survive the next.  And the next.  I am starting to think that maybe happiness will find a way to sneak back into my life.  Part of me is quick to think that if I can’t have Paul, then I will never truly be happy again.  I do know that for the rest of my life I will wish he was here to share moments with me.  As I envision the children growing and moving into their own adult lives, I ache, knowing I will experience their milestones without Paul.  But, still, that doesn’t mean happiness will be forever elusive for me, either. 

And who am I now, a year later, a year into widowhood?  I am stronger, I know, although I still wince a bit when others tell me just how tough they think I am.  I appreciate the sentiment and it’s flattering to hear, but I know that any strength I have has been God-given.  But fires do create durability – strength, if you will – and I would have to say I’m more durable now than I was a year ago. That’s a Biblical principle, actually (Job 23:10).  At the same time, I am more dependent on God.  Before, when problems presented their ugly heads, I could always run to Paul for help, counsel, wisdom, and protection.  Now, I have nowhere to go but to God first.   I am broken. So, very, very broken. ..  I am more heavenly-minded.  In fact, this year I dare say I’ve thought more on Heaven than I have on earthly things.  That’s probably normal for what I have experienced.  Never before have I felt so much like the sojourner that I am.  These are all first-year observations.  I think that, a year from now (how I hate the sound of that – a “year from now” – I don’t want to live yet another year without Paul) I will have a better idea of who the Widow Sarah is.  And I rather imagine she will change a bit in the years to come.  So often this last year, I have asked, “God, what are you doing with my life?”  I don’t know what His purpose is for this suffering. I still have a whole lot of questions and not too many answers.  But I do know a picture is being formed with the events of my life.

Part of me is almost grinning as I contemplate the future (the other, biggest part is still petrified).  I am curious.  What does God have for me now?  Whatever it is, I know I can trust Him.

And that’s how this entire year can be summed up:


I found a lot of comfort in music this year.  I was forever quoting song lyrics on my blog that spoke to me in my days of sorrow.  Here’s another one that has been ministering to me lately.  It really sums up for me what I want to say on this anniversary. The link if you’d like to hear is here

Do I Trust You, Lord
Twila Paris
Sometimes my little heart can't understand
What's in Your will, what's in Your plan.
So many times I'm tempted to ask You why,
But I can never forget it for long.
Lord, what You do could not be wrong.
So I believe You, even when I must cry.

Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the river flow?
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the north wind blow?
You can see my heart,
You can read my mind,
And You got to know
That I would rather die
Than to lose my faith
In the One I love.

Do I trust You, Lord?
Do I trust You?
I know the answers, I've given them all.
But suddenly now, I feel so small.
Shaken down to the cavity in my soul.

I know the doctrine and theology,
But right now they don't mean much to me.
This time there's only one thing I've got to know.
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the robin sing?
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does it rain in spring?

You can see my heart,
You can read my mind,
And You’ve  got to know
That I would rather die
Than to lose my faith
In the One I love.
Do I trust You, Lord?
Do I trust You?
I will trust You, Lord, when I don't know why.
I will trust You, Lord, till the day I die.
I will trust You, Lord, when I'm blind with pain!
You were God before, and You'll never change.

I will trust You.
I will trust You.
I will trust You, Lord.
I will trust You
I had a choice to make in the early morning hours of June 6, 2013.  It was a choice I’d have to make over and over and over again in the days, weeks, and months that followed.
Did I trust Him?  Could I believe that this, the untimely death of a beloved husband and father, was for good?  Could I still trust God to make the best choices for my life, even when it meant that the journey was completely derailed and pain would become my constant companion?  Could I believe that God felt the best thing for my children was to lose their father?  What about my little girls who had already lost every single father and father figure they had ever had before?  Even for them?  Could I trust that God would hold my hand as I navigated the black waters of loneliness, worry, fatigue, and stress upon stress? 

I do.

I don’t claim to have done everything perfectly this year, because I haven’t.  There have been plenty of times I have questioned God.  I’ve told him I don’t like this and I don’t understand.  I have begged him, illogically, to give my husband back to me.  I have been angry at times. 
But I trust him.  He was my God before He called Paul Home and He is still my God.  He is working this for my good and for that of my children.  I can’t tell you all the ways because I don’t see them all right now.  But I still trust Him.

I pray that I will never lose sight of the lessons I’ve learned this first, terrible, wonderful year of widowhood.  My earnest, honest prayer is that God takes the pain of what has happened and uses it for good.  I don’t understand how He’ll do it and right now, the idea of trying to figure it out is just too exhausting.

But I know He will.

And that’s enough.


  1. This is beautiful, Sarah! We continue to pray for you & your family. Linda

  2. Heart wrenching and a beautiful post, Sarah. This should be published! Praying for you and trusting God for the future!

  3. Every new widow needs to read is raw with emotion, but also filled with hope and faith. As an vetern widow(its been over 8yrs) you summed up my first year in many ways as well. Keep writing, Sarah. It is theraputic for you and a blessing to all who read it.
    Hugs & Prayers

  4. You express your thoughts and feelings so well, Sarah. I can't even imagine the hell that this year has been, but I wish you ALWAYS continued strength and your wonderful strong faith! *hugs*

  5. Hi Sarah. name is Jan kittelson. I don't have Facebook so as you see, I'm on my daughters account. I just want you to know that I lost my husband a little over a year ago as well. A long time back, Emi Larsen told me that I should meet you. I'm sorry to say I never followed up on that prompting, however I'm overjoyed to hear how you are leaning on our awesome God. As I read your words, it felt like I was reading about my past year and a half. I would love to meet you someday in person just to share how God had worked in our hearts. Until then, may our Lord continue to uphold you with his grace.

  6. Wow, Sarah. I thank God for your willingness to share and your ability to verbalize this past year. You have taught me so much. I know God has continued blessings ahead for you and your beautiful family!