Key 3: Seek unity and a shared purpose.
Through the years I have heard the warning, “Be careful how you treat your children because they will pick your nursing home.”
After Lev died, I needed my children desperately: Their blessings, their approval, and—most of all—their presence. I needed to feel needed. That surprised them. My daughter said later, “I never thought of you as a needy person.” I wanted them to read my mind, to know what I wanted and needed without my having to ask. I did not want to nag or whine. Emotionally, I needed to know that they wanted to be with me. I wanted it to be their idea, for I did not want them to feel obligated to see me or to do for me. When I did not hear from them, I felt rejected, forgotten, unwanted, unloved. Alone.
Like most older women, I never want my children to be responsible for my physical needs. I do not want to be dependent, but I do depend on them, and I will most likely have to depend on them more as I grow older. I know that—while they are the center of my universe—I am not the center of theirs, though that universal truth is far easier for the head to grasp than for the heart.
The best gift that I can give my children is to be as self-sufficient as possible now in order to maintain my independence as long as possible. I need to nurture other relationships, and I need to learn to swallow my pride and ask for help when I need it. I need to lay a foundation for my future that will be good for the entire family.
The English clergyman J.B. Phillips, in his 1958 translation (some would say interpretation) of the New Testament, wrote in language that should resonate with every widow but that is equally applicable to other family members:
Now if you have known anything of Christ’s encouragement and of his reassuring love; if you have known something of the fellowship of his Spirit, and of compassion and deep sympathy, do make my joy complete—live together in harmony, live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you.
Phillips did not write that we must agree on every point; rather, that we need to live and work together with a common purpose, in a spirit of love and harmony. Our family learned that family unity, in and of itself, is a noble purpose, not always achieved. Too often, families end up in conflict, even in court, because private interests came before family interests.
If for no better reason than enlightened self-interest, widows are wise to encourage unity within our families. To lose one’s husband is bad enough. The thought of losing the entire family is unbearable. When we are healthy and independent, we may not think that we need them; but those who live to advanced old age will grow increasingly dependent on our families. Our friends will grow old along with us. In most cases, they will not pick our nursing homes.
Lesson learned: If we as widows value our family relationships, we will encourage our family by extending to them the same love, respect, kindness, fairness, and generosity that we want and need.
Excerpt from my book-in-progress, RECLAIMING JOY: A PRIMER FOR WIDOWS. Click on the photo of an open Bible to go to the list of 12 Keys to Reclaiming Joy.
 The New Testament in Modern English. Rev. ed. New York: Galahad Books, Trans. J.B. Phillips, 1995. 412.