Part 2: The spiritual aspect of grief
I was so smugly sure last week that I was prepared for Easter. I had taken precautions to avoid sinkholes, inviting family and friends to a big meal after church and spending the preceding days decorating my house and table, planning my menu and cooking. All of that was good; and in the end, the day was good.
One of my many false assumptions before I became a widow was that the church provided solace for the widow—all those activities on the church calendar each week, all those people. I observed older widows who were at my church every time the doors opened. Most appeared happy and involved.
What I didn’t see were the widows who weren’t there. I never dreamed that it could be so hard to go alone to a place where you had gone with your husband for 46 years. A friend who has been a widow for more than half her life says that she still feels more alone at worship services than any other place. Another says that Sunday is the worst day of her week.
Nowhere is the empty space that he once occupied more obvious. If you always sat with him there, where—and with whom—do you sit now? One faithful churchgoer said that she could not bear being in the worship service alone, where she had always held hands with him. Some move to another location in the church—there’s often a “widows’ row” of older women sitting together—but I knew a widow who clung tenaciously to “our pew” in the balcony, even when attendance declined and she was alone in the section.
Sunday can also be the longest and most alone day of the week. When couples go to brunch afterwards, where do widows go? Too often, home to a lonely, empty house where the day drags on endlessly.
Until Easter Sunday, I did not recognize the steps I had taken over the past seven years to avoid painful reminders. About two years before Lev died, we switched to a small neighborhood church from the large church we had attended for 44 years. But the entire family spent that Easter in Naples, Florida—probably the last time we were all together on Easter. The next year we were with our son and family in Horseshoe Bay. And I have been gone every Easter since.
On the rare Sundays when I am home, I now arrive at my old church after the service starts, where I can slip in the back door, sit on the back row and slip out again without notice. But Easter was different. Friends asked me to sit with them. Arriving early, interfacing with old friends, sitting near the front, I felt strangely vulnerable and very conspicuous. I, who do not cry, choked as I was flooded with memories of the past:
Our first Easter there, 15 months after we married, sitting very near where I sat last Sunday…The 10 years after their retirement, when my parents lived in Corpus Christi and there were six of us in the pew…Family baptisms…Lev’s memorial service. I was bitterly reminded of all I had lost. I had unexpectedly fallen into another sinkhole.
My friend choked too. This was her first Easter without her dad. I was a poor substitute to fill the space he had occupied in the pew.
Faith gives us hope, but it does not erase the empty space. So we muddle through.
Is church a solace or a sinkhole for you? Perhaps a bit of both?