By Amanda Fillebrown
Marriage changes lots of things. A spouse fills one of the closest relationships we hold by becoming family, best friend, life partner, and lover. A spouse is allowed to enter the deepest and most intimate spaces of a person’s life. Two people become one when they enter into marriage. When a spouse passes away, a person is left having to figure out how to continue with a part of them gone. How does one go from being “we” to being “me” again with joy?
Becoming single again after losing a spouse is one of the loneliest feelings. The good news is that we don’t have to face it alone and mourning does not last forever. Jesus promises that those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). They will also find joy (Psalm 30:5). God is concerned with the pain, and the tears that are shed are so precious to him that he keeps record of them (Psalm 56:8). Those who mourn will be raised again and restored with a renewed purpose (Psalm 71:20). Plans and goals may change, but God’s plan and purpose is still there.
How can one trust in these promises and find joy in becoming single again?
The following is a collaboration of insights on finding joy in singleness from individuals who have experienced the loss of a spouse. I am 39 years old, and I have had two husbands pass away—one unexpectedly and the other was more anticipated. I didn’t have kids with either of them. I spoke with my friend Cheryll, who lost her husband while she was in her 50s. They had one adult child when he passed. I also gathered words of wisdom from a gentleman named Lawrence. He was 30 years old when his wife passed away after giving birth to their twins.
Take Care of Yourself
Grief can easily spiral down into depression. I found myself in this place. I didn’t feel like eating. I didn’t feel like being around other people. I honestly didn’t feel like doing anything. It is easy to neglect caring for yourself when you don’t have someone else there as a motivator. The story of Elijah reminded me of how important it is to care for basic needs in the midst of grief. Exhausted and scared, Elijah retreated into the wilderness. He prayed and asked the Lord to take his life. But the Lord sent an angel to care for him who encouraged him to eat, drink, and rest. Grief is a lot like the wilderness—dark, lonely, and hard to see a way out. Taking care of your physical needs is vital.
Caring for spiritual needs is just as important. Lawrence shared how calm he was when his wife passed away. He is convinced that it was a result of God answering thousands of prayers that were being lifted up for him. Don’t be afraid to ask others to pray. Lawrence also talked about how the story of Job helped him to stay strong and courageous. Job went through tremendous pain and loss, but he never stepped away from God. Lawrence remembers that God’s hand is always there. We just have to reach out for it. One must learn to reach out to others for help, but more importantly to God who wants to walk with each of us.
Focus on Others
Widows and widowers may find that they have time and love to give that they did not have before. Sometimes circumstances require this, other times we must choose it.
Lawrence had two newborns who were in the hospital in the beginning. This created a lot of distraction that helped him to carry on. Cheryll talked about how she began to volunteer. She focused on missions at her church and opened her home to missionaries.
You don’t have to say yes to the first thing that comes along, but listen for opportunities in which God may be directing. I found joy through kids. I spent a lot of my time babysitting for my friends. You can actually feel life while holding a child, which was a contrast to how I often felt because of my despair. Feeling the beating of another heart against my chest and a soft breath against my cheek was like medicine for my broken heart. It also provided a physical touch that is needed but that many singles don’t receive. The kids I watched brought joy to my life by serving as a gentle and precious reminder that life still goes on and is full of wonderful blessings.
Don’t forget to laugh. This was a hard one for me. I laughed more with my husband than with anyone else. When I became single again, I no longer had that person to share inside jokes with me. I remember getting together with my girlfriends one night and we began to laugh. I remember shutting down almost immediately and feeling guilty. I thought it was wrong for me to have a good time without my husband. My friend Sara reminded me that my husband would have wanted me to be happy.
Lawrence told me that he was surrounded by lots of joy and laughter in his family growing up. In good times or bad, they would come together and tell stories, which would often lead to joy. During his time of loss, he relied on that laughter to continue to bring joy to his life. It was a distraction from the pain and grief. Joking around and playing with his kids was another way that laughter and joy were incorporated in his life.
Remember and Celebrate
Finally, celebrate the life you shared with your spouse. They may be gone, but the memories are not. Cheryll found joy in sharing her story with others. Don’t be afraid to talk about the loss. When you do, it gives others permission to talk about it as well. Often people are afraid to bring up your loved one’s name. It may be out of fear of saying the wrong thing or because they don’t want to make you sad.
I remember one of my friend’s little girls would bring such joy to my heart because she wasn’t afraid to say my husband’s name. In the middle of our usual chats about school and such, she would chime in and say, “I still really miss Michael!” We shared the bond of him having had an impact on both of our lives. It reminded me of the good times we had all shared together at her princess birthday party.
We can also do tangible things to celebrate. Cheryll created a memorial scrapbook about her husband. My aunt and I made a quilt out of my husband’s T-shirts. I cherished the time we worked on it because it gave me time to share the memories that went with each shirt.
These are just a few suggestions to help find joy in becoming single again. It is essential to remember that joy, unlike happiness, is not dependent on our situation. Joy comes from deep within our hearts, not our circumstances. Joy is not reserved only for those who are married. God has many blessings for us in our singleness. The question is, will we choose to live our lives in ways that display that joy?
Lawrence realized that he had a choice to make: he could be sad, heartbroken, and a downer to his kids, or he could enjoy what God had given him and make the best of it. We can make the same choice too.
Amanda Fillebrown is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky.