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Meditations for the Widowed
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When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

   —Isaiah 43:2a (NIV)

When my father died, I was afraid my mother would drown in sorrow. Initially she did fine, but after the visitors stopped coming she sank deeper in grief. From the sidelines, struggling with the loss from my own perspective, I was unable to provide the kind of help she needed. Often it seemed to me that her empty mailbox mirrored her lonely heart. Then one day, quite some time after his death, she received a letter from my best friend that was like a life raft she could cling to.

Although Karen had never experienced the death of a spouse, she had lived through the death of her marriage. Remembering those feelings, she wrote to my mother, hoping the letter would somehow reach out and bring a measure of healing to a woman she dearly loved. The words seemed to flow onto the paper for her, but still she hesitated, hoping she hadn’t been too direct, praying she’d be understood.

She didn’t compare their losses, or say she knew just how my mother felt because she didn’t. What she did was share that she had felt worthless after her divorce and was convinced no one would ever value her again. In spite of that, she said, her good friends stayed close and held her up until she eventually landed on solid ground and life began anew.

“It takes time to work through the grieving process,” she said. “It’s a day-by-day emotional journey, just as a hike is a step-by-step physical one. As hard as it is to imagine,” she added, “you will wake up one day and it will be okay. The burden of sadness will be lifted and life will feel good again. Until then, just flow with the river of grief. You won’t be swept away. Your family and friends will reach out and keep you afloat until that river dries up and you are on solid ground again.”

Without knowing it, Karen sent both mother and I a life raft and showed us by example that condolence letters, even those – maybe even especially those written long after a death, can be a source of healing and hope.

Lord, I thank you for sending lifelines to mother and ask you to help both of us pass them on to others feeling swept away by grief.

—Patty Duncan