In 2004, my husband began a journey into a murky, confusing and dark place they call dementia. I could not follow him there, but it seemed that God was calling me into a new season in life—one which would test every fiber of my being for the next four years. I not only learned a lot about dementia and grief; I learned deep truths about God through this unchartered territory. God often calls us, as He did Abraham, into a place where we have never gone before, would never have chosen to go in the first place, and hopefully would never return to, if we could help it.
After Jesus called my beloved husband to His heavenly home, I found myself on an island alone, navigating a new season called widowhood, accompanied by profound grief. While I had many dear friends and family members who came alongside to walk with me through this season, I understood that the grief of widowhood had little quirky moments that only another widow could relate to and understand.
I found healing throughout John’s illness by journaling every detail of this journey—not a “happy-happy, keep-your-chin-up” little journal, but one which dug deep into issues of my faith—or lack of it; pounding my fists on God’s chest and demanding to know why He had allowed this into my life, as well as crawling out of bed on countless sleepless nights into my prayer closet to lay on the floor at the feet of the only One who understood and knew, and held me close as I cried. The walk into the deeper life with Christ was chiseled out of the crucible of loss, grief, and anguish leading me into that place where you never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.
Somewhere along this path I happened across a website on Facebook that caught my eye–A Widow’s Might was a home, a safe place—a city of refuge for women who found themselves navigating through the process of grief and confusion, desperate to hear from others who knew, who understood, who could offer some words of comfort and encouragement.
Kit Hinkle, mother of four boys and a chocolate lab, found herself widowed as a young mom in 2007. As with many others, Kit funneled her loss and grief into ministering to other widows. From the ashes of her loss, this website and blog emerged. As all of us who wear this title of widowhood have learned, a widow can move into the depths of despair and stay there; or she can, by leaning into Jesus, move into healing through ministering to others. Kit chose to minister to others. A Widow’s Might is a place where people aren’t telling you that its time to “get over it,” or to “move on.” It is a place for women, who have walked this path for long years and those who have walked it for short months, to meet and fellowship with other widows, in Christ.
Kit invited me to guest blog for A Widow’s Might in 2013, and then invited me to be a part of their writing team. And what a writing team it is—women from all walks of life, in all stages of grief, as well as all different ages write their stories for widows who find their way into the world of blogging! And they don’t just write and leave—they write, and then sit down with those who leave comments, whose hearts are breaking into pieces, and they offer comfort and encouragement, and most importantly a chance for women to bear their real selves.
A Widow’s Might has reached into the lives of thousands who visit the site on a regular basis and those of us who write, have learned that within our team, we are also ministering to each other, for we are all still in various stages of the grieving process. And from our personal letters to each other, more blogs seem to surface. Isn’t that just like God? Using our pain and tears to bring healing to others? Writing about the story of Ruth and Naomi, author Paul E. Miller writes:
“What can we say to Naomi’s lament? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We just weep with her. That is good theology, to weep with those who weep. God does not lecture Naomi. Nor should we lecture those who are grieving.” (Miller, Paul E. A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships. Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2014.)
Weeping with those who weep, this is what happens at A Widow’s Might.
This past year, Kit realized that there were widows who were processing through their grief and moving into new seasons of life, those who were ready to hear about life after widowhood. I remember so well the awful panic that settled over me after a couple of years of watching John leaving me for dementia, leaving more and more of the responsibilities of house care, car care, financial care, and care for him on my shoulders. In the middle of the night panic, I heard a voice say to me, “You are never going to recover from this.” That wasn’t the voice of my Shepherd, of course, but the voice of the enemy trying to instill fear into my broken heart.
I remember writing in my journal the following morning:
“I need to know that there is going to be life after dementia.”
Shortly after this, a friend spoke those very words to me, “Kathy, God has something planned for you after this; something so much bigger than you can imagine.” This “word” from God was again confirmed when my son spoke it almost word-for-word. I cannot begin to express what that word meant to me. Grieving widows need to know that there will be life for them, that they may feel at the time that the loss is a huge dark hole in their life, and when they get too close to that hole, they fear they may get sucked into it and never resurface. They need to know that the hole doesn’t necessarily go away, but they will learn to live around it and it stops threatening to swallow them whole. And then they need to know that eventually, the hole becomes sort of a friend, reminding them of the sweet memories, the laughter, the good times, and they find themselves smiling at the hole instead of fearing it.
As Kit heard from widows who had moved into that place, she knew God was leading her to begin another website for those widows who were moving, not out of grief necessarily, but moving into new seasons in their lives and were wanting to hear from other widows who were doing the same. From this, Kit launched the website, A New Season. She asked some of us who had been writing for A Widow’s Might, if we might like to write for this new website and so we have stepped into this “new season” with her, writing about what God is doing in our lives now; how He has redeemed the loss and turned it into ministry to others; and most importantly, what we have learned in our process of loss about the deeper life with Christ.
This comes quite naturally for me, as I understood the importance of healing through ministering healing to others. As I spoke recently to a woman’s group about suffering, God showed me that just as there is stewardship for money and stewardship for spiritual gifts written in the Bible, there is also a stewardship of suffering. We can bury it or we can plant it in new soil so that it produces a harvest of hope that will feed others. The choice is ours, of course. I knew that I must make the choice to turn the pain into ministry, by writing the book, by speaking to groups, and by writing blogs.
My publisher wrote to me when the book came out, “Thank you for not wasting your pain.” God never wastes anything; He never wastes our pain; He collects our tears in His bottle and then retrieves them to be used as tears of fellowship and comfort with others who suffer. It is called the “fellowship of His suffering” (Philippians 3:10), and it is an honor to be a part of the fellowship of His suffering.