April 24, 1995 in Nation/World

We Can Learn Much From The Widowed

By The Spokesman-Review

The widowed among us are fluent in the language of grief. They know that saying such things as: “It was God’s will” or “You’re young, you can always marry again” are much more hurtful than helpful.

They know that grief is an exhausting and tricky beast with a timetable of its own. They know that individuals grieve at different paces. And in different ways.

They know the only way around grief is through it.

The widowed have much to teach us in these times when death refuses to wait just for the old. When a madman shoots up Fairchild, when planes and automobiles crash and kill entire families, when fires race through sleeping households, when lunatics shave the face off a building with a bomb.

Yet, we are a society uncomfortable around widows and widowers. Their pain is often palpable. They cry and speak of feeling “amputated” from their loved ones. Author C.S. Lewis wrote after his wife’s death: “The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

The widowed are often beyond consolation. And not much fun, as they first step in their new roles. Others tend to withdraw. Any widowed person will tell you that the phone calls and invitations taper off dramatically after the funeral. People return to their busy lives and forget to include the widowed in their plans. Or they feel awkward. In his book “A Grief Observed,” Lewis also wrote: “Whenever I meet a happily married pair I can feel them both thinking, ‘One or other of us must some day be as he is now.”’

Yet, the widowed have much to offer families and communities. We have sometimes failed to tap into their wisdom, their strength, the fearlessness they often possess because they have survived one of the worst things that can happen: the loss of their mates.

Ten years ago, the Community Colleges of Spokane’s Institute for Extended Learning recognized both the isolation of the widowed and their untapped treasure. “Solo Strategies,” a workshop for the widowed, was born. The annual workshop’s popularity has grown, and additional sponsors have signed on, as word has spread among the widowed that here is a place you can go and be understood. Here, when people say “I know just how you feel,” they do.

On Saturday, about 300 men and women will listen to Phyllis Holmes, Spokane city councilwoman, talk about her recovery from the deaths of two loved ones. In 1965, her husband died of cancer. Two months later, her 3-year-old son was killed in a freak accident. Holmes survived, thrived; she’s fearless now and a bit impatient with whiners. In a Sunday IN Life profile, Holmes said: “Sometimes I listen to people whine and I think, ‘If you knew what real tragedy and loss is…”’

The conference will also offer more than a dozen workshops; support groups will begin that day. If you know someone widowed and in pain, recommend that person go. If you haven’t checked in on a widowed friend for a while, pick up the phone, write a card, stop in.

And those of you who have been widowed, please give the rest of us some guidelines on how to persevere through impossible times of loss. We need your wisdom now more than ever.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board.

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