Surviving seven years as a widow

Seven years have passed since I lost my husband. He died on a tree-lined street on a sweltering August day, while he was walking home. His sudden death was declared a heart attack, ironically called a “widow-maker” because it is so dangerous.

My own heart shattered that day, when I saw my beloved Jef lying peacefully in the hospital, never to move again. I went home with a big plastic bag containing his clothing, wallet, wedding ring, crucifix and rosary beads. He was my sweetheart and my dearest friend, and we’d been married 33 years. Together we had journeyed from atheism (me) and quasi-paganism (him) to Christianity, and had experienced incredible blessings along the way.

We had met four nuns from India, whom Mother Teresa sent to Atlanta to open a home for indigent women with AIDS. Together we spent hours hammering and painting to help the sisters renovate a creaky old house, which became the Gift of Grace — a place of refuge for homeless women, who’d never known tender love and care.

When we opened our hearts to Christ, our lives changed. We were met with suffering — my cancer diagnosis, his mother’s descent into dementia, his sister’s death — but the Christian approach to suffering helped us see meaning in pain. The resurrection is at the heart of Christianity, offering new life after the greatest suffering imaginable, which was the crucifixion.

After his death, I honestly didn’t think I could go on living. He had been the center of my heart, and the rudder on my boat, and I began to flounder. Some nights the pain was so excruciating, I yearned to die, but offering my suffering to God as a prayer for others kept me going.

As the years went on, the intense suffering ebbed, but still there were times when a wave of grief would nearly knock me down. Slowly, I began to see how many other women had also lost their beloved husbands, and were grief stricken, just like me. Suffering was all around me, and my only hope was plodding along the treacherous path of grief to discover solid ground.

Yes, my cross was heavy, but so many others were bent under weightier burdens, such as terrible illnesses or the loss of children to suicide. When we’re felled by tragedy, we can pray that God will show us people who need our help.

Slowly, grief gave way to gratitude, as I realized what a blessing our marriage had been. Each memory seemed like a sparkling jewel I lovingly turned over in my hands, and what had once brought bitter tears now brought gladness.

The words of Father Richard Lopez, who celebrated my husband’s funeral Mass, came back to me: “Because Jef died in a state of grace, his death reminds us that a tragic death is not a sudden death, nor the death of a young person, since in terms of eternity, we all die young. A tragic death is one in which a person is not prepared to die.”

Shortly before his death, I asked Jef whether he thought I’d ever see my mother — who had died when I was 29 — again. He looked at me tenderly and said, “I know you will.” These words sustain me, because even though his death was sudden, he was spiritually prepared to die. And to be perfectly clear, I didn’t really lose him, since I know I’ll see him again.

Lorraine’s email address is lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com.