Vintage image of a suffering religious woman statue

What Took Me By Surprise

“What took me by surprise was the power, the all-consuming grip, the sudden shock of an emotion rolling over me, literally rendering me unable to function for a moment or sometimes longer.”

“Imagine a single event dramatically changing your calendar, your checkbook, your friendship network, the contents of your refrigerator, the temperature you set your thermostat, your outlook on your future and your connection with your children.”

And that’s not all.

“Your appearance may change your emotions, your sleep patterns, your theology, your social status and possibly your address.”

Miriam continues. “I experienced most of these changes and more beginning April 21, 2006—the day I became a widow. I don’t like the word and still will not check that box to identify myself. Turning points in life are often choices. But becoming a widow happens.”

Miriam Neff certainly catches my attention in her raw descriptions of what my own mother experienced twice. It was painful watching my mother navigator a new sea of emotions about which I had little understanding at the time. There are so many responses I wish I had expressed differently.  Entering into the deep loss and pain of the love of your life is no small “get over it quick” process. Yet, the demands of life offer little space for stepping aside for a much-needed time of processing.

When a man and a woman take the words of the Scripture seriously, “…a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh” this union is like no other. Particularly when this union grows stronger (through many painful and joyful experiences) year after year, and then it is broken. Who can fully describe the depth of loss?

Neff draws us in and contributes much to our understanding.

“Grief, loneliness, anger, disappointment—these are not new emotions to a widow—but they have an intensity we never experienced before. While these emotions are similar for people who experience other losses, somehow ours is different.

These emotions—loneliness, anger, grief, depression—cannot be neatly sorted out, each in its separate compartment. At times they clump together like an army intent on taking us out. At other times we experience one “solo.” The wound is large and we question whether we will heal, and, if so, when?

We know some facts about our emotions as widows. It’s comforting to know that while we don’t like the feelings, they are common, to be expected, and indeed normal, considering our loss.

Facts we know about emotions:

  • Our emotions are intense. Why? Two became one and now half of us is ripped away. Every aspect of our life changes, like it or not, ready or not.
  • Our emotions must be acknowledged. Denial is not a healthy permanent option. Admitting what we feel is the beginning of moving forward and being able to make changes in our new life.
  • Our emotions can become empowering and energizing and a positive force as we create a new life. I realize this may be hard to believe if you are in those early months or even years.

Moving Through Grief:

1. Be kind to yourself

2. Give yourself permission to forget the task at hand.

3. Write in a journal

4. Surround yourself with positive people

5. Be wary of people who want to direct your life

6. Give yourself permission to try new things

7. Attend to your health, since grief can weaken the immune system

8. When it feels right, change the furniture layout in a room

I’ve given Neff’s book to several friends—those caring about another who recently lost a marriage partner and to those who have experienced the death of a spouse. Neff certainly increases our depth of understanding and shepherding effectiveness. You can read more on the above 8 items, as well as increase your understanding of a widow’s painful, yet healing journey from Neff’s personal experience and professional insights.

Let’s not assume we fully understand a widow or widower’s loss, unless it’s our own.


Taken from Miriam Neff’s book, From One Widow to Another, conversations on the new you, pages 11, 17-18, and 20-23. Neff is founder and President of Widow Connection. She is a former high school counselor and teacher; currently teaches a Bible study for widows. She has authored several books and a DVD series, “One Widow to Another.”

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