Upon the death of Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh, on April 9 of this year, his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, queen of the United Kingdom and other commonwealth realms, who was married 73 years to Philip, joined the more than 3 million widows in England.1 When my wife, Maureen, after 51 years of marriage, passed away on Good Friday in 2017, I joined the almost 3.5 million widowers in the U.S.,2 most of whom are retired. By comparison, there are about 11 million widows in this country.3
Some people lose their spouses suddenly through some accident or health event such as a heart attack; others know weeks or months in advance that their spouse is going to die. The latter offers the opportunity to prepare for the day when the spouse will pass away as well as the chance to say “goodbye.” During the present pandemic, many people were forewarned that their loved one could pass away but were unable to say goodbye properly because of various health restrictions.
Losing my spouse after half a century of a happy marriage was heart-wrenching. After the funeral of Maureen, when all the family members and friends had left, a deathly silence descended upon the house. No longer could I hear her footsteps; her voice that often called “lunch is ready” was silenced forever. The house was empty, the chair was empty, the bed was empty. Her loss hit me especially hard at family worship time as this was now a solitary event. No longer would I hear her prayers, see her smile, or feel her warmth. l was alone.
Shared responsibilities were now mine alone. When I drove to the shops or to church the passenger seat was empty. Now I had to do my own cooking, washing, ironing, and cleaning—while thinking of my loved one. Taking care of a sick spouse for years is no vacation, but after my wife was gone, how I wished I could have turned back the clock. Sadly, that is not possible. I’m grateful, however, that I still have my children, my larger family, my friends, and my church.
The Grief Process
When a spouse passes away, grief is the natural way our mind and body react. Many people may go through the commonly accepted five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In addition, physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, the inability to eat or concentrate, a lack of energy, and a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities may occur. Christians also experience such emotional and physical symptoms, but we know that death is a temporal condition that will end with the glorious day of the resurrection, when we will see our loved ones again (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). This hope carries me through every day.
Time plays an important role in the grieving process (see Eccl. 3:4), and as tragic as the loss of a spouse may be, time does heal, and the hope of the resurrection is a great comfort (1 Cor. 15:50-54). After losing a loved one, some people devote their lives to church work or other charitable organizations as life returns to a more normal routine. Others focus their energies on their work, which is what I did.
How to Survive the Loss
To survive the loss of a spouse it’s important to keep in contact with God; after all, Jesus is our Best Friend (John 15:4, 5). It’s vitally important, therefore, to have regular morning and evening worships and a prayerful attitude throughout the day. I’m an early riser, so I can take a long time in study and prayer before spending 30 minutes on my exercise bike. Both activities are vital.
Relationships with family and friends also should be nurtured. Most of my family members live in Europe, and those who reside along with me in the United States live in other states; therefore, in-person contacts are rare. The phone and video-communication methods such as Skype, however, make frequent contacts with them possible.
I’m blessed to have friends and church members who have become my local family. During the pandemic, friends did my shopping. Then every Tuesday we have a Zoom Bible study, and on Fridays we join together on Zoom for worship to begin the Sabbath. On Sabbath mornings our church offers a Sabbath School class on Zoom, and the church service is transmitted via YouTube. These events help to maintain a healthy spiritual outlook as well as good physical health.
Here are some suggestions, based on my experience, on how to live a contented life after the loss of your spouse:
1. Pray, and trust God to take care of you.
2. Remember God’s blessings in your life.
3. Be happy with and grateful for what you have.
4. Exercise regularly and eat healthfully.
5. Maintain contact with family and friends.
Losing a spouse after a long and happy marriage is one of the most painful experiences on this earth. Grieving is a necessary process for the survivor to regain their mental and spiritual health. Equally important is to keep and strengthen our contact with God, family, and friends.
Above all, don’t forget that this life is but a preparation for the life to come, when God will wipe away every tear, and there will no longer be any death (Rev. 21:4).
Gerhard Pfandl, retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference, is a native of Austria and currently lives in Burtonsville, Maryland, United States.