I never thought it would happen to me. I expected to be married until I was very old and gray, with both of us sitting on the front porch, just watching the sun shine. But that was not to be the case. I was widowed at the age of 60.
My husband was only 57 when he suffered a heart attack at the wheel of our car as we were on our way back from Parsons. He died the next day, too young, much too young. Life should not be that short for anyone, but so it was for him.
We had been married 38 years and were seldom apart. We had no children, so our time was centered around each other. We both worked outside the home, and then, in the evenings and weekends, we both worked continually, together, around the house we built in 1984.
For a time, our property haunted me because every flower, every bush, every tree had been put in the ground with both our hands. That's just the way we were; we worked shoulder to shoulder, in the yard, in the huge garden we planted each year, or just keeping the house itself in good order. And then we rested together, too, always planning the next project.
But, quite suddenly, I was the only one. There is a difference between loneliness and being alone. You can be lonely in a crowd; but, when you are alone, it is your life, no choices, that's the way it is.
I always considered myself an insightful person, one to understand other people and their situations and feelings. But I had absolutely no clue as to the lifestyle called widowhood.
I belong to a sorority group, half of which are widowed. Shortly following my husband's death, I confessed to these sisters my new respect for the way they live their lives, seeming to go on and never faltering. I wondered how they had done it for so many years, and I never noticed.
As the weeks, and then months, following my husband's passing went on, I realized how many "firsts" I was experiencing - a second lifetime of "firsts" actually - and how frightening they were for me. Let me share some of them with you.
The first night in our bed, in the house, alone.
The first meal at the table, with only one plate.
The first evening in front of the TV, and only I decide what to watch.
The first Sunday in the pew where we always sat, but now there's just me.
The first evening to come home from work to an empty house.
The first load of laundry, with only my clothes to hang on the line.
The first winter of heavy snow, and all the shoveling and sweeping is up to me.
The first gorgeous, blue sky summer day and no one to share it with.
The first shoot of corn through the ground in the garden, and the joy is mine alone.
The first summer of doing all the yard mowing, which now takes twice as long.
The first Thanksgiving turkey and dressing, with just me at the table.
The first Christmas by myself.
There are some "firsts" that I haven't managed as yet, such as going to a restaurant and eating alone. It's been four years now, and, one of these days, I'll manage this one. But I'm not ready yet.
There are decisions to make, problems to solve, other funerals to attend. Life goes on, but for me, as a widow, it has definitely been a challenge. I have said that I am my mother's daughter, or I would not have made it this far. I have, also, had family and very close friends to see me through, as well as God.
But I now have a new understanding and a clearer picture of all the widows around me.
I have a new respect for how they have lived, and are living, their lives. And, when I know about a new one, I send her a card of comfort and say a prayer for her.
The Bible, in more than one verse, mentions widows and orphans together. In Psalm 146: "He upholds the widow and the fatherless."
I often wondered, before widowhood became my way of life, why these two would be bound in the same verse so often.
Now I know. The orphan is alone from the very beginning, the widow at the very end.
And the aloneness is the same. You don't know it until you experience it.
I am thankful that there have been many in my life who have cared that I am alone and have taken a lot of that aloneness away. They have, unknowingly for some, made my life so much easier and more pleasant. Because of their kindness and thoughtfulness, my road each day is much straighter and the sun shines more often. They have done the "upholding" that the Bible mentions.
So, if you know of either a new or old widow somewhere around you, perhaps my words will enlighten you to their situation. And you will extend a hand or a greeting or a good deed their way. I can assure you, it will be appreciated more than you can imagine.
(Bonnie K. Phares is a native of Randolph County. She worked as the executive director of the United Way of Randolph County for 23 years. She is a member of the Orlena United Methodist Church where she has taught Sunday School since 1977.)