Grief is a thief; it steals the breath of life and leaves devastation in its wake. What happens when grief robs a woman of not only her husband, but also her ability to cope with the world around her? How do others know when the aftermath of loss has created a dangerous situation for their friend, family member, or neighbor? When has enough time passed that we no longer wonder if a person’s life difficulties could have something to do with the death of a loved one? The answers to these questions can only be discovered if we are willing to plant our own feet next to a widow, and walk a portion of the journey by her side.
A young woman lost her husband in a car accident six years ago. At the time of her husband’s death their children were eight and two, and her full-time occupation was caring for their family. The car accident that took her husband’s life left this young woman in deep despair. And then she got lost. As each year passed, her ability to find her way out of the forest of grief declined. She stayed in bed, she stopped cleaning the house, she let the yard goâ€”and most people stood by and watched. After the first few years these others assumed this woman was lazy, useless, and a bad mother. Yet, her friends remembered a kind person who loved her children and worked hard to make their lives full and happy. At one time she belonged to the local church, volunteered in the neighborhood, and reached out to others. But when it was time to walk the road of lossâ€”she walked alone.
After six years the department of child protective services was called to this family’s home. The house was declared a fire hazard, as was the surrounding property. And then someone spoke up. A friend recognized that this young woman never functioned the same way after her husband’s death. She noticed that the light was gone from her eyes, her former level of energy never returned, and she could still see that she loved her children and wanted to be able to take care of them. Most importantly, she didn’t put a timeline on her friend’s grief journey.
This good friend searched the Internet for a group that would help this widow. She sent a message to a widow’s support site, and that message happened to land in the lap of someone who knew someone who might be able to help. After a volley of phone calls and e-mails it was discovered that this woman was given one week to get the house cleaned up, or her children would be removed from the home. When the first call for help was received, three days had already passed.
A group called Catholic Charities was contacted, and agreed to make a home visit. What they found when they arrived was a home that could be aired on a daytime talk showâ€”and a woman so lost she couldn’t find a path out. The very next day Catholic Charities rounded up eight volunteers and worked twelve hours straightâ€”sifting, sorting, removing, and caring. On the appointed day, they still needed more time. The case worker for Catholic Charities called the Sheriff assigned to the case, and said they were well on their way to getting the situation under control but could they have one more day? Granted the extension, more volunteers showed up the following day, and as they finished the last bits of work a social worker arrived to take the children. As the social worker looked around the house, she wondered aloud what the problem could have been. The children looked healthy, the house was clean, the kids obviously wanted to stay with their mom; after a few phone calls she left, bewildered by what had taken place. The next day, the Sheriff returned and declared the case closed.
What a gift this wonderful friend gave our sister widow: the gift of understanding. She recognized grief for the thief that it is, and reached out a hand in help instead of pointing a finger in accusation. This led to another gift: the care and concern for others so beautifully displayed by the staff and volunteers from Catholic Charities. They do their work without judgment, and they don’t leave the person in need once the immediate dilemma is solved. This family will receive free counseling, and now has a place to turn for help, support, and hope.
The last thing this widow said to her benefactors was, “I didn’t know how to ask for help, I am so grateful.”
Thank God there was someone who didn’t need to be asked aloud in order to hear the cry.