A good friend’s wife passed away on Monday (September 1st, 2014). I had to leave for Penang on the following day to help my mum with a medical appointment. So I went to pay my respects on Monday evening. I repeated what I had told my friend a number of times — I would walk with him in the days ahead as he begins his journey in the strange new world of widowhood.

I very much want to do this. I remembered when I lost my first wife. Many well-meaning people wanted to encourage me. But it was the guys who had experienced widowhood who gave me the most comfort. But there were so few, one, maybe two. That’s why, where I can, I want to journey with friends who have lost their spouses. I have found that widows seem to better connected. But widowers often are not. Their wives were probably their closest if not their only friends. Losing a wife is a major loss. I know.

However I am clear that I do not know the specific experience of pain my widower friends are going through. I never say “I know how you feel”. Each person is unique. Each person experiences life differently. Each marriage that ended is unique. The fact that each one of use grieves differently was pointed out in a recent article in The Atlantic.

George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University and author of The Other Side of Sadness, has studied grief for over 20 years. Among his most provocative findings is that 50 to 60 percent of mourners show no symptoms of grief one month following the loss. Some even overcome the grief within days.

What drives these people forward? What holds the others back? And why do some mourners recover from grief quickly—much more quickly—than others? Psychologists who study these questions note that there is no single factor that predicts who copes well and who does not. Many variables, from your personality to your social world to your levels of stress before the loss, play distinct roles. (Emily Esfahani Smith, “In Grief, Try Personal Rituals,” The Atlantic, March 14, 2014 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/in-grief-try-personal-rituals/284397/)

I am surprised by the findings of George Bonanno (within days??) and will wait for this discussion to continue with other researchers. But I am not surprised by the finding that different people grief differently. Hence I really do not know how a widower feels.

My first task as a friend of a widower is the “ministry of presence”. I seek them out so they know they are not alone. The loneliness can be crushing as the finality of it all begins to sink in. We look forward to meeting our loved ones in Christ in the new heaven and the new earth but we will never see them again on this earth.

My second task is to listen. Because each grief journey is different I want to hear from the widower as to how he really is, not what he should be based on theories of grief or my own experience.

Where appropriate, however, I may share my own story of loss and recovery, not as a template for my widower friend to follow, but to look for points of contact that may help my friend know he is not alone.

I am at a point in my own journey where more and more of my friends will suffer significant loss and some will become widowers. Of course in time I will be one again unless the Lord calls me home first.

On the matter of grief, Paul says:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV)

Paul understands that loss is part of life this side of heaven. Therefore he doesn’t say that we shouldn’t grieve. But he reminds followers of Jesus to grieve with hope because we know that that there will be a reunion of all the saints when Christ returns. In the meantime he calls us to carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

So, no, I cannot say that I know exactly what my friend is going through. But I hope that my spending time with him will remind him of the presence of Christ who is the source of all our healing and encouragement.