Reprint by permission.
A publication of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators
Volume 1, Issue 2 Fall/Winter 2009
Authors name omited per request.
Reaching Out to Hurting Homeschoolers
There she is, the newly widowed mom. Your heart hurts for her, but you don’t approach her. You just don’t know what to say. She looks your way and you pretend not to see her. You see intense grief in her eyes and you look away. You feel guilty and squeeze your husband’s hand. Seeing her awakens a fear that you have tried to keep buried—fear that something similar could happen to your family. It is natural for us to feel these emotions and pull away. It is difficult to know what to do and what to say to someone whose spouse has died. I have been on both sides of the situation and I implore you to let God expand your comfort zone and reach out.
Each individual’s grief is unique, yet every widow and widower is struggling to figure out how to function as half of a couple. One of the many intense emotions is feeling alone. There are not a lot of young widows and widowers, let alone those that homeschool. Widows and widowers don’t want to be pitied. Instead they long for friends that are willing to encourage them on their journey. As a young homeschool widow of three delightfully rambunctious boys, I would like to give some practical ways on how to minister to hurting homeschoolers:
Don’t avoid the widow or widower. It communicates that no one cares. No matter the reason, we feel forgotten and abandoned.
Please pray and let the widow or widower know that you are praying. Many, many times the prayers of my friends, as well as other Christians I have never met, have carried the boys and me through intensely emotional times. Knowing others were praying gave me the strength to keep breathing and continue putting one foot in front of the other.
Please reach out. Many people often think family and friends have been reaching out to the grieving family, but fewer people are reaching out than you think, especially after the first three months as well as after the holidays are over. Don’t expect widows and widowers to seek you out. Grieving itself is intensely draining. We are also juggling work, homeschooling, helping children with their grief, legal and financial issues, and many other situations that we must face without our spouse. We have already felt family and friends pull away and we don’t risk being hurt again. You need to be the one to approach the widow or widower. What do you say? “We’ve been praying for you and the kids and I was wondering how you are really doing?” Then really listen. Or “I don’t know how you feel or what to say. But if it’s alright I’ll just sit here and let you know I care.”
Don’t be afraid you’ll make us cry. Our tears don’t mean that you have hurt us. Our grief is our constant companion. Tears just mean our spouse was very special to us, and we miss them immensely. Let us feel it is okay to cry. Offer us a tissue, squeeze our hand, or put your hand on our shoulder. Better yet, weep with us.
Please speak our spouse’s name. There is a special comfort to the boys and me when someone speaks Jim’s name, especially when they share a good memory or what they miss about him. Hearing my spouse’s name on the lips of others is like warm sunshine on a cold cloudy day; it’s soothing to the soul.
Don’t say “Call if you need anything.” Often we don’t know exactly what we need and even if we do, it is very difficult to ask. Instead offer specific help. “I made a double batch of lasagna; I’ll bring it over around five.” and then include the recipe. “Could my son come mow your lawn or shovel your driveway?” “We are on the way to the park. Could your kids come with us? You could come along or enjoy some quiet time at home which ever you prefer.” “Could my husband and I come over and see how we could help you get the house ready for winter?” Sit by us during the choir concert or soccer practice, or at church. It is comforting to not sit alone.
Please keep your word. Not keeping your word implies the same thing as avoiding us. Children are keenly aware of those who show they care, and those who don’t. Their whole world has turned upside down when a parent dies. Their security is shattered. Their trust is shaken. Their emotions are as tangled up as a ball of yarn. Show them they can count on you.
Don’t give advice unless asked. Trust me, unsolicited advice is always in abundance for widows and widowers. Everyone else seems to know what to do about things we are unsure about. Our whole world has been turned upside down. We have had something happen that we did not have control over and are trying to listen to how God wants us to handle things. The more unwanted advise, the harder it is to discern God in it all.
Don’t judge our children. As I said before, their emotions are a tangled mess. Sometimes their grief comes out as sadness, but often it is masked in anger, rudeness, depression, hyperactivity, or inattentiveness. Events you may consider normal in your everyday lives could be a grief trigger for our children. Again, don’t pity them. Be kinder than necessary yet lovingly firm.
Please share your spouse. Let me clarify this. Don’t jump to conclusions or assumptions when a widow or widower talks to your spouse. We are used to hearing a different gender’s perspective on various issues. Letting us talk with your spouse in an appropriate setting is very helpful. I am very grateful to the ladies who have let me talk with their husband’s about lawyers and legal matters as well as boys and cars without jumping to the conclusion that I was a desperate woman trying to steal their husbands.
Please remember. Special days like our wedding anniversary, anniversary of the death, birthdays (the missing spouse’s too) Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and holidays are especially difficult. A call, a small gift, a card, or email around these times is very meaningful. Before I was widowed, I thought after a year things were better. I now know that grief has no time table. Like many widows and widowers, my first year was about survival, making it through all the “firsts” without my husband. The next year was one of harsh realities that my husband was never going to be here. This third year, I find myself adjusting and then floundering. I still have days when grief waves overwhelm me and my mind gets blanketed by fog.
Please continue being there. We need to talk and share. We need friends who will listen without judgment and refresh us with their prayers and encouragement. We need friends who rally us to press on when we want to throw in the homeschooling towel. You know how hard homeschooling can be, and yet homeschooling is the most wonderful way to educate after a parent has died. A thousand times I have been thankful that I don’t have to send my sons off to school when a grief wave has hit our home. We can curl up with a story like Geranium Morning by E. Sandy Powell or The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills and cry as we identify with the children in the stories. We can draw and write in our journals. We can take walks and go visit Daddy’s grave. We can fearfully embrace the sorrow instead of ignoring it or bottling it up.
Earlier this year on a particularly tough day, I asked my oldest son if he wished he wasn’t homeschooled. “No, Mom, you understand me, “was his reply. With the Lord’s help and the encouragement of others, I press on. It is my prayer that you can reach out to hurt homeschoolers around you and help them press on too.