The transition from wife to widow takes time and usually lasts much longer than most of her community will stick around for. The reality is that 75% of her people disappear within the first year. Sadly this is normal, and even though it’s hard, in widowhood change is necessary and should be expected.
The period of time after the initial shock of grief (newborn grief) ushers the widow into a new and challenging season. During this time of constant change and finding new normals, the widow’s experience can be compared to that of a toddler. The toddler years are busy and so much growth is taking place: frustration, tantrums, tears, learning communication, creativity, and shifting toward independence. As the widow in this season faces new challenges, she may feel like a lot of hard growth is taking place. If she is a mom who has parented through this phase, she will understand that it is just that, a phase, and learn to appreciate the beauty in the struggle. Just like the butterfly that will emerge from the cocoon, so will the woman who has been left alone.
In the dark and lonely days of newborn grief, God is with her as she begins to process the loss of her husband. He is also there as she experiences the reality of her toddler stage of grief.
6 ways to understand the “toddler stage” of grief:
- The struggle and strain towards independence are necessary. In contrast to the early season of grief. family and friends may need to pull back so that she can push forward. No longer does she need to be carried as the early years required. She will find that she can do more than she ever imagined.
- Anger may be experienced as she learns new life skills. Moving from dependence to independence is not easy. In fact, it is frustrating, painful, and downright maddening. It takes time to train a toddler to do the things they are capable of. Their emotions explode and are often out of control. It is the same way for the widow. Approach her with grace, understanding this is a hard learning curve for her.
- Activity will resume. The first year of grief is often quiet and still. The widow asks who am I now that my husband is gone? It takes time, but she will discover new interests and focus that gives her a new purpose to engage in. She might want to get dressed and go out for the first time in a while.
- Community is still necessary. God designed us to need others, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor; for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NASB)! The widow will be tempted to isolate but will thrive if she seeks out support from others walking the same road.
- She welcomes reminders of the past. Remembering is taught in scripture, especially when it comes to looking back and reflecting on the faithfulness of God. Sharing a memory of her loved one is a thoughtful way to show kindness and compassion. Rarely will she turn away a good story or opportunity to reminisce. (If you are unsure if she would want you to share, just ask, “Can I share a memory of your husband with you?”).
- Grief will give way to hope for the future. Pain and suffering are part of life. In fact, the Bible teaches that trials are necessary (1 Peter 1:6). Once she has wrestled and worked through processing her loss, she will be amazed at how far she has come, spurring her to press on.
We’ve often heard it said, the days are long, but the years are short. This not only applies to the toddler years but also to the years of grief. Every stage prepares the way for the next and soon the widow, experiencing the toddler stage of grief, will be ready to spread her wings and soar like never before.