1C7526_comp   colleen phillips

Lewis is still gone.

Some large part of me still deflects this grim reality.

Last evening I had to get some medical procedures done and they were more than a little painful and invasive of my personal privacy.  Any other time, now for forty years, he would have been at my side, holding my hand, and there to continue to calm me on the way back home, a true buffer and ballast in my distress.

I went home and sat on the edge of the bed and cried out for him.  “Help me,” I sobbed.

I am so, so alone.

A neighbor man has tried to befriend me.  He is more than a little helpful, a thoughtful, complex and intelligent man who is grieving still in buckets himself.  His much beloved wife died of cancer after a four year long period of difficult treatment and final decline:  hopes were built and then broken when the cancer re-emerged to ravage her lovely frame and presence.

He is much further along of course.  Well, maybe not.  One cannnot measure such things.  But he seems to be gaining some security of direction in his life and his has been over many of the agonies that I am enduring.  And more.

I need his comfort and the comfort of others, but I am so afraid and I feel embarrassed about the extent of my needfulness.   Because he is a man and had been a virtual stranger, I am finding it particularly difficult to share and be open with him.   Last week at church another man whom I have known now for about twenty years came up to me and started speaking in extraordinary compassion and empathy to me.  He told me about his own experience, not so long ago, when he had lost his wife of many, many years.  Somehow, because I had known him longer, it was a little easier to share some of my scary thoughts with him.

He is quite happily married again, and I have enjoyed moments with him and his new wife over a number of occasions these last couple of years, including some time together at a parish retreat.  His wife is warm and bubbly, but at the same time very calm.   He is more quiet, and in all these years of knowing him, I could not have imagined just how real and present he could be until he spoke with me Sunday morning.  I felt his compassion so deeply.   And he sought me out.

In all these years of being married to Lewis, I have not often talked intimately with other men, except for client contacts and these are unique because of the discipline of my work.

But now, here are these men and they are truly present in a way only a man can be there for a woman.  I can feel their strength, their kindness, their willingness and commitment to help me sort through my distress and this immense upheaval in my life.

I feel something quite similar when I speak with my sons.   They do not rush our phone calls.  They listen for me and give me time to breathe.  Time for silence and reflection.  And willingness to listen to my tears and anguish.

I understand now why the Hebrews (and also the Punjabs, Tibetans, and Mongolians) had the practice of expecting the brother of a deceased husband to care for his widow.   I understand these scriptural references to widows now as I could never understand them before…

The psalmist says that God is a defender of widows in Psalm 68 (also see Deuteronomy 10:18) and that God’s compassion goes out to them because of their difficult situation.  Jesus was so compassionate for a widow that he raised her son from his bier and delivered him to his mother again alive.  According to the New Testament, Peter raised Dorcas from the dead because of the broken-heartedness of her widowed sisters in Joppa.

Lewis has been my rock for forty-three years.   How can I live without  him?

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