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Comfort … after the loss

Widows share how they find strength and direction after losing a spouse

By Miriam Testasecca

Death of a spouse is emotional surgery when one part of a marriage unit is removed. As in physical surgery, pain is present; healing must take place.

According to Doug Manning in Comforting Those Who Grieve, the four stages of grief recovery are shock, reality, reaction and recovery. Stages may not be in succession, and the surviving spouse may revisit a phase of a stage that has already been completed.

Twice widowed

Janis Burroughs lost her first husband, Frank, in a construction accident when she was 22. Immediately following his death, she was only able to function with the aid of medication. She experienced periodic disorientation, depression and loneliness. No one told her these were normal.

Through her darkness, eventually she heard God’s voice: "Be My witness." Although she was a young believer, she found healing through fellowship and reaching out to others.

Two years following Frank’s death, she married Alan Burroughs. They felt called to serve as agricultural missionaries. While waiting for God to open doors, they raised four children and were active at Salem Assembly of God in Salem, Ill. Janis began working toward a degree in agriculture education.

On Easter morning, April 4, 1994, Alan and Janis sent the children to church without them, while they dealt with problems on the farm. As they spent time together that morning, Alan expressed his gratefulness for their good marriage of almost 20 years. The next day he was killed in the grain bin.

At times Janis blamed herself for not going to the grain bin with him. As she questioned God, she guarded against bitterness.

Realizing God still had a plan for her life, Janis finished both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Southern Illinois University, taught high school classes, became Christian education director at Salem Assembly and taught an adult Sunday school class. She also spent a month as a short-term missionary in Romania.

On September 13, 1999, Janis, now an Assemblies of God missionary associate, went to Bangladesh where she is using her agricultural skills.

Janis admits she’s had difficult days, but God’s tender care continues to bring her through.

Widowed with children

Lourdes Millan, a practical nurse in a factory, was serving the Lord at First Assembly of God, John 3:16 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, as Missionettes director and treasurer, when her husband, Salvador, walked away from the Lord and their three children.

Months later Lourdes received news that Salvador was dying of liver failure. She held tenaciously to Acts 16:31: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household" (NIV).

Salvador’s life was spared, and their marriage was restored. Two years later he became a believer. Lourdes says, "It was like the difference between night and day."

Salvador died on March 6, 1989, eight months after his conversion. Soon the factory closed where Lourdes had been working. She went on to become a registered nurse. Her three children have now graduated from college and are serving the Lord.

She works at Maranatha Village in Springfield, Mo., and is planning to travel with Assemblies of God HealthCare Ministries.

How churches can minister to widows

When terminal illness invades a family, most churches are sensitive to the needs. At death, the body of Christ is quick to comfort and assist the mourning. Rarely, however, is a church prepared for long-term ministry to a grieving spouse. People are simply too busy or may not be aware of the needs.

Widows differ in age, economic and family status, giftings and emotions. Every widow, however, needs a listener. In one church, the widows formed a support group to clean the home, bring food, run errands, help with legal details, gather for fellowship, be available for middle-of-the-night calls and assure the widow that her emotional instability was normal. Each new widow was included in social and prayer times.

Here are other ways to help:

• Establish a widows fund to assist when finances or a counselor are needed.

• Have a team of men available to undertake small house and auto repairs.

• Prepare a list of volunteers who are available to baby-sit.

• Place books in the church library or give books that relate to grief.

In the Old Testament God gave laws to provide for and protect widows. The Early Church established the office of deacon to ensure equal care for both Hebrew and Greek widows. James admonished his readers to look after the orphans and widows as part of "pure and faultless" religion (James 1:27, NIV).

We, as 21st-century believers, must comfort and help those who grieve.

— Miriam Testasecca

Lourdes finds comfort through fellowship with the Lord and ministry to others.

Widowed after retirement

Ella Duckworth, a practical nurse, and her husband, Harold, an electrician, raised three children. They ministered to children in Charleston, W.V., and to teen-agers in Gainesville, Fla.

Twenty years ago the Duckworths moved to Ocala, Fla., where they became members of First Assembly of God. Ella organized 12 daily prayer chains and a weekly women’s prayer service.

Harold had four heart attacks in 10 years. Ella grieved as she watched him grow weak and struggle for breath.

Following his death, after 54 years of marriage, she was surrounded by loving children and her church family. She continued coordinating the prayer ministry and a nursing home outreach.

When loneliness and sadness come, she turns to promises in God’s Word such as Isaiah 41:13: "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you."

Although now challenged by physical limitations, 81-year-old Ella concentrates on the needs of others.

Widowed with young child

Helen Brouillette was married to Paul, an active man who played racquetball and roller bladed. On June 23, 1996, his aorta ruptured while he was teaching the adult Sunday school class at St. Paul Evangelical Church (Assemblies of God) in Lexington, Mass.

Helen, his wife of 12 years, was now alone with 2 1/2-year-old Jessica.

Helen had attended an Assemblies of God church in California sporadically during high school. She became a cocktail waitress and became involved in drugs. In desperation she prayed, and within two weeks she moved to the East Coast. There she worked next to a Spirit-filled believer.

Helen surrendered to the Lord and started attending the Assembly of God in South Attleboro, Mass. There she met and married Paul, who had been delivered from drugs, graduated from Teen Challenge and had been on staff at Youth Challenge Center in Rehrersburg, Pa. They graduated from Zion Bible Institute and Central Bible College. At the time of his death Paul was attending Gordon-Conwell Seminary.

Helen struggled as a single parent. She was troubled with regret, because the last months of their marriage were stressful as they balanced school, work, a toddler and church responsibilities. She became convinced she had failed Paul and God. Her grief intensified as she heard Jessica cry for her father.

Christian friends brought groceries and listened as she verbally processed grief and anger. She claimed Jeremiah 29:11: " ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ "

Nearly a year following Paul’s death, she heard the Lord speak to her heart: "My purpose for you did not end with Paul’s death." Today Helen attends Gordon-Conwell Seminary and is Christian education director in her church.

Solomon said, "There is … a time to be born and a time to die ... a time to weep and a time to laugh" (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2,4). Even in the midst of deep sorrow, God’s children find joy in His presence, peace in pain and hope for the future.

Miriam Testasecca is the widow of Anthony Testasecca. She works in Foreign Missions at the Assemblies of God Headquarters and lives in Springfield, Mo.


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