Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Learning to be Single Again

Leslie: A few years after the death of her husband, Margaret Nyman was surprised at the moments that brought back memories.

Margaret Nyman: In church I fixated on a man’s arm in front of me a few weeks ago because he had a wedding band on his hand that looked just like my husband’s wedding band. When he put his arm around his wife in church, I could hardly hold back my tears.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Thursday, March 1, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I'm so thankful to have with us in the studio this week Margaret Nyman, who has written a really helpful book of encouragement and ministry to widows for widows called Hope for an Aching Heart.

It’s a series of devotions. They’re short. They’re easy reading. There are lots of stories, and Margaret, you shared a lot out of your personal journey. It’s neat to see how in our lives the Lord allows us to go through things not only for our own sanctification, but so that ultimately we can be a blessing to others.

I’ve watched you in that journey. I watched your blog during the forty-two days that Nate was taken ill with pancreatic cancer. Your blog is called Getting Through This. I watched you not only get through it by God’s grace, but continuing to get through it with grace. You're now ministering grace to others.

Isn’t that what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1? God comforts us with His comfort so that we can end up being a comfort to others out of the comfort we have received from Him. So thank you for walking through this journey not only because you’ve had to but making it part of a ministry to others' lives. And welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Margaret: Oh, thank you so very much.

Nancy: The book is available in our resource center, and I hope many women will order a copy. It’s called Hope for an Aching Heart. We’ll be glad to send it to you if you call us or go online and let us know you’d like to have a copy for a donation of any amount to the ministry. I know it’s going to be a blessing not only to widows but to anybody who knows widows.

God has such a heart for widows. He says that true religion is that we care for widows and orphans. That’s a reflection of God’s heart for widows and orphans.

Something you said earlier on in this series, Margaret, I’d like to park on a little bit in these last couple of programs. You talked about how God’s in the details and how He met you with His providence and His grace and His help even when you didn’t know exactly what it was you needed. He knew.

I’d like to talk about some of the details of after you’ve lost a mate. The funeral’s over and now you’re walking into this whole new season of life. Let’s talk about some of the struggles, some of the challenges, and how God has met you there. I know one has to be that for all these years, nearly forty years in your case, you’ve been a wife, Nate Nyman’s wife, and now you have this new label—you’re a widow. Talk about that identity change and kind of the process that you went through in that.

Margaret: Well, nobody has the goal of becoming a widow. That is something we all look at as something negative. I think of stories, “Poor old Widow Smith up on the hill. Here, take some cookies. She doesn’t have a life. Go help her out.” That kind of thing in storybooks or even in the cartoon The Fox and the Hound the old Widow Tweed. She was kind of sweet and loving but a little out of sync with life.

Widow is a negative word. None of us really want that label, but that’s what we become. As you said, God speaks to needs of widows with a tender heart. That’s the good part that we should remember.

Becoming a widow—I think it takes a while for you to own that label. Not that that has to be your permanent label. I wrote a blog recently that talked about how we become a widow but we don’t really embrace what that means unless we have some time to understand how that’s going to change our life.

So for me, having been married just a few days short of forty years . . . We met when we were still twenty. We were kids getting married and grew up together and had our seven children together. Lots of history. I didn’t know how to act as a single woman. Older marriages are easy going. You’ve worked out the kinks, and you’ve quit trying to change him. Things that take us a long time to learn, you’ve learned those things. And then to have the person snatched you think, Really? Now I’m on my own? How can I ever do everything he did in our marriage, in our relationship?

Nancy: For example.

Margaret: For example, if you’re married to handyman and something goes wrong in house, what do you do? You’re just paralyzed. I remember standing in the middle of a room not knowing if I should go upstairs, downstairs, should I turn left or right in my own home? Widows are confused. We’re just confused about things. We don’t know what to do next. Any one of those things. Fine. Go to the basement and change the laundry. Go upstairs and make the bed. Any of them would be fine, but you stand there paralyzed because you don’t know what to do next.

That’s kind of the dislocation you get when you’ve been married all those years and now you’re alone. Marriage is intended to be two people coming together as one whole. And that’s why I think opposites attract. I think God did that on purpose. It makes marriage difficult sometimes with opposites living together, but it’s two halves of a whole. You’re better together than you were apart.

Nancy: And now half is gone.

Margaret: Yes. You’re used to that. It’s like you’re half wife, and you’ll fall over without it. So in Nate’s case, he was not a handyman, but he took care of all the insurance, all the bill paying, all the planning, all the car purchasing, and all of those things that were tough for me because I’m not a numbers person.

I took care of the home and keeping the kitchen going and then the kids things, telling him, “Okay, we have a baseball game this night. Clear your calendar. We have an award ceremony then.” I was the manager of what went on under our roof. He was manager of everything that went on outside. We blended it together, and we were good with that. Everybody was clear on what each one was doing.  

So he disappeared, and then what do I do about all of his stuff. I knew I wasn’t good with numbers. I knew I couldn’t fill out a 1040. Oh my word, it was a mountain I couldn’t climb. There were many of those. So what do you do? Well, God’s instructions are, “Find someone who can help you. I have other people who can help you. Say ‘yes’ to some of these things.”

Nancy: Did you have to take initiative and ask for help at some point?

Margaret: People would ask, “How can I help you?” Many people would say, “If you need anything, call.” A widow has to be willing to say, “I need somebody to help me with my taxes.”

Nancy: Was that hard?

Margaret: Very. Very. You don’t like to admit, “I can’t. I’m inadequate. This isn’t working.” My brother told me, “Alright. Here’s the things you immediately must attend to. Your health insurance. Your two dependent daughter’s health insurance. Your car insurance. Make those payments.” And he gave me a short list. Thankfully, I knew how to write checks and things which my own mother never did so that was harder for her. But I didn’t know anything about paying bills online. One of my kids taught me how to do that. Little by little by little and as you’ve all heard, there are mountains of paperwork to do after a husband dies, especially if it’s the breadwinner in the family.

I remember even at the funeral home them saying, “How many copies of the death certificate do you want.”

And I said, “I don’t know. Just one for me, I guess.”

And my brother who was sitting there said, “We’ll take twelve.” And twelve turned out not to be enough.

I thought, Well, what’s going to happen with those? But to get people off bank accounts and whatnot, you have to prove that they really died. So it’s so complicated.

But I think there are people who want to help. There are husbands of your girlfriends who are experts in areas that you need. My next-door neighbor who invited me to Bible study, her husband is the handyman par excellence. He would come over and just say, “Anything that needs doing? Do you have a list? What do you do?”

When I got a new dishwasher, he said, “Oh, I love putting in dishwashers.” He’s older than I am, and lying on the kitchen floor with his ribs on the edge of the cabinet. It was a pleasure for him. I don’t understand it. But there are people who are wanting to do something, and they just need to be told what to do.  

Nancy: I can imagine that there may be some listening who don’t have that kind of support around them. That’s why it’s so important before you get to this place to be plugged into a local body of believers so that if nobody is offering and in some cases that’s probably true, that you can go to the leadership of that church, the deacons, the elders, the pastor, the Sunday school teacher, whatever, and, hard as it may be to say, “Is there someone who could help me.”

There’s a need there. There may be kids in the youth group, depending on what it is, a business man in the church or those who can help. But it takes humbling at points, I think. As a single woman, I feel this at times. “I don’t know how to do this, or I can’t do all of this as one person. Is there somebody in the body who has gifts in that area?” Let people use those gifts really becomes a means of blessing them.

Margaret: Absolutely yes. That’s so true. Then there’s a whole emotional side of being single again after a long marriage where you miss your mate at places like weddings or banquets. Or places when you’ve been invited out with a group of couples, months into it when you’re beginning to accept social engagements again. You put things on your calendar and get dressed up and kind of begin to venture forth. You have be willing to tell your story when somebody says, “How did he die? Can you do that? Is it all right?” When you finally get to that point and you’re sitting at a banquet table with four other couples and you, this is another hump you have to get over.

Nancy: You feel like a fifth wheel?

Margaret: You feel odd. I remember the very first time that happened with me it was quickly after my husband passed away. That had never crossed my mind that I was going to be single. It seems ridiculous to say that, but I hadn’t thought about it at all. It was maybe two weeks after he died and a bunch of my family members were still at the house. I live near a local beach on Lake Michigan, and we walked to the beach.

There were two grandchildren. There was my two married couple’s offspring and me. So there’s three little couples and me. Now this is my own family who I love dearly, who love me dearly. It never occurred to them that I would be missing Nate, their dad, walking to the beach that day.

But what happened was, somebody had a camera and they said, “Oh, let’s take some pictures of the two grandchildren. Okay, Hans and Katy, you’re there. Linnea and Adam, you’re there.” And then oh, and then there’s me. I said, “Oh, you don’t have to take my picture.”

“No, no. Let’s take your picture.” It was just kind of an awkward moment.

Thankfully, God had even provided there. I had my dog Jack with me who’s my faithful companion. And I said, “Oh, take my picture with Jack.” I squatted down, and I looked at Jack, and he looked right at me. I still have that picture. I think it might be on one of my blogs way back there. The sunset is in the background, and I felt fine then.

But it was a moment of awareness of, “Okay. You’re single now. You’re going to have to make an effort now to be with other people in a new way. You’re going to have to work on that.” It took many months, and now I’m just fine with that. But even at a wedding, sitting at a wedding. I look and watch what's taking place. It’s hard because if a couple is sitting in front of you . . . It’s what I do in my head. It’s nothing they’re doing wrong.

Even in church, I fixated on a man’s arm in front of me a few weeks ago because he had a wedding band on his hand that looked like my husband’s wedding band. When he put his arm around his wife in church, I could hardly hold back my tears. And three years later this is where we are.

So there are moments like that, flashback moments or things that kind of take you by surprise. Every widow will say that. But it’s okay. It’s all right. Weeping or feeling sad over those things is progress, I believe. I believe you’re moving a little bit forward each time that happens.  

Nancy: So how can we be sensitive to this fact, because all our churches have widows. We do end up at these gatherings where it’s mostly couples. How can those who are not in that place be helpful, be sensitive. Do you say something? Do you not say something?

Margaret: You say something. Not saying something is the easiest thing to do. All of us have been there. I was there also. But you say something about their husband if you can. If you don’t know who he was, you can say something generic like, “When did he die?” or “How did he die?”

You might think, Oh, she doesn’t want to go back there. Oh, that’s where she wants to be. Oh, yes, if you know the person and have anything to say about that person. When someone you love dies, the stories that you make together, the memories end. You can’t hear anything fresh about that person. But if someone comes up to you and tells you, “Oh, you know . . .”

Some legal clients wrote to me and said, “I’ve never had a lawyer who was willing to bounce an eight-month old around the room to keep her quiet while we signed the wills he made for us. What a guy.” Wow! That was just like a gift-wrapped package to me. I didn’t know he’d done that. It was probably just something in passing, probably took a minute, and he never mentioned it.

To me, that kind of a thing, if you can tell that to a widow, even if you don’t have personal contact, you can say, “Your husband always looked so nice on Sundays. Did he have certain ties he liked better than others?” You can work to talk about that person. They want to talk about that person, and they cherish anything that you might say that’s good about their husband. So that’s one thing we can do for widows.

Nancy: What about in church, weddings, the banquet illustration? Coming up and sitting with them?  

Margaret: That’s good. Everybody likes to have someone sitting with them. 

Nancy: That’s an important thing to remember, though. I think for us to be looking out for those others who may be alone and may not have the courage to go strike up a conversation with somebody they don’t know or just to be alert and sensitive to those around us who are alone through not their own choice.

Margaret: If a widow has gotten the courage, the strength to set an alarm, to get up and get dressed up for church, and she’s appeared in church and she’s sitting by herself in a row, she’s almost at her limit in the early couple years. If people say about her, “Well, she’s sitting alone, I think she wants to be left alone.” In that situation it would be better to walk up and sit next to her and say, “Would you mind if I sit here?” That will mean everything to her, that will mean everything to her.  

Nancy: And not only to a widow but to a single mom.

Margaret: Yes! To anybody like that who has come to church to worship together, to be alone is not their first choice.

Nancy: Was it meaningful to you when couples would take an interest in including you or inviting you out or was that awkward?

Margaret: Um, yes. Being the first one to become widow in my group of girlfriends, it was difficult when we got together with the men. These were friends from decades. I do believe that with time you get used to that situation. But if you can invite another single person, another woman, that’s a good idea.

Sitting at a restaurant table together if it’s a couple, a couple, and two women, that works. Everybody has somebody next to them, somebody to partner with. Nobody’s alone at the end of the table. Those kinds of things, especially in the beginning, the first year or so of a widow’s life, mean a lot to her. So that’s kind of a little caution.

Then we’ve all heard these crazy stories about how women are thought of as chasing after other people’s husbands—that you shouldn’t invite a single woman. She might take your husband. Well this is silly. This is ridiculous. That’s the farthest thing from our minds, that we would ever go after someone else’s husband after forty years of marriage.

So I think it’s a new learning curve to be single again. It opens up that whole interesting area of whether or not you want to remarry again. Everybody has a different story. And either way, God is for it. If you do remarry or if you decide, “No, I don’t think this is for me.” Either way it is good, according to Scripture.

Nancy: And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul certainly indicates that for older widows, there are some advantages. In fact he says, “In my opinion, she’s happier.” Not because marriage is a bad thing because to the younger widows he encourages them to maybe be quicker to remarry.

Margaret: The older widows it’s a much more complicated story, because you’re blending families which we all know is difficult anytime it happens. It’s a strong effort on everybody’s part to make it work. When you have children and grandchildren and in-law children it becomes quite complicate on both sides. So I think Paul’s right on that one.

Nancy: Now that it’s been over three years, I’m not going to ask you to get into details, but I’m guessing there have been opportunities for you to consider remarriage.

Margaret: Yes. A couple of those, and it was flattering. I have to say that. Some of it has come through my blog. You know what we hear about Internet relationships and everything. But there’s been some interests. It’s nice. It’s kind of like the same feelings you had in high school and somebody invited you on a date. But it’s so complicated and far-reaching that I’ve just decided to keep my wedding bands on. I’m very content where I am.

A widow’s project is to get used to live alone, to be single again. I’ve worked really hard on that with the Lord tutoring me, showing me, helping me, showing me there is some freedom in being single that you don’t have when you’re married, trying to count those as blessings even while you’re missing a mate. It’s possible to do that. I’ll give you an example.

Nate did not like music in the background when people were having conversation. If he and I were talking about something, it was an irritation to him to have music. In my way of thinking, I like music twenty-four hours a day. I would put music on constantly. When he would drive in the driveway at night and I’d look out the kitchen window when he would be coming, I would snap off the music just as a loving thing to do. There was a little disappointment each time I did that, but harmony is valuable. So you do things little like that for each other.

Now I can play music twenty-four hours a day if I want, and I do play a lot of music now. That is a blessing to me. It seems almost disrespectful to Nate to say it’s a blessing I get to play music now. But if he was watching me or listening, he’d say, “Go for it. I don’t have to hear it.” Of course, there’s music there, too, but I don’t know how he’s coping with that. But anyway there are blessings.  

Nancy: It reminds me of my mother who gladly defer to my dad when it came to food issues. My dad could not eat any seasoning, spices, sauces, very extremely bland diet, nothing stronger than salt. I didn’t realize until after he died that she loved Tabasco sauce, things that she has really enjoyed since the Lord took him home. Of course, she would have much rather had him.

But as I’ve watched your journey and read some of what you’ve written, I think one of the things that has been helpful to you is finding causes for gratitude and seeing even little things that are matters of grace, that can be received as blessings from the Lord in this new season of life.

Margaret: Yes. And there are blessings in every day. You have to practice looking for them even through your tears. But God makes sure of that that there are blessings in every day. Sometimes there are dramatic blessings that are just fantastic morale boosters and nourish your relationship in Christ, too, bringing you closer together.

Leslie: I think all of us can take that counsel from Margaret Nyman no matter what our season of life. There are a lot of joys to be noticed alongside whatever is causing you grief. God has been leading Margaret and teaching her over the last few years through widowhood, and she’s written about her journey in a book called Hope for an Aching Heart: Uplifting Devotions for Widows.

This book will help you keep your eyes on the Lord in the middle of widowhood or any kind of loss. Margaret weaves her personal experience and Scripture together in sixty devotionals that will encourage you. We’d like to send you Hope for an Aching Heart when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Margaret has also written another book to help women walk through tough seasons. It's called Prayers for the Widow's Heart. You may want to look that one up too.

Tomorrow, Margaret Nyman explains why she feels like she’s been called to widowhood.

Margaret: I look at it as a calling. It’s a calling on my life for this season. So I don’t want to just sit and wait to be called to heaven now.  I know God has plans for me in the meantime, and I’m trying to listen carefully to what those are.

Leslie: Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.