Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: After her husband passed away, Margaret Nyman struggled to accept a term people kept using.

Margaret Nyman: It’s a huge, huge word—“widow.” It’s dark; it’s negative, and it’s you. And you think, Okay, how do I do this? I don’t want to do this. I never wanted to be a widow.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Wednesday, February 28, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We’re talking this week with Margaret Nyman who’s written a book for and about widows called, Hope for an Aching Heart. It’s a book of devotions for widows. Let me read something that one of our staff wrote who read this book when it first came out. She said,

Originally, I thought this was a book for widows, but I’ve changed my mind. I think that every woman who is married, no matter her age, will benefit from reading this. I’ve learned how to be more sensitive and responsive to widows and understand what they’re going through. The author deals with so many issues that women face without a spouse. It's not so much giving advice as illustrating how we can trust God to reveal Himself and give us wisdom in each situation.

I agree with that assessment of your book, Margaret, and I’m so glad you started by writing a blog when Nate was sick, and over those forty-two days before the Lord took him home. But then you’ve continued writing. I’m so glad you’ve put together this book, which I think is such a great resource for women in this season of life.

So thank you for writing it. Thank you for living it with grace. And thank you for being here to share it with our listeners.

Margaret: I sure thank you for having me here.

Nancy: That book’s available in our resource center, by the way, for anyone who would like to have a copy. Just make a donation of any size to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, and we’ll make that resource available to you. Your gift will help this ministry keep reaching out into the hearts of women in this country and all around the world. The book is called Hope for an Aching Heart.

Over the last couple of programs, we've talked about the season of Nate’s illness—sixty-four years of age, and in forty-two days, he was gone. Not what you would have planned or scripted at all.

Then comes this whole matter of dealing with the funeral. I know my family has been there many times. Your family has been there in other times, but not with your husband. You’ve got seven young adult children at that point, and Nate’s not there to do the planning and the directing. Just walk us through what that season looked like for you.

Margaret: I would say one of the big treats of parenthood, which I can encourage all you moms of young children with, is to find out the strength that can come through your adult children, the friendships, the bonding that goes on. In this situation, when my husband passed away, our oldest son, Nelson, was thirty-seven at the time. He just stepped up in a way that was so comforting and reassuring.

Nate died at home, Even before the funeral home had come to take his body, Nelson had already called and made arrangements to begin planning the funeral. Nate died in the evening at 7:30 or so, and we sat up till quite late, almost 4:00 in the morning. But we sat around talking—my children, my two in-law children, and me—about what we should do for a funeral.

Their dad had worked his whole life in Chicago as a lawyer in downtown Chicago. He loved the city. He loved the history of Chicago. Our family has a plot at Rose Hills Cemetery in Chicago which has a lot of famous people buried there. There’s a lot of history at that cemetery.

We went there as a family every Memorial Day to talk about the ones buried there from our heritage—all strong believing Christians, none of whom feared death, but all who accepted death, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, as just part of life as a passageway into true life in eternity with Christ.

So we would go there and talk about the people. We’d bring pictures. My sister has a notebook with writings from them. We’d read aloud, have our own little mini-service every Memorial Day. Then we’d go to McDonalds, and then we’d play baseball. It was just part of our family’s heritage for decades.

We have picture of my mom and dad standing, planting flowers and doing all those things, and now they’re buried there. I have a picture of Nate, standing on top of the place where his body was going to be buried a few months later, talking about somebody who was buried there at the cemetery.

My mom, who’s now buried there also, used to say to the grandkids, “Don’t be nervous about coming here. Don’t be nervous about my old body lying down there under the ground. I’m not there. I’m with Jesus, dancing and running around in heaven, waiting for you. And I’ll be watching for you when you come.”

So it was a kind of a lighthearted thing that we used to go to the cemetery and enjoy those visits. Well, now it came to be our turn to plan Nate’s funeral and go to that cemetery. But I thought it might be good to start a new tradition since we’d moved to Michigan. There’s a little country cemetery in Michigan that’s small and has cornfields around it and beautiful wildflowers. It’s very pastoral. I thought it might be nice to have him buried close to where my new home is in Michigan, my little, old cottage there.

The kids, we sat around the table. Nelson took the lead, and he said, “Well, what would Papa—they called him Papa—want us to do?” And the consensus was, “Go to Rose Hill in Chicago.” That persuaded me. I wanted to do what he would want.

So they began planning the funeral. The day after he died, my oldest two boys went to Chicago, met with my brother who lives in Chicago. I never had to do those wrenching tasks of picking out a coffin or any of that. They just took over and did all of that.

At home we worked on a program, and we wanted the Lord to be glorified in the hymns and everything that happened. The funeral itself took place three days later. We all went to Chicago, stayed at my sister’s overnight, and the children all had a part. I don’t think I could have ever stood up at my own parents’ funeral and had a part. But they each stood up and said or did or read or prayed. It was so meaningful to me, sitting in the front row there, immobilized and shaky, watching that lineup of my seven plus two in-law children speak good things about their dad. So it was not negative.

When we pulled up to the cemetery, it was a familiar place where we’d all been since we were little, and we’d all loved to come. Although this time we were sitting in the chairs in front of the coffin, and that part was difficult, it was about as easy as it could be on this side of eternity, to deal with something like that. As Christians, I think it’s good for us to talk to our families about earthly death.

It’s just a channel or a passage or a way through to something that’s so spectacular. God tells us, “If you can imagine it, that isn’t it. It’s better than that. It’s something better than you can imagine.” And that’s the focus of being there. It’s just a quick dip into the cemetery and then on to the glorious life of eternity.

Nancy: Thanks to Christ.

Margaret: Thanks to Jesus.

Nancy: Apart from whom death would be and is an irretrievable loss.

Margaret: Yes.

Nancy: So it is Christ who killed death. He put death to death because of His death. This is where, I think, the difference is so huge between those who know Christ and those who don’t. That’s the difference between having hope or not having hope.

During that season surrounding the funeral, those days, weeks, was there something that caught you off-guard or something that you weren’t expecting that was a big surprise to you about those very early days?

Margaret: There’s one funny thing, and this is the Lord. He tries to get us through these miserable situations in the best way possible. I was wearing nylons that were gripped with a rubbery type of lace at the top—you ladies will know what I’m talking about—and one slipped down.

Nancy: During the funeral?

Margaret:Yes. During the funeral, one slipped down. I leaned over to my daughter and said, “Oh no! My nylon’s going down to my ankle!” I had a skirt on.

She leaned over and said, “Well, pull it up.”

I said, “I can’t pull it up.” This is while we were sitting there. I said, “I can’t pull it up without lifting my skirt.”

She said “Well then, just let it fall.”

And the two of us were sitting there, kind of thinking that it was almost like the Lord saying, “Don’t dwell on this moment. This is hard. You’re sitting in front of your husband’s casket. This is difficult. There’s going to be good, fun times coming. Don’t worry about that kind of thing.”

God has become such a friend to me. The Lord has been so close to me—just walking through every pace of this with me, even to the point of dotting that day with a couple of little, humorous things. And I think, What a God He is to know exactly what we need and when we need it like that.

Nancy: Did you go back immediately to your Michigan cottage after the funeral?

Margaret: We did. We went back after the meal. There was a lunch that friends put on, and then we went straight back there. Then you stand in your room, and you say, “Now what?”

Nancy: So when was the first time you were alone in that cottage?

Margaret: I was alone maybe several weeks after that, and I craved to be alone by that time. There was so much life going on around us that I felt like I couldn’t break down. Everybody was putting their arms around me, saying, “How are you doing? How are you doing?” And you just feel like you have to say, “I’m fine. I’m okay” because I felt if I fall down, the children would to, even the grown kids. They were all struggling, too.

But when I finally got alone, in a Michigan winter, going through the winter, that’s when my deep mourning began.

Nancy: Do you remember when you first really melted down?

Margaret: I was walking the dog outside in the snow with my boots and heavy gear on, in Michigan. It was about midnight. I used to (and still do) take him on his last walk of the day around midnight. I knew I wouldn’t be caught crying and wailing, really, for my sadness of missing my man. 

I had earphones on, and I was listening to a Moody Church concert. I was that song that talks about “what is man that You are mindful of him, God, so small and insignificant compared to the night sky and the universe and the galaxies, and all that we can look up and see?”

I looked up between all these trees that had no leaves on them, so you could really see the sky just loaded with stars, and I just fell apart. I just absolutely fell apart and just started wailing. The dog was looking at me like, “What is wrong?”

I was just crying out to God and saying how sad I was and just being honest with Him. That’s the cool thing about a relationship with the Lord. You can just tell Him what you think. He wants us to do that. He knows, but He wants us to get it out, to say it.

Nate always used to tell all of us, if he’d catch somebody crying during those forty-two days . . . Sometimes he would hear me whimpering a little bit, and he’d say, “That’s okay. Cry and let the sadness out. A little bit of sadness comes out when you cry.” And that night a lot of sadness was coming out.

That idea of us being small and God being big, there’s a purpose of that in Scripture—to worship Him, admire Him, just be in awe of Him, and yet, at the same time, He was big in my small life, to the point where He was getting me through what I was getting through in a personal, intimate, friendship kind of way.

It’s a mystery. We can’t explain why He would have any interest in helping somebody like me who’s full of flaws and errors and sins and things, and yet, He is extremely interested in that. His Son died because of that. He’s a personal God who wants to help each one of us right where we are in the battle we’re going through.

My little blog is called, GettingThroughThis.com. All of us have things we’re trying to get through—always. As I’ve always told my kids, “If you are in a period where everything’s happy right now, and everything’s peaceful, and everything is going along just really good, just know that this is not real life. This is just a little period of nourishment and rest for you to get you ready for what’s coming because real life is full of trouble—Jesus said so."

Nancy: Yes.

Margaret: The world’s going to have trouble. You can count on it. So what we were going through was some of the trouble, but He was there with us.

Nancy: That passage, by the way, that that the song is based on is Psalm chapter 8, and some of our listeners may want to just pick up that psalm and turn to it and have that gracious reminder that though God is so great, and we are so small, yet He cares for us.

I’m thinking of that great teacher of the past, G. Campbell Morgan, who said, “The supreme need in every hour of difficulty and distress is for a fresh vision of God. Seeing Him, all else takes on proper perspective and proportion.”

That’s what I hear you describing, that you were weak and small and needy and frail at points, and yet it’s the looking, lifting your eyes up, though they’re filled with tears, and seeing His greatness and His goodness and His compassion and His care. That is what sustained and strengthened you, not only through that season, but continues to as you continue to get through this season.

Margaret:Yes.

Nancy: What was it, do you think, Margaret, that kept you from staying overwhelmed, weeping, discouraged, grieving, sorrowing? Because I think there are points when you just want to curl up, go to bed, and never get up again. What lifted your heart and kept you from staying in that place?

Margaret: Well, I have to say that in the beginning I was really hiding behind the “widow” word. I just said “no” to everything. In my new little church in Michigan, the women there were so kind to me. Nate and I had been going to a different church that was about twenty minutes away. It was a large church because we’d always been in large churches, and we were comfortable there. My next-door neighbor belonged to a very tiny church. She just kept inviting me to the women’s Bible study.

She said, “It’s just a group of twenty of us or so, and we meet every Tuesday morning. It’s real low key, and you don’t have to do any homework if you don’t want to—you can just come.” And I’d say, “Oh, thanks anyway, but no.” And then the next month she would ask me again. I’d say, “Oh, maybe another time, but no.” And I’d say “no.”

And then she’d invite me over to supper, and I’d say, “No, no.” I just said “No, no, no, no,” to everyone who called, everyone who wanted to come. I just wanted to be alone.

Nancy: So if you could do that again, are you glad that that’s the way you handled it, or do you wish you had said “yes” a few of those times?

Margaret: Well, there are widows who I have talked to who wanted everything but being alone. They wanted to be surrounded by people—human voices, hugs, physical contact. So it’s up to that particular person. I think when we’re talking to other widows, we need to say that. “What would you like? Would you like for us to leave you alone, or can we come over with a meal?”

Nancy: So there’s not one right way to do this.

Margaret: I don’t think there is. It depends a lot on how long the illness was, and if someone has a very long illness, some of that grieving goes on well before the death. If it’s a quick one, I think then the grieving blasts you just like a wild storm. Sometimes you need to do that by yourself. Most widows, I would say, don’t want to “lose it” in public. So you bottle up, and you hold it in, and when you’re alone, you can wail or do whatever you feel like you need to do.

I found I needed to spend so much time talking to God, and wanted to, that I didn’t need to talk to other people. I was just kind of a hermit for a while.

Nancy: Was that a danger that that would go on too long?

Margaret: I bet it could in some lives. For me, it was a nourishment.

Nancy: Okay.

Margaret: I think everybody is different, and we need to be real careful and not jump in when we’re not invited or not fail to invite when somebody needs it.

Nancy: I was just going to say . . . as you look back, did it bother you that those people kept asking, or was that okay?

Margaret: It didn’t bother me. It bothered me that I kept saying “no” because I thought, They don’t understand. They really don’t understand. I think that’s the way a widow’s life is. It’s up and down, up and down. Invite me out, but, no, I don’t want to come. Ask me to your concert, but I don’t want to be there.

Part of the problem is when you get introduced as a new widow it’s, “Here’s my friend, Margaret. She just lost her husband.” It becomes your wrap-around identity at a time when you’re struggling to get that identity and make it part of you.

It’s a huge, huge word—“widow.” It is dark; it’s negative, and it is you. And you think, Okay, how do I do this? I don’t want to do this? I never wanted to be widow. Not to mention all the battles going on when you’re missing your man in particular. You can’t even talk to him.

When you’re saying “no” what you’re saying “no” to is, “Don’t introduce me as a widow. Don’t make me make small talk with people I’ve never met before. Don’t say, ‘This is my friend, Kelly, and her mom’s a widow.’ Give me a minute to get used to this.”

That’s what I was rebelling against . . . well, not rebelling really, but shying away from. But eventually, months later, my patient neighbor, who has become now a dear friend, kept gently saying, “Would you like to come? Let me know.” But she didn’t just say, “You call me if you want to come,” because I would never have called.

But one day I said, “Okay. I’ll come.” When I walked in to that Bible study, it was half widows, and all of them farther along in the journey than me, and I absolutely sat down among them and felt like I had come home. It was something God had prepared.

It might have been fine to have gone that very first month. I probably could have done it, and they would have stepped forward to me. I was ready; they knew about me, and I stepped in there with my neighbor. I’m still going to that same Bible study three years later.

Widowhood is as much a beginning as marriage is. It’s not one we look forward to, but it is a beginning, and you can make of it what God wants you to make of it, or you can bundle up and stay like I was. There was that little hermit phase for me that lasted several months. But after that, it was like God said, “Okay, we’re going to continue to mourn, but the tsunami is behind you. I think we can do something for someone else now. This’ll be good for you.”

My sister, who is my dearest friend, doesn’t understand widowhood like I do because I’m a widow, and she’s not. I think every widow needs another widow. You need someone who’s already walked down the path, as you talked about the headlight on the stepping stones of a path, you need someone who’s been down that path before you to say, “What you’re feeling is normal. Here’s how I coped with that. Here’s what’s right around the corner for you—at least it was for me.” You feel at home in the life of that person.

In thinking of how to work that through for a widow (you might know who’s a new widow), I think getting together with another widow in the group, you’ll see that person gravitate over there. I’m the first widow in my group of girlfriends. They’re dear to me, and they’ve come and ministered and given and given and given, and without them, I’d be lost, too. But widow to widow is important, too. That’s part of it.

Nancy: And thank the Lord for that neighbor who kept asking and was patient.

Margaret: Bless her. Her name is Linda Miller.

Nancy: She didn’t push, but kept making herself available. So lots of different roles there. You see your girlfriends who weren’t widows, your sister, this neighbor lady, and the widows in that group. Isn’t that a picture of the body of Christ?

Margaret: Yes.

Nancy: It's a picture of how we need each other and can be a part of each other’s lives in different ways and in different seasons.

Margaret: Yes, and the word for us all in trying to help another widow is, like you say, not to give up. Be gentle, and not to feel like, “Well, she just doesn’t want to come. What’s the use? I’m just going to quit asking. She just doesn’t want to.” But see, that’s going to change . . . that all changes. Just gently continue to ask. The one thing we all know that isn’t good is just to say, “If you need anything, just give me a call.” No one is going to call. Just throw out some things.

Nancy: Margaret, there’s so many more questions I want to ask you, and I know our listeners want to hear more about your journey and how the Lord ministered grace to you through His people. We’re going to pick up our conversation on our next program, but I want to encourage our listeners to get a copy of your book, Hope for an Aching Heart.

It’s a series of really uplifting, helpful, practical, encouraging devotions for widows—but not just for widows. I found myself just getting greater understanding of how I can care for and be involved in the lives of widows that are in my pathway. So a great book, and just for the whole issue of dealing with loss, dealing with grief, and finding God’s grace and His peace in the midst of that.

That book is available in our resource center for a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Give us a call at 1–800–569–5959 and let us know you want a copy of the book for widows, and let us know what gift you’d like to make to the ministry. Or you can visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

We’ve also placed on our website a link to Margaret’s blog, and I know that for many women this is going to be a great and helpful resource. Her blog is called GettingThroughThis.com, and you can get to this blog by checking in at our website, ReviveOurHearts.com.

Be sure to join us for the next Revive Our Hearts as we continue this special conversation with Margaret Nyman.

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

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