A friend of mine lost his wife to motor neurone disease a few months ago. Her death in only the first year of the onset of the disease was unexpected. Retired, he is involved at the local unemployed families centre where he volunteers in the office. He was faithful and loyal to his wife in sickness and in health and loved her passionately and with all his heart. Now that she has departed from this life he is a shadow of the person he was, abandoned and without hope. He cries, "at least once a day" saying that even a word, or a song can set him off.
Widows are martyred by love, because they are left behind. Perhaps that is why we are encouraged, notably by St James (whose holy letter urging the early Christians towards works of mercy, the nasty protestant, Martin Luther, apparently detested) to 'protect the widow and the orphan' because both are made orphans by death. They are abandoned and face the dereliction and sorrow of the Cross, often alone, and need a Simon of Cyrene. Time heals, but those who truly love bear the invisible but indellible wounds of Christ in their souls.
Being unemployed, off and on, for quite a long time, I strike up odd friendships with older people in a way I wouldn't were I working and mixed with colleagues of my own age. Also, at St Mary Magdalen's Church there are many retired people who have faced bereavement and been made widows. For these people, where once there was joy and intimacy, there is loneliness and isolation. The counsellor tells him that over time the pain will lessen and maybe that is true, but once you have been married to someone for 40 years and suddenly they are gone, how do you get over that? It is no wonder, in a way, that many people prefer transient relationships with 'no strings attached'. For who, having truly loved, would want to face the loneliness of the Cross.
Widows are marked by Love. Having poured themselves out to their spouse, in love, they are bereft when their spouse is taken. Whether they have faith or not, they witness to the love of Christ and Christ's Passion is made manifest in them. For this is the love that is God's, the love unto Death and beyond. They pay the price of loving and know what love really is. It is sweet and yet it is bitter and like Our Lady, they too know all too well, the sword that pierces the soul that loves. For widows, all of a sudden, this life becomes a vale of tears, an exile all too real, separated cruelly from the one whom their heart loves. Say a prayer for my friend and please the soul of his departed wife, a baptised Catholic. While he says he is coping with the support of friends, he is vulnerable to falling into and giving in to, despair.