Finding my new place among the pews in ‘widows’ row’

My husband Jim’s funeral was on a Saturday in our church. I sat in the front row with my stepdaughter Cheryl — other family and friends around us — as we said our goodbyes to the awesome man who was my husband.

I heard the heartfelt speeches of friends and family and the comforting words of our minister, and I prayed I would stay upright at the burial ceremony at the cemetery. I saw the eclectic mix of people attending the funeral, and for the first time, realized the reach my husband had had in the community. It was comforting and heart-wrenching all at once. What an awesome treasure and a great loss.

This photo and candle were part of Jim's funeral ceremony in the church, and now sit on their own small stand in a corner of my living room.

This photo and candle were part of Jim’s funeral ceremony in the church, and now sit on their own small stand in a corner of my living room.

I greeted each person at the reception, hugging many of them, crying with some. Many had come quite a distance to pay their last respects. One particular standout for me was my flyball team. (Remember flyball is a dog relay race team sport.) It was supposed to be our team’s Christmas party that day; instead nearly the entire team had come to the funeral and I found myself enveloped in a group hug that said so much more than words ever could.

All of the love and support that surrounded us that day was overwhelming and buoying, and I tend to remember it en masse rather than individuals.

The next day was Sunday morning and I had to make a decision. This was the time I would choose. Would I go to church and let my faith sustain me, or would I turn from the church in anger, as so many do after a great loss. I had been a member of All Souls for several years, but when I entered the church sanctuary that Sunday, I felt like a stranger, and a tiny feeling of panic was creeping through me. Where would I sit? Where was my place?

My searching eyes suddenly focused on a pew where there were several women who were widowed, some recently and some a while ago, and who just took comfort in being together — kind of a “widows’ row.” One of them hailed me to come sit with them. I walked into the church not knowing my place, and found it among those awesome women of God.

The sanctuary of All Souls Congregational Church on a recent Sunday morning. This was my view when I walked in five years ago the day after we buried Jim.

The sanctuary of All Souls Congregational Church on a recent Sunday morning. This was my view when I walked in five years ago the day after we buried Jim.

People seemed surprised to see me in church, since I had just buried my husband the day before. But I offered the caring people who kindly mentioned that fact a smile, and simply told them it was the first day of the rest of my life and I wanted to start it off right. I had made my choice.

I am a woman of faith. I follow Christian teachings to the best of my ability and I trust God to help me in my times of need. That’s an easy thing to say when life is going well. The true test is when it isn’t. When the worst thing that could ever happen to me happened — the death of my soulmate — I passed the test.

The group of widowed women in church, who ranged in age from 50s to 80s, gathered occasionally for meals and fellowship outside of the church and I started attending those occasions. It was informal and we laughed and joked, talked about problems unique to our status, and found comfort in each other.

But we weren’t just a group of widows; we were a group of Christian women who relied on faith for our strength. We were a group of women whose collective experiences could help each other, give each other courage to take the next step, assure each other that we could make it without our spouses, strengthen our bond with God.

There are many “God Moments” in my life in which the very thing I need appears, or a clear path to the thing I need most opens in front of me. I recognize them because they defy my own common sense.

Those Christian women sitting together in our church whose own lives were upside down and irrevocably torn in two provided one of those special “God Moments.” Standing at the back of my church home, not knowing where my place was anymore but knowing I had to be there, and seeing one of those sweet women beckon me to come sit with them, showing me at least a temporary place where I could belong, definitely was a God Moment.

Faith is so much more than attending church and observing holidays. It is its own journey and each person’s path is different. My faith journey has deepened my convictions. I have shared it with my best friend and with others in my life, but the core of it is personal. It helps define me and my reactions to life’s happenings, and above all else, it ensures that I am never really alone.



Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.