After losing her husband of 38 years to a painful battle against lung cancer, Carol Cornish walked through seasons of shock, grief, loneliness, and healing. Cornish’s compassion and biblical wisdom will help mourning widows find comfort and joy in the sufficiency of God as well as set an example for pastors and counselors ministering to widows.
Check out an excerpt from Carol's recent interview based on her new book The Undistracted Widow:
How are churches doing in ministering to widows? Where are they lacking?
My impression is that help is adequately provided around the time of the death, but that ongoing ministry could be improved. In fact, ongoing ministry to older people in general needs improvement. Churches seem focused, like our culture, on youth. Ministry to older people is a low priority if a priority at all. While it is common to hear a lot about the church’s obligation to nuclear families or to orphans, how many times do you hear about concern for widows that leads to intentional ministry to them? Somehow we’ve overlooked the clear and consistent message in the Scriptures that God has deep concern not only for orphans and other vulnerable persons among us but certainly also for widows. I sometimes get the sense that because a fair number of widows and other older people live in retirement communities and because many have pensions and government support that the church assumes all of their needs are being met. But that is a misguided assumption.
In what ways did your church best help you as you grieved? What could they have done better?
My church best helped me in a number of significant ways:
- Prayer: Congregational prayer for us on Sunday mornings, with my husband and me in our home, in small group meetings, consistent, fervent prayer from the leadership of my church and from people in the congregation.
- Consistent Contact: Email, phone calls, cards, visits – we knew we were not alone in the struggle against cancer and failing health.
- Meals and other offers of practical help: Our assistant pastor even loaned us a dehumidifier to dry out a wet basement.
- The support of other widows after my husband’s death: They were my beacon in the darkness showing me how to go on.
- The funeral service at the church and the reception after the graveside service: I felt so surrounded by the strength and love of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I honestly cannot think of anything they could have done better. They were a model of how to do it right.
As individual Christians how can we best minister to widows? How should the church specifically minister to widows?
The best way to help a widow is to get to know her well and to minister the "one another’s" of the New Testament to her. Include her as part of your family. Don’t assume anything – check it out with her. Will she be alone on holidays? Ask her. Does she need help around the house? Take your rake or shovel over to her home and help her with maintenance tasks that overwhelm her.
A church in our area has a sign-up sheet in the lobby for anyone who needs help with grass, leaves, and snow. The youth ministry then provides the elbow grease for helping with these tasks. What a powerful and practical way to show the love of Christ! What a powerful witness to neighbors and communities!
Those in church leadership who are responsible for the care of members need to respectfully and sensitively ask if she needs financial help. Find out if and how family members are in contact with her and if they are caring for her. If they seem to be neglectful, explore with them what they think their role is in caring for her.
If she resides in a nursing home or retirement community, she is still the church’s responsibility. Be sure to visit on a regular basis and find out how she is being cared for. Ask her questions about the care and services provided. Make sure the staff knows that you look in on her on a consistent and frequent basis.
Any faithful widow left truly alone is the church’s responsibility. The church must be her advocate so that she is not abused and neglected.