My mother’s hands were cold and still. She lay with her eyes closed, her only movement coming from the effort of breathing. I had been by her side all night, listening to the rhythm of her breath, shaking with the shock that my mother was truly dying from the cancer we prayed God would heal.
Around 5:15 a.m., her breathing changed. We gathered closer to her bed. After several minutes, she sighed one long, last sigh, and with it, her spirit rose to a heavenly place.
I wept on her shoulder with my arms around her, then stood back so my sister could hug her. I sobbed at the foot of her bed. She had just turned 59, and I was 37. It was too soon for her to go, with too much of life ahead for her to miss and too much of my life ahead in which to miss her. In those first few horrible moments, I also wept that should I be blessed to ever have a wedding day, my mother would not be there to share it with me.
Mom’s death broke my heart. She was my confidant, my friend, my greatest cheerleader. I can’t begin to describe the pain of losing her, the layers of sadness and grief that assaulted me on that February day—layers that would need to be slowly unraveled and healed in the months to come. One of those layers was the reality of grieving alone as a single woman.
One example of when I felt that reality deeply was at the luncheon after Mom’s funeral as I searched for a place to sit. The hall was crowded; many people had come to support our family. But because I lived out of state, none of my friends were there. All the family tables were full and even had extra people around them; my sisters sat with in-laws or friends. I finally found a spot between a sister’s quiet father-in-law and her husband’s cousin, whom I’d never met. I was grateful to find a place near my sister, but that experience stands out as one of the loneliest ones during the two weeks I spent with my family after Mom’s death.
When I returned home, I certainly had caring and praying friends. If you’ve ever gone through grief, you know that it is overpowering and all-consuming, especially in the first year. I found it difficult to return to normal life with my friends, far away from the family who shared the loss with me.
There was, however, one very special person who shared every loss with me, and still does: the Holy Spirit. I love that Jesus called Him the Comforter, or the Helper (John 16:7). No one, not even a husband, could meet my need for comfort the way my loving Father did through His Spirit. In fact, Jesus promised this comfort to those who mourn (Matthew 5:7). I could list many examples of the ways He fulfilled this promise, but for my purposes here I’ve generalized three common places in which I desperately needed His ongoing comfort and strength as a single woman and how He met my need.
- The alone place. Most of my deep grieving time took place when I was alone; it wasn’t something I could generally express around friends. I did not have a shoulder to cry on. But in these alone times, I always felt I was grieving in the presence of the Lord. He promises to be close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), and I felt His grace and love in my heart as I poured all my thoughts, questions, and grief out to Him. He also led me to scriptures, songs, devotionals, and grief materials that spoke directly to my pain.
- The church place. At the time my mother died, I was attending one of my church’s smaller satellite congregations, where I felt out of place and often sat alone. Many Sundays, I struggled to go. But I did, and the Holy Spirit met me in my need, whether it was through a spoken word, an acknowledgement of my loss, or particularly meaningful worship songs. And on that first Mother’s Day when I just couldn’t go, being home allowed me to take a phone call that deeply ministered to me. As that first year progressed, there were even a few times when I was able to extend the comfort God had given me to someone else, just as His Word says (2 Corinthians 1:4).
- The workplace. I’d often heard of people drowning their pain through work, but I’m not one of them. Five years have passed, and I still remember the first day I went back to work after Mom died. I had a days-long training workshop to run, and I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t think I had the energy or focus to be a welcoming and cheerful trainer. But as His Word says, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13), and I did. In the following months, He also blessed me with unexpected kindnesses through my boss and colleagues.
I know that the comfort of a husband’s loving arms would have been a wonderful gift in that season of my life. But the comfort of the Holy Spirit was truly the greater gift, and sometimes I wonder if I would have received it as deeply and intimately as I did if I’d been married. The gift of His presence in my grief was the most redemptive part of my loss. He is truly the friend that sticks closer than a brother.