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In the first months of 2018, as my husband Doug began his decline in health, I began to have thoughts of what it might be like to be a widow some day. Doug had been such an integral part of everything I had done musically for decades that I could hardly let my thoughts go there. We had traveled the world giving firesides together for about thirty years and he had engraved all of my music for publication. I could always count on him to go anywhere and do anything in support of what we felt was our “music mission.” I couldn’t imagine my life without him. I assumed I would retire when he passed away.
Then on July 4, his strength suddenly failed dramatically. We kept a family vigil for two days and he passed peacefully to the other side, just two months short of our 60th wedding anniversary and my 80th birthday. I felt happiness for him knowing he was in a better place, and the love of family and friends carried me through his funeral and burial. On the first Sunday when I was alone, I didn’t feel emotionally strong enough to go to church and I realized I needed time to grieve alone and face my altered future. I went to Doug’s closet, hugged his clothing and buried my face in it and sobbed my heart out. I truly mourned through that day realizing that he would never be with me again for the rest of my life.
I lived my life in a bit of a daze for a while as family and wonderful ward friends so generously ministered to me. It was definitely a process adjusting to my new circumstance, but the clouds gradually began to part and my new reality seemed a bit more comfortable to me. One thing I felt quite sure of through the rest of that year, was that I wouldn’t be doing any more programs. Eighty was a reasonable retirement age after all. And I couldn’t imagine doing programs without Doug.
When the calendar turned to 2019, I began receiving requests to speak again and I had a decision to make. I thought of my mother who was a widow for 21 years. She always seemed happy and attributed it to her many hobbies and talents and giving service to others. She played piano in a dance band, accompanied the Senior Citizen Fun Band that performed now and then, she made quilts for all of her grandchildren, crocheted baby booties for every new baby born to her ward members, and she devoted 20 hours a week to researching Dad’s Dutch ancestry, preparing 40,000 names for temple work (back when they had to do it the hard way)! I thought I should probably look to her example of how to find happiness in widowhood.
I accepted a request to speak at a couple of assisted-living centers in our area and enjoyed seeing happy people there still enjoying life. People even older than me.
Then I accepted an invitation to speak at my favorite venue—a stake Relief Society Conference. My son John made it possible for me to do this by volunteering to go with me and set up and run the sound for me whenever I needed him. That was a turning point for me. I remembered how enjoyable it was to associate with women who projected such positive energy and stayed to shake hands and share music stories.
Our ward just started an Empty Nesters group and I joined in with them. I provided the program for them one month and taught them all about my wonderful husband because we had been divided into a new ward and none of them had known him at his best. I spoke at a Singles Fireside where about five hundred attended. They knew what it was like to be single, and now I was one of them who was learning from their positive attitudes, despite maybe some hard knocks in their life. Next I spoke to the Special Needs group (from 19 stakes) in our area, and you cannot be with them without feeling such positive vibes from the spirit they emanate! I was definitely starting to feel alive and motivated again due to my reaching out to others.
Another program followed at Thanksgiving Stake in Lehi, Utah. I was asked to teach a hymn writing class at BYU for one evening, where the students were each trying to write a hymn to submit to the Church for the upcoming new hymnbook. I’ve written over three hundred hymns during the last couple of decades so it is a favorite subject of mine. Helping them made me feel useful and happy again. I received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the LDS Film Festival in March, which bolstered my courage to keep writing. I spoke at a Relief Society event where I discovered a third cousin in my Dutch line and spent time with her. And finally, I attended my own stake’s Relief Society event and it was relaxing to just be attending and be fed. Several more speaking events are coming up. One of them is the LDS Widows and Widowers group whose convention is held on BYU campus in May. Now that I am one, they felt like they could ask me!
I had to reinvent myself for a time after Doug’s passing. On certain days I still miss him greatly but I try to picture him active and probably preaching on the other side and I do my best to feel happy on this side. My family has carried me, my friends have blessed me, my ward family has ministered to me, and giving service is completing my recovery and has given me new enthusiasm for living my life “after the manner of happiness.”