The Third of May, 2007 was the day that my husband Mark died. The Third of May, 2007 was the day that I, for the first time in my otherwise rather charmed life, wished death upon myself. I was only 29 years old. Almost everything in my life has changed since then.
While living in an affluent suburb outside of Chicago, I felt alone in my grief as a young widow. I felt the loss of a level of expectation that perhaps only those living in first world countries have the luxury to possess so ignorantly. I had lost the American dream of the good-looking and successful spouse, the white painted fence, and the security of living life as I would design it to be. My sense of control was swept away by a harsh wave of realization that we, in fact, control little. I have since learned that it is best to live life with open hands as we cannot hold onto much of this life, no matter how tight our grip may be.
After my husband died I traveled to parts of Africa with a small group of individuals. I had been to Africa numerous times in years prior, but this time we visited a widow's colony and I met women who were not only widowed, but also forced to live on their own. These women had formed a community and the organization that I was traveling with was there to build them a well. We walked and talked with these women who had invited us into their lives. We also toured the neighboring villages where we were allowed into the homes of some of the residents. Stepping inside one of these tiny mud huts, my eyes swept across the otherwise bare mud walls until I noticed a small and frayed embroidered tapestry that said, "Learn to appreciate even the little that God gives you." Tears formed pools in my eyes as the impression of that tiny wall hanging was grafted on my heart. The framework for my expectations in life was forced to make a major shift. The experience opened my eyes and shook the dust off of long lost impressions from previous trips to third world countries. I realized that these women in Africa were my sisters. They were my sisters in grief and my sisters in hope as they taught me how to dance even through life's difficulties.
The experience of my visit certainly wiped out any self-pity that I was holding onto. Yes, I was widowed. Yes, I had experienced grief on a very deep level. Yes, my heart ached for my husband who I missed with everything in me. However, I was a young American woman who lived in a country in which I was free to pursue my own goals and dreams. I lived a life in which I was supported by those around me. My community didn't shun me, but instead supported me. I had much to be grateful for even in the midst of my pain. Glimmers of light began to appear in my otherwise dark soul. I felt connected, inspired, encouraged and full of purpose. The idea to bring widows from first world countries to visit widows in the third world was born.
I have found it to be a rare occurrence to feel such absolute vision and purpose. There have been very few times in which I felt as though I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. Writing my memoir was one and now this idea of taking young widows from America and Europe to visit their sisters in grief in Africa is another. I knew deep within that I was to pursue this. I had no idea when or to what magnitude, but the intention and purpose had been set firm in my otherwise feeble mind. I have expectantly waited and the timing has now presented itself. This October I have the honor to be traveling with a group of young widows from America and Europe to visit the work of two non-profits that assist widows in Kenya. I hope that this trip provides the space and opportunity for a group of women to support, encourage, and inspire one another. I pray that we will learn to live life with purpose and in gratitude for even the little that has been given. I desire for our hearts to feel joy in the midst of sorrow and perhaps most importantly, I long that we will learn to dance together as sisters through the grief with open hands and new purpose. We may not be able to control much, but we can choose gratitude and how to spend each and every day as it is given.