about writing and life and God

One is one and what does the church do about it?

on July 17, 2013

On Monday afternoon I had tea with a friend. Among the many things we talked about was the topic of identity. After the death of her husband – after the initial shock, the administrative stuff that simply has to be done, then getting through the bereavement process – she is at the point of considering who she is now.

When you’re widowed, you don’t simply spring back to who you were before you married, like a piece of elastic. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge and you are someone different. Hopefully more mature. Older, yes. Wiser, maybe!

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My experience of my husband’s dementia has propelled me willy-nilly through several changes of role – from wife to housekeeper to carer and now to care supervisor/visitor/finance manager/and so on. But as the illness progresses in its inexorable downhill way, I realise that not only has my role changed but so too has my identity.

I am not a wife in a marriage with a husband who knows me, loves me, cares for me, shares my life. I exist in, what is in effect, an amicable – albeit tragic – separation. According to a statistic I read today, 97% of white women in America who are separated from their husband will be divorced within five years. My husband was diagnosed with dementia six years ago and there is no knowing how his illness will progress. But we will never live together again. And he will never again be someone who knows, loves, cares for me or shares my life. Any awareness he has of who I am or what relationship we had will diminish as time goes on. It is already minimal.

Neither fish nor fowl – neither ‘really’ married nor divorced/widowed, it’s a most peculiar state to be in! As someone who lives as a single person, I relish my freedom to do pretty much as I like – while being on call 24/7. But as someone who is used to being married, every time I come back from visiting the care home is like another dose of bereavement – a reminder that the expected future of a life together, holidays together, someone to come home to and talk to simply no longer exists.

The word for it is loneliness. Something all singles of every kind must face and deal with. I’ve just finished reading Kate Wharton’s Single-Minded. It’s a most excellent book both for singles and for married friends, pastors etc. to understand how better to minister to singles.

It’s funny how singles get missed out in our churches, especially older singles. We have Mothering Sunday and Father’s Day, not to mention Family Services… (Oh please can’t we call them All-Age?) So often I hear people saying what the church needs is more young families – as if young Mums had the time or the energy to do much apart from raise their family!

The demographics are clear that older singles are a growing population in our churches and a wonderful resource – but they have social and emotional needs too, needs that the church can supply if they take their calling to love one another seriously. Maybe Kate’s book should be required reading!



6 responses to “One is one and what does the church do about it?

  1. scskillman says:

    You ability to write in such a graceful & lucid way about your situation continues to humble me,and fill me with admiration, Dorothy. I’ve recently been considering the question of ‘authenticity’ in my church, and on my blog; and you are an inspiring model of authenticity in your writing, and in what this tells me of your life.

  2. Thank you for the way you continue to share your life and story. God’s grace and peace to you.

  3. I do empathise with your words on loneliness, but I am also acutely aware that many people experience such pangs when they are surrounded by people and may even appear to have friends and family at every turn of the head.- as a group of people; ‘church’ we can do much but it must start with taking the time to show genuine interest, getting to know each other and demonstrating the love of friendship. That is how we become a church family and support each other. So don’t stick to your classified groups, whether it is ‘singles’ or ‘young mums’ or ….. get stuck in and cross those group boundaries!

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