I was 30 years old when my wife, Lyndsie, went home to Heaven after a 10-year battle with cancer, leaving me with two young kids. I walked out of that Emergency Room on August 28, 2015 without her, wondering how I would explain to our kids that their momma would not be coming home. I couldn’t believe this was my reality.
In the weeks that followed, I was surrounded by people who loved me and my kids well. They sat with me, listened, brought meals, wrote encouraging notes, sent gift cards and helped with the kids. It was clear that our community was doing their best to hold me and the kids up, and we were so grateful for the ways they showed up for us. But as time went on, the outpouring of love slowed down to a trickle. Understandably, life went back to normal for most of them.
But not for me.
As guys, we have a well-earned reputation of not asking for help. We mistakenly believe we can eventually figure it out on our own. I just couldn’t call the people that had offered to help. My pride wouldn’t let me. But then again, it wasn’t just your normal help I was looking for.
During that time, I remember wishing that another young widower would reach out to me. Someone that really knew what I was going through and could help me navigate the complexities of grief, from the unique perspective of a widower with children still in the home. There was so much I didn’t understand in that season, but I was aware that there was too much on the line for me to guess my way through grief. So, I started to pray for a widower brother and guide.
I asked around and looked for a community of widowers on the internet and social media but couldn’t find one. It became clear that there were plenty of groups for widows who had lost their husbands, but not a single group for widowers like me.
I remember feeling frustrated that a young widower had likely heard about my story and chosen not to reach out. Even though I’ll never know for sure if that was the case, I made an agreement with God that if He would bring widowers across my path, I would always do my best to walk alongside them so they wouldn’t have to walk alone through the loneliest season of their life.
Although I didn’t have a widower walking with me in that season, God was gracious to surround me a handful of people who committed to keep showing up in that painful and awkward season. And although they couldn’t say “me too”, they would say, “I’m with you”, and that made such a difference in my perspective.
Almost two years later, I remarried to Brittany, a young widow with three young children who entered her season of grief at almost the same time as me. Shortly after our wedding, I met a widower my age named Davey, and our first conversation went on for hours. I always thought I was the only one experiencing these feelings but my time with him made me realize that I wasn’t the only one navigating the twists and turns of grief. Davey understood the unique pain of a young widower, including raising children as a solo parent. It was incredibly helpful.
Over time, God started putting more young widowers in my path. Almost all of them had similar experiences of being surrounded by loving friends and family, but not by widowers who understood their struggles. It became clear that widowers everywhere were walking on their own through the hardest season of their life.
Then I remembered what I had promised God during some of my earliest days of grief: to walk alongside other young widowers if given the chance. On a date with my wife, I was asking her about the ways she had been serving widows across the country, specifically at retreats. As she shared some of her experiences of hope and breakthrough that she witnessed, I made the comment that I wished there had been something like that for guys like me early in my grief. We found ourselves googling widower retreats and ministries, only to come up with nothing.
That’s when Brittany asked me the question that changed everything: “Now that you know there is nothing out there for widowers, what are you going to do about it?”
Even though I didn’t know what I could do, I knew I couldn’t leave the widower world the way I found it.
After a great deal of prayer and counsel, God began to make it clear that He had been surrounding me with an incredible team of widowers, mentors, pastors, and close friends not only to walk with me in my healing, but also to help launch a first-of-its-kind ministry for widowers in the fall of 2020.
We named the ministry, Refuge Widowers. Our mission was focused on bringing together a faith-based community of widowers who point each other to Jesus, give authentic encouragement, share trail-tested insights, and commit to not wasting their pain.
We have found over the years that guys tend to seek shelter from the storms of grief by running to things that were never meant to be their refuge. Scripture makes it clear that our refuge is found in God. Our ministry at its core is simply a reminder that true peace and comfort can only be found in the Lord.
We recognize this is a club that no one wants to join. Some of us arrived here after walking with our person through long hard-fought battles with illness. For others, it was a shocking and sudden incident, or a horrific crime. But at the end of it all, we are all left with the harsh reality that our person is no longer with us and as much as we are hurting, we acknowledge that we have the opportunity to walk our children through the hardest season of their life in a way that will help them significantly or hurt them deeply.
We know nothing looks familiar for these guys as they enter grief, but what would their journey look like if they had a brother next to them who knew the road ahead and was there to remind them of the truth of God’s word? We are not here to tell them it’s going to be okay. Instead, we stay with them until they can say it.
We get it. It’s a lot of weight to carry, but we’re here to help. They don’t have to walk this road alone; there are guys just like them who have been down this awful path and are now taking steps towards the hope found in Jesus.
We offer a brotherhood of guides for the journey, sharing ways where we can go wrong, and more importantly, where we can go right. We ultimately point each towards the hope that is only found in Jesus, for our sake and for the sake of our children.
We know our kids are watching us. They’ll either be blessed by how they see dad handling this loss, or they will have to recover from how dad ignored it.
When someone joins the brotherhood of Refuge Widowers, there is a start date but there is no end date. We are with these guys for the rest of their journey.
One of the ways we step into the lives of widowers is through our retreats. Our retreats are a three-day experience designed to give guys encouragement and a community of men who get it and will walk with them on their journey. The retreat is designed specifically for widowed men who still have children in the home. Our retreats are hosted in scenic North Georgia on a peaceful lake.
We cap each retreat at 18. We don’t want these guys to get lost in the crowd. Grief is very personal, so we get in the trenches together and get mud on our boots with them.
We’re not way ahead of these guys, shouting encouragement back to them. We are up close, guiding them towards Jesus in practical ways.
We teach them how to tell their story in a way that honors their wife and points others to Jesus, especially since many widowers are asked to share their story on various platforms.
We help them navigate their relationships with God, their children and extended family, as well as offer guidance regarding spiritual growth, rest, accountability, healthy routines, discipline, and even dating with kids and remarriage.
We laugh. We cry. We have fun. We relax. We eat well. We share stories. We bond. We plan. And we pray with each other. We are truly for each other and with each other.
To see these guys arrive at the retreat as strangers from all over the country, lean into each session, become vulnerable with each other, and leave at the end of the retreat as lifelong brothers, is life-changing to experience. Our team has witnessed breakthroughs happen that only God can get the credit for, and it is one of the greatest honors of my life to serve alongside a team of men who sacrificially and faithfully serve each widower that attends these retreats. It would be foolish to try and take any credit for the breakthrough and healing that can only come from drawing close to our Heavenly Father.
Every retreat is free to the widowers attending, thanks to the generosity of churches, businesses, individuals, and even alumni. Each retreat guest is only responsible for transportation to the retreat; everything at the retreat is covered, including curated resources designed to educate and equip them for the long journey ahead.
As awareness of this ministry reaches more of the almost four million widowers in the United States alone, so does the list of applicants. There is much work still ahead but what an honor to answer this call to minister to widowers across the country and point them to the hope of Jesus. Only Heaven will reveal the impact made by these widowers choosing to not waste their pain.