The Widows’ “Might”

Widows throughout the Church demonstrate their faith as they serve and grow in ways they hadn’t anticipated.

They attend temples. They support their children in school and on missions. They go to school and serve missions themselves. They teach in various Church meetings. They do handwork, write books, compose music and poetry, paint pictures and walls.

Who are they? They are widows who stretch themselves to work miracles they did not think could happen in their own and others’ lives. They find meaning in life after they thought it had ceased at the loss of a loved companion. They demonstrate their faith and endurance with heart, might, mind, and strength as they serve and grow in ways they had not anticipated. Their gifts are given much in the spirit of the widow Jesus noticed who gave two mites (coins) to the temple treasury.

“This poor widow hath cast more in,” he said to his disciples, “than all they which have cast into the treasury:

“For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” (Mark 12:43–44.)

Patricia Tennant, a former missionary whose husband died twenty years ago, is one such widow. A member of the Croyden Ward in Melbourne, Australia, she finds many ways to introduce her fellow Australians to the gospel. When fellow worker Pauline Barns expressed an interest in learning to bake bread, Patricia brought her to her ward’s homemaking meeting when a bread-baking miniclass was offered. As a result of this friendship and continued loving exposure to the gospel, Sister Barns is now an active member of the Church.

“It always amazes me to hear people say how bored or lonely they will be when they retire or have to live alone,” says Patricia. “The older I get, the more afraid I am that I won’t be able to accomplish it all. I want to go on another mission, learn oil painting, and study Chinese.”

Some of the greatest contributions widows make to the kingdom are the love and spirituality they instill in their children. When Lena Ruru’s husband died, he left her with fourteen children to raise on their Tauri, New Zealand, sheep farm. “She felt that no matter how difficult a task was, Heavenly Father would help her,” recalls her daughter Irene. “We lived a long way from the nearest branch, so we held all of our Church meetings at home. Each week, Mother would see that my priesthood-bearing brothers conducted them in proper order.

“I remember to this day her example of strength and faith when my brother Nephi was preparing to go on a mission. President David O. McKay, who had come from Salt Lake City to dedicate the New Zealand Temple, met Nephi and told him he was about to go on a special mission. Shortly after that, Nephi was killed in an automobile accident. Mother’s knowledge of the gospel plan and strong testimony guided the entire family through that experience.”

Verda Mae Christensen of Salt Lake City completed her master’s degree and taught school to support her seven children following her stake president husband’s death. Caring for their emotional, spiritual, and temporal needs was a challenge. “I learned so much about being a mother,” she says. “If your children can’t come home to something different from what they experience outside the home, then something needs to be changed. There is a womblike insulation that the home can give to those who live there.”

She recalls trying to meet her own needs also. “One of the things you miss at a time like this is adult conversation. Because of this, I enjoyed returning to school, even though I did so with trepidation.” Even if a mother must work outside her home, she needs to consciously structure spirituality into her life, says Sister Christensen. “I found I had to provide for my spiritual needs at the same time I was going to school.”

Verda Mae’s children, who have all served full-time missions, are testimonies to their mother’s struggles to provide a loving, nurturing, gospel-centered home.

Widows represent a significant “might” in many other ways. Age certainly is not a limiting factor. Jane Moser, eighty-two, of Rock Springs, Wyoming, has taught a CTR class in Primary for more than twenty years. She loves to invite each child who is baptized, along with his or her parents and the bishop, to her home for a special celebration. Children love Jane, and she loves them. She hopes she will never be too old to teach.

Age doesn’t stop Henriette Steiner, a name extractor in Geneva, Switzerland, from traveling daily by bus to a meetinghouse to do her work. She also regularly takes her widowed friend Olga Bonny, whose eyesight is failing, to the Swiss Temple by train.

Maria Tereza Garcia Rodrigues, an active temple worker for years, doesn’t consider age a limiting factor in serving the Lord. Even though she is seventy-five, she performs a large portion of the endowments completed by the São Paulo North Stake. When the city’s bus fare increased, it appeared that Maria would have to cut back on her temple commitments. Instead, this faithful sister rebudgeted her clothing and food money so that she would have sufficient funds to maintain her level of temple work.

Lillian Chisholm of Salt Lake City did not have the opportunity to attend the temple until she was ninety. Now, at ninety-five, she attends two or three times weekly and is grateful to serve.

Almost any bishop in the Church as he opens his ward’s financial records finds that the widows in his ward are a predictable source of generous contributions, often made at considerable personal sacrifice. At each year’s budget meeting, Bishop Tony Z. Jolley of the Murray Utah Twenty-first Ward pays tribute to his 113 widows who consistently contribute to tithing, fast offering, and budget funds.

President Thomas S. Monson remembers, as a young bishop, receiving a telephone call from the hospital late one night that an elderly widow in his ward had passed away. “I went to the hospital,” he said, “and there obtained the key to her apartment. A note had been left that this was the procedure I was to follow. As I entered her humble basement apartment, I turned on the light and went to the little table that was in the small living room. There on the table were two Alka-Seltzer bottles with a note beneath them. The bottles were filled with quarters. This sweet little widow, Kathleen McKee, with no relatives surviving her, had written this note: ‘Bishop, this is my fast offering. I am square with the Lord.’” (Ensign, Sept. 1986, p. 4.)

Many widows find rewarding outlets serving in other ways. Brenna Sims of the Valley View Ninth Ward in Salt Lake City travels by bus each week to a children’s hospital to attend to the small patients’ needs. The rocking chair is the favorite place for this foster grandmother to hug and love those who have so much to give in return. What motivated her to do this? “I found myself with some extra time on my hands,” says Brenna, “and I simply decided to volunteer my lap.”

Since the death of her husband, Elsa Oudard has continued to run the family farm in Rumilly, France. She shares her bounty with others, including the full-time missionaries laboring in the nearby Annecy Branch.

Despite years of financial uncertainty, Gwendolyn Sundberg of Salt Lake City has found time to serve her extended family. Gwen plants a garden every year just so her married children can work the soil and use the produce. Every week she gives piano lessons to some of her thirty-three grandchildren, then sponsors recitals to give them a chance to play before the entire family. She promotes one-on-one activities such as sleep-overs at Grandma’s. A couple of years ago, she let each grandchild select the fabric and help her tie a quilt for his or her Christmas gift.

Many widows with grown children serve as full-time missionaries. Like the widow Anna who testified of Christ “to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:37–38), there are widows throughout the Church today who declare that Jesus is the redeemer of the world.

“Age kind of melted away on my mission,” says Garnet Cooper of Salt Lake City of her mission to California. “I forgot I was wrinkled and gray-haired as I shared the glorious gospel of Christ with people. It was a great spiritual adventure for me. If I ever found myself with a good case of self-pity, I could cure it by teaching those who didn’t have the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives.”

Widows also support missionaries, as Maria Helena Rodrigues Luiz of São Paulo, Brazil, has done. Her husband died three weeks before their son Josue was to leave on his mission. She counseled her son to “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Ne. 3:7), and that all would be well with her and with Josue’s younger brother, who has been handicapped since birth. With this kind of support, Josue is serving his mission and Maria is presently the Araraquara Brazil Stake Young Women president.

Regardless of varying individual circumstances, faithful widows are a mighty army bringing to pass much righteousness as they strengthen themselves and others. They demonstrate self-reliance based on living gospel principles. They acknowledge a partnership with their Heavenly Father as they shoulder alone responsibilities they previously shared. While doing so, they also serve and grow. The “mite” they cast into sustaining and building the Lord’s kingdom is mighty indeed.

[photos] Photography by Welden Andersen

[photo] “I forgot I was wrinkled and gray-haired as I shared the glorious gospel of Christ with people everywhere.”

[photo] Many widows find quiet satisfaction in researching family history and extracting names for temple work.

[photo] Church callings give widows opportunities to serve, love, and grow spiritually.

[photo] When a widow has to support her family, preparing for or enhancing a career becomes a family project.

Evelyn T. Marshall, chairman of the Relief Society Curriculum Writing Committee, is a member of the Salt Lake Valley View Ninth Ward.