Holding On and Letting Go

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One of the hardest things a widow has to do is let go of her husband.  Others cannot understand why this is so difficult nor why it takes so long for some of us.  Widows whose marriages were “and two became one” have lost half of themselves.  She has lost her purpose in life and her identity.  She is starting all over and needs as much time as necessary to begin anew.

An image drawn from a poem by Rabbi Harold Schulweis (in his book In God’s Mirror) speaks of this tension of holding on and letting go in the image of a trapeze artist at the circus. Flying through the air, holding on to the trapeze bar, the performer lets go and reaches for the second bar, having faith that the bar will be where it is supposed to be and that the change will take place safely. That moment of suspension, when the performer is holding on to nothing, is symbolic of so much of the changes we encounter. In a very real way, the only thing supporting that trapeze artist is faith: faith in himself and faith in the fact that the next bar will be where it should.

Rabbi Richard F. Address – Transitions and the Flying Trapeze

Letter to Grief

Five months after my husband went to heaven, I began working with a christian psychologist who has helped widows in their grief journey.  One of the assignments he gave me was to write letters not only to my husband and other people, but to my emotions.  I’ll begin to share those that I can.

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Grief, you tried to blindside me 6 years ago when Bob first got his diagnosis, but I did my best to put my game face on and ignore you.   I was pretty successful at it, too, until things changed for us last year about this time.

Bob’s health began to go downhill quickly and as I watched the sudden changes taking place in his body, what I realize now was anticipatory grief hit me like a bulldozer.  I saw my strong husband get weaker and weaker as his body deteriorated.  Weight dropped from his frame and he no longer had an appetite.  He had always loved to eat.  Food was his love language, but now he did not even want to eat.

Soon he could not rest easily in bed and for the very first time in our 36 years of marriage we could not sleep together.  First he lay propped up on a mattress on the floor.  Then he moved into a hospital bed so that he could try to sleep in an upright position.  I could hardly bear not having him beside me in bed.  So, I found myself sleeping either on the floor next to him or in a chair beside him.

Then the ER visits began before the 1st treatment and then after every treatment except one.  I became the one in charge – the leader in the home – and I so hated being put into that position.  No matter what we tried, nothing helped.

In the meantime Dad was in the nursing home and Mama’s health began to rapidly deteriorate.  They both needed me, but, for the first time in my life, I could not be there to help them.   I was totally devastated.

All those days during the last 5 months of Bob’s life I gave him my all.   Back and forth and back and forth we went to the doctor’s offices and to the hospital.  We were not sleeping much, but still we prayed and trusted God to heal.  As each day went by and those hospital stays stretched on and on, my physical and emotional strength was almost completely spent.

You, Grief, were now my constant companion and I could no longer stop you from overtaking me.  In fact, you not only overtook me but you completely covered me.  On the morning that Bob’s heart suddenly stopped in the middle of a procedure, Grief not only pushed me down to the ground, but sat on top of me so that I could not get up.

It has been 8 months now since that fateful day and Grief is still my constant companion.  You hit me first thing in the morning after I wake up.  You walk with me all through my day.  Sometimes there are brief moments when I am almost not aware of you, but those are so very few and far between.

You hit me at different times and in unusual ways: driving by a certain store that Bob used to frequent, seeing a couple walking together, watching a man fill his car with gas as his wife is sits inside, hearing a love song, walking through the men’s department in a store, seeing a white Ford F150 truck, opening Bob’s tool box to get a tool out, hearing a comment from one of our daughters that sounds exactly like something Bob would say.  Those are times when you wash over and over me like a flood .

Will you ever leave me, Grief?  How long will I walk this road with you?  What lasting effects are you going to have on my life?

While I wait for you to lessen, I am doing some things to overcome you. I searched for someone to coach me through the grieving process and found a Christian psychologist who has a great heart for widows.  I joined a widow’s support group and have other women around me now who know what I am going through and are on this journey with me.

I bought a marker for my husband’s grave and carefully chose the words that I wanted on it to really say what his life was all about :

God, Wife, Daughters, Others – All For God’s Glory

I am writing letters to get my thoughts out on paper.  These letters will not be sent, but will be a part of my healing process.  I have gone through all of my husband’s pictures and am having a collage made up of his life.  A gift of this collage will be made to each of my daughters and to my husband’s father.

Most of all, I choose to spend time in God’s Word despite all of the “why” questions that I have.  I have known the Lord for so long that I cannot turn my back on Him now.  He has already known my griefs and carried my sorrows.  He’s the One really walking through this grief journey with me for He is the only one who really knows my heart and understands what I am going through.

WHEN THERE ARE NO WORDS

When There Are No Words

Pathfinder Publishing/1996

Charlie Walton wrote this book some time after the tragic deaths of two of his three sons and begins by saying, “Someone who loves you a lot wants desperately to lesson your pain.  They are yearning for some magic words..for a few concise, over-the-counter phrases…that can encapsulate all of human wisdom and explain away the pain you are feeling since part of you has been ripped away without benefit of anesthesia. But….there are no words.

He shares that saying “I am so sorry” is the truth and it’s direct, but it makes the speaker feel as if what they said is not effective.  What someone who has not been in your shoes does not realize is that their words don’t register in your mind anyway.  What is most important to the ones who are grieving is that they came.  No words are necessary and all that needs to be said can be communicated in the presence of the comforter, the look, the touch, and yes, the shared silence.

To the one who is grieving a loss Charlie writes, “You might as well know that you’re going to have to carry the full weight of this load.  There is a sense in which others will do what they can to bear your burden….but you are the only person on the earth who can carry this one.  You’re the only one who is going to deal with it twenty-four hours a day.  When the others have cried themselves to sleep, you’ll still be awake.  When they are beginning to sigh and shake their heads and return to their lives, you’ll still be searching for someone in charge……” You have to carry the whole load.  The straps on this pack fit your shoulders only.  You are going to have to carry your burden the full distance.  No short cuts.  No magic slogans from posters or bumper stickers to suddenly ‘snap you out of it’ “.

One of the things that I read in this book that was very, very freeing to me was that my natural response to grief is the right response for me.  It doesn’t matter what other people are thinking about the way that I am grieving.  It’s my grief and my grief alone and whatever works for me is right. I don’t have to try to do what others expect of me or what others would considerate appropriate.

Charlie talks about the invisible hands of grief that hang a pair of invisible blocks on your shoulders that make it possible to breathe, but not to breathe deeply.  Your legs and your lungs are heavy and you tire easily.

The author encourages you to allow people to do things for you because there really are no words that they can say.  They need to be busy doing something for you.  He discusses how the most blessed assignment people and even family members were given generations ago was to go to the cemetery and dig the grave and how very healing that was.

Chapter seven deals with the dumb things that people say to us not realizing how those words affect us – especially the group who rush forward with spiritual advice and cliches – “….it is insensitive and unrealistic for a well-wisher to propose to a grieving person that..because God is all powerful…they should not continue to grieve.  Sadness, despair, rage, loneliness–even moments of vengeful fantasies–are as natural as God’s creation.  The best thing you can do for yourself..and for your long-term relationship with those who seek to comfort…is to turn off the sound…..consciously decide to hear what they were trying to communicate…rather than what they say.”

One method of communication that worked the best with Charlie during his time of grief was the hug.  Several people gave him big, long hugs that totally engulfed him and let him know that they knew there were no words to say, but they wanted him to know how very deeply they felt for him in his grief.

There are so many more great things in this book, but it ends with the several things the author prays for the reader: “that you will be honest with yourself…letting out what is within you..and refusing to govern your ways of grieving by what you think others might be expecting that you ought to do; that you will allow your loved ones the same right to their own ways of grieving…never assuming that they should want to cry when you feel like crying…or talk when you feel like talking…or sit and stare when you want to, etc.”

I would have to say that this is one of the best guide books for those who want to comfort those who are grieving as well as for those who are going through their own grief journey.  It’s very concise, yet easy to read when you are in that grief fog.

Thank you, Charlie, for saying what I haven’t been able to say to others and for sharing your own grief with us.


Lean Not

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Since my husband went to be with the Lord I have been avoiding reading certain verses in the Bible.  One of those is Proverbs 3:5 because my entire focus on that verse was the first part which says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…”.

I was doing that.  I was trusting the Lord with all of my heart to heal my husband and it did not happen.  I have been feeling so very, very betrayed by that.  I was doing my part, but God did not do His part.  How could He not???  How could He take my husband away from me and separate us after 36 years, 4 months, and 10 days?

We had been serving the Lord all of our lives and doing everything we knew to keep our relationship right with each other and with Him.  We were doing all that we knew to do physically to enable God to heal my husband’s body.  Yet, He did not heal him and I feel  so very violated by that.

This morning God “turned the light on” for me and I was able to see the last part of that verse –” …..and lean not to your own understanding”.  Hmmmmm……..that’s the key.  I thought that MY plan and MY will was the best plan and a better plan than God’s plan for both my husband and I.  How arrogant is that to think that I know more than my Creator!

My human heart did not want my husband to leave me.  I did not want to ever be separated from him.  But, he is totally and completely healed now never to be sick again.  He is enjoying heaven –  a place that is so far beyond my wildest imaginations.  Best of all, he is with the Lord that we have been following since we were children.  It could not have worked out any better for him.

I took my eyes off my grief for a moment and took a good look at all the blessings that God is pouring out on me in Bob’s absence and they are many.  God is walking with me in this grief journey giving me all of the resources that I need to get through it.

Lord, help me to be able to so trust You to the point that Your way and Your plan for me means more than my way and my plan.  Help me to truly KNOW and really BELIEVE that Your way is perfect for me.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding.”

Wait on the Lord

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There will come a time when nothing seems to be happening, the time between the intensity of the experience and the beginnings of a sense of change.  This is the time God is doing his greatest work.

  * Waiting gives rise to many questions:  Why?  Where is God?  Will I always hurt this bad?  Will life ever be good again”? . . . What are your questions?

  * Waiting is being willing to accept just enough light for the next step.  What step are you afraid to take because you can’t see the outcome yet?  Practice the art of baby steps in the light you do have.  Name a baby step you need to take.

  * Waiting is the time of growing and learning.  We grieve much like we live.  We will grieve true to who we are, true to our personalities, our perceptions of ourselves, our perceptions of life as gift or as owing us something, and true to our views of God.

We can learn much about ourselves as we are vulnerable enough to share the ways we approach life.  Write the things you are learning about yourself.

Verdell Davis – Let Me Grieve But Not Forever

An Uninvited Platform

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The morning of Friday, November 13th, 2009, dawned bright and clear with sunshine and crisp but not cold.  It was like any other autumn day for most, but not for me for this was the morning I would bury my husband.  I will never forget the words of our 5 year old grandson Levi early that morning while standing at the check out counter of Lowes with his dad.  The check out lady asked him what he was doing today and his response was, “We’re going to bury my Pa”.

As one of my sons-in-law and daughters drove me to the cemetery for Bob’s graveside service, our 7 year old granddaughter Elizabeth sat beside me in the back seat.  I noticed that she kept looking at me with concern.  I realized that this was a special time in my life – a window of opportunity – to show her what I knew Bob would want her to see and that is that death for a follower of Jesus  Christ is not something that is to be feared.  It’s not the end, but the beginning of a new and perfect life in the most grand and glorious place we can ever imagine – Heaven.

I wanted her to see that it is okay to cry and grieve over the loss of her “Pa” as she lovingly called him, but in our sorrow we have great hope because one day we will see him again in heaven.

As we turned off the highway and drove through those cemetery gates total disbelief washed over me in waves.   Elizabeth peered into my face with a question on her own face.    Then I Thessalonians 4:13 took precedence over all my thoughts – “Our friends, we want you to know the truth about those who have died, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope.”  Christ followers sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I sorrow not as those who have no hope.

Afterwards during the four months while I was living with Elizabeth and her family, there were other opportunities for her to see a hope filled grief.  During that time period, I also lost my mother and my father and she lost her great-grandmother and her great-grandfather.  In each of their funerals she again experienced what it is like to sorrow not as those who have no hope.

The deaths of my husband and both of my parents became a part of their personal legacies. Even from their caskets they were giving testimony and still today they “speak” from their graves.

Their deaths also became my uninvited platform.  I hope that as Elizabeth and all five of my grandsons continue to watch me go through this grief journey, they will never forget that even when a believer in Christ goes through very, very hard things, God never leaves us nor forsakes us. May they see that their Nana made it through her grief journey successfully.  But most of all may their own faith and belief in Christ be strengthened.

MAKE ME HEAR, LORD

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Father, the first thing that hits me when I wake up in the morning is the reality that my husband is gone.  He is no longer in this bed with me.  I am alone.  The pain of the truth of that hits me as hard as if someone had physically kicked me in the gut.  It’s a deep, deep pain.

Psalm 143:8a AMP says, “Cause me to hear Your loving-kindness in the morning, for on You do I lean and in You do I trust..”  Right now it is hard for me to hear anything but the clamoring of this great grief, but I ask You to cause me to really hear Your loving-kindness first thing in the morning when I wake up.

How can I hear Your loving-kindness? The New International Version of the first part of this verse makes that much clearer.  “Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you….” .   The Complete Jewish Bible says, “Make me hear of Your love in the morning because I rely on You.” 

Right now, Father, I don’t feel loved by You.  In fact, I feel totally betrayed by You and my faith is so shattered.   This morning You are going to have to MAKE me hear from You that You love me. The Hebrew translation of the word “hear” means to cause me to have the power to hear.  I am weak physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  So, yes, You will even need to give me the power to hear Your love.

I have walked with You too long in this life to turn my back on You now.  In some way there is still a thread of trust in You and You know that.  But my heart is so totally broken and bruised and it’s so hard for me to even read Your Word or pray.  Walk with me through this grief journey and in some way restore my faith and trust in You.  I need to in some way be able to really know that You love me.  Somehow and in some way, replace the love of my life with Your love.  I have no one but You now.

Make me hear of Your love in the morning because I rely on You.”

Tailor Made

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Hmmmm……Tailor made.  At this point in my grief journey I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the truth that before I was born, God already knew what my life would be like.  He knew that I would be a widow at age 57.  If I had been the author of my life story, it would have been very different.  I would have written myself a fairy tale life with the happily ever.  The hardest part for me to grasp is that this plan for me is the best plan.  My conversation with God about this goes, “God, I know your plan ended up being the best plan for Bob because he’s now enjoying heaven’s perfection.  But, how is this plan best for me?”

“You’re relationship to HIM is tailor made.  It’s made by God for you in your circumstances, who you are at this point in your life, where you are.  God loves you enough just to show up.  He is a personal God.”

  Charles Stanley