Fighting Forward

One thing that I find very affirming and healing is to read books written by Christian widows and some widowers. To this date I have read over fifty and have found that there are several books that are my top three. One such book is a new one called Fighting Forward written by a remarried widow Jan Owen from Alabama. For those widows who find themselves struggling greatly with their shattered faith, people who have lost a loved one or someone who wants to understand the grief that their friend is going through, this book is a must read.

Jan’s story sharing what life has felt like to her after the loss of her husband is one that is very raw. She chooses not to sugar-coat her words in order to just be real. There are those Christian widows who may not feel that they can ever take off their mask during grief thus giving others the impression that they are doing alright. Jan rips off her mask and allows herself to become openly vulnerable. As a result, she lost some friends.

Her intent in writing this book is to let others know that it is okay to share your grief in totality from the deepest parts of your heart. In fact, it’s very healing. After all, God created us and knows exactly how we are going to react when we lose our spouse. You cannot hide all that your are feeling from Him. As my Christian psychologist Dr. Dan Trathen always told me, “This is not God’s first rodeo.” God is not surprised or taken aback at our rage or anger towards Him. Our questions don’t cause Him to be disappointed in Him. Instead, He uses those questions to draw us into a much different and much closer relationship to Him if we allow it.

Choosing to live when I’d rather not is the bravest thing I’ve ever done”, says Jan. When my husband first died, I wanted to curl up in a corner with a blanket over my head and never move again. Closing down is always an option for a new widow or even one further down the road, but it is never a healthy one. It’s far harder to stand up, take that blanket off our head, put on your boxing gloves and begin to purposely take one step forward at a time. There are times when we’ll find ourselves taking a few steps backwards and that is normal. Those backward steps come when a grief trigger hits or when we just become so very tired in our journey that a rest stop is needed. The key is to never stay in that backward spot. It takes more guts to fight forward and God gives us the strength to do that.

God can and will use that deep, deep soul pain that you go through after the loss of your spouse. Whether it is to walk alongside another widow and encourage them in their journey, gathering names of new widows throughout the year and then sending each of them a special box for Christmas, sending out widow resources to new widows that you hear about or going to grad school to become a grief counseling specialist such as Jan is doing, your grief will not be without a purpose.

Have you chosen to fight forward? Or are you still lying on the mat struggling? No matter what your answer is, this book is one that will help you and allow you to know that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to fight forward! You can find more information about Jan and her book on her Facebook page called Fighting Forward.

Grief Light

“Grief is our finest, most enduring labor of love as we remember, honor, and rebuild our life for the future. Through the work of grief we learned the unforced rhythms of grace–the grace of God, the grace of rest for our soul.”  Julie Yarbrough

Over the course of time since becoming a widow, I have read over fifty books written by Christian widows and a few widowers. Grief Light by Julie Yarbrough is one of the top three best books that I can recommend to other widows. This author has experienced firsthand the loss of a husband, a father, and a mother in less than a decade. She knows the pain of anticipatory grief and the all-consuming responsibility as well as exhaustion that a caregiver experiences.

Grief Light allows the reader to emotionally walk through that time with her as she processes every facet of grief. Julie is very candid and frank about her responses to all of the emotions that she feels. She does not tiptoe around the issues and allows herself to share the effects of grief and even the thoughts she has about things that people say to her. Holding herself up to the standard of “Super Christian/Super Widow” is something that Julie does not do. Nor does she wear a mask. I found her raw honesty to be very refreshing.

There are many different kinds of grief that Julie talks about that such as scrappy grief, collective grief, empty grief and delayed grief. Most of these were types of grief that I had not heard of or read about. Because Julie had wonderful relationships with her husband and her father, but did not have a good relationship with her mother, she experienced different kinds of grief and is thus qualified to talk about them.

I was especially moved by the comparison of grief to a slow-moving train that the author gave and feel it is important to share a bit of that here with you because it is so easy to picture it in your mind.

“…I thought about how grief moves through our lives, much like a slow-moving train. It’s not at all difficult to name the freight cars of our grief–fear, worry, despair, anxiety, loneliness. But if we look at what’s under the train, guiding its path, directing the way, we see tracks–simple yet ingenious in their design and purpose.

The tracks are a little like our life. We name the two heavy rails of our spiritual support–trust and faith. Upon the rails of our life are evenly spaced ties of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22 NRSV). The ties distribute the weight of our grief so that we’re able to bear the load of our life without the one we love.

The train’s track system is embedded in ballast–small pieces of broken rock packed together and leveled to keep the rails and ties in place. Ballast gives the track a stable base. The ballast and bedrock of our grief are the steadfast love and faithfulness of God….(Psalm 36:5 NIV).

The rails of a train track are set at a fixed distance apart. The gauge corresponds precisely to the wheel specifications of the train. The train can’t run without the tracks, the tracks have no use except for the train. The tracks lead somewhere–there’s a destination….

We’re not intended to sit idly at the railroad crossing of our life worrying about when life will move on or where life will take us. We wait for awhile–with frustration and anger, or with forbearance and hope–as the train of loss and sorrow moves slowly through our soul. We know with certainty that every train ends, with or without the finality and promise of a red caboose. When at last the tracks of our life clear, we’re on the move again. Our end station is life beyond our grief. When our direction is certain, we move ahead….”

Julie also shares that one of the most difficult challenges of grief is waiting–“waiting on God, waiting on life to unfold, waiting to feel better, waiting to be better…….When we grieve, somewhere deep within we long to soar again. It’s what pushes us to struggle with what’s happened and find within our soul God’s power lifting us up to new heights of life and love and faith.

Grief Light is one of those books that is important to read whether you are a new widow or a widow who is years into her journey. No more than three pages are written on each topic that Julie discusses making it one of those books that is easy to read and to absorb. As I read this book, I found a better understanding of my grief and had one of those “God lightbulb” moments that answered one of the questions that I’ve been asking God for the last six years.

Julie was kind enough to send me an extra copy of this book to give away. The first person that lets me know via a comment below in this blog post that she would like to read this book, I will be very happy to get a copy of it to you in the mail.

Perfect Love and Fear

Excerpt from I STILL BELIEVE by Jeremy Camp –

The Lord’s character and essence is love; the Word tells us that He is love.  It also tell us that He loves us beyond what we could ever fathom.  It hit me that if I could really understand His love and how He feels about me–how generously He wants to pour into my life, both in the present age and in the age to come–then I could get free from these fears that were besetting me.  In other words, the more we embrace the depth of our Heavenly Father’s everlasting care and concern for us, the easier it is to believe that all is well.  No matter what happens on this side of heaven, we can be certain that He holds it all in His hands and knows the end from the beginning.

Just trust Me,” The Lord was reminding me.  “Trust Me.  Trust Me.  Trust Me.”  As I prayed that day, God took me to a time-tested promise: “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I am still just beginning to grasp the truth that His love is the only perfect kind.

In the course of wrestling with fear, I realized I was afraid of the pain and heartache that I had experienced through Melissa’s passing.  It might sound selfish, but I feared ever feeling that way again.  I realized that no matter what happened all would be fine in the end, because I had dealt with some of the worst pain you can go through.  But I was scared to walk through the pain again, because, well, the pain HURTS.  That was more my fear, and that’s what God dealt with me on.  He brought me to the place where I could proclaim, “Lord, I believe that You will walk with me through whatever pain I will have to face in the future.  By Your grace, I will not be afraid of the pain.”

What I have walked through has refined me.  It hasn’t defined me–this is not who I am, “the guy whose wife passed away and who has a powerful testimony because of that“–but it HAS refined me and deepened my dependence on the Rock of my salvation.

I Will Yet Praise Him

Continued excerpt from I Still Believe by Jeremy Camp:

I was asked to sing “I Still Believe” in lots of different settings.  Many times I would find myself crying out beforehand, “Lord, I don’t FEEL like worshiping You today.  I don’t FEEL like saying ‘I still believe.'”

Most of the time, I didn’t want to sing the song!  I was struggling to believe the words that were coming from my lips.  I just had to be honest with the Lord–He knew I was a reluctant participant in the whole thing–and let Him do what He wanted as I shared the music.

My journey truly was just beginning, though.  I had my share of really rough days.  Different triggers would release a rush of emotions: watching a movie with some kind of grief in it–I remember weeping in the theater during a war movie–seeing a young couple holding hands and laughing together, noticing a mom and dad playing with a child at a park.

Worse than any of that, I felt my heart starting to get a little bit hard.  Anger and coldness slipped back in as if they wanted to stay a while.  I didn’t like it, but I sensed that facing the anger welling up from within would be a necessary part of the grieving process.

Another song written by Jeremy during this time wasWalk by Faith”.

I Still Believe

Excerpt from I STILL BELIEVE by Jeremy Camp –

It was in the midst of my raw sadness that God spoke very clearly to my heart one morning: “Pick up your guitar.  I have something for you to write.

Pick up my…..what?”

I didn’t hear God speaking to me audibly, and I don’t always heart His voice prompting me as clearly as I would like.  But in the  days, weeks, and months following Melissa’s passing, I heard Him “speaking” in my heart a lot more than I ever had before.  Looking back, I believe the Lord was reminding me that He is very near to the brokenhearted.  Also, I think God knew how numb I was, how incapable I was of seeing things clearly, and how desperately I needed the clarity and guidance that only He could bring.

In this particular moment, my honest, gut-level response was to argue with God.  “No,  The LAST thing I want to do is play my guitar!”

After trying to avoid His voice for quite a while and occupy myself with other tasks, I realized that this strong directive was not going to fade away.  In fact, it was growing stronger.  Reluctantly, with what little energy I could manage, I picked up my guitar and started playing some chords.  Sometimes obedience to the Lord’s prompting–even when it’s not the most wholehearted obedience or even when it’s not the most wholehearted obedience at first–brings about a startling change.  This was one of those moments.  Tears began to flow as I played, and so did the words and notes that would become the song ‘I Still Believe’.  The words were a looking glass into how I was feeling.

In these words I was crying out, “God, I don’t understand.  I’m scattered.  I’m broken.  The fog is so thick that I can’t even see my own hand in front of my face.  And yet….even in the middle of all of this pain and hurt, I DO feel Your grace.  I DO sense Your hand of mercy.  I still believe You are here with me, even if the pain in my heart is making it so difficult to feel Your presence.  No matter what, Lord, You are faithful.  You are FAITHFUL.  YOU are faithful.  I will believe that.”

One line in the song–‘Though the questions fog up my mind, with promises I still seem to bear…’—was really difficult to write and to think about.  I often wondered if the weight of grief bearing down might crush me, especially as I wrestled with so many promises Melissa and I had held onto.  We had thought she would be healed, that our future together would be bright.  We had come through a shadowy forest of doubt and had arrived at what we hoped, believed and trusted would be a clearing of sun-drenched hope.  Because of that journey from sickness to health back to sickness, I was confused, and I had to be honest with God.  If He was going to speak to me so clearly, I definitely felt my heart and mind bursting to respond.

I don’t get it, God!” I cried, continuing to play my guitar.  “What do I make of all of this?” As I prayed and questioned and wept, the bridge of the song poured forth from the deepest recesses of my heart: “In brokenness I can see that this was Your will for me.

This was Your will for me.

I was a little bit surprised to hear those particular words come out.  Was it, really?  Could it have been His will for Melissa to suffer and go home so young, with so much in front of her?  I wasn’t sure how to look at it.  Did the Lord simply allow her passing to happen as a consequence of life in a broken, sinful world, or could it actually have been something He orchestrated as a part of His will.  If it were the former scenario, I had to wonder why God would allow it.  Couldn’t He have stopped her suffering and healed her?! If it were the latter, then it seemed far too painful to grasp on this side of heaven that God’s will would include such a wrenching twist.

As I grappled with this deep question, it became apparent to me why some people slip into a place of blaming God for “taking away” a loved one.  It certainly can feel that way.  I could see myself going that direction if I weren’t very, very careful.  The last thing I wanted was to become bitter and turn away from God.  Even as I asked tough questions of Him and longed for better answers than the ones that seemed to be available at the time, I knew deep down that I would have to find rest in the fact that some things will not make sense until we get to heaven.


How, when we have no strength to face another day, do we truly lean on the Lord, trust in the power of His word and see that all of His plans towards us are for our good?

In his book I STILL BELIEVE, this is one of the questions that award winning singer/songwriter Jeremy Camp talks about wrestling with when his first wife Melissa died just four months after their wedding.  God brought key people into his life at just the right time as servants of healing for him.  One of those people was Jon Courson who had lost his wife and one of his daughters in two separate car accidents.

Jeremy – “She loved the Lord.  We did everything we could.  We prayed, we believed.  I just don’t understand it.”

Jon knew how exhausted Jeremy was from the struggle of grief.

“Jeremy, you can rest your head on your pillow at night, knowing you did all that you could.  This was God’s plan.  He heard your prayers.  He comforted Melissa.  Rest, knowing that you did seek the Lord in obedience.”

Jon reminded Jeremy that even in those circumstances, “We still need to worship our God.  He’s still in control.  It’s easy after we’ve tasted God’s deliverance and seen His miracles to say, ‘Yes, Lord, You are the best!’  But it’s tough when you don’t see any outcome, or any good, in a really dark time, to say, ‘God, You are good.  You are good.  No matter what, You are good.'”

So, I have to say to myself this morning, “Candy, you can rest now knowing that you did all that you could.  This was God’s plan for you and for Bob.  He heard your prayers.  He comforted Bob.  Rest, knowing that you did seek the Lord in obedience.  I know it’s a really dark time in your life, but no matter what, God is good.”

Your and Your Grief

Edgar N. Jackson has written the following in his book Your and Your Grief:

We have always recognized that grief—the despair and shock you feel now—is one of the most excruciating pains a person can endure.  We also know that it is a natural pain, and that the healing power lies within the wound itself.  One of the wonders of our minds and bodies is that while scars may remain, most wounds do heal.  Grief helps relieve the part of the pain that can be relieved, and helps us endure the part that must be endured.

At first you feel that you cannot meet the tasks of even the next few hours.  You dread tomorrow and next week.  Such fear is natural.  But if we find our way through today, tomorrow will be able to care for itself.  And somehow, as difficult as it may seem now, the power of life will enable you, as it has helped others, to face death and yet to grow to value life more.  You can increase your strength.  You can  increase the strength of those who share your loss.

Members of the family—your family—will differ in their reaction to grief.  This we expect, since no two of us are alike.  If one has always met life’s problems with strength and assurance, it is reasonable to assume that he/she will meet this experience the same way.  One who has been easily distressed by circumstances may be so disturbed by the encounter with death that he/she will need guidance and special help.

When we lose forever someone whose life was lovingly and thoroughly enmeshed with ours, we are engulfed by something far deeper than daily, normal disappointments or frustrations.  We suffer the loss of love, of emotionally security, of a life-sustaining presence.  The pattern of our days is shattered beyond recall.

One doctor said that grief manifests itself in a state of emotional shock.  The person is confused, slow to act, and unable to function in his usual manner.

The second physician said that grief causes an anxiety state.  The stability of the person’s life has been disrupted, and he is overcome by a gnawing fear that he seems unable to control.

The third physician said that the person in mourning suffers such deep depression that the life processes are retarded, and that he therefore cannot think or act clearly.  The physician points out that it is a temporary state and usually does not need special treatment.

The grief you feel may resemble a state of shock, acute anxiety, or deep depressions, but it may actually be none of these.  Whatever form it may take, it is an emotional state induced by special circumstances and it has to be dealt with in a special way.

You may be worried by the waves of intense distress you feel.  You may even fear that you will “lose your mind.”  On the other hand, the death of a beloved person leaves some people absolutely drained of emotion—they wonder why they do not seem to “feel a thing.”  They worry about this; they think they are “strange.”  Others react with hysteria.  Remember, there are times when it is perfectly normal to act in ways that are not normal for you.

When a man or woman in full vigor is stricken, we cannot accept it as natural or well-ordered.

We search for answer when we are forced to face tragic or untimely death.  Our reason demands some sort of explanation.  It is an impossible task; there are no easy answers, no satisfactory ones.  The only answer that could truly satisfy us would be the return of our beloved one, and that we know cannot happen.

Our grief is made more poignant by our lack of understanding; it is made sharper by the fact that it was unexpected; it seems more cruel, because when death is sudden or untimely it always finds us in the midst of plans and hopes and dreams that must not be forever unfulfilled.

With such sorrow, we cannot expect to function normally.

You may be unable to eat or sleep.  Every task seems too great to tackle.  The person who is usually anxious and depressed will be chained by inertia.  The energetic person may keep frantically busy, consciously or unconsciously hustling and bustling in an attempt to escape the full impact of his/her loss.  You may feel irritable and “fly off the handle,” and then be upset about it.  You may want to talk incessantly, or you may want only to be left alone and in quiet.  Fearing all loss of control, you may keep yourself under impossibly rigid control.  All these feelings are natural.

But when the expression of your feelings is delayed, it may become more difficult and damaging.  A study of ulcerative colitis revealed that most of the persons examined had suffered acute grief several months before.  Other diseases have also been traced to grief that had turned itself inward, that had not been expressed.

When you are stricken by grief, you are suffering a disease of the emotions caused by facing the reality of death.  Slowly, heavily, painfully you learn to let the past go and to turn your mind toward the future.  It may at first seem to be a bleak, impoverished future.  But it is something you have to bring yourself to accept.

Grief that is not understood, that is forced under the surface, that is not met with compassion, can then show up in disordered behavior, unpleasant physical symptoms, and a disorganized emotional state that my persist for a long time.

Grief that expresses itself naturally, and sorrow that is not suppressed or made into a way of life, allow us to emerge gradually and go on about the important tasks of life—changed, to be sure, but not basically different from the person we were.

Why do we grieve?  First of all, we grieve for ourselves.  If we stop to think clearly and logically—and now, how difficult that may be!—we realize that the person who has died is beyond the problems and feelings of those who mourn his death.  So our sorrow is for ourselves.  We are sad because we are suddenly, painfully deprived.  We ache because we are separated from someone we love and need.  We feel this even when we know that death was a release from torment.  We feel it even when we admit to ourselves that we would not wish the suffering one back.

Second, there is fear.  Our world has changed suddenly, and we do not know what is ahead.  That’s one fear, and others may stem from the circumstances of this death.   Yet perhaps even more frightening are the childhood fears that are sometimes suddenly and terrifyingly awakened.  Often adults, without realizing that they are doing it, instill fear of death in a child, making it a dark, horror-filled mystery.  “If I should die before I wake….” has caused more panic in young minds than most well-meaning parents realize.  This fear of the unrevealed future, and the realization that someday each of us must pass into it, does not show on the surface as we grow up.  We avoid thinking about it.  Then suddenly it is something that happens to someone near and dear to us – and we cannot escape it any longer.  The fear that has stayed in the background all these years suddenly comes to the surface and causes panic.

And third, there is insecurity.  Insecurity means that the sold earth under your feet is crumbling, and you have nothing to hold on to.  This feeling, also, may go back to childhood.  The dependable grown-ups upon whose stability our small worlds rested “went to pieces” when death occurred.  They cried.  They said and did unpredictable things.  Our feeling of being secure in their care was shattered; and that insecurity, like fear, grew up with us.  So now when death takes a loved one from us, our world totters.  The future threatens us.

Death is as much a part of life as birth and the years of growth.  Nothing causes us greater unhappiness, and yet nothing is more certain.  Death is natural.  It is not to be feared.  It is to be anticipated calmly, as a step in the progress of a person’s soul.  Even when death is untimely or accidental, when our health and our spirit are strained to the utmost, it still must be regarded as the release of a spirit into a condition where it can find the fulfillment the Creator intended.

To reason this over and over until you accept it helps banish not only your fear of death but also your feeling of insecurity.

Take time now to ask yourself why you are grieving.  Reason tells you that you need not fear death.  Reason tells you that death if part of the natural order and will not shatter your world.  Reason tells you that the loved one is beyond pain and that you are grieving primarily for yourself.  You may not understand this at once.  But think of it again and again.  Eventually you will feel the healing process begin.  But first you must experience the pain of realization.

Don’t condemn yourself.  Most of us have such feelings of self-judgment and guilt after we have lost someone who was close to us.  Those nagging doubts and recriminations grow from any close relationship with another person.  But no one can foresee all that may happen, and no one can go through life doing everything possible to meet every possible turn and twist and change and shift.

We all know that we could have done some things better.  To chastise ourselves by dwelling upon our natural, human actions does not make anything better; but it does slow up the process of getting our deep feelings back in balance.  We cannot turn the clock back and do anything differently.

If you want to cry, then cry.  If you want to protest against the injustice of life, do so.  It is better to “let your feelings go” than to bury them deep, where they can fester or eat away at you.  Face the full pain of your loss, for your pain is not only deep—it is healthy.  It means that you are alive.

“Blessed are those who use their sorrow creatively for they shall find a security that is not shaken by circumstance, but rather produces the fruits of enriched sympathy, heightened understanding and deepened faith.”

Reflections of a Grieving Spouse

Harvest House Publishers/2009

Noted grief and trauma counselor Norman Wright experienced the depths of grief himself when his wife Joy passed away September 15, 2007.  This is the book that he never planned or ever wanted to write.

“The loss of a beloved partner who has been by your side for a short time or for almost half a century, as in my case, creates a Grand Canyon-sized hole in your life.  The present and future are changed drastically.  ‘I do’.  Two words.  But they signify the beginning of a committed relationship designed to last throughout life on earth.  They are much anticipated words, and their expression to one another is filled with joy. Two little words….but very significant. 

Now, in place of all the words of joy, there are others. ‘Good-bye’ is a constant, whether I verbalize it or not.  There is so much to say goodbye to.  It seems endless.  ‘Not here.’  ‘Never again.’  The most difficult couplet.”

Norman goes on to share that grieving is a very disorderly process that you have no control over and you can’t schedule every aspect of its expression.  We are used to living by schedules, but grief knows no schedule and will not fit into your appointment book.

“The past and future seem to collapse together.  The future is hard to fathom.  Are you wondering if there is a future?  I did.  The future has changed.  We tend to believe it’s never ending.  But grief drops a curtain over that belief.  It’s difficult to imagine the future when you’re trapped in a fog.  To envision a future you need to make some forward progress and avoid being permanently stuck in a quagmire.  The clarity and anticipation of a future has faded into uncertainty.  Your mind tells you many messages:  ‘He (or she) is with the Lord, and you’ll be all right.’  ‘You will heal in time’.  ‘You can do it.’  But your heart says something different and grief short-circuits your mind and heart’s attempt to work together.   At such a challenging time, we need to be patient with the chaos we are now enduring inside us and around us.”

Some of the chapter titles in this book include:  Am I Normal?, The Other Anniversaries, Why?, Changing “We” to “I”, Relearning Your Life, Not Quite Myself, The Choice of Recovery, When You Seem Stuck, Letting Go, Remembrance.  Each chapter is short and easy to read.  At the end of each of the chapters are a few questions to help the reader ask his or herself several questions to help that particular chapter sink in.  I found those questions to be particularly helpful during the early months of my own grief fog.  They helped me to think as best I could.

The writer gives the best 4 reasons of why we go through grief – what is the purpose of grief.

1.  Through grief you express your feelings about your loss.  And you invite others to walk through it with you.

2.  Through grief you express your protest at the loss as well as your desire to change what happened.

3.  Through grief you express the effects you have experienced from the devastating impact of the loss.

4.  Through grief you may experience God in a new way that will change your life.  Job said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”  (Job 42:5)

Norman also goes on to tell the reader what we need to know about grief.

Your grief will take longer than most people think.

Your grief will take more energy than you ever imagine.

Your grief will involved many changes and will continue to develop.

Your grief will show in all spheres of your life.

Your grief will depend on how you perceive the loss.

You will grieve for many things symbolic and tangible, not just for the death alone.

You will grieve for what you have lost already, and for what you’ve lost for the future.

Your grief will entail mourning, not only for the person you lost, but also for the hopes, dreams, and unfulfilled expectations you held for and with that person and for the unmet needs because of the death.

Your grief will involve a wide variety of feelings and reactions–more than just the general ones often depicted, such as depression and sadness.

Your loss will resurrect old issues, feelings, and  unresolved conflicts from the past.

You may have a combination of anger and depression, exhibited as irritability, frustration, annoyance, and intolerance.

Your will feel some anger and guilt–or at least some manifestation of these emotions.

You may experience grief spasms–acute upsurges of grief that occur without warning.

You will have trouble thinking about memories, handling organizational tasks, intellectually processing information, and making decisions.

You may feel like you are going crazy.

You may be obsessed with death and preoccupied with the deceased.

You may find yourself acting socially in ways that are different than before.

You may find yourself having a number of physical reactions.

Others may have unrealistic expectations about your mourning and may respond inappropriately to you.

I want to thank the author for his willingness to share his most raw emotions and allowing us to see his own vulnerability during his grief journey.  This is one of the best books on grieving that I have read and even though it is written from a male’s perspective, it is excellent for a widow to read.

Making Friends with Loneliness

This is taken from a book called Riches Stored in Secret Places written by Verdell Davis seven years after her husband died.

The need to love and be loved, the need for companionship, the need for a feeling of connecting with someone is a daily part of our existence.  When these things are missing from our lives over a long period of time, the resulting loneliness often seems to threaten our sanity.  It becomes an ache that feels very much like physical pain, and it goes on day after day after day.  Then we will do almost anything to escape it, just for a little while, even when we know it will come back when the pleasure produced by our escape passes.

There is nothing wrong with an occasional soothing balm for the open wound; the danger is in those means of escape that lead us further from ourselves and further from the healing graces that only God can give — and that only in time.  Some escapes in themselves are destructive, and others are self-defeating.

How do I keep from being engulfed by the emptiness that often cries out for anyone to please give me a hug?  How do I turn my endless nights into occasions for magic moments to happen in my soul?  How do I take the silence of my house and let it become a “garden of solitude”?  How do I come to see loneliness as a gift I can unwrap and find therein treasures I might never have if I only curse the darkness?  How do I keep from running so fast and so hard that I can’t feel the loneliness and thus miss the blessing?

I tried busyness.  I have tried reading voraciously.  I have been accused of being permanently attached to my telephone.  I have spent hours at a time writing in my journal.  I have begged God to send relief.  I have bribed family and friends by cooking for them or by treating them to some entertainment.  Although some of these have become self-defeating and some have led to pure fatigue, gratefully, I was able to stop short of searching for escape in more destructive ways.  The real danger for me was in giving in to loneliness as a way of life and dying inwardly long before I died physically.

I had to get very angry at the persistence of loneliness before I let it become my teacher instead of my master.  As time went on, loneliness became a pain as real as the pain of grief, and equally as paralyzing.  I did become angry, angry that loneliness pervaded my whole life like a bad cold that leaves you miserable but not sick enough to go to bed.  And I got very tired of the sadness that accompanied it.  I yelled into the silence, “Please, God, what am I supposed to do with this?  I’m going down for the third time!”

Well, He didn’t take it away–He sent me into what I call the laboratory of loneliness.  Instead of getting easier right away, the loneliness became vicious.  Like the pain of grief, there was no way around it.  I had to go through it.

I found inside of me one last door that, in all of my dealing with the issues of my life, I had avoided opening.  It was labeled SINGLE, and when I opened it, I found all the things I was sure I couldn’t handle.  This room frightened me so much I had put a padlock on it, built a moat around it, and stocked the moat with alligators.  But alligators don’t scare God.  So, in His severe mercy, He led me through the treacherous moat and into that room.

Having married young, living alone was something I had never had to deal with.  Neither was singleness.  I found myself a very reluctant middle-aged adolescent.  I was a fairly young widow but definitely an older single living in a world of married couples.  I didn’t know where I fit in.

I was frightened of my vulnerability, but more frightened to ignore it.  There didn’t seem to be a map for the maze I found myself in.  So I had to stumble through, not knowing what lay ahead.

I asked myself questions I couldn’t answer.  Did I really want to put myself in a position to lose again and hurt as badly as I have these last few years?  Will keeping the door on that part of my life closed protect me?  Or will keeping the door closed eventually make me cold and distant?  Will opening up to new possibilities with all the uncertainties inherent in new relationships make me more fun for even my kids and my friends to be around, just because I am not being so protective of my feelings?  Will the loneliness ever go away?

I knew the cure for my loneliness was not finding another person to spend my life with but in coming to a comfortableness with all that makes me who I am.  So I lived the questions.  For a very long time, it seemed.

As I struggled long and hard with all the emotions that accompany aloneness, I sometimes felt that God had abandoned me.  One time I took a walk in anger and asked Him if He really knew what He was doing.  I was angry because I needed that tiny touch of human companionship I had been waiting for, and then was deprived of through something I felt God could have intervened in had He so chosen.

I thought of what C.S. Lewis said in the early days of his grieving the loss of his wife, Joy; “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him.”

I wrestled at yet another level with God’s promises, with His love and His wisdom, with His sovereignty and our free will, with His doing what is best for us when we see it differently and plead with Him to do it our way.  What I was actually wrestling with was whether I was going to trust Him with this part of my life too.

I came to see that God was right all along.  An intriguing allegory began forming in my thinking.  There was inside of me a room that for too many years had held something akin to a caged animal.  As the animal became more and more aware of its hunger, it began to pace furiously, looking for a way out of the cage.  Even though with the longing for freedom came a fear of what might be out there, the hunger kept the animal from simply lying down and accepting the cage as home.

Then one day the Trainer who knew all about the animal allowed the door to the cage to be opened.  The surprised animal burst through the door only to find itself in a larger pen with very little food, and the only opening being guarded by the Trainer himself.  The angry animal began to run wildly around the pen growling insults and accusations, and occasionally lunging toward the opening in the hopes that the Trainer would relent and let it out into the spaced beyond.  Yet, each time, the Trainer stood firmly in the way, never giving explanation why the animal must stay thus contained.

After some time the exhausted animal began to slow its pace and look more carefully at the food that had been provided, at the realities of true freedom, and at the possible motives of the Trainer for standing in the gap.

Soon the Trainer began to quietly speak.  The animal had to be very, very still to hear the words that would bring a sense of peace to its tired and troubled spirit.

“You may have thought you were, but you were not ready for freedom.  Your hunger was too great.  You had become so accustomed to the caged way of thinking and relating that immediate freedom would have destroyed you.  You needed some time in a larger arena, but an arena with safeguards.

Oh, I knew the fences would make you angry.  And I knew you would blame me for teasing you with a little food and a little freedom, and for standing between you and what you thought you wanted.  But I know you better than you know yourself.

It had to be this way.  You had to be fed slowly so you would later know how much is good for you and how much would be harmful.  You had to have time to get used to the new inner compulsions, so you could control them rather than them controlling you.

You needed me to protect you, not from the one whom I allowed to open the door to your cage, but from yourself.  You were too vulnerable to the forces at work inside of you.

I understood your anger when you yelled at me, and I felt your tears when you cried them.  I, too, suffered when I was tempted, and because I was tempted, I am able to  help those being tempted.

So you see, I stand in the gap as long as it takes for you to become acquainted with the intensity of your passions so long denied.  I will let you out into full freedom only when those passions are your servant and are no longer in danger of being your taskmaster.

When that the Trainer stepped aside.  The animal felt rather than saw that the boundaries had been removed.  It need look no further–for its freedom was within.

And so in loneliness I again saw a wise and loving God at work.  He has a purpose in all that He does, in the pains He allows as surely as the blessings He bestows..  He would teach us, as oft as we need it, that our sufficiency is in Him.

I Wasn’t Ready to Say Good-Bye

Sourcebooks, Inc./2008

Both Brook Noel and Pamela Blair have both experienced a sudden loss of someone they loved.  This book shares their stories as well as those of other people.  It is filled with wisdom and information that they wish they would have had access to during their own grief journeys.  They tell you about those who had “hit the wall, stumbled in the maze, skinned their knees, and risen up to emerge in a new place – for as much as this book is about death, it is also about beginning.”

One of the chapters in this book that I found to be very helpful was chapter 4 entitled ‘Myths and Misunderstandings of the Grieving Process’.  Noel and Blair listed 28 myths and some of these are:

Death is death, sudden or long-term, and we all grieve the same way.

By keeping busy I can lessen or eliminate my grief.

I must be going crazy or “losing it”.

I need to make sure I don’t grieve for too long–one year should be enough.

If I express my anger at God or the circumstances of the death, I am a bad person and will “pay” for it.

I won’t have to grieve as much and I will feel better if I use alcohol or medication to alleviate my sadness.

Shouldn’t I be strong enough to “tough it out” by myself?

I’ve done something wrong because my family and friends are turning away from me.

Not only is the sudden death of a spouse dealt with in this writing, but also losing a parent, losing a child, losing a sibling, and losing a friend.

Death by suicide or when tragedy causes multiple deaths is also discussed at length and those who have suffered a loss due to something like this will find it most helpful.

Noel and Brooks suggest that there are themes of grief by years:  First Year….a First Time for Everything, Second Year…..Reorganizing, and Third Year…..Regaining Equilibrium.

The Ten-Step Pathway of Grief is given:

Step 1 – Shock and Survival

Purpose:  To survive the shock of our loss while tending to the basics of reality.

Step 2 – The Feelings Rollercoaster

Purpose:  Acknowledgement & Active Grieving

Step 3 – Understanding Our Story

Purpose:  To find a beginning, middle, and end so that we may cease obsessive thinking.

Step 4 – Acknowledgement & Active Grieving

Purpose:  To acknowledge the reality of our loss and fully grieve our loss.

Step 5 – Forgiveness

Purpose:  To release ourselves from unnecessary pain through the act of forgiveness.

Step 6 – Faith

Purpose:  To explore, define, rebuild and repair our faith in life and/or in God.

Step 7 – Finding Meaning

Purpose:  To understand that even the deepest tragedy can bring meaning, and to uncover that meaning.

Step 8 – Redefining Ourselves

Purpose:  To understand the void that has been created by our loss and how that void will change our personal belief system.

Step 9 – Living with Loss

Purpose:  To integrate the discovered meaning into our day-to-day lives.

Step 10 – Accepting Life

Purpose:  To take responsibility that life is ours to be lived to its fullest.

I found this book to be one of the most thorough resources for grief whether you have lost a loved one suddenly or not.  This review has only begun to touch on its riches.

Heartfelt thanks go out to Brook Noel and Pamela Blair for all the hours and hours of interviewing and research that they spent to bring us this book.