On June 28, 1987, a plane crash took the life of Verdell’s husband Creath and three of their very closest friends leaving her with one married son and a son and daughter in college. Creath was a minister for more than 27 years. In this book she shares very honestly the emptiness, the questions, and the fears that plagued her steps, but she also tells of the hope that anchored her soul when there was no desire to go on living.
Right after Creath’s graveside service, Verdell found herself standing at the entrance of a very deep, dark tunnel that she didn’t want to go into. She kept trying to turn around and go back, but there was no life as she had known it to go back to. She knew she had no choice but to walk through all the pain and heartache and questions and dark despair and had no assurance that she would ever come out on the other side a whole person.
“The tunnel was dark indeed, and I was sure, endless. Each morning I awoke and found myself still surrounded by darkness. Taking care of menial tasks required enormous effort. Trying to stay with a conversation was sometimes beyond me–I would often be in the middle of a sentence and forget what I was saying. In fact, remembering anything seemed like a miracle. Trying to talk with lawyers and insurance representatives who were working with me on estate matters had to be as challenging for them as it was for me. I know I asked them the same quetions over and over, not sure if I didn’t understand the answer or just couldn’t remember it,” says Verdell.
Verdell shares that she has learned in her grief journey that the candle on the toe of each shoe is really enough because God himself is the candle that lights the way through the darkness one step at a time. Even so, she found herself questioning God and everything she had been taught and everything she had ever believed.
She wrestled with issues of faith and trust, with God’s sovereignty, and with his lovingkindness. She asked, “Why? Why Creath? Why not me? Why those four men? What now? How do I go on? Is God truly sovereign? Does he ordain all that happens to us? What about the promises of God’s watchful care over us? Just how is God a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows? Is there a me without Creath? Who, in heaven’s name, are you? Who do you want to be? When I am no longer the grieving widow, will we have anything to talk about? When I am better and can walk again, will they still want to see me?“ And Verdell not only asked those questions; she struggled with them. They stripped her of all her preconceived ideas and forced her to start over with the most basic question of all — “Do I believe God is all he says he is?”
She found herself embracing her questions and discovered that rather than creating more doubt, they were raising up faith. Instead of turning her away from God, they drew her toward him.
Words that Verdell uses to describe her grief journey include empty, alone, weary, frightened, inadequate, lonely, guilty, tired, overwhelmed, angry, doubtful, and painful. Yet, alongside those words of heartache she also includes the words grateful, joy, anticipation, blessings, goodness, love, miracle, peace, acceptance, trust, and hope.
“In the valley and at points along the way, God gave me a hug here, a word of encouragement there, a little light in a very dark stretch of road, a glimpse of eternity, a reason for hope–but nowhere did he show me a shortcut through the valley. He simply kept leading me along and reminding me, as I was able to hear it, that no matter how alone I felt, I was not alone”, writes Verdell.
She admits that she does not let go easily of either pain or pleasure and often asks the same “Why?” question of both. She looks at each from the inside, the outside, the upside, and the downside. When she reaches the place that she has wrestled with an issue in her life and refused to let it to until she can sigh as she thinks of it rather than moan, or she comes to accept that it can only rest in the hands of God, then she knows that the experience has become a apart of who she is and she is richer for it.
Verdell found that, “When we can’t carry ourselves, when the loss is one we cannot rise above or work through, when no amount of prayer or effort restores, our most immediate need is the grace to survive the intensity of emotional despair and the physical fatigue that accompanies it. It is here that, at the same time it sustains us, our faith is being sorely tested. It is here that we often cry out from the depths of disillusionment, ‘Where are you, God?’ It is also here that God can do his deepest work in our lives because here we become aware that we have nowhere to go but to him.”
In the last chapter of the book Verdell writes about the three things that beginning the journey toward healing requires and expounds on those a bit. I have to say that this book is one that can be read several times during a widow’s grief journey because it is so rich and helpful.
Verdell, I’m so very thankful to you most of all for asking all your questions and for sharing especially that part of your grief journey.