Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How Long Have I Been Lost?

Have you ever walked through your life and been utterly unaware of changes inside of you? Changes that you didn't notice because just dealing with your everyday life took every bit of your conscious effort? A couple of years ago, I would have adamantly declared that this description had nothing to do with me. I would even have argued the point.

Watching my much loved husband be consumed with Parkinson's Disease took all the emotional energy I could muster, especially during his last four years of life. If asked to describe myself, I would have said I was happy but sad, fun-loving but stressed, calm of spirit but frazzled. I would have said I was the same person I'd always been, even though knowing I was losing my husband to a disease distressed me on the deepest level of my being. I would have said my sense of humor remained intact.

But I would have been wrong.

I didn't realize that until last month. The Lord has a time and season to reveal what has unknowingly been going on inside us while we dealt with our everyday life. On the day in question, I was doing nothing more than planning my Christmas list and thinking about the quilts I'd make for my grandkids. In the midst of that, I was praising the Lord for returning my joy of life, even though I still missed Jim. Somehow, the scar had healed and though I remain much aware that I am alone, the pain of remembering seldom sneaks up on me anymore. Since it's been only 2 1/2 years, I know it is God's love and grace that has sustained me and brought me to this point.

In the deepest part of me, I realized that this would be the first Christmas that I would have fun. That I would honestly laugh. That I could again be part of the family party rather than an outsider looking in. That is what my mind was dwelling on when it suddenly hit me that I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt like this. It was such a startling revelation, I stopped and asked the Lord, "How long have I been lost and didn't know it?"

I felt like the "old" me. The person I'd grown up with. The adult I'd become. Genuine laughter had come back; joking around and teasing friends rose up inside me and I knew for a fact, the "real" me had been gone a long time. Years, in fact. Long before Jim died. Think as I might, I couldn't remember the time when the real "me" went away and the "determined to survive" me took up residence.

What I did realize is that the Lord had hidden the truth from me, lest I lose heart and falter along the way, giving in to debilitating grief at watching Jim deteriorate before my eyes. I understood that I'd been dealing with life a day at a time. Sometimes a minute at a time. I understood everything that faced me as a caregiver. But I wasn't cognizant one little bit that I had slowly changed into a different person.

The Lord loves me so much that He just kept carrying me through that dark valley, choosing not to reveal to my inner self what was happening inside of me. The Bible says "there is a time and a season for everything" and it dawned on me that day that I wouldn't have been able to handle the changes in my personality BEFORE the return of my peace and joy.  I've always known that God's timing is perfect. Knowing is a far different experience than personally experiencing the truth of that scripture.

What I have come to understand is that the "old" me didn't disappear overnight, but the "old me" returned in an instant. Only the Lord could have effected such a miracle. In the midst of planning for my first "fun" Christmas since losing Jim, came the revelation that I'd been lost a long time. And while I requested of the Lord to tell me when it began, all I ever heard from Him was that it didn't matter because I'd done what needed to be done to care for Jim, and in doing so, I'd cared for the Lord. The scripture that ran through my mind was, "When did I see you sick and take you in? When did I see you hungry and feed you? When did I see you naked and clothe you? And Jesus answered them saying, 'As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Me."

From that day on, the joy has remained. The fun and laughter are as though they never left. The joking and teasing are again part of my being. Everyday is full of adventure. Filled with fun. My new crafting friends drop by often and we still meet every Tuesday evening to work on our latest endeavors and help one another with things that need to be finished quickly. We named ourselves The Snail Trail Crafting Ladies simply because all of us are desperately slow in getting where we're going. Mostly because of all the artificial knees or hips or disagreeable spines or feet that sometimes do our bidding and sometimes not. We laugh at ourselves. It adds great joy to my life to be with those who are like me, widowed or left alone, who lean on one another for help and get done what needs to get done. We are becoming a family.

I realized the change had been complete when all of the widow blogs I always used to read no longer appealed to me. In fact, they saddened me to what I was and no longer wished to be. Yes, I'm still a widow. Yes, I'm still alone and intend to stay that way--unless the Lord has cloned Jim, which I think unlikely. Yes, I'm happy. You bet I'm busy quilting and knitting and sewing--what with 4 kids, 7 grandkids, and two sisters to make presents for.

 I can honestly say I feel no drudgery in my life anymore. I wake up happy. I've metamorphosed back into the smiling, fun-loving girl Jim married so very many years ago. The wilderness is behind me. Green grass, flowered hills. sunshine and the granite sturdiness of a mountain range are what I am currently seeing through my spiritual windows. And they all symbolize to me the scripture that says, "I will look to the hills, from whence comes my help."  For me, I can look nowhere else for the desire to carry on but "To the Rock, which is higher than I."

I know God is happy for me. That He sings over me with joy. And if Jim can look down from heaven and see the "refurbished" me, I know he is smiling from ear to ear. That sly grin that I always loved. I can see it now. All I have to do is close my eyes and turn on my imagination.



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

God Has Returned My Joy In Living

I am deeply indebted to those of you who have hung in there with me this past 2 1/2 years as I've ranted and cried and spouted off, revealing even the deepest feeling of what it was like for me to become an instant widow. While my friends didn't wish to talk about Jim and my family was hesitant to bring up his name, you were there for me, often sending me messages of hope, filled with kindness. I am so grateful for how you pulled alongside me in the darkest time I've ever had to walk through. Thank you for caring about me through this long time that the devastation inside me was so great, the Lord had to carry me through it.

I thought I would never come out of that dark valley of death. As much as I still miss Jim, I was ready to see the light again. But I couldn't find it. So two weeks ago, during my morning prayer time, I asked the Lord if I would ever be happy again. Would I ever again feel joy bubble up within me. Would my ready laugh ever come back. I prayed about it for a couple of days and one day last week, I actually felt something change inside me. I had thought God might return joy and peace and laughter in small increments. But that isn't what happened. Everything came back at once and all of it together.

I could feel joy inside me. I could feel laughter about to burst forth. I knew Jim would always be a part of me and I could remember him with delight, for he was and still is, the best friend I've ever had. I called my neighbor, asking if she'd like to come over for a bit. She did and as we sat and chatted, I questioned if she thought we could start our own quilting club. She informed me she knew some ladies who would like that and within a few days there were six of us meeting at my home.
Nurse Maryann cared for Jim for 3 years
before she left to join the Army. She is
in a medical unit headed for Kuwait.

My neighbor has long had a craft class in her home, so I began attending that. Then we heard that one of Jim's nurses, who had joined the army, was being deployed to Kuwait, so my neighbor and I put our heads together and adopted the platoon that she is now in charge of. We began asking friends and family if they'd like to be supporters and it's difficult to explain the speed with which things began rolling in. So far we have 2 big boxes full.

Although I've been avidly quilting since the '70s, I quit many years ago as Jim's Parkinson's disease progressed and he needed me more than the quilts did. So last week I signed up to take a class on quilting on a small machine. I've always sent my quilts out to be quilted because I didn't like the job of doing it myself. But woe, the budget no longer allows extravagances like that so I bit the bullet the am learning to do it myself.

All of this to tell you that my blog will still be here, but the tone will change and if you wish to still follow my journey of learning to walk alone, stay tuned. I'll tell you all about my quilts and, of course, my always present knitting. I'll let you know what I'm doing in craft class and how our collection of things to send the adopted platoon is shaping up.

I will probably tell you a joke or two, simply because I've always been a giggler. Both my sisters are gigglers too. And I confess right here that as grateful to God as I am for the return of peace and joy, I am exceedingly glad to be a giggler again. You know what the Bible says: "Laughter is medicine for the soul."

So now I end with a bit of a story that made me laugh. How glad I am for this brand new path.

At seventy now I've learned a lot of how things ought to be. Cause I remember how things were way  back in forty three.

Experience is a teacher stern and that's why I am smart. I've learned a bunch in all these years. What wisdom I impart.

I know just what our country needs to get it on the track to solve our economic woes and bring some good times back.

I've learned just how things should be done to simplify all tasks. I've good advice for everyone, but no one ever asks.

Blessings on you.

Thank you for being there for me all this time.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Some Scars Are Permanent

The tree needed to come out. The big silk oak had outgrown its allocated space, its branches all but hid the telephone and electric lines running into our house, and its 60 foot-high crown swayed precariously during winter storms. Yet even above that, the tree bloomed profusely, shedding its spiky orange flowers all over our patio--a situation that irritated Jim, who just happened to be the one who had to do the cleaning up.

"I'll take it down myself," said my forty year-old husband. "I'll cut the branches off, leaving stubs to stand on as I go higher, then I'll borrow a chainsaw and cut the trunk down in three-foot sections. It'll be simple. I can have the whole thing done in a couple of days."

But I had this intense foreboding. I suggested calling a professional tree feller, but Jim assured me he could do it, and I decided maybe he was right. After all, hadn't this man completely rebuilt our Volkswagen engine three times?

We were both wrong. Oh, sure, the branches were easy enough to dismember--even with a hand saw. Then came to day when the chainsaw was borrowed and the long, orange electric cord that would give it life was plugged into an outside socket. Jim set a ladder against the tree trunk and used it and the branch stubs to carefully make his way up the tree. Near the top, he tied the chainsaw off with a long cord, then strapped on a homemade safety belt outfitted with a quick release catch.

With his brother on the ground as a helper, Jim began his cuts. The first two went as planned and the severed chunks thudded solidly into the preferred area. But the third cut went wrong. The saw bound up in the kerf, and without thinking, Jim took his left hand off the front handle and reached over the saw to push against the wood, hoping to relieve the pressure so he could finish the cut.

With the pressure suddenly released, the saw teeth spring to life, continuing the job they were designed to do. They cut. Only this time it wasn't the tree trunk they worked on. It was Jim's left arm. And they did their job with shark-like proficiency.

It took the paramedics less than five minutes to get to our house. By then, Jim's brother had wrapped the heavily bleeding wounds in ice and clean towels, keeping close watch on the blood loss and applying his belt as a temporary tourniquet. I was no help at all; after calling the paramedics, I succumbed to hysterical crying.

That Jim had been able to climb down the tree unaided seemed a miracle, as did the fact that he never went into shock. Even more miraculous, said the two physicians who did the 2 1/2 hour reconstruction surgery, was that though there had been multiple tendons and muscles cut to within a hairsbreadth of a major nerve and tendon, no irreparable damage had been done.

For six weeks Jim wore a cast that started at his fingertips and ended just below the elbow. Friends and relatives who came by to visit found him in good humor. In time the chewed-up muscles healed, a nicked tendon encircling the wrist knitted together, and with exercises that were often painful, he finally regained complete use of his hand and arm, with no strength loss apparent.

The scars didn't photograph well, but were highly
visible in person.
Within a year of the accident, the only visible evidence of that infamous day was a maze of ridged, purple scars just above Jim's left wrist and two long, indented purple slash marks on the back of his forearm. Considering that the hand surgeon called in to operate was considered to be one of the best in town, the doctor's both explained that there would be considerable scarring due to the fact that none of the cuts had been clean, but chewed. Jim carried those prominent scars with him until the day he graduated to heaven. We both considered them to be reminders of God's goodness and protection, and while they were unsightly, neither of us ever considered plastic surgery to remove them.

There are times in our lives when circumstances scar us to the point that although we heal on the inside, the reminder of that wound remains forever visible to ourselves and those around us. When those who didn't know how Jim had gotten the scars asked about them, it gave Jim a chance to tell the story--not only of his own foolishness in attempting a job he was ill prepared to do, but the story of how God in His mercy had spared him the loss of his arm.

In time, Jim saw those scars as a vehicle for witnessing to the Lord's care and compassion. I never saw him even falter in telling the tale to anyone who asked. Eventually, we both came to see that what the devil had meant for evil, God had used for good. Not many came to ask Jim about his relationship with the Lord. But they did ask about the scars. It was an opening to sharing Christ that Jim may not have had any other way.

Author's comments:

I hired a professional to finish taking the silk oak tree down, though Jim and I decided to leave the stump as a monument to how the Lord had saved Jim from either losing an arm or his life. We both knew that the events on what we came to call "the chainsaw day" could have turned out so much worse than they had. 

I often see a bumper sticker around town that says, "Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting some kind of battle." My heart knows that to be true. Sometimes the trial shows on our face or in our stance or in our walk and is obvious to anyone with an eye to see. Sometimes the trial shows itself in our actions or words. Those who know me well say they can see in my face when I'm having a bad day or week or month. Those closest to me instantly realize when I've been blindsided by the grief of loss. They immediately understand that I'm missing Jim to the point of once again shedding tears and wanting to be left alone so I can sort things out in the Lord's presence.

I have no purple ridged scars across my heart or face or chest. Yet they are there. No one can physically see them, but within me I know the healing isn't finished, for the wound still hurts, causing me pain at unexpected times and unexpected places. Sometimes I think about Jim's chewed arm and marvel at how quickly it healed and I question God as to how long it will take my heart to heal from the wound of losing Jim. I often question the Lord as to how long I will be in this fragile state and if I'm still of this earth, what plan does He have for me? He always answers with the same words: First, you must finish grieving, and then we'll talk."

I often feel as though I am in physical therapy, as Jim was with his hand and arm. Get up, stretch, take a short walk, feel the sun on my face, admire the flowers blooming in my yard, watch the hummingbirds flit from one flower to another. Each day feels much the same; each day is different. Some days are happy and content; others are filled with sobs of sorrow for the mate no longer with me and the absolute knowledge that only half of me remains tied to this world. 

I think about how Jim, ever determined, went back to work a week after the injury. He figured out how to tie his shoes with one hand, using the other foot for a helper. He tied his tie, always a double Windsor, and I watched in amazement as he did so by using only one hand and his chin. I marveled at his ingenuity and wished I were half as clever. Had it been me, I'd have stayed in my pajamas and lolled around the house till I was well. But that was never Jim's style. Sitting still drove him crazy. He was always up and about, always finding something to do to keep himself busy. I think about that now and tell myself it's time for me to change my sedentary widow ways and be more like he was--how I used to be before my world changed forever. I've grieved for two years. And while I know within myself that it's not finished, I agree that it is time for me to begin moving again. It's a small change; yet for me it is a monumental endeavor. 

One small step at a time. Next week I'll be planting my herb garden. All that's left of it are those plants that would fend for themselves. The rosemary bush is getting big; the sage has come back from nothing, sprouting anew from buried roots. Time now to plant the basil, the tarragon, the thyme, chives and parsley. I know it's a little thing. But little is all I can handle right now. At least it will get me out of Jim's big maroon recliner and into fresh air where I can feel the sun on my face, listen to the birdsong coming from the canyon across the street, watch the hawks that live there wheeling the currents, inspect the new rash of baby lizards that love to scramble up and down my fence.

It's not a big thing for most. But right now, it seems to be all I can handle. It's my self-imposed version of physical therapy. I suspect the scars of loss will always be with me. I think they are permanent. Yet unlike the scars Jim wore, mine are invisible. To everyone but the Lord and me. He and I alone know where they reside. Even so, I know God will continue to walk with me, one step at a time as I continue to heal. I trust His promise in Hebrews 13:5, and I especially like it in the Amplified Bible, where it says, " satisfied with your present circumstances and with what you have; for He (God) Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up not leave you without support. I will not. I will not. I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake nor let you down, relax My hold on you. Assuredly not!"

A big promise from my Big God. The One I have trusted since childhood and Who has never once let me down. It soothes my being, knowing the history we have together and that is what I count on to get me through this dark valley and into the light once again. Thank you, Jesus, for reminding me it's time for baby steps. I can do baby steps--even while bearing the scars of loss.

"We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed--" 2 Corinthians 4:8,9

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dreams In The Night

One night as I was sleeping, my heart awakened in a dream. I heard the voice of my beloved; he was knocking at my bedroom door. "Open to me, my darling, my lover, my lovely dove," he said, "for I have been out in the night and am covered with dew."

"But," I said, "I have disrobed. Shall I get dressed again? I have washed my feet, and should I get them soiled?"

My beloved tried to unlatch the door and my heart was moved for him. I jumped up to open it and my hands dripped with perfume, my fingers with lovely myrrh as I pulled back the bolt. I opened to my beloved, but he was gone. My heart stopped. I searched for him but couldn't find him anywhere. I called to him, but there was no reply. The guards found me and struck and wounded me. The watchman on the wall tore off my veil.

I adjure you, O women of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him that I am sick with love.   Song of Solomon 5:2-8, The Living Bible

I woke up crying. Tears ran down my cheeks and into my ears, wetting my hair tendrils along the way. My heart was broken and while I knew the whole scenario had been but a dream, the emotions within me were stirred to the point of  devastation. While I'd been asleep, my heart had been searching for Jim for I thought I'd seen him. But then he disappeared, and I followed, looking into every crack and crevice. I searched frantically through the night, hurrying here and there for yet another glimpse of him. But he was gone. My own sobs brought me into reality.

The dream had been so real that even when I was fully awake, it was some time before I stopped crying and more time still before I was able to calm myself.  The Song of Solomon came to mind and while it's not been a book I've studied or even spent much time reading, I knew my dream somewhat mirrored the Shulamite woman's story and nothing would do but to get up and read it for myself.

That was the last dream I had concerning Jim. But there had been dozens before. Most had been horrifying: watching Jim die again and again; Jim, back from the dead, covered with dirt and filth, walking like a zombie; Jim, hampered by Parkinson's, fighting me for the car keys because he had decided he was able to drive.

One night I woke myself up with screams.

Only two of the nightly dreams had been good ones: Jim, dressed in a suit, rescuing me from an unknown attacker, suddenly showing up and fighting the bad guy off, then holding me tight, making sure I was alright, then disappearing from sight. Jim, sitting on the edge of a couch, smiling at me as I entered Heaven, looking up with that shy grin of his and saying, "I've been waiting for you."

Since ever I can remember I've had vivid dreams. Always in full color. And with few exceptions, always remembered upon waking. But now, after so many weeks of terrible dreams, my body changed its schedule. I don't remember when or how it happened. I don't even know if it was subconscious. I just quit sleeping.

I might doze a bit in the recliner during the day, but for the most part, nights were spent knitting or reading or watching old movies. After a while, I was beyond exhausted. But to sleep meant giving entrance to those horrid dreams and emotionally, I could no longer handle them. Dozing during the day brought no dreams. I thought that was odd, but it was a fact.

By the time six weeks had gone by, I was beyond sleep deprived, beyond being able to concentrate for long periods of time. I found bills I'd forgotten to pay, just like right after Jim passed away. I discovered errors in the checkbook. I found business mail that should have been answered but had been forgotten. 

During my Bible reading one morning, I came across Proverbs 3:24. "When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet."

I put my finger on the verse and said to the Lord, "Do you see this verse, God? I need this kind of sleep. I know you always keep your promises to your children. Please take the frightening dreams away and let my sleep be sweet. And if I can't have good dreams, then let me have no dreams at all."

I went about my day. In truth, I'd forgotten about that prayer. Until bedtime. I was spent to the bone so I took my bath, brushed my teeth, and crawled under the covers. It was then I remembered what I had requested of the Lord. "Please, God," I said, "allow me sweet sleep. I pray you send your Holy Spirit through all the rooms of my house and clean out all depression of losing Jim, all fear of bad dreams, everything that resides here that isn't of You."

I laid down and slept. I didn't wake up until 2:00 the next afternoon. I'd had no dreams of any kind. Nor any since then. I am more than grateful to the Lord for many things, but especially for the absence of  the horrific nightmares. Looking back, I wonder why I didn't ask sooner-- because sweet sleep is affording healing to my grieving heart. I know that for a fact, for I have started laughing again.


I know the Song of Solomon is a picture of married love and more deeply, a picture of Christ's love for His church. But because of the dream I'd had being so like that of the Shulamite woman, I took the scripture at face value, and in doing so, I gained an understanding of how broken-hearted she was at not being able to find her beloved. 

These past holidays were harder than I had expected them to be. It was then that the dreams began. Not being a psychiatrist, I can't explain why they settled in as they did nor why they grew from bad to worse. My guess is that the second Thanksgiving and Christmas without Jim was harder than I'd expected it to be, for I thought I was doing better than I was. Being a widow is so hard I find myself wondering how those who do not have the Lord to hang onto make it through.



Tuesday, January 3, 2012

One Widow's Journey: Holiday Ambushes

One Widow's Journey: Holiday Ambushes: These past holidays have been difficult for me. I suspect you figured that out when you saw no new postings. I simply wasn't prepared for th...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Wedding Ring Dilemma

The department store jewelry case was lined with rows of diamond-studded wedding ring sets, some so brilliant they seemed nearly able to refract themselves into tints of gold, green, and blue. Jim stood beside me, asking which ones I wanted. I questioned if there was a price point, but he shook his head no. "I want you to have the rings you like the most," is what he said. "You'll be wearing them for the rest of your life."

I have never been a showy kind of person. My roots go back to WWII rationing and being thrifty had been the motto my parents had instilled in my head. For fun, I tried on a set with a large diamond in the engagement ring. It had looked so enticing sitting in the case, but on my small hand, it looked ridiculous. At least I thought it did. I tried on a few more sets, but once on a hand with short fingers, they appeared almost clown-like.

Then I spied an intricately carved set with small diamonds, chips mostly, and a single quarter-caret stone set in the center of the engagement ring. I asked to try them on. Perfect for me. Perfect for a tiny hand with short fingers. I thought they cost too much, but Jim insisted he could afford them. He bought them and took them home toward the day we'd be officially engaged and then married.

Over the years, time and wear took its toll on those rings and while the diamonds stayed clear and sparkling, the gold wore through and eventually broke into pieces. Jim said I should have the stones put into a new setting so I looked here and there for weeks, but found nothing I liked as much as my original rings.

My local jeweler suggested I have the rings re-cast. I gave her a couple of 24-caret chains and bracelets to be melted down and the gold reused, but in the end I had to purchase a bit of additional gold.  By the time the wax mold was finished and approved by me, the new rings were cast and the stones set. Even I couldn't tell they weren't my original rings. I brought them home so Jim could slip them back on my finger. They are still there. Even though he isn't.

I have read so many different books that deal with grief and one of the major questions always concerns the wedding rings. Should the widow put them away, move them to the other hand, wear them around her neck, have the stones reset, or keep the rings on her wedding finger? I am friends with a widow who has put them in her jewelry box and brings them out on special occasions. I propose there is no one way to do things. Each widow must do what feels right in her own heart.

My heart maintains that I am still married. My husband may have moved into heaven, but my heart says that while I am still so much in love with him, the rings stay where he put them so many years ago. Perhaps the day will come when I'll move them to my jewelry box. Maybe. About a hundred years from now. Maybe then. But not today.

There are other reasons why I continue wearing my rings. They are protection for me. As long as strangers think I'm married, nobody bothers me and that's how I want it to be. I learned that lesson the hard way. Several months after Jim died, I had an appliance that started acting up so I called a repairman. He fixed the problem and as I was writing the check, he asked a question that I no longer remember. What I do remember is that in answering, I mentioned I was a widow.

"So you're available now," is what he said. My mouth dropped open and I'm sure my eyes must have been wide with shock. My mind began questioning myself as to what on earth I had said that made him think he could ask such a thing. I do remember that I told him I was not available and then I listened to him apologize over and over for having spoken as he had. I handed him the check, ushered him out of the house with my dog, Bonnie, right beside me and double-locked  the door behind him. He was the last person who would ever come into my home to repair anything that would know I was a widow.

I continue wearing my rings for yet another reason. I have two very good friends my same age who have never been married, never had children, never seen a man's eyes light up when they walked in the room. I listen to their heart's longings and I understand how much they wish someone had loved them enough to say they could not live without them and place a ring on their finger. Through their unspoken words, I listen to the longing for the life they wanted to live and never did. I hear the sadness in their words. The hunger for what they wished had been. It is then that I realize how much God has blessed me with a husband who loved me unconditionally. So it is that I continue wearing my rings. They say that some man wanted me. They say that I was loved. Life never gets any better than that.

Author's comments:

Wearing my wedding rings feels normal. Right now, it is the only thing in my entire life that feels that way. It's been said that it takes a while after the death of a loved one to "return to normal." My consensus is that normal is gone--vanished into thin air, along with Jim's presence. For me, normal is a thing of the past--the glory days when Jim and I sat visiting over coffee or taking a ride to the mountains just because we wanted to or planning a cruise to someplace we'd always wanted to go.

I suspect that in time, a new normal will surface, one that works with the person I am and the personality God gave me. For now, I have set being "normal" aside, content to leave it in the Lord's hands, for I know that if I try to effect some sort of new standard for myself, it will likely fail miserably. You know the tale of the best laid plans of mice and men. They never work. So it is that I save myself the trouble of pushing my way into some sort of new normalcy. I let it go willingly, for concentrating on change when I still have grieving to do is more than I can handle right now.

My widow friend who has been alone two years longer than me says that she would like to marry again. She claims she is the type of person who needs someone to take care of her. I suspect that for her, having someone to carry all the burdens and make every decision is normal. From what she tells me, it is the way her husband was and what she's used to and what she wants again.

I can't envision myself ever getting to that point. As much as I loved Jim, I've always been self-motivated, opinionated, and decisive. They are traits I low-keyed as a wife yet allowed to run full bore as a writer with a freelancing business. And while in the beginning, shortly after Jim's death, I didn't believe I could survive without him beside me, I've come to see that God knew me better than I knew myself. I know I can go on. I've even come to the place where I am willing to do so. There is still much sadness within me and with the holidays approaching, I find I am ambushed by tears more often than not.

My intent to go on and have a good attitude about the whole thing came as a surprise to me. Perhaps you are doing a double take too. The change inside me came about last week and only the Lord could have done it because it happened so spontaneously. It was a day I was once again sitting in Jim's big recliner, teary-eyed by memories of holidays past and dreading those that are almost upon us. For some reason, the sense of loss seems bigger right now, for this will be the second year that Jim won't be sitting at the head of the table on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

That day I especially felt alone and bereft. I felt limp with grief, as though all the starch God had put within me these last months had been washed away. It was then that the oddest thing happened. I saw my grandma. Not visibly, but mentally, and she was smiling. I considered that for a moment and then it came into my head that grandma would have understood exactly how I was feeling. Her long-time spouse had gone to work one day and while sitting at his desk, suddenly claimed he didn't feel well. Before the other employees in the real estate office could even think what to do, grandpa put his head on his desk and died. He was sixty-two.

Five generations of my
family, from great
grandma to my son.
Into my head came this thought: You come from strong stock. "If grandma could live thirty plus years alone, so can you." Believe it or not, I felt starch come back into my soul. I was still saddened that these holidays would be lonely, yet I looked back at my genes and knew I came from a line of tough and determined women. Great grandma lived alone for untold years, running a small farm by herself, the house heated only by a wood stove. She lived to be ninety-eight. 

My grandma went back to work a year or so after grandpa died, walking the six blocks to and from a large department store every single day, eventually becoming the best sales lady in her department and later on, the best sales person in the entire store. She lived to be ninety-four. My own mom, all her life as healthy as a horse, succumbed to Alzheimer's at eighty-two. Every so often I wonder how long she would have lived had her body remained whole. My best guess is well into her nineties. It seems to be our "normal" pattern on my mother's side. 

As for me, I think I'm going to find the bumper sticker that says, "If I'd known I was going to live this long I'd have taken better care of myself" and put it on my car. Jim always refused any kind of sticker on any of his vehicles, but now that I'm in charge, I can do as I wish. I say that with absolutely no animosity. Honest. I didn't choose to go on without him, but if I must, then I will make my own choices, knowing that the Lord is guiding me along the right path.

I will allow my stubborn nature to say "no" when need be and I'll let my decisiveness make decisions without wringing my hands. As for my opinions, I'll say only this. The wedding rings stay put. Death ends a life, but not a relationship. Others may disagree with that opinion. I understand. None of us are alike. Yet that is my opinion and no matter what anyone says, I'm stickin' with it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Holiday Ambushes

These past holidays have been difficult for me. I suspect you figured that out when you saw no new postings. I simply wasn't prepared for the way grief came back on me just when I thought I was doing so well. I never even saw it coming. Not until it hit me between the eyes, resulting in intense emotional pain. The 2x4 seemingly came out of nowhere to deliver it's agonizing blow. The worst part was, once was not enough. More would follow, usually when I least expected it.

Jim and Debi were soul-
mates from the very beginning.
It started with my oldest granddaughter getting married the middle of November. I'd known the date for a long time but the week before the ceremony, I began thinking of how much Jim would have loved to be there. She was our first grandchild and while I loved her, Jim adored her. They became soul-mates, always together whether it be playing or walking or bike riding. She was our only grandchild for four years and Jim spoiled her rotten every time she came to visit.

Thinking how much Jim would have enjoyed the wedding is what started my whirlpool of sadness. After that, I was downhearted most of the time. I often cried  during the classic movies I have always enjoyed watching. You know the old black and white ones that are always on the movie channel. The ones we've all seen a hundred times and still watch over and over. Those movies where the man always loves the woman more than life and promises to care for her forever. And even if the guy gets sick and dies or goes off to war never to return, the women left behind remain sturdy and strong and if they cry, it is only a single tear that trickles down the face.

I cried when I heard the old, familiar songs that reminded me of years past when my family was all around me. Today, my kids are grown; the grandkids too. Jim is gone. And even though I am surrounded by a big dog and four comical cats, it isn't the same. And even though I understand that I cannot live in the past, it is the past that evokes the tears. It seems a vicious circle.

I've resolved to go on alone, even though I don't like it. That resolve is still inside me as I continue walking through what feels like the worst winter of my life. From time to time, scattered memories bushwhack me. Those memories will always be within me. I figure tears will abate after some years of grief. Maybe in about ten years. Or twenty. I'm not sure when. Is it easier when the widow is younger and somewhere in the back of her mind she allows that she may again find love and marry? I don't know the answer to that. Seems to me losing a spouse is devastating, no matter what your age.

One of my widow friends dropped by a week before Christmas, saying she was lonely and didn't want to be home by herself. I understood. Yet when I told her I too was lonely and sad and then began crying, she continued sitting in the chair and never said a word except to ask what plans I had for the holidays. When I told her my daughter was having Thanksgiving and Christmas at her house this year, my friend informed me that she had no where to go. No kids. No family. No friends. For some reason I got the impression that she was trying to tell me that she had it worse than I did. Maybe I was wrong. Probably so. But maybe not.

Being a widow is only for the strong. Sissies need not apply. And I've learned this much. If you aren't strong when widowhood strikes, you'll become strong as you walk the lonely road you've been dealt. There is no other way to survive. I've learned that the hard way. All those friends and family who surrounded me at the beginning have gotten on with their own lives. I understand that the world goes on. For everyone else but the widow. For us, time moves in slow motion. Only others like myself truly understand what I'm saying.

I've read that to get through the holidays the best way possible, change things around so you aren't doing what you've always done. It's supposed to break the cycle. My family changed things around during the last holidays. It didn't break anything except my heart. This year we changed things around again. I'm here to tell you how well breaking the cycle works: it doesn't.

Despite my family's endeavor to make this second Christmas without Jim different so that I might not slip into sadness and tears, I found it of no consequence, though I love them for trying so hard. I found it mattered not whose home we met in or what we had for dinner or when we opened presents. So obvious to my heart was my missing spouse that I came to the conclusion that no amount of change would ever make up for his warm hand, his gentle touch, his lazy smile, his sturdy presence in my life.

Through these past two months, the Lord has been ever faithful to me, saving up my tears in His bottle, restoring my spirits times and times again, and comforting me when I gave in to despair and let the tears fall. He continues to urge me to go on with the grieving till it be finished. He continues to urge me to press on with life. He continues to tell me I'm loved. Even when the tears run in rivulets down my face. Even when they spill over in torrents. Even then I feel Him near. He understands that these past couple of months were painful to walk through.

What I have come to understand is that if anyone knows about grief, it is the Lord God. What father amongst us could watch His Son die while nailed to a cross and not know the agony of a broken heart? As awful as this sounds, it gives me great comfort to know that God understands my tears and railings. While on the cross, Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Christ paid it all. For my sorrow. My tears. My broken heart. My continued grief. It was during these past two months that I saw the truth of Hebrews 13:5 where Jesus says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." In the Amplified Bible, that verse ends with, "I will not, I will not, I will not." Jesus felt forsaken--something I will never experience.

Yes, the holidays were difficult. But I have hope my life will get better. I am content with that for now, for I know I ride on Jesus' shoulders, the place where He carries the sick, the weak, and the wounded. If that doesn't describe me at this point in my life, I don't know what does.

As always,