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,


Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Death Of Dreams

Although Jim and I were happily married, there was one year in particular when I thought we might split up. We argued all the time. The year was 1986 and it was becoming more and more obvious to me that there was something drastically wrong with my husband. His typical "sailor on a ship" walk had changed to one of short, straight steps. Along with that, his arms would no longer swing as he walked, but hang motionless at his side. What's more, his left leg trembled uncontrollably during parts of each day. The symptoms grew worse if he became stressed.

He was a regular jogger, every day coming home from work, changing clothes and hitting the streets for at least an hour. One day he informed me his left leg had been cramping up, so he was going to switch from jogging to riding his bike. I tried to get him to see our long-time family doctor but he stubbornly insisted nothing was wrong and I started to wonder if my mind was inventing problems that didn't actually exist.

About six months after the left leg began seizing, his left shoulder started hurting and since Jim never complained about pain, I took him seriously. "Go to the doctor," I told him. He finally did, though for no other reason than to get me off his back. He came home with a good report. Nothing wrong. The leg was cramping during jogging because of a pulled muscle; the shoulder was hurting because Jim had strained it helping our son-in-law moved a large couch into a second story apartment. Jim and our family doctor had come up with a reason for everything. Case closed.

But I had this growing suspicion in the pit of my stomach that said the diagnosis was wrong. Jim's left leg began trembling more often and so did his left hand. I suspected a neurological disease but didn't want to speak the words out loud. Months passed. We continued disagreeing on whether Jim was alright. By the time 1986 was almost over, Jim's leg spasms had become nearly uncontrollable, as had the trembling in his left hand. He got to the point where he could no longer ride his bike around town, and a couple of times, ended up having to walk it home. Because Jim used exercise as a stress relief from his job, he wanted a stationary bike. We began looking around and finally bought one. When I suggested he should see the doctor again, he fought me, insisting I was hunting for problems where none existed.

We went on like that until early in 1987. Never in our married life had we had so many disagreements and it took a toll on me and I'm sure it did the same to Jim. Our easiness with one another suffered. Our hours-long chatting nearly ceased. A few months into that year, I called our doctor and questioned him about the diagnosis he'd given Jim. He explained exactly what Jim had told me. I listened politely, then told him he was wrong. "I've been married to this man for over thirty years," I said, "and I know something is wrong with him. If you can't diagnose it, then send Jim to someone who can."

Late that afternoon, I received a call from a well-known neurosurgeon's office. The doctor wanted to see Jim the next day. I instantly felt sick to my stomach. I went ahead and made the appointment without consulting Jim, then called our family doctor for added information. He told me he'd conferred with the neurosurgeon and the specialist's consensus was that Jim could be suffering from either a fast-growing brain tumor or Parkinson's disease.

I was too stunned to cry. I was too stunned to pray. I sat down at the kitchen table and told the Lord I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to pray. I didn't know what to think. I didn't want Jim to have a brain tumor. I didn't want him to have Parkinson's disease. Why were there only two choices?  And both of them bad? Jim had just turned fifty-two. Too young to be stricken with any disease, let alone what many, including myself, had long considered to be an old person's complaint. Parkinson's. The worst was, it was what I had secretly suspected for a long time, all along hoping I was wrong.

The neurosurgeon put Jim through a battery of tests. No brain tumor. No other neurological disease. That left Parkinson's, diagnosed only by ruling out everything else. The surgeon recommended Jim see a neurologist. We went together, asked every question we could think of and the doctor started Jim on Parkinson's medicine, stating that if the diagnosis was incorrect, the meds wouldn't make any difference in Jim's symptoms. The meds dramatically changed Jim back to near normal. We now knew what we were dealing with. It was the beginning of a more than twenty-year uphill battle fighting a progressive and incurable disease that Jim determined would not take charge of his life.

The first thing that dawned on me is that when one of the mates has a debilitating disease, both have it. I wasn't the one dealing with the off-times leg shaking and hand twitching, but the disease affected me in ways I'd never thought of. I read everything I could find on Parkinson's disease. It was slow moving. It was medically treatable, especially in the early years; less so in the latter years. It was a disease that would eventually lead to impotence, slurred speech, loss of body function control, possible Lewy Body dementia, a wheelchair, and in the last stages, bedridden. The stages would come slowly. And not in perfect order. But they would come.

I kept a stiff upper lip for a long time, encouraging Jim that there was nothing we couldn't handle together. I continually reminded him that the Lord was in control and wanted only the best for Jim as His child and us as a couple. I saw him cry only once and that was shortly after the diagnosis. He was sitting on the couch; I was in the chair opposite him. We were casually chatting when he suddenly put his head in his hands and began weeping. "All of our plans to travel when I retire are gone," he said. "I'm so sorry, Sandy. I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to leave."  I went to sit beside him and put my arms around him. "I will never leave you. I promise," is what I said. Tears silently rolled down my face. It was so like him to always think of me first. How could I abandon the one I loved most in all the world? "No matter what, you're stuck with me,"  is what I said. It would be my mantra for the rest of our lives together.

I held myself in check for a long time. Jim was still able to work and as he traveled for the company on occasion, there was a trip to Portland, Maine on the schedule. We decided to make it a vacation and Jim's secretary booked my flight along with making the arrangements for Jim's hotel and transportation for the three days the conference would be held. After that, Jim and I were on our own. I was excited to be headed to the east coast. I'd not been there since childhood. I had great plans for everything we would see and do. I never knew whether it was the travel writer in me or the wife who wanted to show Jim around someplace he'd never been.

Jim and I flew out of San Diego, changed planes in Philadelphia and just as we were coming into Portland, the oddest thing happened to me and to this day I still can't explain the why of it. As our plane began leveling out to land, the full force of how much Jim's disease would eventually affect us landed on me. It rose up inside me like a volcanic explosion, nearly uncontrollable. I felt great, gulping sobs forming inside me. Mental anguish overtook my feelings and spread into my whole being. "Why, God?" I prayed silently. "Why now in a plane filled with strangers? Why does this come upon me here and now?"

I didn't receive an answer. I still don't know why the full knowledge of how Parkinson's would alter our lives dawned on me at that particular moment. What I do know is that the Lord helped me keep things together all through de-planing, car pick-up, and hotel registration. I held myself together till we were in our room. Then I told Jim that I felt so travel weary that I thought I'd take a long, relaxing bath before supper. He turned on the television to catch the news. I went into the bathroom, turned the faucet on full blast, and sobbed until there were no tears left.

That was the day I fully understood what this disease would cost us as a couple. That was the day I began mourning the death of our dreams.

Author's comments:

Dreams don't necessarily die all at once. When a disease is slow moving, dreams fashioned together as a healthy young couple, begin expiring along the twists and bends of the path one is forced to walk. For as long as I could remember, we'd planned on travelling six months out of every year, stopping where we wished and for as long as we wished. From our first days together, Jim had been a saver, relegating every penny possible into stock in the company he worked for. When he retired, he would receive his own contributions, plus the company would add fifty cents to every dollar saved and upon retirement, the whole package would be Jim's  to do with as he pleased.

We were pleased to see the world. But that isn't what happened. In the end, much of the money went to pay for caregivers, for the time came when I was too exhausted to carry on alone and in addition, I'd become ill myself and had ended up in emergency surgery--not once, but twice. All in the period of one year.

I distinctly remember when our first dream died. It was the day I realized that if we wanted to travel, it would have to be before Jim could no longer drive or get around easily. I knew the time would come sooner rather than later and I sat on the couch late one night and cried myself nearly to sleep. With Jim still able to work, I knew vacations would be spent in week or two increments and while we did take a cruise to Alaska, our intents to travel the globe were gone. I'd planned on that almost my whole married life. We both had. If it hurt me, I knew it hurt Jim. I showed it; he didn't. My conservative husband, always staunch. Was he strong for me or is that just how he was? I never knew for sure.

The day intimacy died is still emblazoned on my heart. How we loved one another and with the disease progressing, more medications and stronger doses were the game plan to keep Jim moving. By now, he'd had to go off on sick leave from work, turning his job over to his next-in-charge, whom he'd worked diligently to train. Jim and I sought out a specialist in all things pertaining to intimacy and after a long examination, the doctor's suggestion was to cut back on Jim's meds. That would resolve the problem. It wasn't an option. Jim could either get around, walk, feed himself, dress himself, or sit in a chair completely Parkinsonian, unable to move or do. I left the choice to him. He chose to live an active life. I agreed. We took a cruise to Mexico. We took our three oldest grandkids with us.

If not for the Lord's faithfulness, I would never have learned how deep and abiding love can be. I thought I knew. I didn't. What I learned is that laying next to one another, touching, kissing, speaking love to each other's ears, gave a comfort to each of us that I would never have learned had it not been for the impotency. I believe God worked in both of us, showing us that although intimacy was given of the Lord, when it was no longer possible, God would make a way where there seemed to be no way. For the last six years of our life together, we remained close and loving. Only the Lord could have effected that in both Jim and I.

Little by little, we gave up our dreams and goals, letting them die by the wayside. One day I questioned Jim if he ever felt anger concerning the direction his life had taken. He looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "Why would you ask that?" he said. I mentioned the disease and the things we could no longer do. He shook his head, turned those blue eyes on me and said, "I don't wallow in it. I can't change it. I can't do anything to fix it. I use all my energy to get on with the life I've been dealt and live the best way possible." I wondered if I would have come to that had it been me. Probably not. I'm a complainer. Jim never was.

As I look back at those Parkinson's years of our life together, I see God's wisdom taking hold of our days and years. He knows my way and He knew it while I was yet in my mother's womb, so He says in scripture. He knows I am a wimp, falling to pieces when stress overcomes me. He knows I can't handle more than two things going wrong at the same time. He knows that others see me as being strong but the truth is that only as I hold onto Christ can I face any kind of trauma. He knows I constantly flunk the life testings sent my way and only get a passing grade when I give up going my own direction and purposely set my face toward the Lord.

As Jim and I faced the death of our dreams, he got A's. I didn't. In my heart, I believe Jim was ready for heaven. I wasn't. I think that is why I'm still here, writing what I've learned on the journey I've been assigned. Perhaps when I stop dragging my heels, I'll get passing grades. Perhaps when I have taken hold of the stubbornness inside me, I'll graduate to heaven with Jim. In the meantime, I plug away, day by day, trying to share that which I know with anyone who wants to learn without having to deal with it the hard way. It's what I always told my own children: "If you'd do as I say, you wouldn't have to learn things the hard way." They never listened. What on earth ever made me think I was different?

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 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: 7, 8

He alone knew I could not face the death of my dreams all at once. One at a time was hard enough. I will always be thankful that the Lord never laid on me more than I could bear at any one moment.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Knowing Who I Am

Since childhood I'd carried a secret that few knew about. I'd kept it a secret because when I'd told my parents, they had laughed. Not only had they laughed, but they'd teased me about it in front of their friends. Looking back, I think maybe I misunderstood their levity, looking at it as ridicule when perhaps it was never meant as such. I only know that once laughed at, I took my secret underground, hiding it in my heart and never telling another soul. Not even Jim.

By the time our kids were in school full time, I felt as though I needed to talk with Jim and bring my long-held secret into the light. I felt like that because I so badly wanted to follow my heart's desire and knowing Jim as I did, I didn't think he'd laugh at me. Even if he did, I told myself, at least my wishes would be out in the open. That's how it came about that on a day when he was off work and the kids were in school that I told him I wanted to talk with him about something important to me. He was more than agreeable. It was his nature.

We sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee, me talking and Jim listening. "I've always wanted to be a writer," I told him. "Now that the kids are in school all day, I'd like to take some adult education classes and learn how to do it right." Jim reached over and took my hand and with seeming concern, he asked why I'd never told him this before. I detailed my story for him. The laughter. The seeming ridicule. The fact that I'd written stories since grade school and hid them where nobody would find them, simply because I was so sensitive to being teased. By the time I was fourteen, I told him, I'd written a whole book. It was out in the garage, packed inside the box with my other high school trinkets--the whole thing stored up in the rafters where no one would find it.

Always on my side, Jim looked me in the eyes and told me to go for it. "If that's what you want," he said, "then you should pursue it. Take all the classes you want and as long as you're home when the kids get out of school, you'll never hear a complaint out of me." I threw my arms around him and gave him a long kiss. My secret was out. He hadn't laughed. He'd been supportive. I loved him for his caring attitude.

A few days later, out of the blue, Jim asked what I might be needing to pursue the career I wanted so badly. "A typewriter would be nice," I suggested. He told me to start looking for a used one. That made perfect sense. Like all young couples, we lived pay check to pay check and I knew a used typewriter would be all we could afford. I found one in the classifieds a few days later. I sounded perfect.

That night Jim and I went to look at it. The big old Underwood was exactly like the machine I'd had in school and at my parent's home. The keys were fast; the type clear. Jim handed the man $25 cash and carried the heavy metal typewriter to the car and later, into the house where it sat atop the desk. I was thrilled. And while I never knew where Jim had gotten the money, I suspected that he had saved it up over months. He took $20 at the beginning of every month to use as he wished. My best guess was the typewriter money was the accumulated leftovers he'd hoarded because I knew it hadn't come out of the budget.

A few days later, Jim told me that I should concentrate on my goal and not to worry about where the money would come from. "You learn to write," he said. "I'll pay the bills. I'll buy the paper, the typewriter ribbons, pay the postage, whatever you need, I'll take care of it till you're earning enough for the writing to fund itself." I was grateful beyond description. I had his full backing. And not one smirk, not ever.

I collected rejection slips for a year before making my first sale. I'd written a short story and sold it to a church publication for their children's take home magazine. My check came to $15. My next check, many months later, came from a children's publisher who dealt with nature. My short story about the Joshua tree earned me $150. I was dumbfounded. Jim grinned and said, "I knew you could do it. You're able to do pretty much anything you put your mind to."

My husband continued encouraging me to branch out and there came the day I submitted a travel story to a newspaper. They bought it, plus some of the photos I'd submitted. My check was $125 for the package. It wasn't so much the money that intrigued me but the fact that I'd only sold one-time rights and could market the same story again and again. I sold that one piece to ten different newspapers all across the states. I'd found my niche. Travel stories it would be from then on and with only a few exceptions, that is where I stayed.

By the time twenty years had gone by, I was Sandra L. Keith, Travel Writer. By now I'd become well enough known that publishers called me, gave me a subject matter, a deadline, and a decent salary. In the ten more years before I retired myself to spend all my time with Jim, I'd written six books and more magazine and newspaper stories than anyone in their right mind would ever want to read. No one was more proud of me than Jim. And while my parents bragged to all their friends about their "famous" daughter the writer, I laughed at them, telling them outright that if it wasn't for Jim, their so called famous daughter would never have had the nerve to venture into the unknown.

How grateful I was that Jim had always encouraged me to be me. I sometimes felt like I was many different people: Jim's wife, the kid's mother, the Cub Scout den helper, the school reading helper, the PTA cookie maker. I was like every other mom I knew, with a family to care for and obligations in the neighborhood. But I was also Sandra L. Keith, author. To this day I give God the glory for gifting me with an affinity for words. And I still give Jim the credit for pushing me into putting them on paper.

Author's comments:

An awful attitude took over inside me when Jim died. Looking back, I believe it invaded my heart the moment I saw his head fall back and a deathly gray pallor replace his usually robust color. The best way I can think to describe what happened inside me is "Who cares?" Those two words became my motto for the next ten months. 

I refused to care for myself. Who cares if I brush my teeth twice a day? Who cares if my hair is clean and tidy? Who cares if a filling came out of a tooth? Who cares if I pay the bills on time? Who cares if the kitchen is full of dirty dishes? Who cares if the carpet hasn't been vacuumed for a week? Who cares about anything?

That attitude was where I lived and slept. I knew the Lord was beside me, yet I couldn't summon up the wherewithal to take care of the body God had given me or the house I lived in. I had finally agreed with the Lord that I was meant to live. Wasn't it enough that I no longer prayed to die? The few things I did do every day were to bathe, wear clean clothes, and feed my animals. I thought that was sufficient. I didn't eat regularly and when I did, it was usually something I could microwave. I didn't care if the bed got made or if the bare floors were swept or groceries were purchased. I did the laundry only when I ran out of clothes and rather than go food shopping, I ordered online for home delivery.

I began losing weight; my skin erupted into blotches. I looked in the mirror and puzzled over how a 70 year old woman could suddenly pop up with acne. Only when the itching became unbearable did I seek medical help. For the most part I lived in Jim's big recliner, watching the television without really caring what was on. I tried reading, but couldn't follow the story. I tried knitting but ended up in tears because it reminded me of the last two years I'd spent sitting beside Jim during his immobile times.

I have one widow friend who has been alone two years longer than I have. She is still in a whirlpool of not knowing who she is. I try to help her but she isn't interested in changing. At least not yet. How thankful I am that even in my "who cares?" modus operandi I knew who I was. I've always known who I was. I knew I had talents that I would eventually care about bringing to the fore. I knew I was competent. I knew how to run the house. I knew all about my finances. I knew how to re-program the thermostat and the sprinkling system. I knew everything I needed to know to live on my own. Jim had made sure of that. Yet the thing was, I just plain didn't care.

I did not have to search for who I was without Jim, as so many of the books on grieving claim the widow is forced to do following the death of her soul mate. I can't totally explain in words the feelings that took up residence within me, but suffice it to say that I understood I was now a widow. Yet I was still Sandra L. Keith. I began wondering how long I'd been two people: the loving wife and the writer. It puzzled me. It still does. I felt in my heart that circumstances had forced me to give up being Jim's wife. I grieved and am still grieving that I've lost that part of me, for Jim was my life. Even so, little by little, I see my other self emerging. The writer puts my feelings on paper, illustrates the gut-wrenching facts of losing a loving spouse and in doing so, helps the widow in me heal. In many ways, it's nearly symbiotic.

Many of the books I've read concerning widowhood suggest there is nothing wrong with conjuring up your spouse, talking to him regularly, even asking questions concerning things the widow needs to know. I've discovered even some supposedly Christian books talk about writing letters to the loved one while other books now in my library tell the widow to ask the departed for advice or a supernatural visit. I find no scriptural references for such acts. For me, talking to God about everything that touches my life takes precedence over any other avenue.

Last week I was trying to put a new roll of paper in the adding machine and couldn't figure out how it worked. I tried and tried to no avail. In desperation I said, "God I don't know how to do this. Please show me."  It immediately came to my mind that the paper loaded from the back. I looked and sure enough. There it was. I set the paper in the slot and pushed the load button. Done. 

So I ask myself, "Would I have received an answer had I asked Jim how to do it? As I read my bible, I can find no passage that tells me the dead can communicate with those of us on earth. I prefer going to the One who spoke the worlds into existence; Who gave every star a name; Who runs to my aid in time of trouble; Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills; Who promised in Hebrews that He would never leave me nor forsake me. If I'm going to bet on who's listening to me, I'm going to bet on a sure thing. That's a major part of who I am.

"For I know the thoughts that I have toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29: 11-13

Tell Me About Yourself Award

My thanks to Ritty Riter, Rhonda, for this award. I was more than surprised when it showed up in my email box as I'm relatively new to the blogging world and in all, don't have that many followers on any of my blogs. I do follow Ritty's blog and always enjoy the information she so willingly hands out for writers & bloggers. 

Here are the rules for receiving this award:

1.  I must tell seven things about myself.
2.  I must pass the award on to 15 other bloggers.

Seven Things About Me:

1.  I know how to tap dance and twirl a baton. Mom enrolled me in ballet but I hated standing on my toes. My sister loved it and now her toes are so bad she's had to have surgery. She should have listened to me when she was a kid.
2.  I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a child but my parents laughed at me. It wasn't until I was married that my hubby told me to go for it and he'd pay all the start-up costs.
3.  I can play the clarinet and the piano, sort of. My left hand has forgotten almost everything it ever knew.
4.  I love to make quilts and knit anything and everything. I also like cross-stitch and used to sell my work but not anymore.
5.  I hate to cook but like to bake. Don't know why there is a difference, but there is.
6.  I have two kids and seven grandkids. The first grandchild will be married next month.
7.  I have a dog and four cats. The dog thinks she is a cat. The cats don't agree.

Here are the 15 blogs I'm passing this award to, listed in no special order:

1.  Homesteading On The Internet

2.  Missing Moments

3.  Foxy In The Waiting Room

4.   Faith Filled Food For Moms & Grandmas

5.  Making Our Life Matter

6.  Rise Above Your Limits

7.  Lucky Lady

8.  Pumped On Caffeine

11. At The Picket Fence

12. Confessions Of A Grandma

13. Growing Old With Grace

14. The Southern Lady Cooks

15. Hammock Tracks

More rules: Each person who received this award must write seven things about themselves and then pass the award onto 15 other bloggers. To copy the award logo, right click, click on copy, the go to your new blog post and click paste. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Choosing To Look Forward

We'd been married only a few weeks when Jim looked at me and asked how many kids I wanted. I replied that I didn't want any. I didn't like kids. He let out a groan. "Oh, man," he muttered. "We should have talked about this before we got married." I explained to him that I'd done a lot of babysitting in my early teens and had come to the conclusion that kids were rambunctious, grubby, snotty nosed midgets who didn't mind and got into everything. Jim put his head in his hands and groaned. "But I love kids," he said. "I want a whole bunch of them."

We let the conversation drop. We were so newly married, I figured kids, if I ever changed my mind, were off in the future, so why argue about it now. I look back on that conversation and think how God must have been chuckling, knowing what He had planned for us as a couple. I also have to say, it was a good thing I didn't know it at the time.

We did eventually have children. I've already written that part of the story. That was when I discovered I absolutely loved kids--as long as they were mine. Other people's children were still on my black list. Oh, I was kind to them, smiled at them, even fed some of them who hung out at our house once my own kids started bringing friends home. Other people's kids were tolerated. Those who didn't mind were sent home and not allowed to come back. I still didn't like kids who misbehaved, tended toward sassiness, or constantly begged for cookies or cake or anything else.

By the time our son was in the fifth grade and our daughter in the third, God must have stopped laughing and got down to business because that's when He pulled His biggest surprise. The church we were attending had evening programs for children and the class our daughter was in encompassed 4th through 6th graders. The kids loved the class, but we began hearing stories about how hard it was for Uncle Dick, the main leader, and his helper, Nancy, to retain order with so many children under their tutelage.

One day Jim came to me and said that he believed the Lord was calling us to children's ministry and that we needed to begin by helping out in the children's evening service. I planted my feet. I reminded Jim that I didn't like other people's kids. His only comment was asking me to pray about it. I reluctantly agreed. I sat myself down with the Lord and reminded him that kids were on my black list unless they were my own children. I reminded him that I'd felt like that since my baby sitting days. I confessed that I was sorry about how I felt and asked for forgiveness, but I didn't want to be in children's ministry.

I didn't like what I heard from the Lord. I didn't like it at all. I told Jim what I knew the Lord had said. He smiled, gave me a hug, and told me he knew I'd make the right decision. He knew me better than I knew myself. And while I felt comfortable with  my decision, I still did not want to do as I'd been told. But I did.

I left heel marks for at least a mile down the road. The kind of marks the car leaves when I slam on the brakes but the car keeps moving forward. My body was moving ahead because Jim was pulling me along, but I left my stubborn heel prints all along the way. Kid's Ministry. Surely God only wanted to see if I'd be obedient and then He'd move me into something I would enjoy.

But that isn't what happened. There came the time when Uncle Dick planned a day trip to our local mountains, about an hour out of town. Because Jim had a class 2 license, he became our bus driver--a job he thoroughly enjoyed. The man loved driving trucks and buses. What can I say? What I hadn't known was that our church had a bus ministry that went into the deepest reaches of San Diego--down onto Market Street, a ghetto with a lot of danger about it. Even the police went two to a car when they patrolled the area. And there we were, in a big yellow bus, driving into the heart of Market Street to pick up the kids assembled at one of our church parishioner's home.

There were at least a dozen of them who bounded out of the house when we pulled up. They were unkept, unwashed, and every ethnic possible. They were all smiling, happy to get out of their neighborhood for a day. Sent off my parents who saw nothing more than free baby-sitters. I sat in the center of the bus and scowled. "Oh, God," I murmured, "I can't do this. I don't want to do this. Please release me from this ministry."

The kids climbed aboard the bus, laughing and talking together. One small boy plopped down beside me. A whole bus to sit in and this grubby little kid decided to sit beside me. I said to the Lord, "Well, obviously I have to get through today, so help me be the person you want me to be." The little boy smiled at me and began chatting away like he'd known me all his life. I don't remember what we talked about. What I do remember is that I fell in love with him and by the time we'd arrived at our mountain destination, I thought he was the sweetest kid I'd ever met. Dirt and all.

I distinctly remember the change that came over me that day. It was a change only God could have effected because only the Lord could have worked such a complete and instant turn-around in my stubborn heart. By the time all of us had eaten our lunches, gone swimming in the creek, and gotten back on the bus to head toward home, I was in love with every one of those kids. I was having fun with them. I was laughing with them. I was happy to be with them. A different little boy sat beside me on the way home. It didn't matter. I thought they were all absolutely adorable.

Jim became one of the regular bus drivers. Sunday evenings I'd hop aboard the bus with him and we'd drive the neighborhood, picking up the kids who wanted to go to church but had no way to get there. Then we'd head downtown and onto Market Street. Picking the kids up during daytime wasn't so scary. Taking them home after church, in the dark, into a known crime area, involved lots of praying and trusting God. We'd drive by liquor stores, small grocery markets, everywhere lots of locals, mostly men, congregated and the looks we got from them made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

God kept us safe. All those years Jim drove the bus, and other men in the congregation drove the bus into downtown, never one thing unusual happened. By the time we'd been part of the bus ministry about six months, there came a night when church was over and we'd gotten all the kids herded back onto the bus. It was winter and while it doesn't get freezing in San Diego, the wind was cold, the air moist, and some of the kids had caught colds.

It was that night that that cute little boy I'd sat with during the trip to the mountains, ran up behind Jim, already ensconced in the driver's seat. He threw his little arms around him from the back, snotty nose rubbing itself against Jim's neck and leaving a slimy residue. "I just love you," he said with such exuberance the snot was instantly ignored. He 'd taken a liking to Jim. As had most of the kids. Whatever prompted that outburst of emotion remains a mystery to me. But not to God. It was the crowning touch that put us into Children's Ministry for the next twenty years.

Author's comments:

Sometimes I still chuckle over the way God gave Jim the huge family he'd always wanted. For many years we were surrounded by kids we didn't have to raise, feed, or send off to college. We had all the fun with them and then sent them back to their parents. It was a sort of practice toward the day we would become grandparents. We always referred to our church children as  "our kids" because that was how we felt about them. Our own kids loved having us as part of their class and when other kids asked how they felt about their parents always knowing what they were up to in Sunday night class, their answer was always the same: they liked having us there. They maintain that to this day.

I'm telling you this because all the books on grief that I've read, and there have been many, claim that when the healing has been done, God will move me into a place of ministry. Right now I can't fathom that far into the future, for I know my heart is still rent and bleeding. And while I no longer sit and cry every single day, the tears still come at unexpected moments. Also, there is never a day that I don't get up thinking about Jim and go to bed thinking about him. The books tell me that I'll know I'm well when that no longer happens. If that be true, I will be grieving for years to come, for not thinking about Jim each day seems an impossibility.

Yet I'm the kind of person who likes to see where I'm going. I don't mind if my path is lit only a few feet ahead, as long as I know what's at the end. Since I have no wisdom toward my future that comes from the Lord, I consider those things which I already know how to do and enjoy doing. I wonder if He will move me back into children's ministry. Even with my spine in such a mess I cannot get around without a walker, that would be something I could handle. Plus, I love being with the kids. Their energy level is so high that I can go to church exhausted and come away with an adrenaline rush, simply because I sop up their energy vibes for myself.

I daydream about where I might be headed, knowing full well that I am likely wrong. In my whole walk with the Lord He has never once done what I expected. Why would He begin now? What He has always given me has been over and above what I thought He was going to do. I cannot know His mind. I don't really know why I even try. He says to rest and heal. That is all I should be concentrating on right now. He tells me to continue with my grieving. That just sort of comes naturally. At times, tears still roll down my cheeks; sometimes I lay sobbing on my bed.

That is what happened when I wrote my last blog, "How Do I Go On Alone?"  Whereas I generally take a week or so to construct each blog, that one took close to two weeks, simply because the pain of loss would overcome me as I typed the words and it finally occurred to me that I had to take some days off from working on that post or I'd be back to square one and I didn't wish to go there. Being where I am is hard enough.

There are still times when I see a shadow out of the corner of my eye and immediately think Jim is walking through the house. It takes an instant to realize that can't be true, but it is off-putting to my fragile emotions. Other time I could swear I hear him call my name. In the beginning, I'd get out of my chair to go see what he wanted, only to realize he wasn't there. And yet I'd heard his voice so clearly. I felt dumb, even stupid for not remembering. Then I read that all who have experienced loss go through the same thing. So I was normal after all. Even so, those instances still cause me pain that can beget tears. When that happens, I simply let them flow. I don't know what else to do.

There have been those who tell me how brave I am. What do they see? It can only be God's grace resting on me because on the inside, I am not brave at all. I am grateful that my faith in God has not been hampered. Or that my trust in Him remains solid. I read that some who go through tremendous loss turn away from God and each day I thank Him for holding onto me so tight that the trust remains. He has a long history with me. A history of loving, protecting, and leading me on the right paths. I do not forget that as I travel this dark road I'm on.

I was watching an old movie a few weeks ago. Just a plain, lovely black and white classic that I was thoroughly enjoying. The couple in the movie were at a party and the man asked the lady if she'd like to dance. They were on the floor when the music began. It was a song Jim and I used to dance to years and years ago. I saw the way the man held the woman, the slow dancing, the love that seemed to be between them and I started crying, then sobbing, then when I could watch no longer, I changed the channel. Too much truth for me to handle that day. And too great a loss to acknowledge. I know it is common for those of us who grieve. But common doesn't mean there is no pain involved and on that particular day, the pain of remembering was too intense.

I know I'm not finished. Just when I think I'm making headway, I find that I still have a way to go. Will it be years? A decade? I have no idea. What I do know is that my memories will go with me and I'll not feel guilty about it. I know that I will move into the place God has for me, even if I leave heel marks again because I won't be happy or content if I don't follow to where He leads. Does that make me super-spiritual? Decidedly not. I know my stubbornness, my questioning, and my delay tactics. I know that God knows them too and yet He still loves me.

One of Jim's favorite scripture passages, and one he quoted often, is in Matthew 6. He knew the instructions not to worry by heart and often, when I was in a dither about one thing or another, he would get out his bible and read to me. You can look it up for yourself in John 6:25 till the end of the chapter, which says, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." I  take that to mean that today's grief, sadness, sorrow, tears, and feeling so alone are enough for one day. What tomorrow holds is unknown. What my future will be is a mystery. At least to me. The one thing I am sure of is that there will be flowers. God knows I love flowers.

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart."
Psalms 37:4

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How Do I Go On Alone?

It was the first year our son had gone off to college in a state an airline flight away. I was sad to my bones. He'd been home for Easter and had already flown back. I'd taken to my bed, crying. Jim tried and tried to get me to perk up but to no avail. I missed my oldest child to the point of depression. But Jim wasn't one to give up.

"Do you want to go for a ride?" he said. I told him "no." He asked if I'd like to drive up the coast to visit my parents. I gave the same answer. "How about going out for lunch?" Same answer. So it went, on and off most of the morning while I lay in bed feeling ever so sorry for myself. "How about driving out to the desert to see the wildflowers in bloom?" I shook my head no. "Come on, Sandy, you love flowers. I know you'll feel better if you get out of bed and get outdoors. You always enjoy yourself when you're out with nature."

He had me there. So I did as he suggested and although I'm not crazy about the long drive to the desert, I always enjoyed being with my husband and I began to feel my mood lift a bit. When we finally reached Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, we didn't even have to stop at the Visitor Center to inquire where the flowers were blooming the best. We just followed the line of cars. We had to park in a quite illegal spot so I could get out to take photos, but I didn't care. I was dumb-struck. I'd lived in California since I was sixteen. I'd been to the springtime desert more than a few times. But I'd never seen it like this.

I felt as though God had put on a spectacle just for me. Flowers everywhere, all kinds, all colors, spreading off into the horizon, over every nob and down every swale. I felt surrounded by beauty. And love. It was nearly too much to take in. Creeks seldom seen had sprung forth, their gentle bubbling over sand and rock teasing the air with a soothing song; gentle breezes cooling the back of my neck and pestering my hair out of place; a silly roadrunner passed by, looking for all the world as if it were trying to make the Olympic track team. Or outrun Wiley Coyote. Comic relief for an intense day.

Jim stood quietly beside me. His arm wrapped tight around my shoulder. His wisdom had worked. He knew me better than I knew myself. He leaned down and kissed my forehead. He always had to lean down. He was six feet tall; I 'm barely over five feet. We always looked like the giant and the midget but we cared not. I put my camera down, noticing I'd already shot a full roll of thirty-six and was sorry I'd not brought more film with me.

"Want to walk up Palm Canyon?" he asked. I considered that a great idea. Wild sheep lived up there and visitors often spotted them hiding out on the rocky ledges. I guess they were on vacation that day. We saw naught but birds and bugs and bees. By the time we returned to the trailhead and walked back to our car, the light was beginning to wane. I stood amidst the flower fields, making small circles as I surveyed the 180 degree majesty of the desert that day.

Nearly everyone was gone now and we had this perfect place to ourselves. "I'm not depressed anymore," I yelled over to Jim. He smiled that ear to ear grin that was only his. "I'm so glad you brought me here," He smiled again. I skipped over to where he stood by the car and gave him a kiss. "Thank you for doing this for me," I said. He nodded. "I knew you'd like it."

"Today is the first time I've really understood why God loves the desert," I said. Jim grinned. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" he said in his usual soft voice. He looked at his watch. "Want to catch a bite before we start home?" he asked. "Yep," I replied. "All this happiness had made me really hungry. Do you think Borrego Springs has a decent place to eat?" He smiled and gave me a big hug. "Guess we'll find out," he said.

They did and we ate. Jim drove home. Inside, my heart was singing. I still missed my first-born. But I had gained insight today into something I'd not previously understood about the Lord. I thought about it on the long drive back to San Diego. The mountains are beautiful any time of year. So is the Pacific Ocean. But only the desert, with just the right amount of rain at just the right time, puts on a spectacle by God's decree. It doesn't happen every year. Sometimes it doesn't happen at all. In my heart, I considered this year  a Command Performance created just for me. How fortunate were those who had gotten in on my ticket.

Author's Comments:

From the very beginning, Jim always had my back. When our first baby died shortly after birth, he laid his head on my hospital bed and wept to the point I wondered if he'd be able to stop. We spent a long time crying together and consoling one another, and then he picked himself up, made all the funeral arrangements, chose a lovely pink dress that had been a shower gift and delivered it to the mortuary. By himself he chose a tiny white casket and a burial spot in a beautifully kept cemetery and then made the arrangements for a family-only graveside service.

All without me. For whatever reason, the hospital refused to discharge me. Something about my being too unstable emotionally. As upset as I was with them for keeping me, they did allow Jim to come every evening  and sleep in the bed next to me. It was empty, they said. But if they needed it, Jim would have to leave. He stayed with me the whole seven days, never once leaving my side except to go to work and always coming to visit during his lunch hour. As upset as I was with the hospital, I have to say that they tried to make amends. There was never any charge for Jim to stay with me and sleep in the empty bed. I have always been grateful for that.  

The album
with my son's
baby photos
seems to be mis-
placed at the
When it came time for the next child to be born, I was having such a difficult delivery the doctor pulled Jim aside and asked him to choose who he wanted them to save. They weren't sure we would both make it. Jim was requested to sign a document stating his choice. He chose me. He told me later he figured we could have other children, but he didn't want to lose me. I'm sure that's the choice every man would make in that situation. Yet through our many years together, it would sometimes come to mind that Jim's love for me was so great he had chosen me over the child he wanted so badly. I also have to say that never were two people so spoiled with love as our son and me. And never had I seen Jim happier than with that little boy in his arms.

For some reason I
never understood, our
daughter hated having
her picture taken and
fought the whole
experience. Just look at
that face and you'll know
the truth of my
The third time around, the delivery was not as hard as I was expecting, though to say it was a piece of cake would be a lie. Unknown to me at the time, the doctor had pulled Jim aside after our daughter was born and told him that I must not have any more children. I wasn't built to have kids, he said, and it was only a matter of time before I wouldn't pull through. After I was back in my room following the delivery, Jim once again sat by my bed, telling me what the doctor had said. With tears in his eyes, this man who wanted a boat load of kids, took my hand and said, "Sandy, I promise you with all my heart that I will never ask you to have any more kids. I don't want to lose you." It was a promise he kept for all the rest of our lifetime together.

I say again: He always had my back. Whether I was depressed or sick or maligned or simply angry with another person. He was always there for me. Not once that I can remember did he ever try to get me to see the other person's side. Or to tell me that I was making too much out of so little. Does that mean he was the perfect husband? I don't think there is any perfect husband. Or wife either. Yet Jim was slow to speak and seldom lost his temper. Unlike me, the chatter-box who said everything that was on my mind and lost my temper at the drop of a hat. But that's another story.

I so vividly recall the morning I was making breakfast and our son, now a tall teenager, was in the kitchen, giving me a bad time about something or another. To both of our surprise, Jim popped around the corner, grabbed our son by the back of his shirt collar, lifting him partially off the floor and said, "Who do you think you're talking to? That is your mother and I don't ever want to hear you speak to her like that again. Do you understand me? Now you apologize." I think both my son and I stood there with wide eyes. Our son because he'd been caught and me because it was so unlike Jim to lose his temper. To this day my son, now into his fifties, has never again been disrespectful toward me. I think Jim put the fear of God into him that day.

It is in remembering those stories and more that there came the day when I once again set myself in Jim's big recliner, bible on my lap, tissues at the ready, and called upon the Lord for help. Jim had always been my protector, always shielding me from everything he could. Who now would take care of me? I asked. I admitted that I had been spoiled by love and while I am a capable person who has no trouble making decisions, I had always known that Jim was behind me, that I could count on him, and now that I was bereft, what would I do? I no longer have a husband, I cried. I no longer feel the security of his physical presence.

How do I go on alone? I sobbed. My kids are grown and have their own lives. My grandkids are mostly adults, with jobs and their own futures to tend to. I don't know how to be alone, I moaned. I sat in Jim's chair for a long time, pouring my heart out to the Lord, crying, sobbing, and asking for the help I knew I needed if I were to have any sort of life from then on. I told Him I felt as though I'd been dumped into an arid desert devoid of anything beautiful, an ugly, wasteless expanse inhabited only by things that slinked or stung or crawled or bit. 

I remained in that chair a long time. By then the tears were dried up and no more to cry. One thing I really did learn during this widow experience is that I really can stop crying. There are only so many tears and after a while, they cease. At least for a time. I felt drained to the marrow of my bones. It was then, when the sobbing was finished and my energy exhausted that it came into my mind to look up what God had to say about widows. I'd not done that before and had no idea what scripture said. 

I learned a lot in the next few days. I've been a Christ follower for most of my adult life and have always known He was there for me. Yet I also knew that the Lord gave us people with skin on to be our helpmates, our protectors, and our cloak of covering. I'd always known that to be one of God's children was precious in His sight. Yet what I found out is that to be a widow calls forth protection from the Lord that goes over and above anything I would have expected.

I discovered 129 scriptures concerning widows. I learned the God would now act as my husband, not only caring for my needs but measuring others by how they treated me. Nearly every scripture had "widows and orphans" listed as one, and it occurred to me that those are the people whose voice is ignored, for they are mostly invisible to the world at large.

God has promised the believing widow that He will defend her in every way. Psalms 68:5 says "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation." Deuteronomy 10:18 says "He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow..." In Exodus 22:22 it says "You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry and my wrath will become hot..." Psalm 146:9 says "The Lord watches over the strangers. He relieves the fatherless and widow." Jeremiah 49:11 states "Leave your fatherless children. I will preserve them alive; and let your widows trust in Me."

God's instructions to the church, as well as the world we must live in are clear. Isaiah 1:17 says "Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow." James 1:27 says, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble...In 1 Timothy 5:3,5 it says, "Honor widows who are really widows...Now she who is really a widow and left alone trusts in God and continues her supplications and prayers night and day."

I have long been aware of God's listening ear, his arms of comfort, and the fact that He runs to my defense. I've witnessed those attributes throughout my walk with the Lord. What I realized now was that without a husband to protect me, care for me, and defend me against all odds, God holds me closer to His heart, taking care of those things that had so long been Jim's scriptural duty to me as his wife.

Although I felt no different after my study of widows, I told the Lord that I was willing to learn. I've trusted Him most of my adult life and could honestly say that He had never let me down. Having God act as my husband was a new thought, yet I knew He always kept His promises, for Jim and I had always found him faithful. I prayed that God would bring me out of that awful desert I felt trapped in. That I might begin to laugh again. That I might have some semblance of joy in my life.

There are two scriptures that I've long loved. Both seemed so appropriate to this time of my life that I got my bible so I could read them again. Isaiah 35:1 says "...and the desert shall rejoice and blossom like a rose. It shall bloom abundantly and rejoice; even with joy and singing." And Isaiah 43:18, my particular favorite, says "Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."

Only God could have known that years and years later, I would need the remembrance of that day Jim and I saw the desert in full bloom. Truthfully, I'd forgotten about it until the images stored in my mind began emerging and it was then I knew for certainty that someday my life will bloom again. I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how long it takes, to come out of this valley of grief and into a place of indescribable beauty. Knowing Jim as I did, I am certain that is what he would want for me.