Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Grief of Regret

Engagement party. Jim
got a bat; I got a rolling
pin. Everyone laughed.
Three years before his unexpected death, Jim nudged me awake in the wee hours of the morning and said "good-bye." Fuzzy-headed with sleep, I couldn't comprehend what he was talking about. He patted my cheek and said, "It's been a wonderful fifty years. We've gone places and seen things and had a wonderful time. I've always been glad I married you."

Wedding Reception
I asked if he was alright. He shook his head yes. Then it dawned on me. "Jim, do you think I'm dying?" He answered yes and said he wanted me to know how happy he'd been in our marriage. I informed him I was fine. He must have had a bad dream. His reply? "Oh, good. I'm glad you're O.K." He turned over and went back to sleep.

Looking back, how I wish I'd had the presence of mind to tell him how blessed I'd always felt to have him for a husband. How grateful to God I'd always been for giving me a godly mate when I hadn't even been asking for one. Looking back, I wish I'd said a lot of things that night. Sleep was gone from me anyway. Why didn't I carry on the conversation?

I didn't think about that night again until Jim was gone. Then, when I felt most like I'd been kicked in the gut and thrown into a deep, dark hole, the grief of regret knocked on my heart, rupturing it even more than it already was.

The worst part was, regret had brought all its friends along: depression, anger, anguish, terrible sadness, disorientation, helplessness, forgetfulness, easy distraction and trouble focusing. I can honestly say that in those first few weeks, God cushioned me in what I've come to call my shock-bubble. I knew others could see me and while I saw them, I understood little of what was said and I remember almost none of it.

I considered that shock-bubble would last until all the ceremonies were over and family had gone home. To my surprise, the Lord kept me sheltered from the cares of the world for a good three months. My kids tell me things I did or said that I have no recollection of. I don't argue with them. They are not liars. I accept that I was in a fog most of the time, with no recall even to this day.

Jim carrying our oldest
granddaughter the same way
he'd always carried her
mother: on his shoulders.
As long as Jim was outdoors,
he was content. It was
his nature.
While inside my shock-bubble, I felt free to emote, knowing the Lord would not condemn me. I recall some emotional outbursts that were so intense, they imprinted themselves on my heart. I recall the deep sadness that engulfed me and lingered so long I determined I would feel like that the rest of my life. I also recall that twice I lay on my bed, screaming at the top of my lungs at how unfair it was that Jim should be with the Lord and I'd been left behind to pick up the pieces and go on without him. I know I had a complete meltdown at least once. Mostly what I recall is the exhaustion. It was an unexplainable tiredness that went into the marrow of my bones and which no amount of sleep could alleviate.

Mostly I remember begging God to remove that gut-wrenching video loop of Jim dying that kept playing and replaying in my head, making me feel as though I were going crazy. Maybe I already was. I later learned that I had shut down to the reality of my world because I couldn't figure out a way to deal with it. I didn't know how to be alone because I had no experience with it. I'd married Jim right out of my father's house. In all my life, I'd never been by myself.

Despite my sometimes hysterical outbursts and silent sadness, I knew the Lord was there, right beside me, allowing me to grieve fully and that it was alright with Him. The other thing I knew with certainty is that Jim was no longer stooped or shuffled when he walked or unable to make his feet move at his command. He was no longer dependent on someone to care for him, push him in the wheelchair or take him for walks so he could get out into the outdoors he loved so much.

Up until the last year of his life, Jim
was able to shuffle around with his
walker. We both loved the mountains and
kept a trailer there as a quick get-away. Once he was confined to a
wheelchair, his nurses had strict
instructions to get him outside for a
walk at least once a day.
We had talked about death, the two of us together. We'd make our wishes known to our children. Yet between Jim and I we'd always had a plan of going together, for one of us could not stand to live without the other. So much for the plans of men. Anger grew in me till I thought it would consume me. And while I was happy for Jim, I was sorry for myself. Most of my friends misinterpreted it as my being angry that Jim had been taken from me. But that was far from the truth. The anger was at being left behind. It grew to the point it became a monster in my soul. And I knew I'd have to deal with it if I were ever to heal.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall
be comforted."  Matthew 5:4

Author's comments:

Because I couldn't find a grief recovery group close to my home, I bought book after book about recovering and asked the Lord to help me know what to do. I was experiencing such a wide range of emotions and especially forgetfulness, that I actually thought I might have developed Alzheimer's, the disease that took my mother. 

I am so grateful that the Lord led me to just the right books at the right time. I learned that I wasn't crazy, that forgetfulness and being unable to focus were normal for what I was going through. I learned that sudden loss takes such a toll on us that sleep is all the body wants and that it is best to follow the body's leadings without feeling any guilt.

I discovered that I wasn't the only widow who felt as I did--that it was pretty much common to all widows, given we are each an individual with our own time clock for dealing with disaster. I learned that feeling numb all the time was a given; that I should ignore those who told me to pick myself up and get on with life. I read that I would get well in stages and that I would have to go through each stage in my own way and time. I finally understood why I could read my Bible yet not comprehend the words I'd read nearly all my life was due to shock. I discovered that I should not feel guilty about avoiding those who phoned or came by, wanting to know all the details of Jim's sudden demise. I also discovered that keeping my draperies closed and not answering the phone unless it was immediate family was normal for someone who was walking through the loss of a loved one.  

I read that time doesn't heal all wounds. The pain of loss will diminish but the heart will always remember. I found out that there were drugs available to help me through this dreadful time, though I chose not to take them. I can't stand not being able to think clearly and I didn't wish to hamper having a focused brain return to me. I learned that I must give myself all the time I needed to heal. I had already figured out there were no quick fixes for me. I would have to travel the road so many widows had traveled before me and with God's help, I would come out on the other side wiser for having gone through the journey.



1 comment:

  1. Sandy,
    What a beautiful tribute to your late husband. You and I have something in common- enormous loss. Please read my blog- Thoughts from a Crying Porch-
    Your husband was so blessed to have you in his life- his partner, his nurse, his hero.