Monday, September 26, 2011

The One Who Survives Must Tell The Story

One of Jim's nurses gave him this
as a gag birthday gift, her way of
saying he was so rich he should
have no worries. We all laughed.
Six months before his death, Jim and I were having a conversation about our finances when he casually told me he'd been praying for a long time that the Lord would take him home soon. I could barely believe my ears. He'd said it as casually as one would comment on what a nice day it was. We'd had such a happy marriage, I couldn't fathom any  reason why he wished to leave me. I put down the sock I'd been knitting and moved onto his lap. "Why would you ask such a thing?" I questioned."  Are you sad with your life or the way the Parkinson's has advanced?" He shook his head no and put his arms around me.

"I see how much money goes out of our savings every month to pay the nurses who take care of me," he said. "The last thing I want is to leave you with nothing to live on when I'm gone. So I've been asking the Lord to take me soon."

I cried. I stroked his dear face. I hugged him close. How like Jim to put me first. It was so typical of how he'd always been. The fact that he'd rather be dead than leave me penniless was exactly something he would think and say. I told him I'd rather have him with me and end up so poor I'd have to move in with one of our kids when he was gone. He smiled--as much as a Parkinson's face can smile. He hugged me tighter but said nothing more. As far as he was concerned, the subject was closed. He never brought it up again.

I'd first met Jim when he was twenty-one and fresh out of the Navy. My family had moved from Minnesota to southern California and my folks had purchased a house in a new development in Carlsbad--right across the street from a family named Keith.

I was sixteen and a junior in high school. And while I'd noticed the boy across the street, I'd not paid him much attention because I knew he was much older than me. I found out later, after we were married, that Jim used to sit in the big recliner in front of their livingroom window and watch me when I was outside. One day his dad questioned if Jim had noticed that cute girl across the street. The oldest one. Jim had agreed that I was cute, but still in high school and too young for him to date. I will always love his dad for saying, "Your mom was fifteen when I took her on our first date. Go ahead, ask her out."

He did. To Disneyland, no less. My mom said no. Dad said Jim came from a good family and it would be alright. I never knew how dad convinced mom to let me date a boy five years older than me, but I was allowed to head off to Disneyland the next Saturday.

I figured if Jim had seen
me in Saturday chore
clothes, hair in pin-
curls and a bandanna
around my head--and
still insisted I was "so pretty"

I ought to keep him forever.
We dated for six months before Jim told me he loved me and questioned if I loved him too? I stood there with my mouth open, not knowing what to say. I liked him alot. We'd had good times together. But love? For heaven's sake, I was a high school kid who played clarinet in the band, wore cotton socks with my loafers, and bounced around like a typical teenager. I'd been having the time of my life dating someone who could take me nice places and surprised me with fancy restaurants rather than the local drive-in. I liked him a lot and told him so. And then I told him I didn't know if I loved him. I'd have to think about it. He was alright with that and told me to let him know what I decided.

After that, Jim was at our house every chance he got. He'd walk across the street on weekends to see what I was up to and inquire if  I might like to see a movie that night. He popped in to ask if I wanted to go to the carnival that had come to town or maybe I'd just like to take a ride. On school nights, he called every evening, knowing full well I had a fifteen minute talk allowance. He'd seen me at my best on date nights and at my worst doing weekend chores: no makeup, in my grubbies, hair in pin curls and he still insisted he loved me. Somewhere along the way, I'd decided I loved him too and finally told him so.

We got engaged. My folks liked Jim but even so, I still had a year of high school left and there would be no wedding until after  graduation. I wasn't thrilled. Once I had decided I loved Jim, I wanted to get married so we could be together. Speaking to mom was like beating my head against a wall. Dad was little better. About three months into our engagement, I suggested to Jim that we elope. He thought it was a bad idea and tried to talk me out of it. He said that while his parents wouldn't care, mine were sure to be hurt and angry and he could understand why.

I'd honestly given the subject a great deal of thought. I didn't want to have my mother's wedding. Being the oldest, and mom being the social butterfly she was, I knew what it would entail. I simply didn't want the stress of my desires against hers. Better to face the disappointment my parents would have if I eloped. It was a good decision on my part. My dad was alright with our being married. Mom was more than upset, mostly because she said everyone would think I'd had to get married. And even though Jim and I both assured her that she had no worries, she walked off toward the kitchen, handkerchief at her eyes, mumbling that that wasn't what all her friends would think.

By the time this photo
was taken, Jim and I
had two kids. 
People said our marriage wouldn't last. I insisted they were wrong. I'd dated enough to have made some decisions on what kind of husband I would look for when the time came. I'd also gone with Jim long enough by now to know his kindness, his gentleness, and his dry sense of humor that could put me into gales of laughter. I knew his shy, soft-spoken ways, his slow smile that always seemed to creep across his mouth, and that his love for me was as real as mine was for him. When we finally said our "I Do's," in front of the minister at a small chapel in Yuma, Arizona, Jim was twenty-two. I was seventeen. And despite some arguments here and there and an occasional downright disagreement, we both considered ourselves happily married for the next fifty-three years.

Author's comments:

In writing this story, it has occurred to me that in order for the reader to even partially understand my grief at losing Jim and the agonizing anger that built up in me for months after his funeral, it is important that you know a bit about the man I loved for what amounted to most of my life. And while I would never say to another widow that my pain has been greater than hers, what I can say is that we who have lost the love of our lives completely understands what each of us is going or has gone through--regardless of the circumstances of our loved one's death. 

As for me, I have buried both of Jim's parents and both of mine. Jim and I buried our first child, who died shortly after birth due to a lung defect which, in those days, could not be repaired. The pain of losing my folks was difficult to bear; the horror of having my first child die and never being allowed to see her, hold her, say goodbye, or be released from the hospital in order to attend her funeral, is still a raw nerve in my soul. As devastating as all of those losses were, I came through them because I had Jim to hold onto. He was the rock in my sea of loss, for he had always given me understanding and honor as directed in 1 Peter 3:7 and I was grateful for it.

Did I feel guilty and ashamed over having anger infuse my heart? Yes, but the emotion was so powerful, it built and built over several months until I felt like a volcano about to erupt. It began with my being left behind, alone, feeling like half of my heart had been ripped out and too rent to heal. I was also angry over having had to watch Jim die so unexpectedly right before my eyes and the debilitating video loop of that scene that liked to play in my head at every time of day.

That's where it began. But it wasn't where it finished. And while I continued to ask the Lord to lead me through this dark valley where I could see no light, and while I continued to ask forgiveness for my anger, it didn't go away. At least not for very long. I didn't know that what I was feeling was normal and that God understood. I also didn't realize that God was teaching me something about Himself that I could learn no other way.

In all the years I'd been a Christian, I'd experienced the peace that passes understanding in tangible ways. In my mind, that peace was something the Lord gave in selected incidents--such as the time I went into emergency surgery with little hope of coming out alive yet had utter peace within my soul and spirit that whatever happened, I would be alright. Was it possible to live in that peace all of the time? I thought not. But God wanted to teach me how wrong I was.

"He gives power to the weak, and to those who have
 no might He increases strength....Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with the wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."   Isaiah 40: 29-31

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