Friday, October 14, 2011

The Grief Of Letting Go

Jim sent me a dozen
roses and I made
him three of his
favorite desserts.
Now that's love!
The year Jim and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary, we got married again. There were no friends and family as witnesses. Neither were there flowers or gifts or a fancy cake or the traditional vows. Since Jim and I had eloped the first time around with no one in attendance but the pastor and pianist at the small chapel, we figured we could handle getting married a second time all by ourselves.

I still had my original rings and while the gold had worn through, I'd had them repaired and welded together rather than buy a new setting--which had been Jim's suggestion. Jim's slim gold band had long ago cracked and since I'd paid so little for it I replaced it with a much wider gold band I knew he would like. He wore it for many years, though as the Parkinson's progressed, we noticed that it was getting looser and looser. And while we had every intent of having it sized, we waited too long and one night before his shower, he discovered it was missing.

Both he and the nurse claimed it had to have fallen off during their afternoon walk through the neighborhood. On the bare chance that we'd find it, both the nurse and I retraced the steps, but there was no shiny gold band to be found. So I purchased a new one and tucked it away for our second wedding, giggling at how surprised Jim would be when I placed a new ring on his finger.

Michelle was with us eight
years. She was Jim's
partner in crime, always
ready to take him anywhere
he wanted. The two of them
got into all sorts of
mischief. But that's
another story.
Unknown to me, Jim had a surprise up his sleeve too. One day he and the nurse decided to go shopping and while I thought they'd gone to Sears, where Jim loved scouting out the tool department, they'd actually headed to Jim's favorite jewelry store. I would never have known anything about it if the credit card company hadn't called. There was an unusual and very large charge on our card, they said. We need to make sure it's yours.

I inquired as to the merchant and the amount and nearly dropped the phone. How dear of Jim, all the while fighting against a progressive and incurable disease, to give thought to an anniversary gift for me. I never let him know that I'd received that phone call. I made sure I never mentioned a diamond anniversary ring either. I didn't want him to be suspicious that I'd been snooping around in his den. What I did do was stand in front of the mirror and practice looking stunned, amazed, over-joyed, and dumb founded. Oh yes, I might have danced a bit too. Maybe a little jig here and there.

We toasted one another
with sparkling apple
cider, promised to love
one another forever, and
exchanged rings. Happy
Anniversary to us.
Jim and I celebrated our fiftieth by ourselves. Little did either of us know it would be our last celebration. By the following year, Jim was having more bad days than good ones and spent more time than ever in a wheelchair. We wished one another a happy anniversary, but there was no party, no special dinner, no special anything except that we continued to remind one another how much each of us loved the other one. When our following anniversary rolled around, we gave each other a hug and a kiss. Jim was pretty much wheelchair bound by then, and while his body was growing less and less cooperative, his spirit remained steady. A week before our fifty-third anniversary came around, Jim was gone.

Author's comments:

Sometimes, when I look back, there are things that come to mind when I wonder if Jim had some kind of inkling of how much longer he'd be here. In writing this particular blog, I remembered that when Jim presented me with that lovely anniversary ring that I'd gushed and gushed over, he said that he "figured he might as well go out with a bang." When I questioned what he meant by that, he said it was the last present he'd be buying me so he figured it should be the best he could think of.

I didn't take his comment to heart. He was doing well, he was otherwise healthy, he could get around pretty good with his walker. This disease moved slow. We had lots of years left. That is what I honestly believed. Yet Jim was right. It was the last gift he ever gave me. In the years that followed, I was busy running the house as well as instructing the nurse with medication schedules, healthy menus, bathing instructions, current doctor orders, and the insistence that Jim get outside each day for at least an hour--even if he had to be pushed in his wheelchair. Days melted into months and years and within too short a time, our life together on this earth was over.

During my first weeks of grief, a long-time friend and neighbor brought me a small book, telling me I might find it helpful. It was called, "Grieving The Loss Of Someone You Love" and I found it not only helpful, but full of wisdom. It was by reading that little book that I discovered everything I was feeling was normal, I wasn't crazy, and that shock was a protective blanket the Lord wrapped around us during those first horrible months for without it, none would survive the pain. 

I read and re-read and read again. But there was this one page that I absolutely detested. It made me mad every time I came to it. The title was "Letting Go" and after the first reading, I made sure I never read that particular page again. I had no intention of letting go. I didn't wish to let go and stubborn that I am, I hardened my heart and determined that if all other widows in the world eventually let go, I would be the one who would not.

I woke up with Jim, drank coffee with Jim, watched television with Jim and went to bed with Jim. I carried him close to my heart every minute of every day. By the time ten months had passed, I'd dealt with all that anger that, to this date, has never returned. Yet I still felt burdened, heavy, struggling to live. I took my emotions to the Lord, asking for wisdom. I didn't like what I heard.

"It's time to let go," is what floated through my mind. I planted my feet. I asked for wisdom again and yet again. "It's time to let go, it's hurting you." I crossed my arms in front of my chest and took my stance. I asked the Lord how remembering Jim could possibly be hurting me. I had loved him for most of my life. All I received in return was a soft and gentle whisper: "It's time to let go."

As I had before, I took to Jim's big recliner, bible in my lap and a box of tissues close by. I sobbed as I told the Lord I absolutely could not let go. All my memories would be lost, all my feelings for Jim would disappear, letting go felt dangerous and I just couldn't do it. I'd already lost him physically. I couldn't lose him emotionally too. I could not go on if I lost all memory and feeling of the one I had loved for so long.

It was in that big recliner that realization began to come. I saw that I'd carried Jim in clutched hands. Though he was physically gone, I had held onto his memory as though it would vanish into thin air should I open my fingers. The Lord showed me how burdened I was when he wished me to be free. Free to grieve for as long as I needed. Free to heal. Free to learn to go on by myself. Free to be the person the Lord wished me to be. Free to move into whatever ministry the Lord had for my future.

I opened my hands, spread my fingers, and let Jim go. I knew now that I could hold all of my memories as sacred. Each vignette stored on some digital memory stick inside my brain. I could remember Jim's unusual sense of humor and laugh; I could see that lazy smile of his and grin back; I could remember his love and wrap myself in the safety of it. I let go and received it all back. The Lord wasn't asking me to forget my husband. He wanted me to be free of all that hindered me from running the race so as to win.

Letting go was extremely difficult for me. Even so, I did what the Lord requested and since that day, I can feel myself healing. Do I still grieve? Of course I do. The last eighteen months feel more like eighteen weeks. And while I take two steps forward, there are days when I take one step back. I know that is normal too. So I press on. My realization is that there is still much grieving to be done and healing to come. The times between ambushes grows longer, though it can be triggered by finding Jim's passport photo or a note in his precise pre-Parkinson's handwriting, or coming across a note I had saved from the Christmas he gave me the biggest bouquet of red roses I'd ever seen. On the attached card Jim had written, "To the love of my life, the lady with the beautiful face."

Now I'm crying.

Jim, his brother, and one of his sisters. It was the last time the three of them were together. In little more than a year, Jim had graduated to heaven.

It is so easy to think we have some ultimate claim on those we love, rather than that we have been privileged to share one another's lives for a time--they with us, and we with them."

Martha Whitmore Hickman


  1. What a beautiful love story! Of course, you had me crying too. I won't have the opportunity to get 50 years with my husband since we didn't meet till later in life. I love the way your husband surprised you with the ring. I guess he knew it would have to be the gift to last for the rest of your life. It sounds like you are making strides in letting go, but not forgetting. Good luck!

  2. Katlupe, thank you so much for your kind words. I still miss Jim every moment of every day and probably will for some years to come. My encouragement to you would be that no matter when you met your husband, every moment you have together should be cherished. The conclusion I've finally come to is that making the memories is just as important as remembering them. Blessings, Sandy

  3. Sandy, how touching and heart-breaking! I love that you renewed your vows - just the two of you. How romantic! You had me laughing when you were practicing your "surprised" look in the mirror, and how wonderful and loving of Jim to have bought you a new dimond ring!

    I am so sorry to hear that you have lost the love of your life and best friend. But you really haven't lost him...he's just gone on into eternity before you. The day is coming when you will be re-united with him! Oh, what a glorious day that will be! :-)

  4. Gwendolyn, thank you for your lovely words. I am grateful that Jim has gone to be with the Lord. He is now in heaven with our daughter and both are in Jesus arms. I await the day we will be reunited. God bless you. Sandy

  5. Such a lovely story. I thank you for sharing it with us, even through your tears. I am now a new follwer. I am eager to read more about you two and your time together. Hugs, GraceinAZ

  6. What heart felt story. What a wonderful woman you are. This is a beautiful blog. thank you for sharing it with us. I look forward to reading more. God Bless.