Dealing with Death, Widowhood & Grief
My daughter still goes to the cemetery nearly every day. She sits on the ground by a newly dug grave and talks to her husband.
She invariably tells him how much she loves and misses him. She knows he’s happier where he is, and she will see him again one day.
Her Christian faith sustains her.
Time with Her Husband
Sometimes, I tell him I need him how much I need him, she says. Today is one of those days.
The July heat is oppressive, and the upstairs air conditioner stopped working last night. My daughter knew what to do, of course, but she was reminded that all the house and farm responsibilities are now hers. Life was so much easier when she had a partner.
Another reminder came this morning when the ambulance service contacted her about setting up payments for services related to her husband’s accident. Finances are difficult right now because she must rely on her income alone.
She is still trying to set up monthly Social Security death benefit payments, but it takes time – quite a bit of time – and bills pile up.
A Flood of Memories
As my daughter sits by her husband’s grave, memories come flooding back to her…memories of
…sitting on his lap and playing with his beard to the embarrassment of their children
…cuddling by the roaring fire he built for her on cool evenings
…laughing at his silliness
…waking up next to him every morning
…feeling his presence every moment of her life.
Time with the Lord
My daughter also spends time with God as she sits by her husband’s grave. She asks for strength and wisdom and for help in doing His will. She tells Him she needs His guidance in raising her children. On particularly rough days, she pours out her struggles to Him. And she prays for others.
When I think about my daughter’s visits to the cemetery, I imagine her sitting by her husband’s grave and it breaks my heart.
Unlike many couples, they had survived problems in their marriage and had become a solid team. They loved each other very much and planned to spend the rest of their lives together. I often wonder whether many married people feel that way.
My son-in-law died suddenly. There was no time to prepare our hearts and minds for the sudden and terrible loss. One moment he was standing in the front yard and talking to my daughter on the phone.
The next, she was rushing out of the house, kneeling beside him and frantically trying to find a pulse while someone called 9-1-1.
The tragedy unfolded one evening when a neighborhood boy asked for help with his car. The boy was trying to change the oil and there was a problem.
Our home was and still is a hub of teenage activity, and the request wasn’t unusual. My son-in-law enjoyed helping people, and the teenage friends of his children enjoyed being around him.
That terrible evening, he agreed to help with the car on one condition: the boy — who had no religious background – had to go to church on Sunday. The boy agreed, and they went to work. (The boy did keep his promise.)
I never learned the details of my son-in-law’s accident. What I do know is that something went terribly wrong, and suddenly, he lay dying on the ground. The car may have slipped out of gear…I just don’t know, and I don’t ask.
It’s still hard to believe. I see him everywhere on the farm … walking across the distant field to feed the goats and the cattle… working in the vegetable garden on the hill above my downstairs apartment… standing on the back deck and calling his 13-year-old daughter to come inside for dinner. If I see him, so must my daughter and the children.
My daughter is a nurse, and she did everything she could possibly do to save him. Even so, she sometimes thinks What if? What if I had been outside with him and done something to prevent the accident. What if the ambulance had gotten here sooner? What if…?
An ambulance and other first responders did come, of course, but there was nothing the paramedics could do There was nothing they could have done had they been on the scene immediately.
A Home Filled with Love
News quickly spread through our small community. My son-in-law’s
brother and a cousin are paramedics, and a long-time friend is a police officer. They heard the news on their scanners before anyone at the scene could start calling family members.
I don’t know how everyone else heard the news, but the living room and kitchen were filled with shocked and grieving friends and neighbors in short order.
As they tried to comfort us, the police interviewed witnesses. The investigation was cut and dry. There was no doubt it was an accident.
Where Are My Children?
The one question my daughter repeatedly asked that terrible night was, Where are my children? They were somewhere in the house or yard, but she had to know exactly where they were at any given moment.
I desperately wanted to help her, but there was little I could do except wrap my arms around her and hold her while she cried. She needed God’s love and healing power, and fortunately, He nourishes her soul every day.
After the accident, women from two or three churches took turns staying with my daughter over several nights after the accident.
They also brought enough food to keep the refrigerator, freezer and countertops filled for days. Several people took home the overflow and kept it until we needed it.
I barely returned to my downstairs apartment in the week after the accident, and my adult grandchildren helped their mom in so many ways. Friends and extended family continuously flowed through the house and tried to comfort us, help my daughter deal with issues that a newly widowed woman faces and distract the children with shopping trips and fishing.
An Astonishing Outpouring of Love
We were stunned by the outpouring of Christian love and kindness. My son-in-law would have been astonished, as well.
Our community has only 6,000 residents, and approximately 1,600 of them came to the receiving of friends. My daughter, the children and my son-in-law’s sisters and brother stood by the coffin and shook hands for two solid hours. Afterward, friends and family filled the church pews for the funeral.
Police officers, firefighters, utility workers and friends stood along the streets as we drove to the cemetery the next morning, and my son-in-law’s co-workers formed a path leading from the road to the grave.
Several of those same coworkers attended my granddaughter’s middle school graduation two months later. Their presence brought tears to my eyes and probably to hers.
I am not bragging when I talk about the outpouring of love. It’s simply the way it was.
My son-in-law was an ordinary, hard-working man who had a job with the county and farmed in his spare time. He was not a celebrity, but he had more friends than we knew. He helped and worked with many, many people over the years, and they responded to his death.
Love Thy Neighbor
I learned about my future son-in-law’s character early in his relationship with my daughter. I had a scratched-up old bed frame and mattress set that I didn’t want but couldn’t give away. It was ugly. I asked my daughter whether he would haul it to the dump, and she asked him about it. Within a few days, they came to get it.
I thanked him and then learned that he was taking it to a woman in town. It’s in terrible shape, I said. He replied that the woman was using a blanket on the floor as her bed. I was shocked by her poverty, as well as the fact that my son-in-law knew she needed a bed.
Life After Death
It’s been more than three months since my son-in-law died. Extended family and friends have returned to their own busy lives, but they help when needed.
Meanwhile, my family and I are adjusting to life without him. His death still feels like a body blow at times. I don’t compare my grief to that of my daughter and four grandchildren, but I do grieve. I also think about the nature of life and death, faith, and God’s role in our lives.
As Christians, my family and I believe in heaven and hell, and most of all, in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. When I began calling myself a Progressive Christian, I learned that progressives tend to believe Christ “was” a good teacher, but doubt His divinity. I dislike hearing anyone use the past tense when referring to Christ. He’s eternal.
I’m definitely not an evangelical, but am not 100 percent Progressive Christian, either. I doubt that few people fit nicely into any category we humans create.
So, when I call myself a Progressive Christian, maybe I should place an asterisk by those two words and add a note saying that I believe Jesus is Our Savior and Lord. As the Apostle’s Creed says, I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate ….
It Isn’t Fair
My daughter has said from the beginning that her husband is with the Lord. I know she’s right. My son-in-law was one of the godliest men I’ve ever known, and I cannot imagine him being anywhere else.
The thought is comforting.
Even so, I sometimes ask, Why, Lord? as does my daughter. Why did he die at a relatively young age? Why didn’t he live to see all of his children reach adulthood? Why didn’t he live to retire and travel with my daughter once all of the children had their own lives? Why will she never grow old with him?
He was a good and godly man whose life could have been so much more. Why did we lose him when some lowlife drug addict continues to live? It isn’t fair, but it serves no purpose to follow that line of thinking. Everyone dies at some point, including the lowlife. It’s just a matter of when.
God Never Leaves Us
As I think about our great loss, I remember a poem called Footprints in the Sand.
It tells the story of a person who dreams about walking along a beach with the Lord and noticing two sets of footprints in the sand. The footprints represent different times in the person’s life. One set is theirs and the other is God’s.
As they walk on the beach, they notice only one set of footprints during the worst times of their life. Upset, they remind the Lord that He promised to be with them always.
Why, they ask, did You abandon me during lowest points of my life? The Lord relies, I love you and would never leave you. The times you see only one set of footprints are the times I carried you.
Dispassionate realists, atheists and agnostics will scoff at the poem. I can hear them in my mind. They are saying the poem is trite, silly and overly sentimental. I came across one article on the web that asked, Who Cares about Whose Footprints Are in the Sand? or words to that effect.
I disagree with the critics. In times of great loss the poem is a comforting reminder of God’s presence. I’ll take His comfort over cynics’ criticism any day.