Another Sunrise

A few days ago my wonderful granddaughter reminded me of our time together right after my husband died.  She began to sleep with me.  It was very comforting for her and for me.  We would spend a few moments before sleeping talking about Poppy and how great he was.  We would share a few memories and things we were thinking about.

Each morning, as she reminded me, we woke up to a gorgeous sunrise.  My bed faces six large windows looking over the lake.  The summer sunrises on that lake is a sight to behold.  The glory as it beams into your eyes and into your heart is just marvelous. Summertime on the lake is great and summertime sunrises are glorious.

Each morning we would hug each other and pray our morning prayer.  We would thank God for sending us such a strong message that He was there for us. We thanked Him for the sunrise.  We told Him that we knew it was a new opportunity to be a servant for Him. We praised Him for creating this beautiful world and allowing us to share it.

That was a special time for the two of us.  It helped us as we both had to deal with losing our wonderful Poppy.  It helped to be able to snuggle close and hold each other.  It was comforting to talk about how much we were going to miss him.  We soon stopped sleeping together.  She needed to get back to her room and get prepared for the school year.  I needed to move on and learn to sleep without a sweet person next to me.

Even after returning to “real life”, we still had our sunrises.  We were still able to see God’s handiwork as soon as we opened our eyes. The sunrise is God’s way of telling us that he has given us a gift.  It is the gift of another day on earth. Another day to be vertical and breathing.  Another day for us to take to the task of living and helping others.

Another opportunity to serve Him.

Whether it is a sun filled day or a rainy day, it is a gift.  As the sudden loss of my life partner taught me, we are not promised another day.  It is a gift to wake up and be alive.

Each day we need to take that gift and do something with it.
It is not given frivolously.
It has meaning.
It has purpose.
It needs to be used.
We need to accomplish something.

After my morning thanks to God for the gift (my mother said to send a thank you note for the gift), I get busy with thinking about my to do list.  I always list more than I can accomplish and I always list things in detail.  The longer the list and more detailed, the more things I get to cross off.  The more things I get to cross off, the better I feel about all that I have accomplished.

Getting up in the morning with a purpose is important.  It gives you energy and a reason to tackle life’s issues.  I always feel good at night when I can say to God, “Thank you for my gift.  I tried hard to use it well”.

One day at a time.  Be thankful for the gift of another sunrise.  Use the gift wisely.  Know you may not get another one.  Rejoice with God for the opportunity to live for Him.

Trust Your Instruments

The other day I drove past the Ocean Isle Beach airport.  It is an airport for small, mostly single engine, planes.  As I drove past I started thinking about the times that my husband and I would spend time flying in small planes.  Ray had a private pilots license and we were members of a flying club so that we could use planes they owned.

When we would go on flights and approach mountains there would be an optical illusion of being too low to clear the mountain.  As I was looking out and we were approaching, I would get tense because it looked like we were going to go into the side of the mountain.

My sweet husband would say, “Trust your instruments”.

He would tell me how high the mountain was and he would have me check the altimeter only to see that we were hundreds of feet above the mountain.

No worry; trust your instruments.

As I continued this thought I realized that as a Christian, I also had to trust my instruments.  God has given us aids to keep our faith at an intense level.  These instruments are to be used to keep us intimate with Him.  If we use our instruments, we will be in His presence.

The first instrument is the Bible.  Reading it daily and using the words to fortify us each day is very important.  It is not a book to sit on the shelf or just carry to church. Sometimes it can be hard to understand.  Although parts of it reads like a novel, some is more difficult.  A good study Bible can give us clues to the meaning of passages and help us. We must use it as an instrument to guide us.

The second is our prayer life.  I am not very formal with my prayers. I tend to talk to God all during the day as I would a good friend.  I thank Him when I am late for an appointment and I make all of the stoplights.  I see a pretty bush and I thank Him for our beautiful world.  I pray for my sick friends as I am driving the car.  Prayer is a wonderful instrument that allows me to communicate with God.

A third instrument is the involvement at church.  People say, “I don’t have to go to church.  I can worship God while fishing on the lake”.  Of course you can.  I don’t disagree with that.  But my granddaughters favorite Bible verse gives me a clue about this instrument.  Proverbs 27:17. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  The relationship of Christian to Christian calls us to grow and be sharper with our God.

One word on Sunday can challenge my thinking about my life.  One thought from another person can make me consider things in a different  way.  The support I get from my fellow Christians cannot be gotten from a solitude activity.

God took my husband away but He gives me daily assurance as I reflect on the life I had with my husband.  He sends me messages that reminds me of great memories and links me to His love.

Just like the altimeter in the small airplane, I must use the tools that God has given me to keep my focus and be sure that I am safe in His arms.  I must use the tools to feel His presence and know that I am close to Him each day.

I must TRUST MY INSTRUMENTS.

Things I Miss

It has been seven and a half months since my husband died.
I miss him so much.

I worry that as time passes I will forget the most endearing parts of our relationship.  I take notes on what I miss most.  I look at pictures each day. Surprising to me, I do not miss his image as much as I miss his actions.

I miss cuddling.
He was a great hugger.
He would spontaneously hold me.
At our age, and with his physical being, sex was not the great part of intimacy.  It was holding me.

I miss his presence next to me.
The way he would look at me and let me know that he was in love with me.
We fell in love the first time we saw each other and it never stopped

He was also good at verbalizing his love.  He would tell me each day that he loved me.

I have recently gone through a lot of paperwork to get rid of the stacks of things that need to be gone.  I found his cards that he had given me for birthdays and Valentines and Mothers’s day and anniversaries.  I read each one and the wonderful words he would add to the already lovely message of the card.  He was great at expressing love.

I really miss affirmation.
I have no one that tells me that I am doing a good job or I am an OK person.
I have no one that lets me know that I am a hard worker or that they appreciate me for all that I do.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have wonderful children.  I know that they love me.  But there is just something about having someone who tells you that they appreciate you…frequently. My husband did that for me. I knew he admired me for what I did and he let me know that my mind was sharp and my actions and hard work was in concert with him.  I felt good about myself.

I miss the little things he did that showed he cared.  He bought the gas.  I did not have to be concerned about a car on empty.  He took care of that.  He carried the garbage and the recycling to the center.  He wrote the checks and paid the bills.  He bought the groceries. The list could go on and on.

When I start looking at these things I begin to wonder what I did.  But we were good partners so I did the laundry, the cleaning and making the grocery list.

He loved to run errands.  I would make the list and he would run the errands.  He could spend all day running errands.  He love to interface with people when he ran the errands.  If I do the errands I make a list and try to do it with as much efficiency as I can. Not Ray; he enjoyed running errands and would dilly dally and backtrack and enjoy each person and each experience.  That is why he is missed by so many people.

To say that there is a void in my life is not doing it justice.  There is a huge hole.  As good as I feel I am doing without him, I cannot seem to fill this hole.

They say that time will heal.  I don’t want time to take away my memories or to replace missing him.  But there are some things that hurt so much I don’t think time could come close to repairing.

Be My Valentine

Since I was fourteen years old I have had a boyfriend give me something special for Valentine’s Day.  Even before that we had boxes in our classroom where each student would put a paper valentine in for all other students.  We coded our names by putting numbers for the letters in the alphabet so it was fun to figure out from whom the valentine was sent.  Valentine’s Day has always been a special day for me.

This year I decided to ignore Valentine’s.  I knew that my true love was not going to be here.  I knew that I would not get that special card, those flowers and that extra long hug. I had prepared myself for the fact that my husband had died and Valentine’s Day for me would be just another day on the calendar.

I did great.  I was rocking along getting my chores done and my “to do” list was getting checked off in the speed of lightning. I was proud of my moving along and ignoring the special day of love.

Then my wonderful daughter comes up to me, gives me a great big cuddly long hug and says, “This was sent to you from heaven from Dad”.  That was it.  I looked at her and lost it.  My big bravado heart broke wide open.  I could no longer ignore the day.  I loved him so much while he shared my life and I love him now in all of my many memories; I could not act as if it didn’t matter.

Valentine’s Day is a special day to acknowledge our love for our special people.  I know it is usually marked for the romantic love in our lives.  It is designed for dinners out, flowers, candy in heart shaped boxes and expensive jewelry.

But shouldn’t it be a time that we say “I love you” to all of our special loves?  I, as much as I tried, could not get past the hole in my heart where my true love had lived.  I ached as I let myself release those feelings of emptiness, loneliness and sadness.

I was on the way to church for Ash Wednesday services and the radio seem to play every song that my husband and I had called “our song”.  I cried through everyone.  Then the next song would play and it was, once again, another of the songs that we loved.  Those songs reminded me of many special moments that only the two of us shared.

By the time I got to church I was a basket case. Probably, for the sake of others, I should have turned around and gone home, gone to bed and cried through the night.  But I didn’t.  I sat through a very moving service and thought about repentance and the sacrifice of Jesus and how I was going to ponder that for the next 46 days.

Thankfully my friends are sweet, caring people and they accepted my quiet sobs.  They knew my distress because they knew how much my husband and I were in love.  They understood my pain.

I made it home and the next day I was moving on with life.  But I learned that as hard as I tried to ignore the love that is expressed on Valentine’s Day, it has to be acknowledged. I hope that everyone could have a Valentine in their life as dear and loving as mine was. He was a true romantic. We fell so deeply in love that it is hard to imagine living without him.

So now in my memories, I think of him and want to say, “Please be my Valentine forever”.  I love you and miss you.

CARDS

Have you ever wondered if your card made a difference?  Sometimes we send cards because we care.  Sometimes we send cards because we feel obligated.  Sometimes we send cards so we can let others know we are good people.  You know, sitting around in a group and saying, ” I spent my morning sending get well cards. So many people seem to be sick”.

But what about the receiver?  Does it matter that we send cards.  Honestly, I cannot speak for other people, but I am so thankful that someone remembered me enough to take a card, write a note, address the envelope, stamp it and put it in the mail.  That is a chore. That takes time.  That takes brain power and physical energy.

Yesterday I started putting the cards we received, after my husband died, into plastic sleeves and into notebooks so we can read them over and over.  There are 182 cards.  Big cards, little cards, expensive cards, less expensive cards.  Lots of beautiful cards.  Cards of sunsets, sunrises, flowers, poems, butterflies, beaches, famous paintings, and so many more pretty things.

There were some homemade cards.  Clever and beautiful.  There were cards made by children.  So special.  There were computer generated cards that were personalized with Ray’s name in them.  I was so impressed.

But most impressive are the notes written in the cards by the sender.  There is so much care expressed in these notes.  You can feel the sentiment of the writer and how they are trying hard to show you how much they are hurting for you.  You can feel their agony as they are letting you know that they cannot imagine the shock and horror of this tragedy. They are sincere, honest and open with their feelings.

You can tell they are thinking, “What if this happened to me?  I cannot imagine the pain connected to a sudden death like this”.  On these pretty written pages you feel the raw emotions of your friends, family and acquaintances.  You feel the strong human expressions of love.

Cards can be bought for fifty cents or cards can be bought for several dollars.  If you buy in bulk they can be even less expensive.  Some of the sayings and poems in the cards are right on target to tell the story that you wish to send. As I sit and read the cards over and over, I can just visualize you at the counter picking out the one that says what you want it to say.  Card writers are marvelous with their wit and their understanding and their ability to hit the point.

But it is not the expense of the card nor the beauty of the card.  It is the note that is written by you that causes it to mean so much.  These notes are hard to write.  So many people said, “Words are just not available to let you know how much I hurt for you”.  I get it.  It is very hard to know what to say and how to say it.  But it is enough that you make the effort.

Just write the most honest and sincere thing in your head.  In a few words, open up your heart and let this person feel your joy, your hurt, your concern and your faith.  The receiver knows you are caring about them when you send the card.  Now let them see your feelings for them.  But do more than sign your name, write a few words to let the receiver know how you feel.

It does not matter if you spend 25 cents, 50 cents or four dollars on the card.  It is the written notes inside that mean so much.  I cherish every card that I got.  I read them over and over.  You bring me so much comfort.  I thank you all, my friends, that you spent the time, the energy, the effort to write to me and help me find my peace.

 

 

 

The Children’s Memorial

When my husband died he was playing in the lake with children, grandchildren and neighbors.  Playing with him was a thirteen and seventeen year old granddaughters.  It was sudden.  It was a shock.  One moment they were playing and the next they turned around and he was not there.

Poppy was greatly loved by his grandchildren.  He knew how to play with them.  He had great wisdom he shared with them and on their level.  He never got angry with them.  He was always there for them.  He was a great granddad.

So we were concerned about our thirteen grandchildren.  Especially the ones that were still at home and involved so much with him.  We were given the gift of using a Victims Advocate to come and talk with all of the grandchildren.  She did it in small groups.  One of the suggestions that she made to them was to have their own memorial service.

The adults were planning a memorial service but it was geared more for adults.  So we set about doing a informal memorial service geared for the children.  It was held on Saturday evening the day before the adult service.  We gathered at the lake edge with lawn chairs.  There were lots of our friends that had traveled from long distances and neighbors who had walked down from their houses.  It was a large crowd and we had a period of being social and enjoying each others company.  There were lots of children and it was a time for them to run and tease and have fun.  It was not solemn nor sad.

When everyone was comfortable, I welcomed them.  It was for the kids so I did not talk much except to say this was their celebration of Poppy’s life.  Then each girl, grandchildren and any other girl that knew Poppy was given a long stem rose.  They took turns telling about Poppy.  Stories and fun things that they remembered.  One sweet, sweet child said, ” I did not know his name.  I just always called him my BFF”.   At the end of the stories all of the girls went to the edge of the lake and threw their roses into the lake.

Then it was the boy’s turn.  My adult sons had gone to the fireworks store and bought beautiful fireworks.  We all sat there as the sun was setting on this lovely lake that had been a party to my husband’s death and watched as the boy’s of all ages set off bright colored fireworks over the lake.

As we sat there and watched, it was like being in a cathedral.  The beauty of the lake, the glorious sunset, the colors of the fireworks and the gathering of family and friends.  It was as lovely a tribute to Poppy as could ever been imagined.  It was the start of the healing.  It gave us a point to move from the shock to the love of remembering.  It was designed to be the children’s memorial but it was as meaningful as the adult memorial the next day.  A tribute to the man we all loved and respected.  We called him “Poppy”.

IGNORE IT OR NOT

Last night I went to a support group for persons that were dealing with the death of a loved one.  As I listen to other people share their experience, I become aware of how amazed people seem about death.  I want to shake them and say, “Are you nuts?  You are shocked that someone died?  Did you not expect death?  Do you know anyone that lived forever?”

I get it.  We are shocked when it happens.  When my husband died, I was shocked.  He was 76 and in good health.  His father lived into his 90s and his mother died at 87.  So he talked about his good genes.  And then he drowned.  So, yes, I was shocked on that day that his death had been at an early age.

But we had talked about death.  It is a transition from one part of life to another. Period. As a Christian, it is a positive transition from one part of life to another.  The only sad part of death is missing the daily presence of that other person.  But knowing that other person is now in a glorious home where we all desire to be, is fine with me.  I look forward to being there also. How can you live each day as a person and not be aware that you or someone you love may die immediately.  It is as clear a fact as you breathing each moment.

Don’t get me wrong.  I miss my husband.  I mostly miss his companionship.  I miss his hugs.  I miss the things he did for me.  I miss his role in the family.  I have my moments of sadness.  I have triggers like a song I hear or someone’s voice that sounds like his or seeing something that was very special to the two of us.  I miss him so much.

But I expected to miss him.  I expected him to die.  Not in the way he did, nor at age 76, but I knew this would happen.  I had visited this in my mind.  My daughter said to me last night that maybe part of out grief journey is in our expectations.  I think she is right. I listened to people last night and wanted to say them, “What did you expect?”  They talked about lingering illnesses and older persons dying.  “What did you expect?”  Did you not think about the future?  Did you not prepare for this moment?

There are two things that I think has helped me in this process.  One is my perception of life.  I see life and death as one.  It is a continuous life.  Death is just the transition from one dimension to the next. And it happens to everyone.  As a Christian, it is a happy transition.

The second is the preparation and the expectation of this transition.  I was not surprised it happened.  I was surprised it happened at 76 and by drowning.  But not that it happened.  I prepared myself with the legal paperwork, by living each day to the fullest with my husband, and with the expectation that every day together was a gift not a given. I want to say to everyone.  Get with the program.  Don’t ignore the inevitable.  Live and enjoy each other and expect that tomorrow you may be separated. Be joyous in the transition.

Connecting with People

The days following the death of my husband was like a major reunion.  There was a constant flow of people in my home.  Some of these people I had not seen for many years.  Others I had just seen the day before.  But they came and they came and they came.  Sometimes one group would overlap with another.

It was so wonderful.  The visits did so much for me.  First and foremost, I was so pleased that people respected my husband enough to get in a car and drive to my house and spend time with me, honoring my husband.  It takes energy to visit someone.  You have to carve out time in a busy schedule.  You have to drive to our house which is not on the beaten path to anywhere.  Then you have to go into an unknown environment.  Will this be a group of crying people or will you feel uncomfortable?  It is not easy to be a visitor.

The visits were a great distraction for me.  I could focus on the people coming through my door.  I was meeting new people. I was reconnecting people of my past. Friends of my children, colleagues of my children, friends of my childhood, persons that we worship with at our church, neighbors, friends that we partied with as my husband and I were a young couple, friends that I went to school with and people that we had known forever.

Having people to focus on allowed me to move off of the sadness and the sense of loss.  We told “remember when” stories.  We updated information about jobs, children, homes, hobbies, retirement and activities.  We laughed, joked and had a good time. The visits were a great time to breathe, and act as if nothing had happen.

The visits were also a glimpse of my new world.  I was entertaining guests without my husband.  Something that I had not done for almost 53 years.  My new social group was myself and my adult children.  I was reconnecting with people that would properly play a role in my new life.  I did not grasp that at the time but it was a gentle introduction to my future.

The visits also let the time move by rapidly.  I cannot imagine sitting alone after a tragedy and counting the hours until a memorial service.  At a time like this everything stops.  Your regular routine does not exist anymore.  Appointments are cancelled, and daily activities are not conducted.  Time hangs in the air.  Visits keep you occupied and moves you through the days.

I am so thankful to people for the decision to visit me and my family.  I was very surprised at the number of people that came.  But I was so happy when they came.  I was reconnected to people of the past, and I was connected to new people.  I know how much energy and effort it took to visit and I want people to know how important it is to visit.  It is therapeutic for both parties.

God made us to be social.  We know that babies will not develop if they are held in isolation.  And especially when our world is threatened or destroyed, we have a need to be social.  Reaching out and connecting pulls us through the worst of events.

 

Life Goes On

I wrestled with God all night long after my husband died.  I agonized.  I questioned.  I argued.  I disagreed.  I expressed anger.  I visualized over and over and over the event that led to my husband’s death.  I never slept.  By morning, I was exhausted.

But I had made peace with God’s decision.  I was not happy nor was I still angry.  I understood that God had made the decision.  It was no human error not lack of attention to my husband’s well being.  It was simply that God wanted him back in heaven and he had the power to make His will happen.

So I got out of bed and went downstairs for coffee.  I brewed my cup and walked out on the porch.  As soon as I stepped on the porch, I stopped.  It was a typical summer Carolina morning.  The birds were singing a loud chorus of beautiful songs.  So many pitches, so many differences in calls and volumes.  It sounded tropical.  The sky was the gorgeous bright Carolina Blue.  So vivid it looked like a color off of the artists’ pallet.  The greens of the trees were neon with the different hues of summer growth.  The multitude of squirrels were chasing each other and playing tag.

It was everything that you could hope for on a gorgeous summer morning in South Carolina.  But it was all wrong.  It was suppose to be dark.  It was suppose to be gloomy.  It was suppose to be depressing.  It was suppose to reflect my world as it now exists.  This was terribly wrong.

Life was not happy and vibrant.  Life could not be busy and interesting.  Didn’t the squirrels know that my husband had died?  Didn’t they know my world had fallen apart.  How dare they run and play and look happy.  Didn’t the birds know that they should be silent in respect for the great tragedy that had happen in my life.  What was wrong with them singing out loud with their usual choral symphony.

Where were the clouds and the rain and the ugly part of the world.  How dare the sun to shine and offer beauty to the sky.  How dare the lake to be smooth and calm and blue and inviting.  Did it not realize that just yesterday it had been a party to destroying my life?

I sat down and took a few breaths.  I was ready to yell at God again for throwing such a sight in my face.  After all He had caused it all.  At least He could make nature reflect the hurt in my heart.  It was as if my loss was insignificant and not worthy of reflection in the natural part of the world.

Then God gently said to me.  I know you hurt.  I know you are sad.  I know your world will never be the same.  But I promise to take care of you.  I will never leave you and I will never give you more than you can handle.  You can do this. You can be strong.  Your husband is with me and we both expect you to carry on.

So embrace the beauty of the world.  Love it.  See Me in it.  Because life goes on.

Processing with God

There was not to be any sleep the night of my husband’s death.  Oh, I went to bed.  I did everything I usually do before bed.  I prepared to sleep but sleep never was to be a part of my night.  I had to make my peace with life and death.  I had to process with God.

And process I did.  I thought about the last few minutes before my husband left to walk down to the lake.  Was he in a good mood?  Did he seem sick?  Did he seem confused?  Were there symptoms of illness that I did not pick up on?  Was I in tune with his moods, his needs, his physical and emotional facets?

Yes, he was in a great mood.  We had laughed and joked and our relationship was in a good place.  No, he did not seem to be sick.  There were no symptoms that I could have noticed.  He had been weed eating which he loved to do.  He was going to play in the lake with children and grandchildren which he dearly loved.  Life was good.

So what went wrong?  If he was not sick and not depressed, what went wrong?  He was a good swimmer.  He was in eight feet of water.  What went wrong?

I tried to walk through the scenario all night.  I visually put myself there at the scene.  I, in my mind, was playing with them in the water.  We were splashing and laughing and making a train with rafts and noodles.  We were teasing and joking and having fun, as only family can do.  We were being responsible and caring, but relaxing and staying cool in the heat.  We were enjoying the lake that we love so much.

Then I visualized the final moments before he drown.  I lay on the raft with him.  I watched as he watched the kids and looked at them at play.  How he saw with pride each of them.  How precious they are and how much he loved them.

And then he rolled over and left this physical world.  There was no pain.  There was no discomfort.  There was no panic.  It was a simple movement from this world to the next.  God reached down and quietly lifted him out of his body and took him to the next world.  It was easy, and smooth and a comfortable transition.

Non-believers will say that during the night I justified his death in my own mind.  And non-believers will find their own explanations in all things.  But I know what happened during the night.  I was there.  I had the presence of God with me.  I talked to God as if he were sitting on the side of my bed. And we argued some.  I told him about my shock and my anger.  I asked why I was not allowed to be more prepared.

But when morning came,  I knew that God had been with me all night.  He had tolerated my anger.  He had carried me through the scenario many times.  He allowed me to question and he had provided me with the strength to get through the night.  But most of all, God provided me with his peace.  He let me know that He was with me and life was going to be OK.  My husband was fine and I would be also.  What a great God I have that would allow me this night of processing and would take me into His heart and grant me grace and peace to live through death and life.