Bad things aren’t supposed to happen when you’re sitting in church. There should be a rule that you’re protected by God’s grace and mercy while you’re in His house. But on March 11, 2012, my world was shattered. As I sat worshiping, my husband was taking his last breath.
I felt angry and frustrated that on a beautiful morning when praise was on my mind, the Lord permitted the love of my life to be taken from me, with little to no warning. It was there, in the parking lot, in my Sunday attire, that time froze. To this day I’m not sure how I made it back to my house – despite the church being across the street from my condo complex.
I couldn’t understand how the God I’d just worshiped would allow my husband to die for no apparent reason. I wondered if God had closed His eyes ever so briefly and allowed death an opportunity to sneak in. I questioned God, His timing, His love, His Word.
My husband’s death rocked my faith to its core. I dutifully showed up to church the following Sunday after his death but my heart wasn’t into the service. I had questions; questions only God could answer. I was always taught that you shouldn’t question God. His way simply was beyond our scope of human comprehension but I asked anyway.
Was his death “punishment” for something I did or did not do. Why he was taken – so young. Why didn’t we know that his flu was really un-diagnosed malaria? Why was I still here to live without him? Why did my God allowed this?
As I navigated through my anger, the nightly news became a trigger. I showed God every robber, killer and/or rapist who was more deserving of death than my hubby. I cried about the unfairness of life and how I was robbed of my future. It was just too much.
Writing & Widowing: Journaling the Journey
(A series of prompts to help the widowed community get to a place of healing)
Then a series of events unfolded that made me realize that although this terrible thing had happened, it didn’t mean I had to give up on the life I had left.
I was at the cemetery and a van pulled up. Alone in an isolated area, I immediately panicked. A middle-aged man got out and walked to the grave in the row above where I sat. Our eyes connected and he smiled. After some time had gone by, he asked if I was visiting my dad. (I agree. It’s not natural for such a young person to be there visiting a spouse). He told me about his wife. How a misdiagnosis caused her illness to go untreated for years. He talked about his new wife. His current life. How the pain remains but it’s not the gut-punch it once was. How I had to know that life continues and I would eventually find my way out the storm.
I didn’t believe him. I would never be “okay”.
But deep down, his words stuck with me. Subconsciously, I knew better days were ahead.
The second incident occurred not long after. I’d picked up running a few months prior to my husband’s death and continued to use it as an outlet/distraction. After running a 5K, I asked someone to snap a photo which I sent to my sister-in-law.
Later that week, my mother-in-law called to check on me.
“When I saw your picture, I knew that we had to set our grief to the side to help you through your pain or we’d lose you too,” she eventually confessed.
I’d lost nearly 20 pounds and my already small frame seemed to be a shell of what it once was.
It wasn’t so much my size that jarred me back from the brink, but the fact that my husband’s mother could focus on me – when the child she birthed and loved for 35 years was gone. This moved me beyond measure. How she found it in her heart to want to love me back to health…in the midst of her own pain…helped me put my life in perspective. I wasn’t alone with this pain.
The final breakthrough helped me to come full circle. As I sat in church on yet another Sunday morning, my pastor preached about the fact that God never promised there wouldn’t be pain, that we wouldn’t lose loved ones or that our paths wouldn’t be rocky. What He did promise was that He would never leave us nor forsake us.
That was the piece of my faith that had been missing. I was questioning how this could have happened…why it happened. It was already done and there is no healing in the “how” or “why”. My prayers would now be to help me get through the anger, hurt, disappointment and pain. I’m still on my this journey but it’s been cathartic letting go of my anger and hurt and instead trusting God to guide me through the process.
Though I never directly heard from God, I know he heard my prayers and those of so many family members, friends and acquaintances who saw and felt my pain. He put an entire team of people in the gap to help me come out of the darkness.
I often hear “joy comes in the morning“. It took my “morning” a while to arrive. But I can remember feeling this immense happiness one day (it took about four years to get there). In fact, it was so overpowering that I struggled with it. This joy seemed like a betrayal. How could I be so happy again? What did this say about my love for my husband? Shouldn’t I be in a perpetual state of grief?
This past weekend as I sat in my mother-in-law’s kitchen, she gave me the final piece of the puzzle. As I explained my hesitation with accepting this newfound joy, she said, “You were hurt and had a devastating blow. Don’t you think you deserve this joy? Why would you fight what God has blessed you with? You have something that money can’t buy. Appreciate it!”
Those were words I truly needed to hear. I’d prayed for peace and healing and yet when it showed up, I didn’t accept it. It was too perfect. My cup was running over with joy but I was afraid to embrace my blessing. Afraid others would think that I’d forgotten my husband. Afraid my joy tainted our memories.
And as if right on cue, his mom added these final words. Words that I’m sure someone reading this also needs to hear. Words that challenge me to accept my joy and should encourage you to do the same as you make sense of your own happiness/joy:
“Give him back to God. You can’t carry that load. It’s okay to make peace and close that chapter. It doesn’t mean you’re forgetting or that you didn’t love. It’s okay to live.”
Mom to a feisty preschooler, Kerry Phillips became widowed at age 32. She runs an online support group for young widows and widowers venturing back into the world of dating and is a blogger for The Huffington Post.