, speaker and director, Faith For Today
Loss and the accompanying grief are inescapable parts of life. Everyone has experienced a loss of some sort, and everyone has had to deal with grief.
Like you, I’ve had many losses through the course of my life, but this most recent loss is by far the most crippling. For most, the loss of a spouse is among the most difficult. Though my loss is fresh and my journey through grief only just beginning, thus far this is the most difficult experience of my life.
Gayle was my soulmate. Gayle and I believed that soulmates are “created” rather than “found.” Two people become soulmates when they decide to do whatever it takes to become soulmates. Gayle and I made that decision, did the work and, by God’s grace, became closer than we could have ever dreamed. While this relationship made my life unspeakably rich, it has multiplied my loss with Gayle’s passing on April 10.
We had 40 years of life, love, family and ministry! While we certainly have had our ups and downs as a couple, in the end we could say we’ve truly enjoyed the ride. When Gayle knew she was dying, she spoke to me of our marriage with the simple words, “No regrets!” I concur. Absolutely no regrets!
Gayle was my best friend. I miss telling her stories from my day, seeing her smile when our children and grandchildren come to visit, hearing her laughter, and feeling the warmth of her embrace. And I miss her prayers. I may miss her prayers most of all.
We studied Scripture together, discussed theology, planned and executed ministry initiatives, and played with grandchildren as a team. I can never replace those things.
I am a counselor and have worked as a hospice and hospital chaplain. In those capacities I have taught many classes in grief recovery and counseled with many who are engaged in deep grief. In these professional capacities I have learned that it is sometimes helpful to let people know that their symptoms, while severe, are nonetheless normal. With that in mind I will share a few of my grief-related symptoms.
Loneliness can almost overwhelm me at times. I am fortunate to have a strong support system so this loneliness is not the absence of people in my life but the absence of my life mate. I miss her terribly!
Unlike many others who experience such a loss, I have not had a loss of faith. A temporary loss of faith is a frequent symptom of grief and is viewed as being quite normal and not necessarily a sign of spiritual weakness. With past losses I experienced this loss of faith, but that has not happened thus far in this current journey. Jesus remains my constant companion, my primary means of support. The hope of the Resurrection keeps me going from day to day.
I cry frequently, often at unexpected times. When I cry I make sounds that surprise me. They come from some place deep within and sound to me to be almost not human. These sounds are the most basic, and perhaps even the most eloquent, expressions of my pain.
Thus far I am sleeping five to seven hours a night. This is a blessing to me and is unusual for most in deep grief. My appetite comes and goes. My powers of concentration and memory are almost nonexistent, and I have lost interest in many of the things I used to enjoy. Gayle is the first thing on my mind every morning and the last thing on my mind every night. I am consumed by my memories and thoughts of my wife.
At times I feel a heavy weight pushing down on my shoulders and chest. I sigh frequently and seem to constantly have a lump in my throat as though I am always on the verge of tears.
All of this is normal.
I have found a few things to be helpful thus far in my journey of grief. While these things do not “fix” my grief, they have helped me hold up under its burden.
Prayer is important to me. I am unable to pray for long periods of time and am often unable to kneel in prayer. Instead I pray as I walk, as I work, and as I move about the house or through an airport. My prayers are more brief conversations than formal petitions. Dwight L. Moody, the 19th-century U.S. evangelist, said that prayer should be brief, frequent, and intense. I agree and find this sort of prayer helpful in my journey.
It is more important than ever to focus on the positive elements of God’s character. I find these to be most beautifully illustrated in the life of Christ. My reading comes from the gospels and takes place in short passages. When I read outside the Bible, I make certain it is light, positive, and inspiring. I focus on things that illustrate the love of God. Prophecy, end-time events, and deep theology are not helpful to me just now. Jesus is my all in all!
It is essential that I maintain a regular schedule. I have tried to limit my schedule so as to avoid overtaxing myself. I get out of bed about the same time every morning. (This often takes great effort.) Keeping a routine is important.
Diet and exercise are vital. Often when I have an appetite I crave junk. Instead, I try to focus on fruits and vegetables while avoiding my beloved enchiladas. (OK, I eat them from time to time, but not nearly as often as I crave them.)
And I walk. At my age, walking is a wonderful exercise. It gives me time to think and to pray. I begin with a morning walk of 4 ½ to 5 miles (7 to 8 kilometers). Then I make sure I walk during the day. The bank, grocery store, pharmacy, dry cleaners, and restaurants are all within walking distance from where I live. I leave the car in the garage and walk whenever possible. My record distance is 11.6 miles (18.6 kilometers) in one day. Eight to 10 miles (13 to 16 kilometers) is not uncommon. I joke that I am a “grief walker.” I am literally walking my way through grief! I highly recommend it.
I have to force myself to engage socially. However, it is important to make the effort. While it is often difficult, social interaction with family and friends can be healing.
While these things are helpful, nothing truly stops the pain. There is no way to avoid grief. It must be experienced. You cannot go around it. You must walk through “the valley of the shadow of death.” There is no escaping it.
However, I am finding that Jesus is not just walking with me, but that He is actually carrying me. Even when it feels as though He is far from me, He carries me.
I trust Him now more than ever and believe His promise that one day soon I will see Gayle again.
Until that day!