Over the past week, I have had calls and messages from people who are in the midst of agonizing grief. They are walking the road that I traveled over 4 years ago. In many ways for me, those memories seem like yesterday and in other ways, they seem like an eternity of small lessons and winks from God. One thing is clear, the choice to use the debilitating pain for the Kingdom wasn’t easy, but it has certainly cultivated a more deeply-anchored faith and desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus for my fellow travelers.
For those of you who are in the middle of the beginning stages of grief, I will tell you that brighter days are coming. Oh yes, there will always be moments of sadness and longing to say just one more word or to squeeze their hand. But your life becomes different over time—a new normal if you will—and new people and experiences are gifted to you by God, a glaring example of His unmerited grace towards us.
For you see, your loved one wanted more than anything for you to live, to love again and to use your pain to reach others for Christ. The new people and opportunities you will now experience will be richer and better because of what you have learned. You will no longer find the need for petty, unimportant things because you know first hand that life can be over in an instant. As I was sharing with my 2 friends this past week, I came across a blog entry I wrote over 2 years ago that I have posted below and I hope will be of comfort to those of you in the midst of the storm.
“Facing the Loss Anniversary Train”
Journal entry by Kathy Whitfield — Mar 14, 2017
Some of the most meaningful blessings about having suffered the loss of a spouse are the things people send you who have experienced similar tragedies. Today someone forwarded me a beautifully written blog post on the “Loss Anniversary Train.” The writer had lost her husband 8 years before at the age of 35. She had used her experience to help other widows and as a result, she had grown exponentially and had even remarried a few years before.
She related an epiphanic moment–a Damascus Road experience–when she came to understand what her husband would have truly wanted for her life. She thought of their incomparable love and his undying commitment to her happiness. It was then that she realized that she wanted to live in a way that would make him proud and that would celebrate his impact on her life and the lives of their children.
As I approach the second anniversary of Glenn’s passing, I realize how much has taken place since he died. I sold our house and picked out one by myself. I handled the painful task of working through the issue of his estate and courageously stood up to a opportunistic jerk who foolishly thought he could take advantage of me when selling Glenn’s prized ’57 Belair. I made the difficult decision to make a career change and go back to doing the things I truly love. In addition to the large triumphs, there have been a number of small victories over the pass two years and countless times I have wondered if Glenn would be proud of me. He was my best friend, my biggest fan and his face seemed to light up until the very last time I entered his room. Instead of the last six horrible weeks of his life, those are the things I choose to remember.
So what have I learned over the last two years?
1. Grief is extremely personal. You have to walk through the middle of the pain and you have to do it alone. As much as they would like to share the anguish, no friend or family member can do it for you.
2. Each of us has a decision to make when we experience unspeakable tragedy. We can honor God and our loved one by allowing the pain to make us better people or we can spend the rest of our days bitterly asking why.
3. There is no greater compliment to our loved one than to use what they taught us to shape the rest of our lives. I know with certainty that Glenn Whitfield would want me to live and love and build a meaningful and purposeful life
4. Unfortunately, I believe that you really can’t understand this type of loss unless you have lived it. And I would love nothing better than to protect those I love from ever having to experience that kind of pain. It has taught me the importance of sympathy, presence and responsibility to others going through the valley.
5. The things that people say–whether well-intentioned or not–still amaze me. “You shouldn’t be experiencing the depth of loss that someone who was with their spouse for 60 years.” Oh really? Well, I feel a remarkable loss for what never came to be.
6. I know without a doubt that God gifted Glenn with happiness and salvation the last years of his life. It is easy to ask why I didn’t have longer with my best friend and it doesn’t come naturally to simply accept it. But from introspection and 2 years worth of alone time with God, I have learned to be thankful for 8 wonderful years instead of asking why I didn’t have more.
Happy 2-year anniversary in heaven, Glenn. Thank you for helping me to be stronger, wiser and more receptive to God’s leading. I am happy and building the rest of my life and remembering you with fondest love and memories.