"For thy Maker is thine Husband" (Isaiah 54: 5)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up and His train filled the temple (Isaiah 6:1). In the year my husband died, I saw the Lord lifted up as He kept me from losing my mind over my broken heart.
Tuesday, June 27th, 1989. Weather forecasters were predicting it to be a scorcher. To be sure, it was. There was no hint that Tuesday morning that my life was to be forever changed.
The compressor of the air conditioner was already humming away as I walked around the yard making sure all the equipment my son and husband needed was visible. He was on a "honey-do" vacation. The original plan for that day was to work in the yard. A phone call changed that; a business appointment popped up.
"You're on vacation," I muttered incoherently to no avail. "Come on and go with me. I'll be finished by 11:00. Then we can do the lunch thing," he yelled out as he closed the shower door. Our daughter, who was running late that morning, said "Mom, tell Dad I said bye; have fun, go with Dad. It's going to be hot today…be comfortable and cute!"
We'd planned to have many lunches that week to begin the celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary, three weeks away. Three major layoffs in the last twenty years left the budget too tight for an elaborate celebration, but we had each other and that was all that mattered.
"See, I told you I'd finish quickly. I'll do the yard tomorrow," he said as we drove into the parking lot of the restaurant. It was only 11:30 AM. He was right. The meeting went quickly.
Lunch lasted two hours. Words of love, laughter, and devotion flowed between us. There was no hint of danger; no clue that my husband would be gone in a matter of minutes; no way of knowing we were saying goodbye to each other.
Other diners began to arrive, and the quietness was broken. We had finished dessert and were still lingering in the moment. One thing that meant so much to me was his affirmation of our life together, the giving up of my career to stay home with the children. They were in college. We could now begin planning our lives together to do what the Lord had planned for us to do after raising the children.
Diners dining at a table one level up and to the right of us were served a dish-cooked tableside. There was a loud audible sizzle followed by a plume of smoke. My husband began to cough. "That must be shrimp," he said. My husband had an allergy to shellfish and was uncomfortable in the presence of the shrimp cooking.
He was still coughing as I got into the car. His inhaler was not with him; he'd not had an episode in years. I wanted to stop at a nearby pharmacy to purchase one but he wanted to go home. I didn't want to argue so I kept going...
The pharmacy was the only one between the restaurant and our home. After making the jug-handle turn, one eye on him and one on the highway, his breathing changed; he started gasping for air. "Jesus help me, help me, " he kept saying. "Honey, I'm heading for the hospital," I said with panic. What we didn't know was that he was in the last stage of anaphylactic shock, the severest form of an allergy attack. Accelerating over 90MPH heading for Rancocas Hospital, we didn't make it.
I pulled over to the shoulder, ran over to the passenger side to help him. I saw in his face a look only the Lord was able to take away from my memory. I began to scream.
Sudden death! In golf, it means more game; in medicine, it means the game's over. Looking back over a game's history is the sport of newscasters. Looking back on the Lord's goodness is the job of the Redeemed. "Let the Redeem of the Lord say so! (Psalm 107) Praise God my husband was already saved; there was no time for him to have received salvation.
There are many steps in the process of bereavement, forgiving yourself is one of them. The "if only's" and the "why didn't I" and the "I'm so sorry I" complicate the bereavement process and add to the sorrow immensely. It's too late to say things you now realize you should have said. In light of the emptiness and sadness of his passing, I've had time to contemplate the issue. I now realize that it was so minute in light of eternity.
If your spouse is still living, and you have some "stuff" that needs to be brought before the Lord to be forgiven, it is a better thing to forgive or ask forgiveness now. Jesus will help you walk through it if you ask Him. If your spouse has passed away, ask the Lord to help you have peace regarding a matter that is unforgiven.
Two years before my husband died, we joined a fellowship that placed heavy emphasis on raising up Godly men. The husband's role in family devotions and husbands and wives praying together daily were key elements. At our 10th anniversary, we'd had a Marriage Encounter® Weekend. It taught the principles of couple-prayer, but tides (work schedules) and time (family obligations and children's activities) got in the way of keeping up that good practice.
My husband prospered spiritually from that experience. As he and I spent more time together in prayer, I was heavily impressed by the Lord to do some forgiveness work. He and I talked a lot about issues we'd placed under the rug, so too speak, but never dealt with. I needed to get over the anger from the financial loss we suffered from the last job layoff. It had been six years, and still hanging around in the atmosphere was the resentment of the event and what it had done to our financial, emotional well-being. In addition, unbeknown to me at the time, I was in the early stages of Menopause!
Returning from the Emergency Room of the hospital with my son, I heard the inner-voice of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) say to me, "You'll get through this better if you trust me," as we walked across the door-sill into the house.
Losing one's spouse, according to mental health experts, is high on the list of stress-makers, and not without reason. I've termed the days between death and burial as pre-burial stress. From the moment death occurs until burial, the frenzy begins. The activity is well meaning and a necessary blessing. Constant phone calls, people coming and going with meals or cleaning your house, condolence conversations, and pastoral, funeral personnel visitation.
Receiving the Death Certificate from the funeral director the day before the funeral created a cruel reality I was not prepared to face. Seeing my husband's name listed as Deceased was a stress-maker. The funeral director brought the certificate to our house explaining how and under what conditions I'd probably need them. (Let me make this suggestion to anyone who might need to have this knowledge: Take as many copies as you can. You'll be surprised how many times you'll need one.)
With Pre-burial stress your state of mind changes minute by minute. Trying to come to grips with the death that is replaying almost constantly the last moments of life. You have no appetite, sleep if any is restless, and concentration is nearly impossible. You most likely won't be able to read all those books or magazines you'd like to tackle.
Herein is the difference for the believer. Even though we grieve, when we know Jesus as Savior and Lord, we don't grieve as those who have no hope (1Thess. 4:13). In the beginning, the pain of the loss is more of a reality than the Word of God, but the Word has to be held higher than feelings of grief.
There are levels of pre-burial phenomena that seem to be universal. Other widows I've spoken with have similar remembrances. After the death but before the funeral was a gray area. Head-knowledge and sensory-knowledge were out of sync. My intellect knew that my husband had passed away; I saw him die. On the other hand, my sensory head kept saying, "this is a dream, why can't I wake up." It was surreal.
This semi-reality continued as I traveled through condolence conversations, burial plans, and the actual service. This is what I've termed the rituals. The rituals do help make tolerable the immediate sense of loss.
Post-burial: a surrealism sets in with its vagueness that greets you upon wakening, hangs around all day, and is still there when the day ends. There are levels of post-burial stress. The first one starts right after the rituals are done. Did it really happen, why can't I wake up from this bad dream? Jesus, I can't do this."
My children and I did what the Lord said, and we saw the Lord repeatedly, pouring in the oil and the wine. The Word of the Lord became the very food of my life. I began to live only by the Word and words of God. As a widow, I was restored by the restoration power of the Word. Mourning with me, explaining why the loss hurt so much, never chastising always explaining. "Jesus, I can't do this" became "Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness."
I saw the Lord comfort my children and me with the truth Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:4 "Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted." Comforted by His Word. Kept by the power of the Word. There were times when all I could pray was, "Lord help me get through the next fifteen minutes with Your comfort and Your peace" (John 14).
Remember this is a process, and it must run its course. Don't try to rush it. Writers who comment on what's going on in the culture via print are fond of the term The New Normal. The new normal for widows is "For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called" (Isaiah 54: 5 KJV).