David, death of a spouse, grace, grief, love, marriage, wedding

On this day…

I didn’t expect to wake up crying the day after my daughter’s wedding, but then there are many things that come as a surprise in our journey as a mourner, things we are not prepared for, or cannot comprehend until we experience them. I remember those early days of grieving a spouse when I would wonder; is it normal to feel like this? Am I going to be okay? Even a seasoned mourner can be sideswiped by a tide of grief at milestone events such as weddings.

August 13, 2016. More than four years after the death of my husband David, a daughter was to be married. This would not be the first marriage in our family after David’s death; son Daniel got married in the summer of 2014. The mixture of joy and grief was expected then, but perhaps tempered by the fact that the wedding was extremely small; just the couple’s parents and siblings, in the back yard of my brother’s house, officiated by my dear friend Cecil Murphey. I cried then, too, but joy overshadowed the tears. At the time, I lamented the lack of a reception where we could celebrate with others. Now, I believe it might have been too much to bear then, a wedding reception following on the heels of yet another loss; that of our little Jacob, my grandson who passed away from cancer the year before.

dan and lydia wedding

I had a hint this wedding experience would be different than Dan’s wedding. Emily would be the first daughter to get married after David’s death, the first daughter to walk down the aisle without a father by her side. I expected this absence to be keenly felt by my daughters. As a symbol of our female solidarity and in homage to David, we cut hearts out of one of his shirts, using Velcro to attach the heart inside each of our dresses.

shirt hearts
None of my impending sadness as the date approached had anything to do with the marriage. I whole-heartedly approved of Emily’s choice. Hugh was a devout Christian, and he’d asked for my blessing on Thanksgiving. The young couple began a Bible study together shortly after their engagement. I had no qualms about who my daughter was marrying.

Nor was it about the wedding itself. Hugh’s family, having experienced two daughter’s recent weddings, took charge of the majority of the work involved in planning and decorating.

It was always about the missing man, the father who’d loved his sons and adored his daughters. The man who’d fought cancer and won, who’d smiled indulgently at this daughter who’d taken to hugging him repeatedly and daily in those three months before his death. Privately, he’d wondered at her hugging. “Do you think she’s okay?” he’d asked me. “She’s hugging me over and over, and telling me she loves me.”

Emily had wondered the same thing.

“I don’t know why, but I keep feeling like hugging Dad,” she’d confided.

Only after his death would we marvel at the timing of this compulsion.

What had I wanted for Emily, for me, on this wedding day?
I desired, more than anything, to feel the presence of her Dad. I wanted a sign that he was there with us, a message from the heavens. I yearned to see a rainbow in the sky, a blue butterfly landing upon her wedding dress while her brother Dan took photos. I wanted piles of shiny pennies to appear in the pews, white feathers among the rose petals little flower girl Amy dispersed from her basket.

After all, anyone who reads my blog or has read my book, Refined By Fire, knows I’ve experienced this kind of thing before; little messages from Heaven, proof that there is so much more to everlasting life than we here on earth can possibly comprehend; that our loved ones live on, not just in our memories, but with God. So, why wouldn’t I expect more of the same on such a momentous occasion?

The wedding ceremony was beautiful. My heart was full, as I did the one thing I have not been particularly good at since David’s death; I lived in the moment. I reveled in the experience of a daughter getting married. The circle of blessing, when Hugh’s parents and I got up to circle the couple and pray together was especially moving. The reception was lovely. A cozy after-party at the new in-law’s home included a first dance between the couple. Memories captured on camera, and inside my heart.

But throughout the day, I found myself searching for that elusive sign; a message that David was near, that God would gift us with a message that he hadn’t forgotten our loss. I went to bed inexplicably disappointed.

And woke up crying.

It was this morning, as I sat alone and sobbed, that I thought to pray the prayer I should have prayed yesterday with my daughters as we did our make-up, or with Hugh’s mother or grandmother during the wedding party’s hurried lunch.

God, let me see YOU.”

Not David. Not Jacob. Not my mother, who had passed away in 2010, or my father who has been gone since 1986.

God, let me see you. Let me feel YOU.

As I sit alone in the front pew of the church and watch my daughter get married, let me feel you. As I stand alone watching my daughter dance with her new husband and remember dancing with her father, let me feel you. When I catch a glimpse through my camera lens of his parents leaning into each other as they watch the couple, let me not feel such a sharp stab of sadness at what I no longer have, at what I have lost. Let me feel gratitude instead, for what I once had.”

Emily and Hugh wedding dance.jpg

In the moments after I prayed this morning, little snippets of yesterday’s events flitted through my mind’s eye. I reflected on those moments that will remain with me forever;

My daughter’s delicate, slightly shaking hand as she clung to my arm when I walked her up the aisle.

The hugs from Emily and Hugh after I affirmed that I was the one giving away the bride.

The emotional blessing Hugh’s father gave, and my sudden realization that this man would be a father figure in my daughter’s life, would look out for her best interests as if she was his own daughter.

And after the ceremony, when I was so desperately searching for a sign from David, I won’t forget the appearance of his brother walking out the door of the church into the foyer where I stood, and the lurch I immediately felt in my heart. His brother, Keith, who David had loved so dearly. Keith’s wife Margie, who has experienced tremendous loss in her own life. Their hugs were followed closely by hugs from David’s two favorite sisters, Linda and Susan. Members of David’s family always remind me of David, are part of David.

The tears in the eyes of my friend Lois as she hugged me. The look in her husband Ron’s eyes. Ron had been David’s friend. They keenly felt his absence too.

My sister-in-law Cindy hugging me, and her whispered “I know,” because she did know, intimately knows what it is to face these kinds of milestones after a husband’s death.

The presence of my friend Mary, the friend who’d wisely advised me to live in the moment.

And a young boy, my nephew Andrew, who might never have hugged me before yesterday, hugging me and hanging on tight, with a tenderness I couldn’t comprehend at the time. How could he know? How could he possibly know? That hug meant the world to me.

My beautiful daughters and handsome sons. My siblings who came to share in our celebration.

The sister and brother-in-law, who invite me to share grilled hamburgers at their campsite tonight, knowing the day after might be difficult.

Today I see God, how he uses these people to grace me. His signs; the hug, the knowing look, the clasp of the hand from someone who has experienced this same thing, the heart-felt prayer of a father who loves his son and welcomes his new daughter, the love I felt in that room as two young people began a new life together.

In the book I picked up to read today, Love Lives On, by Louis LaGrand, PhD, the author writes about his study of “extraordinary encounters” that the bereaved experience. He mentions dreams, the sense that a deceased one is present, or unexplained happenings, the kind of thing I was searching for yesterday. He writes in his book how messages are received through touch, smell, a third party who is not a primary mourner, or with a variety of “informative symbolic signs.”
“The mourner has not actively sought these responses from the deceased. Furthermore, they are not products of magical thinking, nor do they involve the intercession of a psychic.”
“To the recipient of an Extraordinary Encounter, there is no doubt that it is the loved one or an Intelligent Power who had provided the riveting communication; the signs or visions emerge unbidden from an enormous reservoir of wisdom and insight far beyond our earthbound comprehension.” (page 5)
Intelligent Power. I call that God.

David, death, Facebook, grief

Ides of March

In the four years I have been blogging, I have never gone this long without posting; nearly a month. In the world of blogging, I have just committed professional suicide; anyone who was following me, has given up on me. There is no real excuse; I have begun several postings and then abruptly stopped. Here is one of them;

***************************************************************************

Written in my journal, March 11, 2011, 16 days before I would unexpectedly lose my husband;
“This sadness we carry within ourselves, the gaping hole in our heart, is not ours alone, though it feels that way at times. The loss of a loved one is a universal truth we will all have to face at some point in our lives. Entire books have been written about this journey called grief. We can read a dozen of them and imagine how it will be for us. I thought to lose my father was bad enough; to lose my mother was a hundred times worse. I imagine to lose my husband would feel like searing the flesh off my bones.”

I imagine to lose my husband would feel like searing the flesh off my bones.”

I. Had. No. Idea.

February 27th did not slip past me unnoticed. Eleven months since David’s death; that much closer to one year. I began a blog posting that day, and then abandoned it. How many of my readers have tired of my grief, I wondered that day.

******************************************************************************

What do you say after that? Because the truth is, even I am tired of my own grief. And it isn’t like the grieving is going to abruptly end on March 27th, the one-year anniversary of David’s death. The next day, March 28th would have been his 62nd birthday. I remember questioning him two years ago as that birthday ending in zero approached. “Does it bother you hitting the big 6-0?” I asked. “Because each of those birthdays ending in zero bother me.”

“Not at all, because think of the alternative.”

Smart man. He had survived cancer and was looking forward to growing old with the woman he loved. And now, he has missed two birthdays. Or more accurately, I have missed spending them with him because I don’t think he is missing anything at all. Not even me. It is those of us left behind who miss a wonderful man.

The month of March brings news about my grandson’s cancer, as well. In three days a CT scan will reveal whether the chemo drug he has taken twice daily for two months is actually doing anything in the way of shrinking the cancer.

I suppose I could explain away my lack of blog postings by saying that I have been dreading this month and the anticipatory dread paralyzed me, not allowing me to write.

On the contrary, I have been writing non-stop; working on my next book and the proposal for it. I’m also working with an editor, chapter by chapter, on Coupon Crazywhich will be released on August 1st.

So, what is it then?

I was too busy cleaning my desk?

desk 002

That was a major milestone, believe me, and one that unearthed only one forgotten reminder of what I am missing; these photo cards from a family trip to Chuck E. Cheese, when even David and I evidently climbed into a machine that makes plastic id cards.

chuck e cheese cards

“Do you have plans on the 27th?”  “Are you going to be okay?”  “Are you dreading the anniversary?”  “You haven’t posted in a while. Are you doing okay?”  These are the kinds of questions well-meaning friends and family have asked in the past couple of weeks, and I appreciate them. It means they care about me, and yes, someone even noticed my lack of blog postings.  And then there was “Why haven’t you gotten rid of David’s Facebook page yet?” Now, that one made me cry, though I know that wasn’t the intention.

No, I haven’t made plans for the 27th. I’m kind of counting on my new grand baby to make an appearance on that day. Elizabeth’s due date is the 28th, David’s birth date. I don’t mind if she waits until then, either. I don’t ask for much. I’d like the 27th to arrive with some sort of fanfare; a vivid dream involving David the night before, a dark butterfly with a blue pattern on its wings fluttering in front of the window, a backyard full of beautiful birds at the feeder, a kitchen light that has shone brightly for 24 hours a day, 365 days, abruptly going dark.

“You are going to be so disappointed if that light doesn’t suddenly go out on March 27th, aren’t you?” my son Daniel correctly surmised one day. (and don’t get any ideas about sneaking in my house during the night and dismantling it, Daniel) 

God usually surprises me in the method he chooses to reach me. I’m waiting to be surprised.

I don’t really have an answer as to why I haven’t removed David’s Facebook page. The family of a friend of mine who died a few months before David kept her page, and occasionally her children post on it, “talking to their mom.” Maybe I wanted my children to have that option, though only my son-in-law, Ben, and I have done so. David never wanted a Facebook page, though he did relish a couple of chats with an old classmate and his sister on it the few times we logged in for him. I set up that page for him. I guess it feels like if I delete it, I am removing all traces (one the Internet) of a man I loved so dearly. So, yes, on March 28th, David’s birthday is going to pop up on the pages of his “friends.”  I suppose I could ask the same question of the person who innocuously asked me why I hadn’t deleted his page.

“Why haven’t you deleted David yet as your friend on Facebook?”

Exactly.

Now go clean your desk.

David, love

Love, Sweet Love

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”  ~quote from French writer, Colette, shared with me by a friend who has also lost a significant other

I’d originally intended to mark the occasion, my first Valentine’s Day without David, by attending a free Widow’s luncheon offered nearly an hour away.

widow valentine lunch

Then two things happened; I ended up with post-viral bronchitis over the weekend and knew I couldn’t handle the drive, and my dear sister Angela, upon hearing my original plan, decided that a Valentine’s Day widow luncheon was more than she could bear for her sister, so she made reservations at a local tea room.

Perhaps it was simply that I was in survival mode with this illness, but the approaching holiday did not bother me in the least. Maybe it was because I’d known the very kind of love that the holiday epitomized, and could be grateful for having had that. On Facebook I shared this sentiment and photo the day before Valentine’s Day:

 I took a photo of these flowers a year ago on Valentine’s Day because it was so unusual for David to give me flowers. He also gave me candy and a bottle of wine. We went out for breakfast, and it was that time alone with him I treasure most of all. Ladies, it isn’t the flowers, the candy, the wine or even the diamonds…It is the time spent holding his hand. Hold your man close tomorrow, and thank the good Lord that you have him next to you~

flowers 002

I was amazed when I didn’t cry once on Valentine’s Day. I enjoyed dressing up for the first time in days for lunch with two sisters and my friend Tim, who’d been sideswiped that morning by sadness over his own loss.

“How are you doing today?” several people asked me with great concern, and I was surprised I could so easily and honestly answer “Fine.”  Better than fine, really. I was touched by the concern of others, honored that my 16-year-old daughter would use her tip money from that day’s work to buy me red roses and that my niece Morgan would stop by in the evening with a lovely bouquet in her hand.

em flowers

My first Valentine’s Day without my beloved, and not a tear was shed. Amazing!

And then I spent the better part of today huddled on the couch with my laptop, tired out and coughing more from the little bit of activity I’d partaken in yesterday. Maybe the doctor’s admonition for “rest and fluids” meant really “REST?” 

I’d fallen asleep when I heard a knock. “I’ll get it! Go back to sleep!” Abby ran to the front door and brought a big box to me from the porch.  I gasped.

“What is it Mom?” Abby asked in concern, because tears filled my eyes and were streaming down my cheeks.

“Surely no one ordered Shari’s Berries,” I managed to say before my throat filled and I couldn’t speak.

berries 029

Only two people knew the story behind Shari’s Berries; my son Dan and my daughter Elizabeth.

I am free to tell his secret now; David liked infomercials. I would come downstairs some mornings to find him on the couch engrossed in one. Sometimes he’d even have jotted down a phone number in his eagerness to get the “free” bottle of supplements or the amazing kitchen gadget he was sure would make my life easier. After he died, I found one of those pieces of paper folded carefully and stashed in his billfold. Yet, he’d never actually ordered anything he’d seen on television. When I caught him viewing an infomercial and gently chide him, he’d smile sheepishly and claim there hadn’t been anything else on the television. A couple of times the infomercials were so lengthy, he’d thought he’d been watching an actual television program and we both laughed when he realized his error. One morning, I sat down on the couch next to him and a Shari’s Berries commercial came on. “Those look delicious,” I casually mentioned, and thought nothing more of it.

David did, however. My son Daniel informed me shortly after his father’s death that David had expressed an interest in purchasing some Shari’s Berries for me and having them delivered on Valentine’s Day. What would be our last Valentine’s Day together. Dan rightly talked him out of it, citing the high cost and insisting I wouldn’t want him to spend that much money, so my husband had settled on giving me flowers. And a bottle of wine. And candy. All that, along with my favorite kind of date; breakfast out alone together.

It was my son Dan who once pointed out that after his bout with cancer, his father would have done anything to make me happy.  Sometime in recent years, I realized the truth of that statement.  I am chagrined by the knowledge that David would have given me anything I wanted that was within his power to give.  I am glad, then, that I never craved furs, expensive purses or jewelry. David’s only desire seemed to be my love and devotion, and I believe he died knowing he had both. I hold close the memory of David lying in that hospital bed and solemnly saying “Thank you” when I kissed his arm over and over, telling him I loved him. I couldn’t reach his face to kiss, but I wanted him to know how much he meant to me. To me, that “Thank you” meant he did know, and was grateful.

David had taken my casual comment about chocolate covered strawberries to heart and intended to fulfill yet another desire of the woman he loved, when actually it had been nothing more than a comment. My real desire, like his, had always been to be truly loved.

And yes, David had loved me in a way I can’t imagine ever experiencing again. Despite our limited budget, I really never lacked for anything, though I know he sometimes wished he could give me more.

It isn’t always the specific date on the calendar, the remembered song, a place, or a photo that prompts our tears.

It can be Shari’s Berries, ordered by your oldest daughter and delivered a year after your husband was talked out of them by your practical son.

Grief is not easy, nor tidy. It does not always come when we expect it, nor can it necessarily be anticipated and planned for. I did not expect grief when chest pain sent me to a hospital this past weekend and the man who conducted the treadmill test told me to turn around so he could help me close my gown. No one could have prepared me for the tears that filled my eyes when his fingers fumbled with the strings, reminding me of David when he did the same thing after each of my surgeries.

Nor could I have prepared myself for the question from the doctor, “Can you remember another time when your chest felt like this?”  With my hand splayed across my chest, I carefully consider her question, then nodded when I remembered. Tears streamed down my cheeks unchecked as I whispered hoarsely,”Yes, I do remember. After my husband died, it hurt. My chest hurt for days and felt full and heavy like this, and I thought; Oh, this is what it feels like to have your heart break.”