By Suzanne Martin
In June 2015, my husband, Don, and I flew from Oklahoma to North Carolina for an annual month-long stay with family. All the emotions were in tow: excitement, anticipation, anxiety, and happiness. The morning after we arrived, my world changed abruptly and I would never be the same. As Pop, as Don was affectionately named by our family, was leaving the breakfast table his breathing became labored and his steps faltered. Something was terribly wrong and we quickly called 911. The medics arrived within a few minutes and, after doing some things to help stabilize his condition, immediately took Pop by ambulance to the hospital. We soon learned he had suffered a stroke, and later that day we were told it was massive. This sudden event would give me five days to let this man and a 56-year marriage go.
I had a caring doctor, wonderful hospital and hospice staff, chaplains, FBC staff, family and friends by my side, but nothing prepared me for the sense of overwhelming loss I felt from the moment Pop was gone. Someone gave me a copy of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I hit all of them several times, not in any particular order and sometimes in combination. Denial did come first. I knew Pop was gone. There was no denial there. Denial for me was more of a fog, a separation from reality, my reality. What had been had ceased to exist. Nothing seemed real. People talked but it sounded like the adults in Charlie Brown’s world. This un-reality lasted for weeks.
Depression inevitably came because of the many sudden changes in my life. I have learned from psychologists that such sudden and momentous changes affect our mental health. In short order, I had experienced major unplanned changes: moving across the country, leaving my home behind, adapting to a new town, a new home with some differences in lifestyle. And I had a huge hole in my heart.
As I reflect on my journey over the past year and a half, I think about how I got from the morning of Don’s stroke to today, and how I learned to deal with and work through the pain and confusion.
I knew that I was (and am) surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses.” Those times when I felt most alone, I imagined myself climbing into the lap of Father God, Abba, and being comforted as His child.
I found refuge in the encouragement and presence of family and friends. I discovered that it was important in those first hours and days after Don’s death to accept help from people I trusted, who wanted very much to assist me. I had to learn to delegate responsibilities to others for things I did not have the mental or emotional strength to handle. I needed to embrace the love and friendship that was so generously offered. I often recall and continue to take comfort in those acts and words of those who helped and shared time with me.
My walk with God has deepened and grown because in my journey of grief I have learned more of the reality of my complete dependence on Him. God is my Paraclete walking beside me every moment. He is Jehovah Jireh, my Provider. Seeking God in prayer and studying His Word are like breathing to me.
I have begun to learn that the journey ultimately depends on our willingness to keep going. We should not allow ourselves to stop living even when we feel we want to give up. We must look to the Lord for strength to persevere through the foggy maze and frightening unknown that accompany our grief. We must choose joy–God’s joy–the day begins, and we must remember that the kind of joy that God gives does not depend on our circumstances. Embrace God’s peace, God’s joy, and be comforted.
I have discovered that I must dwell on positive and good things, to stay busy, to resume old hobbies and find new ones. These things help me pass the time and keep my mind active. Above all, I have determined to seek to find out where God is at work, and to join in.
These things sustain me. They deepen my inner desire to live and smile and go forward. Certainly, there are still tears and heartaches, but I am surrounded by encouragers and comforted by God’s very presence. I am an overcomer. God told me so.
Isaiah 40: 28b-31 Philippians 4:11-13 2Timothy 1:7