So many thoughts have been stirring in my heart these past months. Now, on the feast of Pentecost, and the eve of the 6 month mark of Nick’s passing, it seems appropriate to share a window into my heart.
Six months. Half a year. Without my best friend, the most amazing husband and father. Sometimes it feels as if it was just yesterday, but most times, reflecting on those last weeks and days, it seems like a lifetime ago. The seasons have changed twice now, we’ve successfully made it through many of the “firsts” since they came on immediately, and life has continued on as we have pushed to find our new normal, with the help of an amazing tribe of family and friends.
What has been solidified for me in this, is that God indeed provides the grace necessary for the moment! When I think back to the sleepless nights, pains in my body as things became physically challenging for me to care for him, or even when I look at pictures from those days, it seems surreal. It’s almost as if I’m watching a movie of my life replay. But I don’t identify as that person anymore. It’s strange. I know the grace for the moment was present because I would not have been able to do any of it alone, but now that the moment has passed, the grace needed for it is gone as well.
Immediately after he passed, I was overcome with a great sense of JOY, peace and gratitude. I was so relieved he was no longer suffering, although he bore it better than anyone I know. I was filled with gratitude for his example and the profound privilege of being the one chosen to walk this path with him. Great peace washed over me as I had no doubt he was home, even though I still pray as if he may have had a brief stopover.
I’ve also learned that grief is absolutely unpredictable! Some days it hits me hard. It could be the littlest thing, like coming across his sneakers, which I won’t be able to part with, or opening his dresser drawer to put stray clothes away. You don’t ever “get over” or finish grieving. I know there will always be hard days, brutal anniversaries, and unexpected moments that take my breath away. That will continue until the day I am called home.
But those days aren’t very frequent. The grieving process is not what I expected it to be. I’m not even sure I can articulate what I expected. I was prepared for a lot of things, but the sheer exhaustion of it all hit me like a freight train. It was worse than first trimester exhaustion with Sarah, and honestly I’m not sure I graded many papers that semester. Grief is trauma. Not only have I dealt with the exhaustion, but my unfailing memory has definitely been impacted too. I was so used to managing everything in my head and multitasking but now, it must be written down. I make lists and look at the calendar all the time. The exhaustion has started to fade and I am finally feeling like a small piece of me is returning. I’m certain my memory will return too. And I’m finally moving towards being more than what I affectionately refer to as a “bag of chips” commitment.
Also, grief is as unique as the person grieving. My experience is mine alone. So although I have shared my thoughts before with close friends, I have hesitated to do so publicly. There are so many grieving widow friends that I know are not in the same place as I am. Actually, I feel quite alone in my current state of mind. People often ask my close friends how the kids and I are doing. And I can honestly answer, we are doing pretty well. We all have our moments for sure, and it manifests differently for each of us. Just the other day after communion, Andrew started whimpering and said, “I miss Daddy.” I do too buddy! So those moments are hard. Recently David commented that he missed Dad warming up the couch because he sat there so long. He sure did bud. But we share fun memories all the time. We are so grateful for the extra time we were afforded together this past year due to the pandemic. We lived those final months out to the full!
Many were surprised when I returned to work in January. I needed some normal. For me, teaching is a vocation, and one part of me that I don’t have to question. It fills my cup. I needed them. It was definitely the right decision. Now that school is wrapping up, I will have the time, and finally the proper head space, to tackle the business of death that I needed to let sit for awhile.
I have wrestled these past months with “not feeling” Nick’s presence. This is what I mean when I say the grieving process has not been what I expected. I certainly identify many ways in which he is at work for our family and friends. It’s undeniable! But I miss his presence. I miss having my person. I miss having someone who gets me, loves me unconditionally, and is there to take care of me. As do the kids. I know I cannot fill those holes. I do the best I can and trust the Lord will fill in the gaps. Nick still sends his sign all the time. There’s not a week that goes by that he doesn’t send me a little reassurance, sometimes 5-6 times a day when I’m struggling with something. Those little God/Nick winks always make me smile. Andrew and I blow a kiss to Heaven and say, “Love you Daddy!” We now have the most invested intercessor ever.
I’ve thought a lot about our journey, and I can honestly say that I would take a long illness over a sudden loss 100 times over. So many of my widow friends experienced sudden losses. That is a pain I cannot imagine, and I pray for them constantly. With a long illness, you put all the work in up front, and it is BRUTAL, but in the end you are left with joy, gratitude, and peace. I didn’t know it was possible to grieve someone that was sitting right beside you, until I was there. I had experienced the entire cycle of grief several times the past few years. Each small loss brought new mourning. I can honestly say I have no regrets. We listened and trusted every step of the way. Nothing was left unsaid. There is a great satisfaction in knowing that we accomplished what we set out to do. He was not perfect. I certainly am not perfect, and clearly I still have more work to do. I hate the idea that some people might have us on a pedestal. Because here’s the truth of it, we are purified through the suffering. I watched it unfold before my eyes and that is an incredible gift. The thing that made us unique I think, was our commitment and persistence in saying YES, together! We willingly suffered, and chose to use that suffering to help others and glorify Him.
I don’t feel like I ever lost myself, but so much of my identity was intertwined with loving and caring for him. He passed 23 years to the day that we started dating. We spent more than half of our lives together. We grew up together. So who I am now is most certainly because of him, as much as it is my parents, household sisters, and others who formed me. I am not the same person I was at 18.
The biggest change has been a shift in perspective. The things of this world have lost their appeal. I care about them only in as much as they can help get the kids and I to Heaven. Of course I always knew this, but it’s a deeper conviction now and has allowed me the freedom to let go of so much that has held me down. I have eyes for Heaven. It’s that simple.
So I find myself, 6 months out from the hardest thing I have ever lived, full of joy, gratitude and HOPE for whatever the Lord has for me. Our mission as a couple is still alive in me, even though he is no longer here. I know he will help me accomplish those things. If I have learned anything the past 23 years, it has been to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and to trust that His plan is better than mine, and that He will equip me with all the grace needed for the moment. I also know better than to tell God no! So, in the words of Sarah’s confirmation saint, Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, “If you want it Jesus, I want it too!”
I recognize some people will find it hard to believe that I have come so far in such a short time. That doesn’t surprise me. I actually expect it and am thankful they don’t understand, because that means they have not walked what I have. I don’t want anyone to hurt this way. But of course, one day everyone will, and when that time comes, I hope that they will come to me, because I will be there with open arms ready to help in any way I can.
Live in the moment. Love the people in your life. And seek Heaven above all else.