Can You Really Prepare to Lose a Loved One?

In a recent conversation with a friend, she told me how Dale’s death and the death of another friend’s spouse had caused her and her husband to take a serious look at what lie ahead for them.  They are understanding more and more the inevitability that ONE of them will be grieving the loss of the other.  And they were preparing themselves for that sad day, sometime in the future.

I found myself in a similar frame of mind in the weeks before Dale passed away.  I could clearly see that he was declining both physically and mentally.  And given the fact that no one in his immediate family had lived longer than age 81 (he was 80 at the time), I didn’t have many illusions about a long life ahead for him.

In fact, we had a conversation just a few weeks before he died where I told him, “I’m preparing to lose you sometime in the next year.”  How crazy is that?  But it was absolutely my thinking at the time and there was no one I shared more of my thoughts or hopes…or fears with more than I did with Dale.  So, it made sense that I would share this as well.

He was not offended by it and took it in the spirit it was intended – I wanted him to know that I was working on how I could make it through this great loss that was likely not far out on the horizon.  It led to a discussion confirming that he was ready to go, and he knew he was going to heaven.  I think we both took great comfort in the whole conversation.

Then, long before that magic “preparation” year had passed, that fateful Monday morning in October arrived and answered, for me, the title question.  Can you really prepare to lose a loved one?  My answer.  You. Can. Not.

No amount of mental preparation equipped me for the onslaught of emotions that hit me from the second I heard the words, “He passed” up to today when I still grieve this loss so very deeply.

Oh sure, you might be able to take some of the “surprise” factor out of the equation.  And certainly you can and should do the legal preparation for someone’s death.  Have the will or trust, power of attorney (medical and financial), and living will document in place so you don’t have the added stresses of dealing with those issues.  You can even go so far as, like Dale and I did,  planning and paying for your funeral ahead of time.  All good things that I highly recommend.

But was I emotionally prepared for Dale’s death?  Absolutely not.  If you’ve been following along with any of my previous posts, you know how deep this pain still is, and how long it is likely to last.  In some manner, forever.

No amount of planning or preparation on my part gave me any kind of “head start” in the grieving process.  It is what it is, and you have to work through it one painful day at a time.

So, do I have any words of encouragement for you, my readers?  I absolutely do!  Say and do the things TODAY that your heart, or the Holy Spirit, is telling you to.  Make the apologies that are due.  Say the “I love yous” that someone needs to hear.  Mend a broken fence.  Forgive.  Reach out.  Encourage.  Witness to. Spend time with. The possibilities are truly limitless and will pay off in huge rewards.

Anything that could become a regret with a loved one’s loss can be turned into a precious memory if you act upon it now.

About the same time that Dale and I had the “preparing to lose you” conversation, we had another one that is even more comforting to me.  I’ve written about it before, but it’s worth repeating.

I asked Dale to forgive me for the times that I wasn’t as patient as I should have been – especially during the difficult dementia days.  To which he replied, “I already have.”  How powerful…and comforting is that??!!  It speaks volumes about the man he was, and why he was so very loved by so many.  And it’s just a small piece of what I miss so much.

My challenge to you – ask God to lay on your heart the areas or relationships that need mending, or encouragement.  And then resolve to act.  If you feel extra brave, or vulnerable, I’d love for you to share your resolution in the comment section.

I will be praying for an open heart and for boldness to step out in faith!  And for the rewards of your obedience to bless you for years to come!

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Romans 12:18 (ESV)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

Memories through Rose-Colored Glasses?

I seemed to have entered a new phase or season in this grieving process, and I’m not necessarily a big fan of it.  Every day, multiple times a day, the oddest thing will bring back a memory of my life with Dale. The frequency and the intensity are greater than in the months soon after his death. And it’s not the items you would expect, like a past anniversary card, or his wallet, or other sentimental events.

Oh no, it’s the TV commercial about metal paneling for your garage or out-building.  Yep, that takes me immediately back to when we built our home and barn on our last acreage.  And not just to the recollection of that event, but to the feelings and emotions that surrounded that time of our lives.

Or maybe it’s the commercial for the Italian restaurant that sends me instantly back to Gino’s Italian restaurant over on Sixth Avenue.  That was “our place.”  I often called it our Cheers, because everyone knew our name.  (Even the grandkids would invoke Grandpa’s name to try and get an advantage on a busy night…)  It had been Dale’s hangout since the ‘70s and it became ours as well.  Every memory from our dinner dates there is a happy one.  So, this TV commercial blindsided me when I least expected it.

And just so you don’t think that all I do is watch TV commercials, I can be cooking something fairly mundane in the kitchen and have the same phenomenon occur.  It’s not necessarily even a meal we had together often, but somehow, I’m still transported back to a happy time revolving around a similar meal.

Seeing happy couples anywhere, TV, movies, real life, also brings a little stab to my heart as I long for those days that we had.  And don’t even get me started on music!  Always emotion tied to those love songs.

Powerful, take-me-back-in-time type emotions associated with all of these memories.

In case you’re wondering, it is always a happy memory and yet it almost always leads me to tears.  I guess that would be the definition of “bittersweet.”  I’m SO blessed to have had these happy times to miss, and yet there’s also always a sadness knowing they are over.

There is a general phenomenon that I’d guess many of us have experienced in our lives where we mostly remember the good times in our past.  I’ve always suspected that our minds were somehow shielding us from bad memories, times that we’d rather forget.

I wondered if there was any science behind this, so I went to my friend Google and, lo and behold, there was an article in the Scientific American that did in fact discuss the conclusion that there are some connections in our brain between a couple of key areas that can cause memory “extinction,” particularly with unpleasant or fearful experiences.  How about that?!  Enough science for now.  Take it or leave it.

It might make sense to assign that phenomenon to what I’m going through right now – remembering and grieving over all the good times, as if that is all we ever had.  And perhaps there is some truth to that.

But despite the science, I have a different theory.  Simply put, I don’t believe there’s anything to grieve about the difficult times.  Why would you long for and miss past difficulties?  (This is different from having regrets over things in our past, which is a topic for another day!)

But there is MUCH to grieve about the good times.  And please don’t misunderstand – Dale and I had BOTH kinds throughout our 35+ year relationship.  We lived in the real world where things like pride and stubbornness and self-centeredness and insecurities and impatience and health problems and dementia and…stole our joy on a regular basis.  But is there really anything to grieve about those times?  Do we miss that?  I think not!

So, to officially bring the title topic of rose-colored glasses into the discussion, I would like to publicly declare that I am NOT viewing my past life with Dale through them.  I am not sad that any of our sin-driven bad moments are over.  I am only missing those moments where God showered blessings into our lives in big and small ways, literally for decades.  For that I am eternally grateful, and for that, I am now grieving.

And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing.  Ezekiel 34:26 ESV

Living with Tension

The title of this post is a bit deceptive, although, not intentionally.  I’m not living with tension in the sense that my dogs and cat are fighting all the time.  In fact, it’s really the exact opposite – they are getting along splendidly, for those of you interested in my canine/feline children.

No, the tension I’m living with is much harder to describe.  So maybe I’ll just throw some examples out there and let them speak for themselves.

The first one I noticed was the tension I felt every evening that I was home.  That’s when I miss Dale the most and when the loneliness is still sometimes overwhelming, coming in waves.  And yet…I drew comfort from being at home at night, relaxing with a good book or a good TV program, and of course hanging out with Daisy, Winnie and Max.  So, do I fill all my evenings with activities to keep the loneliness at bay?  Or do I stay home and avoid any “mom” guilt from leaving my children at home alone again?  (And satisfy the homebody part of my personality…)  Tension #1

What to do with these tears?  On one hand, it’s exhausting to cry and grieve the loss of Dale.  Honestly, it’s still a daily occurrence for me, even though you’d think I’d be about out of tears by now.  So that part of me would like to push through this season and reach an equilibrium where I just cry occasionally.  And yet… there’s a part of me that almost dreads that day when I don’t cry for Dale because I’m afraid it will feel like I don’t miss him as much, or love him as much and I might lose some of my connection to him.  My logical mind knows that this makes no sense, but my heart is just not ready to let go of that yet, even though it wants to heal.  Tension #2

I can feel completely energized by this new ministry to which God has called me – helping others be a blessing to their grieving friends – and sense clear leading from Him and a heightened sense of excitement and confirmation as I think through all I’ve seen from His hand in this part of the journey.  When I share what I’m learning with others, either at a presentation or during a one-on-one coffee, I experience a certain level of joy, knowing that I am right where I need to be, in the middle of God’s will.  And yet…there’s such a large part of me that wants to scream out, “This is NOT the ministry that I want to be in!  I want my husband back!”  Tension #3

This season of grieving can easily draw my attention to the hope of heaven, because I’m tired of hurt and loneliness and sadness. I’m tired of living without Dale.  I’m tired of living in a world tainted by sin. I’m tired of seeing how that sin manifests itself in countless ways in this world.  It’s evident just looking at recent news examples or challenges in the lives of my friends – tornadoes, wild fires, missing college students, chronic illnesses, abuses, cancer diagnoses, addictions, unbelieving children.  The list of heartaches goes on and on.  So, I hurt for me, and I hurt for my friends, and I hurt for the world at large.  I long for Jesus to return and take His children to heaven where we will spend eternity with Him and sing God’s praises FOREVER!  No more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears, no more lonely, no more trials, NO MORE SIN!  It’s a beautiful picture and so much of my heart longs for this.

 And yet…Jesus has not returned.  I am still here.  And so are you.  There is still time to be a blessing to others.  There’s still time to learn more about God and His character.  There’s still time to let God work in my life, refining me more and more through this trial.  There’s still time to do His will.  There is still time to spread the Gospel message to unbelievers.  There’s still time to accept God’s free gift of salvation through the death of His Son on the cross.  Many reasons to long for heaven, and many reasons to keep fighting the good fight.  Tension #4

Are you starting to get the picture?  These are some of the tensions that I live with on a pretty consistent basis.  But I don’t have a market on this.  My guess is that any one of you could create your own list of tensions that may consume your lives.  And it will be unique to each of you and your personal situation.

What’s the lesson in all of this?  Not sure I have a clear answer to that, but in part, there is tension built into this world, because ultimately, this is not our home.  In Ecclesiastes 3:11, it says, “He has also set eternity in the human heart;…”  So that’s part of our issue. We know instinctively that there is more after this life.

I also wonder if perhaps I’m trying too hard to resolve the tensions and find a perfect balance.  Lately, I’m beginning to understand that whenever I try to do ANYTHING in my own strength, it falls short.  Is it time to focus on what the psalmist said?  “Be still, and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10).  In that stillness, in that quiet, His Spirit can fill us with all that we need.

What’s the opposite of tension?  How about calmness, contentedness or peace?  That’s what I long for, and that’s my prayer for you as well.  And there’s only one Source.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13