The Last of the Firsts

That’s right.  It has now been one full year since Dale died last October 16th.  And that means I’ve also gone through his first birthday, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first New Year’s, the first Easter, my first birthday, the first Father’s Day, and our first wedding anniversary without him.  And now, the first anniversary of his death.

How does one even begin to capture all that entails, all that I’ve grieved through, all that I’ve learned, all the blessings God continues to bestow on me?  I know I can only do it with God giving me the words to say and the messages He wants me to share. So grab a tissue; here WE go…

I learned a management technique many years ago called the Oreo Principle.  It stated that, if you had to share a criticism with someone, you should sandwich it between two layers of praise.  It is still very wise counsel, and I thought it would be an appropriate framework for this anniversary post.

So, I promise to start and end with good things.  But reality isn’t all happiness and puppy dog tails, so the middle “layer” will be the gut-wrenching stuff that continues to be true for me.  And I would do a disservice if I didn’t honestly represent that middle layer along with the outer ones.  Part of helping a grieving friend is acknowledging the depth of the hurt.  So I’m not mincing words there.

But, let me be clear, the good stuff is also true for me.  I have found that the times of joy and blessing (yes, I do have them) are unaffected by times of deep grieving.  Just as those times of grieving are not lessened by my times of happiness.

If this was a Venn diagram, the circles wouldn’t even touch!  Both are entirely true in my daily life and seem to coexist as completely separate entities, unaffected by the other.  Or I might say, completely separate layers of the cookie!

Layer #1 – Blessings 😊

  • I have learned to rely on God’s strength and promises during these difficult days.
  • My faith has grown in leaps and bounds as God opens my eyes to new truths about His character.
  • God has dropped countless “nuggets from heaven” into my days to remind me that He loves me.
  • Scripture has come alive as it goes from head knowledge to heart knowledge.
  • I have gained new friendships – in some cases with others who are grieving their own losses.
  • Some existing friendships have deepened significantly as they stepped into this grief with me.
  • I have made my bed EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!
  • I have been blessed by the friends who continue to be there for me, reaching out daily in some cases, hurting with me, praying for me and loving me.
  • Family relationships have been healed.
  • I’m living a “fairly normal life”…
  • I’ve read some incredible books and devotionals highlighting all the ways that God works THROUGH our pain and suffering, giving me invaluable insights.
  • I’ve been on several trips that have brightened my days, a couple compliments of some awesome friends.
  • The household has a new four-legged blessing named Winnie!
  • I am wiser, and deeper.
  • I have never been angry with God, and I still trust Him completely.
  • My longing for Heaven has increased exponentially!
  • I have AMAZING memories from the past 35+ years that warm my heart and remind me how very blessed I am to have had a relationship like I had with Dale. Faithful and loving till the end.
  • I WILL see him again.

Layer #2  – Grief ☹

  • This is unquestionably the most difficult year I have ever experienced in my life.
  • I have cried for 365 consecutive days…and counting.
  • The days are actually getting harder, not easier.
  • I’m beginning to understand why so many widows say that the second year of widowhood is so much harder than the first.
  • I miss Dale more now than 6 months ago.
  • I have lost friends.
  • I now know what it means to experience WAVES of sadness.
  • There is an element of sadness in every day.
  • I have never been so lonely.
  • Even though the memories are precious, I am often inundated with them when I least expect it and they almost always lead to tears.
  • There are no shortcuts to healing. And it’s out of my control.
  • Despite the “fairly normal life” mentioned in layer #1, there is very little about my life that feels normal.
  • I think a broken heart is a physical reality. Mine feels broken.
  • I believe there are parts of me that will never heal. I will always have a hole in my soul.
  • Heaven seems so very far off.

Layer #3 – Hope and Purpose 😊

Lately I’ve begun telling people that I’m living a double life.  One is exemplified by Layer #2.  And the other is where I clearly hear God’s call.

Over the past several decades, I often wondered if God might have a ministry for me one day when I was alone.  Little did I know it would be the direct result of my husband’s death.

And yet, I think it would be fair to say that I am EXCITED about this ministry calling.  And the heart of it?  To teach others how to be a blessing to their grieving friend.

I know that nearly everyone struggles with what to say, what to do, what NOT to say or do when a friend suffers a deep loss.  I’ve been there.  And now I’m on the other side. And God is calling me to use this new-found knowledge to help others be that blessing.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I feel that all of my career and life experiences have prepared me for this new chapter in my life.  I just didn’t know it until now.

God has essentially “cleared my plate” so that my life focus can now be on this ministry.  I’m energized by it, but also overwhelmed by it!  I’m not used to a world that includes SEO, headshots, metadata and branding.  But God is bringing the right people into my life to help me navigate this new world.  I even have a Board of Directors!  (Sorry, sometimes you just can’t take the “corporate” out of the career woman…)

There’s so much more I could tell you, but suffice it to say, stay tuned for an official ministry launch, including a new website/blog, in the near future.  I truly believe God has big things planned and I am honored and humbled to be used by Him.

So, that’s the whole cookie!  Thank you for traveling this journey with me thus far.  Honestly, I think it’s just begun, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.  Somehow, I believe Dale also has a sense of what’s happening and is my biggest cheerleader from above.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11