Today marks nine years of missing John. Nine years of learning how to live with grief. Nine years of learning how to navigate life as a single mom. Nine years of leaning into God for strength and endurance and hope and help and comfort. And He has been with me through every hour and every heartache.
I remember the waves of reality that washed over me in the weeks following John’s death. The reality that my children at 17, 15, 13, and 10 had lost their dad. The reality that he wouldn’t be here for all of the big milestone moments of graduations and weddings and grandbabies, but he also wouldn’t be here for the small daily moments of homework and wise advice and laughter around the dinner table. All the places where my mind’s eye had seen him were now empty- for my children’s future and my own.
Not only was he gone, but the responsibilty now fell squarely on my shoulders. I was tasked with finishing the job we had started together of raising our four kids. I had been counting on him to be the superhero of raising teenagers into young adults. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. The Lord’s promise to help care for widows and the fatherless was my invitation to ask Him to enter into our family as husband and father. I prayed and He responded. He has filled the huge gaping hole in our lives, even when we didn’t make it easy.
Finding God right here with me has been my sustaining grace through it all. Oh, how I have needed Him! I am glad that I didn’t know nine years ago how hard these years would be. Time after time the Lord has shown up. Time and again He has been right here beside me leading the way and giving me courage to keep trusting, keep loving, keep hoping, keep believing that, even though we lost John, life together could still be beautiful.
As we face this ninth time of facing March 8, my heart is filled with gratitude. It has taken nine years, but our lives together truly are beautiful. Grief doesn’t block out the sun anymore. Love is where we’ve landed. I love my life with them, and I love the Lord for getting us to this place. At times it seemed impossible that we would ever feel whole and be healing.
Does life feel impossible for you today or for someone you love? This past year has been a year of heartbreaking losses and disappointments for so many families. I am so truly sorry for what you have gone through.
If your loss is staggering and you wake up not knowing how to make it through the day (much less imagine making it nine years), I want to encourage you to take it slow. In the early days of grief, your body and mind are in shock. It is similar to recovery after an extreme surgery. You have to pace yourself. Treat yourself with kindness by focusing on the basics:
- Breathe Slowly- When we are stressed, we breathe fast and shallow. I have had to learn how to breathe again. Long, slow, deep breaths. This is how I remind myself to simply breathe: Sit still and breathe in for a count of four; hold it for a count of four; then breathe out for a count of four. Doing this when you go to sleep is very relaxing and calming.
- Eat Well- After loss, meals can be stressful. The empty place at the table is an inescapable daily reminder, and it hurts. Take up any and every offer for meals or gift cards to restaurants/delivery. Some days, making dinner for my family was my biggest accomplishment. Feed your body good healthy food because it will greatly impact your basic energy level and stamina.
- Move your body- I don’t understand it, but somehow as I am walking, stress leaves my body. Being outside lifts my spirits. Life is always better after I have gone for a walk. I have walked thousands of miles in the past nine years, and I truly credit it with greatly improving my mental and emotional health. Alone or with a friend, walking has become the best part of my day.
- Sleep & Stillness- Grief & sleep are poor bedfellows. We can stay busy all day and run away from grief, but when we are still, it all rushes in. Definitely, walking helped me shed some of the stress and anxiety, which made it easier to fall asleep; yet, there have still been seasons when sleep was elusive. Have calming rhythms before bed. Listen to boring things- sounds, books, podcasts. Know that being still is at least resting.
- Talk it Out- Have a small group of people who can support you. Ask them to call or text you. Give them permission to ask you how you are doing, whether you are taking care of yourself, and where you need help. Let them know that their friendship is a gift and you appreciate them. My close friends & family have been essential to feeling hopeful and supported. Regularly seeing a counselor or talking to a pastor can give you a set place and time to process your emotions. They have journeyed with many people through loss and will bring that wisdom into their time with you.
- Talk to Your Father- Jesus tells us we can talk to God like He is our Father. Take him up on this invitation. Talk to God. Tell Him what you need. Tell him your concerns. Empty it all out. He will be with you in ways that you really need Him. He loves you more than you can imagine and Jesus promises that, “those who mourn will be comforted.” No one can comfort like He does. He calms and brings peace to the deepest parts of my mind and soul.
This is how I have made it this far. I’ve had to learn how to breathe, eat, move, sleep, and share my burdens with my friends and God. We all want there to be some magical shortcut through the realities and pain of loss, but trying to hurry through can actually make our recovery time longer. Sadly, there isn’t a shortcut, and no one else can do the hard work of learning to live on the other side of traumatic loss. But, it is always a relief to meet someone who understands the pain and the intimidating journey through the maze of grief. I get it, and you are not alone. May God give you everything you need to live again. And, in nine years, may you find that by God’s grace your joys outweigh your sorrows.
Praying for you,