Can I be completely honest? I fear death. I fear losing the ones I love the most to death’s grip. Even though I believe in heaven with all of my heart and I know I will see them again, thinking of the ones I love leaving me to go to heaven terrifies me. It’s something that I am striving to put into God’s hands. And He is faithfully working me through this fear. When I begin to dwell on the what if’s of this sometimes dark world, He breathes His scriptures into my heart. One of my favorites is Hosea 13:14.
“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? ” Hosea 13:14
This verse teaches me two things. The first is that God, through Jesus, has delivered me from eternal death. The end of this life on earth is not the end of life for me because I have accepted Jesus as my Savior. The second thing this verse promises is that death here on earth will not destroy me. Yes, it will sadden me, weaken me, and grieve me. But God’s power and grace will sustain me to not only keep living, but to live life to the fullest, the way He intends for us to live.
I have seen this in action.
Growing up in my close-knit church, Jeff and Sandra were my Sunday School teachers at one point, Training Union teachers at another point, and always were my encouragers, friends, and neighbors. This is the way of things at a church like Mt. Zion, and I was privileged to grow up this way. Everyone helps each other, uplifts each other, and stands in for one another when the needs arise.
One Wednesday night, we received a call at church, around 7 pm, that Jeff was sick and the paramedics were on their way. We prayed for him, wondering if he would have to go to the hospital. Imagine the shock, the numbness, and the disbelief when another call came to let us know that Jeff had gone on to heaven.
He was 49 years old.
My thoughts immediately went to his wife, Sandra, and their son, Jamie. What now? Why, God? How will this ever be redeemed?
But He leaves nothing unredeemed when it’s brought before Him.
Sandra’s words are so much better than mine. Her story is a story of God’s redemption and faithfulness, even in death. This is Sandra’s story, in her own words…
Jeff, my high school sweetheart and husband of 28 years, died suddenly on March 17, 2010.
I remember that day and how the events unfolded just like it was yesterday. As I was leaving work around 5:00, I called home to see if my son Jamie wanted me to bring him home a sandwich for supper and when I did he asked if I had talked to his Dad that day. When I told him I had not, Jamie replied that he thought his dad was sick so I asked to speak to him. Jamie took the phone into the bedroom and gave it to Jeff. Jeff’s speech was slurred and all he would tell me is that he didn’t feel good, he did not go to work that day, and that he was weak and dizzy. I asked if he needed to go to the doctor and he said no. I came straight home (about a 40 minute drive) and on the way I phoned Jeff’s brother, Jimmy, and asked if he would come over and help me convince Jeff to go to the doctor. I also called my dad and my cousin to let them know that Jeff was sick and I would possibly be taking him to the after-hours clinic. When I arrived home, Jamie was worried and Jeff was still in the bed, still refusing to go to the doctor or ER. Jimmy came over with a blood pressure cuff and we took Jeff’s blood pressure which was very low. Jimmy insisted that we call paramedics and they dispatched an ambulance. Before help arrived, Jeff passed out and Jimmy and I were doing CPR when they arrived. By this time my dad and cousins were there. When the paramedics arrived, I was asked to leave the room and went outside with Jamie and a cousin. We were praying when the ambulance arrived, but Jeff had already passed away and was not taken to the hospital. He died at home from a ruptured stomach ulcer.
I have so much guilt from the circumstances surrounding his death. Why didn’t I call and check with him that day? Why couldn’t I convince him to go to the doctor? Why didn’t I realize he was very sick? And I was angry . Why would God allow something so tragic to happen to me and my son? Why was Jeff so stubborn? Why did he die so young and leave me all alone? I can’t say all of my questions were magically answered, that this gut-wrenching experience was easy, or that Jamie and I have not been forever changed by what happened that day . But what I can say is this.
God never left us. He walked with us through those dark days and guided us when we didn’t know how we could go on.
The day Jeff died was a Wednesday and someone called our church to ask for special prayer for Jeff and then again to let our pastor know that he died. Our pastor and many from our church family came to our house and to my parent’s house to be with us and pray with us. It was such a shock and so unexpected and affected all of our church family. The days following were a blur – the trip to the funeral home to plan the service, the visitation time and the actual service, the outpouring of love and support from my friends at work, our church family, our relatives and mere acquaintances. I cannot honestly tell you how I made it through those days. My Mom and Dad were so supportive, from financial support to physical support and emotional support, I could not have made it without them.
A couple of weeks following the funeral service, a very dear friend invited Jamie and me to go with her and her husband to visit their son in South Carolina and we went. This trip was a much needed get away for both of us. We enjoyed their company and the time away.
As I settled back in to work (even though some days consisted of a lot of tears and not much productivity) a co-worker suggested I participate in a Grief Support Group. Having never visited or participated in such a group before and knowing I was experiencing a dark season of grief, I accepted her advice and called to sign up. While waiting for the sessions to begin, and again, in response to a suggestion from a friend at work, I contacted a counselor and began some one-on-one sessions. Both of these decisions turned out to be very beneficial for me. The private sessions allowed me to verbalize my thoughts and feelings with a non-judgmental, trained professional who was very objective in her response and assessment. The group sessions allowed me to participate with a group of people who were in the same situation I was and who were feeling the same flood of emotions and confusion I was. This was a very difficult process for me because all of the people in my grief group had their own very sad story of losing their spouse and many nights we just sat and cried together. The therapist who led the group gently, but firmly, guided us through this season and helped us realize we would have better days ahead and that we could learn to cope with the pain. I am still very close to this group of eight friends and we still stay in touch. Even though I have a very supportive family and church family it was easier for me to open up with these strangers and share with them because we were on the same journey and sharing pain together.
The first year was the hardest…
In April, I took Jamie to Starkville, Mississippi to attend orientation and Parent’s Weekend at Mississippi State University (a state away from my home in Alabama). In June, Jeff’s mother had to go into a nursing home because her Parkinson’s Disease progressed to the point that she could not be cared for at home. In July, Jeff’s brother’s daughter, Bri, was born. In August, I moved Jamie to Mississippi for school. In August , for the very first time, I began living alone. In August, I began attending a Grief Support Group.
In November, we had our first Thanksgiving without Jeff.
In December, we had our first Christmas without Jeff.
In January, I took my first trip to Gatlinburg without Jeff.
In February, Jamie and his girlfriend, Kayla, got married.
In March, we remembered the one year anniversary of Jeff’s death.
This was a lot of new and scary things for me rolled into a 12 month period. And, when I look at it now, it still scares me! But God was with me every step of the way. Through my tears and fears, I leaned on Him. And many people helped me so much, some without even knowing it. People who told me small memories of Jeff and how much he meant to them, some friends who wrote me notes and cards and included personal stories, people who hugged me randomly, but most of all, those who prayed for us and kept on praying.
Because, through all of this sadness and grief, God had a plan.
Right around the one year anniversary of Jeff’s death, I was invited to begin riding on a Commute Smart van to work and back. At first, I was not interested, but agreed to give it a trial run and decided to join up. About 2 weeks after I started riding, another new rider started, and when he introduced himself, I immediately realized he was the widower of a co-worker of mine who had recently died. I introduced myself to Ken and told him that I worked at Alabama Power and was a friend of his wife and extended my sympathy to him. Through my Sunday School teacher, who worked with Ken, I got word to him about the Grief Support Group that had been so helpful to me and offered to go with him for the first session. Ken reached out to me that August and asked if I would accompany him, which I was happy to do. The night of the first session, he picked me up from work and we had time to talk before the meeting started. We both shared our story of losing our spouse and general background info and talked about our families and how our children were coping with their loss. He was very easy to talk to and we soon found out we had a lot in common. We both had been married for around 28 years, both his wife and my husband died suddenly at 49 years old and our children were close in age. We developed a quick friendship and we soon became more than friends. I was very proud of myself that I allowed myself to fall in love again. And, when Ken started coming to church with me, I found out that several dear “church ladies” had been praying for God to send me another husband. I wasn’t praying for a husband, but they had it covered!
Ken and I got married March 3, 2012 and are very happy and blessed that God brought us together through some hard and unusual circumstances.
What have I learned? What can I share about this journey? What do I want to remind Christians about reaching out to others who are grieving? The number one truth I have learned is that we aren’t promised an easy life here on earth, we are promised that God will be with us all along the way and will carry us through the hard times if we will let Him. Secondly, our future is secure if we are Christians. God has a plan. My other thoughts/suggestions would be:
- Rely on your friends to help support you when you are suffering
- Don’t be afraid to take a chance to love again
- Put action to your words when someone is sick or grieving
- Don’t hesitate to talk about someone’s deceased loved one to them – we enjoy hearing your memories and stories
- Don’t be ashamed to seek professional help or medication when needed, you can’t do this alone
- It is sometimes easier to share your feelings with an uninvolved, trained counselor than with friends or family
- Don’t quit going to church even if it seems hard to attend worship alone at first
- Be thankful if you have a caring work group who will allow you to cry and talk when you need someone. There are some days when you do not want to “go there” and some days when your heart is full and you need to talk.
- Pray, pray, pray
- Ask others to pray for you
Tell It To Jesus, Adapted by Paige Givens, 2014