Ten years ago I sat under a Banyan tree and told an eight-year-old the shocking news that her dad had just died of a heart attack. I will never forget the puffy clouds and the sounds of children playing and the way her blond head tilted just so to the side as blue eyes filled with tears. The future seemed hopeless and scary and impossible--to both of us. Looking back over the years and miles I wish I could write a letter to my ‘ten-years-ago’self ...
I want to tell you a few things. The first is simple. It may sound trite but it is true, O so true.
You are going to be ok.
In spite of it all or, some days, because of it all, you are going to be ok.
It seems impossible to believe right now, but you will get through the services and the awkward conversations and the endless paperwork. The irony will not be lost on you that while everyone else is filling out back-to-school forms and soccer club applications, you are agonizing over what to have written on your husband’s tombstone. Sigh. And oh that tombstone. The sight of it will bring you to your knees; there is something about the phrase ‘written in stone’ that is so true, but God being God will provide a way through it for you and your kids, and at the end of that particular long unbelievable week there will be a quiet confidence that He was somehow right there with you all.
You will grieve. That is a fact. But it is important that you learn to grieve well. That is, to grieve not in hopeless anguish but to grieve with the hope of heaven in your heart. There is a difference. This takes time, a lot of time. There is no magic point of being 'done' (though many will assume so and say dumb things that make you want to scream!).
You will worry. A lot. Your own lonely will seem insignificant in the light of the worry you have for your kids and the fact that they are going to grow up without a dad’s daily hugs and unconditional love. As kids usually do, yours will take their cues from you. That is a huge responsibility to bear. But even though you cry sometimes and don’t have answers for their many questions, you are usually filled with love and memories and enough Jesus to be strong for them when they feel scared and alone.
Every milestone they experience will be a difficult reminder for all of you that he is not there. You will be surprised at the big things that become no big deal and the little things, like singing Happy Birthday, that bring you to tears. You will find new ways to celebrate and establish new family holiday traditions.
And those kids, your precious kids will surprise you! That eight year old and newly adopted two year old will grow and flourish into beautiful, compassionate young ladies. Their smiles and laughter will bring you so much joy and the journey they have walked will turn them into the type of friend that others dare to confide in.
You will learn so many new things over the next ten years. You will fix stuff and grow stuff and argue with contractors and car repair men when necessary. The gender lines in your home will become blurry at times and your kids will grow certain that their momma can do anything and repair almost anything (and with the help of Youtube videos, maybe you can!).
Many times you will be unsure of what to do with those big life decisions. Find a few trusted advisors that you can talk to. Take the time to get all of the facts and go beyond your shifting emotions. Breathe in peace and breathe out fear and anxiety, and the way will eventually seem clear.
I won’t lie to you - you will experience a lonely like never before. The lonely feeling in a crowd of Noah’s ark couples shuffling two by two into church, or school events or the movie theater. There will be people you can call, but not him. And mostly you will decide that this is a lonely that is better experienced alone.
The sound of football won't fill your house as much on a Sunday afternoon and the toilet seat will always be down. Middle of the day cell phone calls and quiet shared moments after the kids are in bed will always be missed.
Yet, there will be travel to new places and make new memories and meet new people. You’ll be in charge of all of the arrangements and all of the finances and will laugh through your tears as you stand at the trunk of the car and realize there is no-one there to criticize how many clothes you packed for a four day trip!
One day it will hit you that you have a whole new circle of friends who never knew him.
Life will never cease to be divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’ that fateful day, but time and distance will blur the sharp edges until the memories become like a treasured photograph, slightly faded, hanging on your fridge. And one day you will realize that you are still a family – a real family , not just a broken fragment of what was.
And yes, you will be ok! YOU WILL BE OK!
Because you see, you are still here.
that story will be the very thing to give someone else hope to make it through their own story.
Instead of being filled with grief, you will become a giver of hope.