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Losing a Spouse

by UNC Contributor

My wife suffered from Crohn’s Disease for 35 years and I was used to her getting sick. In 1987 I came home from work one evening and found her laying on the couch crying with pain.

The doctor said if she lives for the next 48 hours she will probably have 10 years. Everyone thought she would die but she fooled them all. The doctor proclaimed it a miracle. He said six months to a year before she could do anything, but six weeks later she was cooking, cleaning and working in the garden. I got the feeling she was indestructible. She had many problems over the next 19 years but I expected she would live well into her 70’s and 80’s.

She always rallied so when we went to the hospital I wasn’t really that worried. But this time it was more serious. After days of treatment I asked if I could sit with my wife. The nurse said, ‘The doctor is with her now and will come and see you as soon as he has examined her.” In about 30 minutes the doctor came out and took us into a little room and said, “Your wife is a very ill and has little chance for survival.” Right then I knew she wasn’t coming back and I knew I was about to lose the love of my life of 45 years. The nurse called us and we went and held her until she died with great sobs racking my body as I said goodbye.

It was April 21, 2007. The next few days I was walking around as if in a trance. I just couldn’t believe or accept the fact she was gone. I would wake up and expect to find her there next to me, or else I would think I have to go to hospital to see her, but then the cold harsh reality would set in that she was actually gone.

There were many things to take care of in funeral arrangements, a memorial service, seeing to the pension plan and a host of little details. The ministers and deacons arranged everything and we had a memorial service on the next Sabbath. Old friends came from far away, all five of our children came. But, soon after the service everyone had to get back to their own lives and jobs and I was ALONE! Alone for the first time in my forty-five years of marriage.

I turned to God in prayer and read, and re-read the following scriptures which were a great comfort: 2 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; and Revelation 20:4-6. What we are privileged to know and understand in God’s Church is tremendous in that I know I will see her again. One of the last things she said to me was, “Whatever God has in store for me I am ready to accept.”

It was hard for me because I was personally afraid I would be unable to look after myself because I had never cooked in my life! But with patience I am learning to cook nourishing meals. The nights are the hardest, but between watching old movies and reading I manage to keep going.

It has been a very difficult transition from being married to being single. No longer do I get praise when I fix something or build something for her. No longer when I am working outside do I have her come out with a drink and a snack. No longer do I see her smiling face if I look up when she used to work in her flower garden or her greenhouse. No longer when I come in tired and hungry is there a lunch or a hot supper waiting for me. And no longer are there those sweet hugs and kisses but only emptiness and loneliness. I do not feel sorry for myself but I do miss her so.

Two scriptures give me consolation: Isaiah 57:1-2 and Psalms 116:15. I know she is sleeping and I know she is not in pain or suffering any more and I know I will see her again in a glorified body and hopefully be with her for all eternity in God’s Family.

Having now experienced what I have, I believe I could offer some advice to people who try to comfort those who are going though this difficult time of losing a mate.

1. Listen to the person in their grief. The person desperately needs to have some one who will listen. Don’t talk about your mother or your aunt who died five years ago. The person is hurting - they need to talk. Maybe you will be told the same story five or six times but resist the urge to say Yes, you already told me – as that may really hurt the person deeply. The night my wife died one lady from the church just sat and listened. She will be my lifelong friend.

2. Do hug the person and let them know you are there for them. I went into the library about three weeks after my wife’s death and one librarian came up to me and said, Ken I am so sorry - and she just hugged me and would not let me go, and I cried like a baby. But it was good for me. I felt loved. I felt that this woman understood.

3. Never say, Oh never mind, you will marry again. That is actually very hurtful. It’s almost as my wife didn’t really matter, just get on with your life as if she never existed .

4. Never say, Oh if only I had known. I have this wonderful cure for what she had and she would be here today. This is an very insensitive thing to say and more common than you might think. Everyone grieves in a different way. No one’s relationship is exactly the same. Some people may get through it in six months, others may take 2 to 5 years. Some may never get over it. But grief must go on and have its full end and run its natural course.

There are four stages that a grieving person passes though and I guess I am in stages two and three. Stage one is shock and numbness - you can’t really believe this is happening. It’s all a bad nightmare from which you will awake. Stage two is emotional turmoil - What am I going to do? How am I going to go on without her? Will it be possible to dispose of things of hers that meant so much, pictures and clothes. Then stage three is emptiness.

This is where I am now mostly. My life is so empty without her. Later at stage four comes acceptance. I haven’t reached there yet and may not for some time. But I am able to serve more and help my pastor and church elder in our area. My Bible Study and prayer has taken on new meaning The old adage that you wait at least a year before you make any plans is a sound one and I’m glad to listen to that advice. My parting advice to husbands and wives is to love each other, be kind to one another, spend time with each other and above all make time for God together.

I really miss the conversations we had every morning discussing the Scriptures. Two scriptures worth always remembering are James 4:14 and verse 15; “Come now, those saying, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city and spend a year there, and we will trade and will make a profit, who do not know of the morrow. For what is your life? For it is a vapor, which appears for a little time, and then disappears.”

“Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

Death is sobering. But praise God for the resurrection.

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