A Valentine Rose

A02443A9-E457-4DDA-A524-6F2CB2150809It’s Valentines Day. The day for hearts, flowers, chocolates, cards, dinner dates and love. For the first time in my life my Valentine isn’t here.

Mike made a big deal of celebration. In all the years of our marriage he never once forgot our anniversary, birthdays, Valentines or other special days. It was important for him to mark milestone events in time. Today he won’t be doing so. Not here. Not with me.

I always knew where Mike was. He was religious about calling or texting to let me know if his plans changed or he was running late. He never stood me up or left me hanging. Never! Now I don’t know exactly where he is or what he’s doing. He’s gone to Heaven, a place I know is real, but am yet to see or understand, and all communication between us has abruptly ended. My husband can’t call. He can’t text. He can’t send me a card. Or a kiss.

The evening he died I was at the grocery store and because Mike and I shared a love for the beauty of plants and flowers, when I saw these roses, snapped a picture on my iPhone and sent it to him.

He never responded. My man, who was obsessive about responding to texts and phone calls immediately, was already gone at this point. That’s what the EMT’s who arrived an hour later, told me. I found my unanswered text on his phone a few days later. It seems the very last thing I did as he died, was send him flowers.

So today to honor the memory of the one who would normally bring me flowers, I share these. I hope whatever he’s doing off in Eternity, it is an experience of love far beyond any I could ever give him here. I hope he is seeing flowers far more incredible than any we ever admired together.

I pray Jesus reminds him it is an Earth day of celebrating love and hands him a perfect, deep orange rose.

“This is from Diane. She wants you to know she will always love you. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

.

The Empty Chair

81640725-A0DE-462F-A7EA-5862E71E35C2Jon came out of his room and down the hallway toward the office where my friend and I were talking, me in my office chair and she on the opposite side of the desk, in the chair Mike once occupied. Mike and I had often hung out together in this room and many engaging conversations took place from these chairs.

Jon’s face lit up, as he peeked through the glass panes of the French door and the large fake fern blocking most of his view. He quickly hurried through the door then stopped, frozen, as heart wrenching disappointment flooded his expression.

This son, who rarely talks, clenched his fists, “That’s my dad’s chair! You are not my dad! Get out of his chair!” He yelled, his face grimacing in anger.

Surprised by his outburst, my friend stood up, looking from him to me, the ‘What should I do?’ question in her eyes.

As I watched this play out, a new wave of deep sorrow flooded through me. I began to cry. I understood, Jon had seen the silhouette of a person in his dad’s chair and for a moment, he believed Mike was there.

My friend finally spoke, “I‘m so sorry Jon. I didn’t mean to upset you. I won’t sit in this chair anymore if you don’t want me to.”

Anger was suddenly replaced by sadness. Jon turned, leaned his head against the filing cabinet and began to cry quiet, trickling tears.

I wanted so much to wrap him in a long embrace and cry with him but I knew he would never allow it. Attempting to maintain some composure for this grieving son who desperately needed comfort, I went to him and placed my hand on his shoulder. Barely. Only touching his shirt really, not his skin.

“I’m so sorry Honey. I know you thought that was Dad in his chair when you first looked. But remember, he’s not here anymore. I know that makes you sad, angry and disappointed all at the same time because sometimes it does me too. I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I know you miss him.”

He wrenched his shoulder back and threw my touch away, anger surging through him again. We faced several more tidal waves of emotion as Jon processed his disappointment. Eventually he quieted and went to the kitchen.

Last night, this text came from my other child.

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And my heart breaks again.

My sons are still reeling from the loss of their father and the empty chair is but a reminder of what an amazing, caring, family man Mike was and how severely he is missed. I wonder at how blessed we were to have Mike in our days and how we’ll learn to move forward without him here. We each had our own way of leaning on him and loving him. His absence is an emptiness, a large sink hole, pulling us in with an unrelenting ache of sadness.

I pray for my children in their sorrow. I pray at some point, the weeping of this long night will be replaced with a renewed joy (Psalm 30:5) for all of us. I pray God will fill the emptiness of our hearts with His overwhelming love and goodness.

I pray…pray..and pray. From the empty chair.

 

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the broken hearts and binds up their sorrows.“

Christmas ReWrap

74A61655-0EA9-41A3-829C-6C7DAE8A7A39On Christmas Eve of 1974, Mike asked me over to the apartment he and his brother shared. We’d been dating since June of that year. Not long, when I think about it now. I drove to the old house in our home town and climbed the stairs to the third story attic some eager landlord had turned into a makeshift resemblance of a living space. As I remember, It was sparsely furnished, befitting of two young bachelors barely out of high school.

In the living room, a Christmas tree, set in front of a floor to ceiling window, was decorated with not enough lights and dime store ornaments. The only other furnishing was a shabby sofa which we leaned against as we sat on the floor, holding hands.

That evening Mike reached under that old sofa, pulled out a tiny box with a red bow on top and asked me to marry him. He was eighteen. I was nineteen. I’ve never celebrated a Christmas without him since.

Until now.

Year after year, Mike was my Christmas tradition. He was the constant in every season; from setting up the tree, then sitting on the couch to watch the kids and I decorate it, or hiding gifts all over the house and warning me not to peek if I found bags and boxes in strange places, to his impatient waiting for the pie to come out of the oven, so he could harass me endlessly to have a piece before Christmas dinner.

Forty three Christmas seasons have come and gone and now, so has he, and I have to figure out how to rewrap Christmas in a different package, one that doesn’t continuously assault me with loss, emptiness and tears.

I don’t know how to do Christmas without my husband. I don’t even know where to start. I do know that Christmas will never be the same again.

One certainty of this season is a confidence in Who it has always been about. I know the Jesus we are celebrating. While everything feels disheveled, broken and uncertain; in the middle of my sorrow, my hope is in The One the prophet Isaiah foretold and Jesus himself proclaimed to be:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18-21.

No other Christmas season has it ever been as clear as in this one, and never have I been more thankful for Emmanuel who came for me. Emmanuel who is with me. I SO qualify to receive His promise of hope and redemption and He does not disappoint. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.

In whatever difficult, impossible, unbearable, crushing situation you’re facing this Christmas, you qualify too.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Surviving Algebra? Again?!

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I’ve learned a lot the last few months about the role best performed by my late husband’s calculator brain rather than my illlogical. creative one. I never wanted to learn or do all this administrative stuff he did so well; things I cared less about under normal circumstances, and especially despise, in the middle of unbearable sorrow.

Paperwork. Forms. Systems. Numbers. Rules. Regulations. Institutions. Bureaucracy. Red tape. Makes my eyes cross, my brain turn to mush and my blood pressure rise. I feel like I’m back in Algebra class wondering who decided letters and numbers should go together. And I flunked algebra twice then passed by one point the third time around. In summer school. With tutoring!

Apparently I’m a bit smarter than I’ve ever given myself credit for (notice I said ‘a bit’) and Mike might be proud of me. Unfortunately, I’m being forced to learn this stuff because he’s not here to do it anymore. It’s amazing how you can rise to a challenge when not given a choice.

Anyway back to what I’ve figured out and what will save you some hassle should you ever (I pray not) be in my shoes. So for what it’s worth:

Most financial institutions no longer honor wills. Yep. You read that right. “Wills can be contested,” I’ve been told. So a will is no longer the top dog of the legal document pile.

Most banks, especially the larger ones, now have in-house beneficiary forms. If we had known about this and used it, I wouldn’t be retaining a lawyer to access funds from a savings account we forgot to put my name on. Ask your bank if they have this form and by all means name your beneficiary and sign it. If you each have separate accounts and would like your spouse to have access to it immediately upon your death, this form should take care of it. But ask to be sure.

(By the way, here’s something I didn’t know; Power of Attorney, is only useful if the person you have it for is still alive. It’s useless once they’re deceased.)

Be certain both spouse names are on every single account you have if you want your significant other to have immediate access. It’s better to use the word ‘OR’ between your names whenever possible, rather than ‘AND’. ‘Or’ means either. ‘And’ means both. Even when supplying a death certificate, I’ve had issues depositing an insurance check for hurricane roof repair because Mike couldn’t sign it when it used the word ‘and’.

Be certain both names are on car titles joined by the word ‘OR’. I am able to sell either of our cars and easily transfer registration solely to my name because of this little word. ‘Or’ means either one of us can make decisions about the car without the other. If there is someone you want to have immediate access to your car when you’re no longer here, go to DMV and pay the $80.00 (cost where I live. Fees may be different in other counties or states) to add their name (along with that ‘or’ word), otherwise the car will have to go through probate because the owner is unable to sign the title.

The same is true of real estate, houses or property. Make sure both names are on everything. Ask, when you open accounts, buy property or perform any legal transaction, what can be done to insure this asset passes to my spouse immediately if I’m deceased. Then take the time to do it.

Speaking of cars, be sure you know who your roadside service is. What mechanic, garage or dealer services your cars and whether you still have a valid warranty. I‘ve already had to deal with a car that wouldn’t start. Car maintenance was another task I never thought much about. Mike always took care of it.

Unless you plan on hiring it out, be sure you have general knowledge of other maintenance items such as pool pumps, filters, chemicals, and cleaning / Service for Air conditioning and heating systems. AC filters and when and how to change them / House water softening or purifying systems / Know where your whole house water shut off is to avoid a flooded house should a pipe burst or some other indoor water emergency occur.

Much bill paying, banking, even investing is now done online. Can’t emphasize enough!!!! How important it is to sit down together and take the time to make a spreadsheet listing ALL accounts with contact info, account numbers, user ID and password. Keep all online access info current by updating passwords as they change. Believe me, this will simplify your transition to single-ness if you’re not the one who takes care of the family finances.

Keep a list of reoccurring monthly and/or yearly payments with account numbers, amounts, passwords to online accounts and what bank account or credit card they’re tied to. Also list bills that are still paid by mail.

Write down active credit cards by account name and number along with online access information to credit card statements and payment if needed. And don’t forget to update any and all info (especially passwords) if/as it changes.

Keep a file cabinet organized and up to date. Organize by categories: Bank accounts, credit cards, life insurance, car insurance, health insurance, real estate, loans, IRA’s, taxes, etc. Go through it once a year (at least) and update or remove old or invalid information from your files. This will make it easier to find everything needed when you’re heart is aching and your brain has turned into sad, unfocused mush.

A few side notes; You’ll be asked for your deceased spouse’s social security number often at first, so make sure you have a copy of it available or have it memorized. Also don’t cancel your spouses cell phone account immediately. You might need it to search for important information or the phone number may be tied to some vital accounts, text or email notices you might not know you need at first.

No one wants to talk about the possibility of death and couples never want to think about living without each other, but I’m now a certain statistic that it can happen and sometimes without warning. Whatever practical steps can be taken to minimize panic and ease the burden of grief will be worth it, someday, for one of you.

Take the time to prepare just in case, with hopes you’ll have a long and wonderful life together.

Clinging To Hope

BE3D611D-9045-4B66-BAB6-0935BEC6303DIt’s been two months to the day. Two months since Mike left and two months have not yet made a difference. Not in the deep longing, or the quiet despair. In some ways it’s worse than in the beginning.

The initial numbing denial has lifted and reality settles in. The rush of people and non-stop activity have faded. Others have gone back to their lives, as they should, while Jon and I, continue to step cautiously, into unknown territory, learning to navigate without our husband and father. This is becoming our new normal.

Death was never part of God’s original plan. From the beginning it wasn’t meant to be part of our human experience (Genesis 2:17) and life without Mike, feels foreign, as if I’ve been carried, against my will, to a far away land where the geography and language are unknown. Where everything is unfamiliar.

Every cell of my being yearns for his presence. My soul is broken. I’m surprised when the sun rises in the morning and my heart is still beating and my lungs have breath, without the only man I’ve ever loved next to me.

It seems the severe pain of loss has overtaken even the keen awareness of God’s presence in my life. But I walk by faith, not feelings, and I know God is with me. I wouldn’t have made it this far if He wasn’t. My Father promises to lead me through this dry,  dark valley (Psalm 23:4) and He keeps His promises.

Hope is the compass of the human heart. There are times we have little else for the journey so it’s best we attach it to something solid and permanent. I’m trusting in my Good Shepherd’s mercy and faithful love and believing in the promise of a renewed life, restored soul and overflowing cup on the other side.

I‘m clinging to Hope.

 
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.” Psalm 24

“Be of good courage and He will strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

“Let your mercy be upon us O Lord, as we hope in you.” Psalm 33:22

No Time To Say Goodbye

D04A261E-5434-4A2C-AE9F-71B8C0A188E2He’s gone. Just like that. Suddenly. No suspicion. No warning. No alert. He came home from the office, changed his clothes, cleaned the pool, took the trash to the road. It was a typical day like any other. I left to do some errands and he was fine. When I came home my husband was dead.

I wonder what it was like for him to be here alone, those last few minutes, when breath left his body. I wonder if I could have helped him or saved him somehow if I’d been home instead of wheeling a cart up and down store aisles trying to decide what we’d have for dinner next week. He was my partner in life. We depended on each other and I wasn’t there when he most needed me. And there was no way for either of us to know I needed to be. There was no way for us to know our life together was ending that day.

There was no time to say goodbye.

I don’t know how to process this. It haunts me in the night hours. I can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe I never will. It has changed me. Drastically. Do other’s look and see a sadder version of the same Diane? I‘m not the same. Something has shifted. On the inside, I don’t recognize myself. I‘m a totally different me.

Time flies away. We live like there’s no tomorrow. We plan as if we’ll be here forever. But we won’t. The day finally comes when its over and we move on to eternity.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that. James 4:13-15.

Love like there’s no tomorrow. Do and say the things that need to be said everyday. Don’t live as if this is all there is. Live with eternity in mind, always, because we never know when we’ll have to say goodbye.

Or if we’ll even have that chance.

Flying Solo Now

I 64A3576D-A59A-4DE3-A044-27CDEFBD1BF2write this on a flight to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to celebrate my son’s first published book release. He’s hosting a book launch party this weekend. It seems to be a thing authors do now and it’s a rather big deal.

David’s father would have been excited to attend this event. My husband should be here next to me. But the seat is as empty as the gapping hole in my heart.

We often went places without each other. I’d go and Mike would stay home with Jon or the reverse. Though we didn’t always enjoy our necessary separations, we accepted it as how things had to be. And I always knew he’d be waiting for me when I returned.

This flight feels different than any I’ve taken before. I’m surrounded by people, crammed together inside an Allegiant MD80, yet it’s so lonely. As the miles are absorbed beneath me and the land slides away, the one person on this planet, who knew me better than anyone, who made history and a life with me is missing. I could fly all the way around the circle of the earth in this plane, and not find him.

My husband won’t be there when I go back home. I’m flying solo now.

For those who say “He’s still with you,” or “He’s watching over you, I say “No. Maybe. I don’t know.” There’s no scriptural basis I can find for that. If he is watching me all the time he’s sad at how heartbroken I am without him. There’s not supposed to be any sadness or heartache in Heaven. So I have my doubts.

And right now it’s not enough to think he might be watching me from wherever he is. It’s just not enough for me. I can’t see, hear or touch him. I can talk to the air and tell him how proud we are of our kid’s accomplishments but Mike isn’t here with me to share in it. He doesn’t answer. All I get in return is silence.

Saying he’s with me doesn’t help. It doesn’t make me feel better. In fact, hearing that he’s watching from somewhere I’m not, makes it worse. Only a reminder Mike’s physical presence is sorely missing from mine.

Maybe I’ll be more accepting of such platitudes later. In a year. Or two. Or three. But not now.

So Mike, if by some chance you are listening and if you can see, I’ve arrived now and I’m holding a copy of our son’s book in my hands. It’s amazing. So is he. Just like his father.

And it’s cold in Chattanooga. You’d be complaining right along with me. Wish we could lay here together under this fluffy, warm comforter and talk about it all.

Just want you to know this weekend, you’ll sure be missed at this celebration of what we, and then our son, created.

Who Am I ?

5D7B0A02-BF33-41D0-9831-40DB1222CB4EI’ve been Pastor Mike’s wife for many years. I no longer have a pastor husband and I’m no longer a wife.

You don’t realize how much of your identity is tied to your spouse until they’re gone.

Everything I thought I was changed in one day. I know who I am in Christ. That’s not the issue. I just don’t know who I am on this earth. Not without Mike. This isn’t a path I planned. The choice was made for me. It’s the beginning of a journey to discover my new ‘alone’ earth identity and everything within me is resisting this road I must travel.

There is so much loss this side of Heaven and earth life consists of constant change. But where there is great loss the potential for gain is greater.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19.

In this present wilderness, as I’m stripped of my former self, there’s no guarantee of what the future holds or what I will become. But God promises to make a way. He promises water in the wasteland and I want to trust the day will come when a ‘new thing’ springs up. I‘ll no longer be consumed by the past but will have hope for the future.

No Lord, I don’t see it! Or perceive it. Not now.

Don’t let me give up. Help me to keep moving forward.

“He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5.

I surrender it all to You. Trustworthy and True One.

Make me new.

Lonely and Not Alone

IMG_0243I’m asked a lot these days, “How you doing?” I’m not sure if people want the standard answer or the real answer. I’m not even sure I know the answer. Trying to get through another day without my husband is pure agony. I still can’t believe he’s gone or that I’ll never again hear his familiar, “What’s up!” coming through the door at the end of a work day.

As a staff pastor and the financial administrator at the church where he ministered and worked, he was somewhere in the building anytime I arrived there. If he wasn’t waiting for me, I could always find him. Trinity Church is and always will be associated with Mike in my heart and mind and it’s difficult for me to be there right now, because he’s not.

Five Friday’s have come and gone since the evening he died. Friday was Mike’s day off. Our ‘date day’. Jon’s caregiver would come to the house in the early afternoon and we would leave for the day; go shopping, see a movie, eat out, spend time together. Our date days have ended. I don’t like Friday anymore.

I have no ability to categorize any of this right now. It all swirls around in my head and becomes a wrecking ball of pain and sorrow for my heart. I try to fill up my days with tasks clamoring for my attention, those that used to be his and those that have always been mine. Evenings and nights stretch eternal and each morning sunrise is another reminder that I’ll live another day without him.

I’m being told by so many I’m not alone. God is with me. I’m aware of this completely. He’s here in the middle of it all. I’ve sensed Him in my deepest sorrow, have not blamed Him for any of it and in some unexplainable way, I trust Him.

But I still wear skin. My spirit exists in a physical body and world, one that involves taste, touch, sound and sight. I long for my partner with skin on, a man I could see, hear, touch, whose presence filled up my life and years.

When God made the first human he said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). He was right. It’s not.

Yes, God is here. I’m not alone.

But Mike is not and I’m so lonely.

Just another life contradiction I don’t understand.

No Where Else To Go

IMG_0234I’ve spent a lot of time home alone with Jon the last fifteen years. But this ‘home alone’ is entirely new territory. Mike’s physical presence missing in this house is tangible. Knowing he will never walk through the door again is haunting. It’s just me and Jon now.

I have no idea what our future looks like without Mike here. We depended on him greatly. He was fiercely loyal, responsible, a get it done kind of guy you could lean on. It’s hard getting up in the morning and going to bed at night without him. The days ahead seem long and dismal.

Everyone around me tells me I’m doing good. I don’t know what they are seeing. Nothing seems good or right in this. I don’t feel ‘good’. The initial shock and numbness of Mike’s sudden death is wearing off and the reality of doing life alone, without him in it, is settling in heavily. I wear it constantly, like a thick coat in a hot desert place.

Yet in my constant sorrow, there is no struggle to trust God. So much I don’t understand but I have not once blamed Him for any of it. There’s no where else to go but to Him, so why would I push Him away? Why would I turn my back on Him? And knowing Mike is with Him gives me hope.

I proclaim as did the disciple Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life” John 6:68.

All the hard places in my life have taught me God can be trusted. This one is the highest level of learning so far. Leaning. Reaching. Longing for my Heavenly Father to fill me up with more of Himself. There’s no where else to go. But to Him.

So here I am Lord. The sun has risen again and I’m living another day you’ve given without my husband at my side. I surrender it to you. I surrender me to you. I surrender Jon to you.

I have no answers. So much I don’t know.

But of this I am certain: TODAY we are Yours.