We all experience many kinds of loss during our lives. As I approach my 70th birthday, that certainly has been true for me. The last few years, however, have been filled with profound, unexpected loss that has shaken me to my core and affected every area of my life.
My husband, Chris, and I were high school sweethearts. I was 15 and he had just turned 16 when we began dating. We married 4 years later. He was my husband, best friend, soulmate. We were a team. We had weathered many storms and had a wonderful life together. When Chris was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer in March 2019, it came as a total surprise. We had married young. After I survived a diagnosis of aggressive breast cancer in 2001, I assumed we would celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary or maybe even our 75th! It never occurred to me that I would be living my retired years without Chris by my side.
Looking back, at the time, we could see how God had prepared us and our situation in many ways for his illness and subsequent passing. He lived a year, did not suffer, and was at peace throughout that time. We were thankful for each day and we knew he was headed to heaven. He had excellent medical care. We were surrounded by love and support and Chris was able to hear how his life had been a blessing to many.
Chris died March 6, 2020 and immediately after his memorial service on March 14th, the world shut down because of COVID. The world changed for everyone. It was a difficult time for many people with many losses in many ways. There were blessings in that situation, but it was a very isolating time as well. After spending the previous year taking care of Chris, I now found myself at home, avoiding social situations, wearing a mask, worshipping on Facebook and having groceries delivered. Thankfully, my daughter, son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons and I all live close together and cautiously maintained in-person contact with each other.
So, as 2022 began, our family had all been vaccinated, and I began to feel safer to go back out into the world, I decided I needed to begin to live my life again. I started to pray that the Lord would let me know how He wanted me to serve Him. Chris and I had worshipped and served together since we were teenagers. I was “on my own” now and feeling a bit lost. I knew that God’s plans are always better than ours, but sometimes it’s just harder to remember that!
Pastor Zach called me in the spring, totally unaware of my prayer for direction or my career history in counseling and education. He asked if I might be interested in helping the church begin a mental health ministry. As a result, I became involved in the Recovery Chickamauga Launch Team and began to work the Twelve Steps for Christians with the team. I had sent many people to AA and other Twelve Step programs but I had never been personally involved. God’s perfect timing was again evident as I began to work the steps.
Week One began with the belief that we open ourselves up to God’s love and grace if we apply the healing tools of Scripture and the Twelve Steps and that this message needs to be shared with all hurting people. The first three steps were more of a review and reminder because they really have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. We all hurt. We are all broken- just in different ways. We are all powerless and need Christ. One of my strengths has to do with faith. I’ve never “lost faith” in God’s goodness and love. There are times I don’t understand, but I KNOW that He has things under control, and His plan is always better than mine. Time after time, I have been able to look back and see how God was working in my life. It’s a daily choice to let God lead.
Steps 4 and 5 gave me a good opportunity to assess what I want to change and acknowledge how that is related to my strengths and my weaknesses. I could look at those things that are interfering with moving on in my life and living out my purpose. Making the list took a while to complete and when the share was completed, I felt like a weight had been lifted.
Step 6 and 7 have initiated my desire to have God bring changes in my life so that I can truly move forward. I understand that day by day, I will continue to trust that He will lead me. I am much better off with God in control than taking control myself. I will continue to start each day with a structured quiet time of devotion, scripture and prayer.
So where am I now? I think I can finally say I’m moving forward after the biggest loss in my life, almost 3 years ago. Everything has been hard, but I am beginning to let go. Last week, I finally stopped service on Chris’s cellphone and took some of his warmer clothing to the Community Kitchen for men who are homeless. I’ve made steps to sell his law office rather than continue to lease it. I’ve decided to retire my psychology license, recognizing I will not be practicing and that I do not want to do what it takes to maintain it. I’ve reached out to other hurting women who are learning to live life without their husbands to form a group that can serve to support each other. I have chosen to continue working with Recovery Chickamauga to lead the Food Service Team. I am still grieving. I still cry at least once a day and miss Chris terribly, but I am moving forward. I know that Christ is with me, every step of the way and that someday, at the end of my journey, I will join Chris in heaven. I am seeking to surrender to God’s will “that I may be reasonably happy in this world and supremely happy in the next.”
At this point, I am beginning to see that my life can be joyful and purposeful again- just different.