“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
Hope is born from and in despair. That is my truth. Sometimes hope shows up like fireworks against the dark night sky, gloriously and brilliantly. It’s presence is awe inspiring and unmistakable. But other times I feel as if I am looking in a “Where’s Waldo” book. Though they tell me it is there it takes more work than one would think to find it. It doesn’t matter how it appears, though, I am just grateful it does.
On February 10, 2011 my husband committed suicide. I think every suicide is a shock whether or not the person has had a long history of depression, addiction, mental health issues, or tragic events they simply could not handle. Suicide goes against every natural instinct in the animal kingdom yet it is chosen by those for whom the pain of living is greater than the pain of dying. However, the pain doesn’t go away. I know it is cliché but the pain is given to those who loved them. The terribly ironic part of suicide is that the pain one feels that causes him to kill himself would have, had he just held on longer, gone away. The pain transferred to loved ones left behind is permanent. It may wane but it never ceases to exist.
Daughters and sons will always miss their lost parent. Every occasion that should be a celebration is tainted and marred by that person’s absence. Sadness is perpetually intertwined. There will be countless moments the survivor whispers, “you should have been here.” The absence is always felt at every holiday and every birthday. Bittersweet becomes our norm. It does not come alone but is accompanied loyally by abandonment, anger, whys, and what ifs. An entire family is robbed. The past is stained and the future broken.
Gary’s suicide was not preceded by any of the typical warning signs. There were no whispers of wanting to die and nothing to indicate he had given up. Sometimes death approaches so quickly the unravelling is hardly even noticeable.
The trauma of his death was compounded by the fact that I was the one to find him. It was a memory forever planted in my mind and would take years before I did not see that image several times a day every single day. It haunted my waking consciousness and night time dreams for a very long time. For a while there was no escape.
Two days after he died I still had not eaten a bite. Though friends brought food, I just could not force myself to partake.
“Please, just eat something,” my best friend Deanne begged.
“The only thing I could eat right now is girl scout cookies,” I replied.
Five minutes later the doorbell rang. There had been a steady stream of visitors. I knew I was blessed to feel so loved at a time I felt so completely alone.
At the door stood my neighbor, Lori who didn’t know Deanne.
“I’m so sorry,” she said with eyes flooding from compassion. “I brought you these,” she said holding up two bags full of girl scout cookies.
There it was. The slightest pearl of hope had been born even in the midst of my despair.
Lori delivered much more than cookies to me. She brought kindness and sustenance. She delivered relief to my friend who was worried about me. More than that she delivered the reminder that God was ever so close and that He would take care of me. He would provide my every need. If He cared about something so small as cookies, what would He not give me?
Thankfully, when my husband died I already had a close relationship with God. I hate to imagine how difficult it would have been to try to find Him in the middle of all the confusion. I knew He was right there carrying me because I knew where He was before disaster hit.
Some may think girl scout cookies showing up just after I had asked for them was a coincidence. My life is full of too many of these moments to be called coincidence. I call it divine intervention. I name it the hand of a loving God.
God is near to the broken-hearted. I imagine it is similar to how I am when my children are ill. My youngest son, Nathan, just recovered from pneumonia and a double ear infections. During his infirmary, he held on to me as if my very presence somehow made the illness feel less awful. Even in his sleep he was sure to be physically connected to me even if it was just his little hand on mine. By having me close he felt safe. His heart needed my presence because I am still, in his eyes, something bigger than he is.
He also knows that if I am near his physical needs will be met . When he is sick he is able to tolerate discomfort much less than when he is well. He knows that somehow I am able to assist in lessening the symptoms by giving him medicine or a cool cloth. He is still at that wondrous age when mommy kisses can actually make it all better.
It isn’t that I am more attentive but I am eager to do more for him. When he needed something to drink I would get it for him even though technically he could have gotten it for himself. But what would that say about me as a mother who would ask her sick child do something for himself when I could? I wanted to do all that was in my power to take away that discomfort of his illness by letting him rest and regain his strength. I wanted him to know he is so very loved because that does help even in the worst of circumstances. To know you are loved by another ushers in comfort, peace, and strength unlike anything else.
I love my children the same whether they are at school or sitting in my lap. The value and intensity of my love does not increase or decrease according to their proximity. What does altar is their need to feel my presence based on circumstances so I draw closer. I am available. I will do anything to help them including watching YouTube on end (a mother’s ultimate sacrifice, I would argue).
When my husband died I was ill. I was hurt. I was in a new level of despair I did not know existed and I wasn’t sure there was a bottom. For days and weeks it felt as if I was free falling but I was not alone. I had friends and family who though they could not be in that vortex with me, I could hear their shouts of love and encouragement. I could feel their prayers. I would catch an inkling of hope. I had days I only hoped I would be able to hope again.
Most of all, I had a God who would give me girl scout cookies.