February 10, 2019
It has been eight years. Eight years ago today you walked out of our basement door, into the woods, out of our lives and into eternity. Sometimes it feels like eight minutes and sometimes it feels like eight decades. Time is a strange thing when one is grieving. Like everything else, it makes little sense.
It took a very long time for the image of you on that day to leave my mind. For a while it was constant. Each time it appeared I would ask God to show me where He was and He did. Eventually, I was able to focus on the image of Him holding on to me as I screamed a sound I did not know could come from within me. The memory of you lying there became a voluntary one rather than unhibitated and relentless. It was torture.
I know you weren’t thinking clearly when you walked into the woods with your gun and probably didn’t consider that it was going to be me to find you. I went into shock. They put me in the ambulance that was meant for you. My dad’s pleading words, “The boys need you,” gave me something to hold on to instead of floating into that unknown territory called disassociation. They lost you on that day and I knew they could not lose us both.
Our friends, our church family, Community Bible Study, and the Covenant School enveloped us. They brought us food for months. They prayed for us and those prayers carried me. They helped take care of our boys. You would have been amazed by them. I never really knew how much they loved us until the evening of February 10th. We truly would not have made it without them.
Three days after you died I went to church and spoke. I confessed that Satan might have won a battle but he would not have this family. I was bloody and wounded but ready to battle in order to not let him have another victory. I promised God I would do my part to be sure He received every ounce of Glory from our story. It is a promise to which I cling even to this day.
We had to have your memorial at Covenant Church since there would be over 500 people there from every walk of life. It was a wonderful testimony to how you treated everyone equally whether an addict struggling with recovery or a wealthy businessman. It was one of the things I loved the most about you. You treated everyone with dignity and respect.
I delivered your eulogy. There was so much left unsaid and I felt strongly there were things you would have wanted me to say. I think you would have been proud of me. I refused to be the widow crumpled up and crying in the front row. As you knew, that just was not me. God empowered me to deliver your eulogy. My great need for Him compelled me to lift my hands in praise even though I could barely lift my head. There was no other way other than God’s Grace, mercy, and power.
I knew you would have wanted us to celebrate so I added a little humor. My concluding thoughts were:
As the person who knew Gary better than anyone I believe he would want me to tell you this: Hug your children a little tighter. Take time to be with God. Stop and be still. Fight for the things you believe in and never back down. To those who suffer depression and addiction, I believe he would remind you that your disease is relentless and to fight it with all you have. Tend to your recovery like a delicate garden watering it every day and rooting out the weeds immediately. He would tell you to not be ashamed of your disease. People with cancer and diabetes do not feel shame because of theirs nor should you. To his children he would say “I love you. Hold your head high, walk humbly with your God. Know who you are and what you were made for”. To everyone else, he would tell you to ALWAYS… ALWAYS vote republican.
Three weeks after you died an anonymous family stepped in and paid Emerson’s tuition to the Covenant School so that he could continue to attend. I was simply told a “family who loves our son wanted to be sure he could stay.” Of all the things I worried about, losing Covenant, the only school Emerson knew, was the one thing I did not want us to be without and God provided a way. They paid his tuition through graduation and now pay for his baby brother to attend.
I was able to stay in the house which was the best possible scenario for our boys. I would have preferred to move and not have to remember that day every single time I looked out the window or walked in the backyard but with Wesley’s autism it would not have been good for him. The boys needed stability. Their whole world changed on February tenth and I wanted some semblance of consistency for them.
Sometimes Wesley will look up to the sky and laugh and sign Daddy. It’s almost as if he’s talking to you and I honestly wonder sometimes if God allows you a moment to connect with Wesley. I hope He does because of everyone you left, I think I was most angry at you for leaving Wesley. He adored you and because of his profound cognitive impairment he just does not understand why you are not home with us. Sometimes he sees men in the store and will get excited, signing “Daddy” because he thinks it is you. He waits for you to come home still.
I did not get to grieve you the way I wish I could have. See, suicide leaves the us feeling betrayed and abandoned. I’ve spent the last eight years struggling with anger and abandonment and even “struggling” is too light of a word. It was a full blown war and each and every day I battled for my soul. I did not want to let bitterness overtake me though it tried. It is a formidable foe. But God…
To this day I find myself looking around the basement hoping to find a note. I desperately wanted one last goodbye. I wanted an explanation. I wanted to know why. I wanted anything other than nothing.
I have always found great solace that I left nothing unsaid. I am so grateful for the gift of our very last interaction. Perhaps part of your plan was to leave me with that last memory of us kneeling, holding hands, and praying together. I hope it was. We never truly know when the last thing we do or say will be the last thing. I certainly had no idea that saying “Amen” was the last thing we would do together and the last words I would hear you say. Thank you for that.
We had 17 years together, 42.5 percent of my life was with you. We saw time and time again God’s faithfulness and provision. We saw how allowing Him to work in our lives ultimately led to more glory for Him and a life for us that was more than we could have imagined.
Remember the time we closed on our home here? Your malpractice fell through the very next day and we were told you needed $20,000 in three days or you would not qualify. I remember you were in a panic because if we didn’t make the deadline it would be another year before you could get on a policy but we simply did not have that kind of money. We faced a year of no income and a brand new home. But then God showed up. The next day you checked the mail and found the letter from the hospital where Wesley had numerous stays. They received an insurance payment and were reimbursing us in the amount was $21,000. I remember we laughed and celebrated because not only did God provide what we needed, He gave us an extra grand. We trusted Him and believed He had a plan for us.
But not this time. I know with my whole heart that God was going to redeem our situation because that is His specialty. Instead of redeeming our lives He is redeeming mine.
When I married you in May of 1997 I meant the promise that we would grow old together. For a long time after you left I felt cheated. Being a widow at 40 was not what I signed up for and either was raising our boys without a father.
Every special event became bitter sweet. Emerson had some incredible achievements and at the recognition of each I looked at the chair beside me, either empty or someone else’s parent. I have had countless “you should have been here” moments and those moments do not get easier, not ever.
I had to make a conscious decision to forgive you. I would say the words but never really feel like I had forgiven you until now. For some reason this is the year that unforgiveness finally left me. I can’t be sure that I let it go. I never wanted it to accompany me so closely, breathing down my neck constantly. It just wouldn’t leave. I tried to chase it away. I tried to run from it. I laid it at the Cross but then would find it right at my side again. The process of praying constantly finally was made complete and unforgiveness along with anger quietly at some unknown moment left my side.
This is the year that I just miss you. This is the year that my heart breaks to know that you were so hopeless that dying seemed like a better option than facing the next hour.
I remember when people would ask you how your wife was and you would always reply, “My wife? She is made of steel.” I think you knew that ultimately, I would be all right. You knew my steadfast faith and deep dependency on God. You knew that better than anyone. You were a witness to my life.
I’ve been helping with the Grief Share Ministry at my church. We come alongside those who have lost a loved one through death and hopefully minister and help them navigate this new world of grief. In the program they talk about ambush grief. It comes in the moments when out of nowhere and all of the sudden something triggers the grief and it comes pouring out. After 8 years I still am ambushed by grief, attacked just the other day. I was listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. You loved that song but only when it was sung by Leonard Cohen for some reason. I’ve heard it a million times but this time when he sang the line:
“And even though it all went wrong I stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”
I became inconsolable crying.
Because even though it all went wrong
and even though our family and an entire community were devastated
and even though your children have been left with a scar that will never fade and never go away
and even though you still had work yet to be done on this Earth
and even though two of your addiction patients died within weeks of you because they could not get the help they needed
and even though terrible things happened to me in the year after you left
and even though the weight of grief crippled me and I still had to carry our children
and even though there were countless times I was sure I would never, ever laugh again
and even though my dreams died with you in the woods
and even though I would cry myself to sleep and wake up crying for a long time
and even though the grief was intractable and unbearable and all consuming
and even though my heart will never be the same
and even though there were days it took everything in me just to breathe
and even though our children have a lifetime of work in order to heal
and even though there were times I hated you
and even though it felt like I was swimming through mud
and even though I will always grieve you and I am not sure if healing will ever be completed
and even though your death caused me to feel a level of excruciating I never knew existed
God was and is faithful.
Sometimes the miracle we want or expect is not the miracle we receive but one nonetheless. The miracle is I survived. The miracle is the boys will be alright. The miracle is I now have a fortitude built from dust. The miracle is I discovered for myself that every word about the character of God in the Bible is true. He keeps every promise forever. He is close to the broken hearted. He is my refuge, my strong tower, and my shelter. He is the defender of the widows and father to the fatherless. The miracle is He yields the power to turn tragedy into triumph and He did. The miracle is that I know why Jesus said those who mourn are blessed. The miracle is He gave purpose to my pain. The miracle is I did laugh again. The miracle is even though I am not who I once was I am becoming who I was meant to be not in spite of the tragedy but because of it. The miracle is Hallelujah.
I used get so angry when people would say, “He is in a better place” because you were not supposed to be there yet and I was not supposed to be cleaning up the mess. I would think of you dancing in Heaven with the angels and get furious. You were supposed to be dancing with me and our children for years to come. You were supposed to walk Leah down the aisle. We were supposed to be grandparents together. A lifetime of supposed to’s would never happen.
Now, though, on this day this year I smile. You are at peace. You are home. You are missed and you are loved still.
We are healing. We are carrying on. We hold to the promise that God will work all things, even this, for our good. We have seen that promise bear fruit and rejoice knowing there is more to come.
And I have nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.