People in blue and orange shirts were everywhere.
I looked into the crowd amazed by what I saw. I saw friends and many of my children’s classmates. I saw teachers and a few faces of people I recognized but had never met. The auditorium was so crowded that people wearing blue and orange shirts were filling the aisles and sitting on the floor in front of the stage.
I was sitting in the midst of my friends and family at the one place I never wanted to be. I was sitting on the front row of my husband’s funeral. I was sitting with my 12 year old daughter and nine year old son at their father’s funeral. The people in blue and orange were our Covenant Christian Academy family coming to support us in our deepest loss.
I remember the night in February when my husband and daughter came home from the Father Daughter dance. My husband told me he wasn’t’ feeling well. He told me he had a doctor’s appointment the following week and was sure it wasn’t anything serious. In July we found out it was cancer, in October we found out it was terminal and in November I became a widow.
When we started back to school in August, we knew it would be a struggle to juggle the kids' schedules and work and chemo, but we had a strong family network. What we didn’t know was the chemo would be ineffective and that one surgery would lead to another and that eventually the treatment would prove ineffective. We also didn’t realize how strong the Covenant family was. It would be them who fed us night after night. The teachers would spend hours after school helping with homework. A day wouldn’t pass without a card or a gift card coming in the mail. We didn’t know that a cleaning lady and help with the lawn would be provided as well. We had no idea people we had never even met would become our best friends and coaches and new support network. We didn’t know people would give generously to a memorial scholarship fund to ensure my kids could continue to be students at CCA.
There is no guide to grieving. Loss, as every experience, is unique, but I hope these thoughts can help you if you are grieving or want to help someone during a season of loss.
1. You don’t have to do everything by yourself.
I was making myself crazy trying to take care of my husband, my children, my home and even myself. I didn’t want to be weak or needy or dependent on anyone or anything. One of my daughter's teachers came to me. They assured me I didn’t need to worry about attendance or homework or even sending lunch. It was such a relief to know the teachers were filling a huge gap while my husband and and I were at the hospital. I learned it was okay to let my friends clean my house and pick up prescriptions and make our dinner. I learned I was being selfish by trying to do things others wanted and needed to do to feel like they could help in some way. I was crying out to God for help and He used the CCA family as His hands and feet to meet many of our needs and to wrap us in prayer as we walked through our season of loss. God knew I couldn’t handle it all by myself and He gave me more help than I could have asked or imagined.
2. There is no “right” way to grieve.
I wasn’t prepared to plan my husband’s funeral before I was forty years old. I wasn’t prepared to be a single mom of two grieving children. I wasn’t prepared to be the sole provider and care-taker of our home. I meant it when I said “’til death do us part” but it was supposed to be when I was old and gray, not before my children were in junior high school. I remember looking at my son and thinking the only thing worse for him than losing his dad would be to put him in a suit and tie and make him ride in a limo to his daddy’s funeral. I knew this funeral was not just about my husband or me but about trying to not make it an experience that would haunt my children as the worst day of their life. The reason there were so many blue and orange shirts at the funeral is I asked everyone to wear a shirt that showed how they were part of our family. It was unconventional and totally perfect. Instead of a sea of black, my children saw all their friends and teachers in their CCA spirit wear and they knew they were not alone. My husband and I had agreed if one of us should pass, the other should take the kids to Disney World. Another unconventional idea that was a blessing. You can still be sad at the “Happiest Place on Earth” but getting out of the house and doing something fun was exactly what my family needed. You can’t let others tell you how to grieve. You have to surrender yourself to God and allow Him to comfort you and guide you through the grief process. Others may not understand or think it is proper to wear a t-shirt to a funeral or to visit Disney World instead of the cemetery, but you have to do what is best for you and your family.
3. God REALLY does bring beauty from ashes.
I remember sitting in a grief recovery class and being told over and over that after 5 years life feels more normal. I was skeptical that whether it was one year or five years or fifty years I would ever feel normal again. Jeff would still be gone and I would still be alone. I remember being angry God would allow my children to grow up without a dad. I could see nothing in front of me but an empty place at the dinner table, an empty seat next to me at my son's baseball games and my daughter walking down the aisle without her daddy. I’m not going to lie. Grieving the loss of the love of my life and my best friend is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s still hard and it’s still a process but I can truly say my life is full of joy and promise. We have learned to make new traditions and new memories. We have learned to accept the grief when it comes, but to not let it knock us over. We have let ourselves love and be loved. Some of the people I didn’t know at the funeral are the people I sit with at the kids sporting events and school programs. Some of the dads have adopted my son and cheer for him in my husband's place. I don’t know who will walk my daughter down the aisle but I know the church will be full of people who love her. We recently took a trip to commemorate the fact God has been faithful and always provided and comforted us. We went back to Disney World for our five year victory tour.