Daddy died May 14, 1960. He was 46; I was 16. He had been scheduled for open heart surgery the following week, to replace a heart valve damaged by the rheumatic fever that daddy contracted during WWII. He’d had several heart attacks and was looking forward to regaining his health. But he had another heart attack in the middle of the night and this time, he died.
It was the night of my 11th grade Junior Prom, which I had reluctantly attended with some boy I didn’t really know, and whose name I can’t recall to this day. I had spent that evening sad, not knowing why, just sad. I’m sure my date had a miserable time.
I never recovered. I began dating guys mother didn’t approve of, marrying Paul when I was 18, basically to get away from my unhappy mother. He was loving, he was kind, he would give anyone a helping hand or give them the shirt off his back – when he was sober. Unfortunately he was an alcoholic.
Mother died June 22, 1970. She had never recovered from Daddy’s death. She had become a full-fledged alcoholic, in and out of rehab, wrecking her car, hurting herself, attempting suicide several times over the next nine years. She shot herself in the head on June 28, 1969. It was my daughter’s 4th birthday. Her concerned pastor and other church friends sat in her living room, unaware of her plans as she walked out into the back yard and fired the shot.
She lived in a nursing home for nearly a year, eventually dying of pneumonia. Her beautiful hazel eyes were open but she was non-responsive, non-moving, although a friend told me years later that she went often to visit and was sure mother heard her as she read the Bible to her and prayed. She was sure mother responded to her questions with eye blinks. I seldom went to see her, never talked to her, thinking that she herself simply wasn’t there, lying so still on that hospital bed.
For many years after mother’s death, I had nightmares every few months. Really it was the same nightmare: Mother was missing. In the dreams I was looking for her everywhere, going from house to house, friend to friend, relative to relative, business to business. Mother’s car was still in her front yard, her purse was still there in the house, but she wasn’t there. Sometimes other people were helping me look for her, sometimes she had just vanished that day; other times I was the only one still looking, she had been gone for a long time. The content was always the same: Mother was missing.
(It wasn’t until shortly after Tim died that those nightmares stopped happening. One night Father God graciously gave me a vision of heaven where I saw Tim, Mother, and Daddy living and working, full of joy and eternal life. I never had another of those nightmares after that.)
I never recovered. My marriage fell apart when my husband and I couldn’t just make things work. Several years later I met and married Tim, a wonderful man. With the Lord’s help we faced many challenges, especially Tim’s health problems.
Tim died December 15, 2006. He fell at home, broke his leg near the hip, had surgery to repair it, had a heart attack in the recovery room and lived one day. No-one had thought Tim wouldn’t recover; he always recovered! He’d had so many health problems in his life, but he always recovered! Until that day.
I never recovered. For days, even weeks, I couldn’t sleep in a dark house. I turned on every overhead light, every lamp throughout the house and slept – although I didn’t sleep much – with the lights on. I couldn’t drive down certain streets in town, I would take various detours to avoid familiar streets. I couldn’t shop on certain aisles in the grocery store; that’s where I used to buy Tim’s favorite foods.
I couldn’t do medical transcription for a certain doctor’s practice any more. He had been Tim’s doctor; that was the waiting room where Tim would wait, listen to a little pocket radio, sometimes chat with other patients. I tried to continue but didn’t last more than a few days. I just couldn’t go into that waiting room, not even into that building. They said they understood.
Gradually I could turn off the lights at night, drive down those streets again, shop in those grocery aisles again. But there are still some things I don’t do. While a year later I donated most of Tim’s clothes to shelters, I have never thrown away some of Tim’s belongings. I kept a collection of his favorite neckties, ties I had bought for him. I kept his South Carolina ID card, his wallet, his cologne, his watch. I sleep in one of his undershirts.
People die. But grief? Grief never dies.
Some people will get this. Some won’t, the ones who think you’ll just “get over it.” Who say “Time heals all wounds.” No it doesn’t. Time may make the pain less, like a fading bruise. But underneath the invisible damage is still there, not throbbing as much but still there. Until…
I never recovered – but I did heal.
There is a solution to grief. Even if grief doesn’t die, God can heal all wounds. Father God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit know exactly how grief feels. Accepting their understanding, comfort and healing is how I have survived intact, one more day, one more week, one more year.
I began writing a blog about heaven some months after Tim died. Maybe reading through those posts will help somebody else. Here’s my favorite one: https://speakingofheaven.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/touching-base/