When our nephew passed away suddenly in 1999 I remember his mother describing how the grief would come in waves. I grieved for James then and it did come in waves, sometimes when I least expected it. But, losing my husband, my life partner, my counselor, the man with whom I spent more than half my life, the man I loved more than any other brings an emotion much more profound than grief. As I wander through my days in a haze I am reminded of a time I was caught in a rip current while swimming in Lake Erie as a teen. I wasn’t far from shore and I don’t remember all the details, I just remember being pulled under every time I tried to surface. I eventually did surface and swam to shore to my friends. No one knew what I’d been through.
Since that experience I’ve learned that freeing oneself from a rip current requires a tremendous amount of energy and strength. Poor swimmers are especially vulnerable to drowning in these circumstances. Others say not all currents will come back around toward shore. Whatever the situation, they’re all fighting for their lives. There are many articles on how to survive a rip current, most of which give the same instructions: stay calm and swim parallel to or diagonally toward shore. One researcher suggested just allowing the current to take you because it would eventually circle back around toward shore. While many disagree with his suggestion, I’ve decided that it is the best approach to handling my grief.
All researchers and rescuers agree that one should stay calm. Panic and agitation will only make it more difficult to break free. This past year has had so many ups and downs with emotions ranging from complete despair to extreme hopefulness. Every time Doug had a crisis with his health, anxiety assaulted me and pushed me into action on his behalf. When Doug was feeling more normal and coasting along I could relax and enjoy spending time with him. When his scans showed that he was improving in January we were both so hopeful and resolved to continue the treatment course. But that’s when things started to become difficult again. I look back on it now as the start of his decline. However, I clung to the hopefulness gained from those scans and invested every ounce of energy I had into his care. Still, he had setback after setback and by the time he went back to the hospital only four days after coming home from rehab I was utterly exhausted. When the doctor told me on Monday there was nothing left to do but to make him comfortable I accepted it without question. For the next 24 hours, surrounded by family and friends, we waited for him to pass into the Lord’s presence. It was the culmination of a year’s struggle pared down to a single moment in time. He was here, then he was gone.
During this past year, as I grappled with my emotions, the Lord brought me to a passage in Isaiah several times. I took that as a clear sign He wanted me to learn something from it. Chapter 43: 1-3a states, “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;’” For many months I claimed the promise of these verses thinking Doug would survive his cancer. Frankly, I had no reason to think otherwise. Since he entered the Lord’s presence my perspective has changed…drastically.
I realized I had been focusing on “the waters shall not overflow you” part and believed Doug would be healed in this life. After all, God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through on dry ground. I felt He would do the same for Doug. What I neglected to notice was the part about God being with me. I mean, in my mind, I understood the promise. I claimed it especially as it relates to my salvation, but I didn’t fully understand it until I had to face the reality of life without Doug. So here my grief assaults me, threatening to pull me under and carry me away as I struggle to get out of bed in the morning and face the challenges of the day. Who knew it could be so hard to wash and dry one load of clothes? But as I feel it pulling me under, only now am I able to look toward God, accept the calming assurance that He is with me in all things. The grief won’t carry me away to oblivion if I cling to the promise that I am His and He is with me. Does it make it any easier? Not really, but it does make it bearable. And it makes me appreciate all the people who have walked the road and told me with confidence, “It does get better.” I’m counting on it.