This post is written by my friend, Lori Hatfield Dickinson. Her words moved me, and I know several other people who could use them right now, so I asked her if I could share them with all of you.
As redbuds bloom and tulips turn their heads toward the sun, it’s bittersweet to think of the difference a year makes. It’s spring – literally and figuratively. After months of being quiet and reflecting, I feel a deep burden to write more honestly about my journey with God, grief and guilt.
Last year, fear was my constant companion. I saw spring as an ending. It was the end of a life I cherished with a man and family I dearly loved. There was no joy for us as the world bloomed because Michael was quickly fading.
Despite everything I said I believed at that time, I doubted God. I was mad. I was devastated. I made futile attempts to cut deals with Him, such as, “God, if you will just heal him, I will…” But mostly, I just felt abandoned.
Everything seemed like such a waste. A waste of a man with so much to give to the world – now unable to talk, to see, confused by simple instructions and confined to a chair. A waste of all the time investing in a marriage, a life, future plans that were not to be, all of which was compounded by the helplessness of watching my children lose their innocence without the ability to intercede. In March 2015, I wrote: “It’s as if we are standing on railroad tracks with a locomotive barreling toward us. I can’t stop it or move, so I’m constantly bracing for impact.”
It’s difficult to think anything good could come out having your heart being blown through your chest when you hold the lifeless body of the one you vowed to love and cherish the rest of your life. The primal cry from the depths of my heart when death came is something I will never forget.
In the ensuing days following the funeral I watched sunsets daily from Michael’s grave, sat in the darkness at night staring at his photo, read and re-read letters he wrote to me, smelled his clothes in the closet, and even at times, prayed the world would end. I was never alone, yet, I never felt more alone. Did I really believe there was a God and a Heaven? And if there was, where was He?
I began two “offline” journals. One, written directly to Michael. The first entry was the day he died.
June 15, 2015
You went to Heaven this morning.
I’m broken, lost, empty, alone.
I kissed you over and over.
I miss you.
For the first time since we met, you’re unreachable.
Our son is devastated. Grace is crushed.
I look toward where you’ve always been and the chair is empty.
I’m living my worst nightmare – I’m in a world you’re not in.
A little more than a week later I began a faith journal of sorts. It was a desperate attempt to work out whether God abandoned me or if I was the one who abandoned Him. I wrote to God…
June 26, 2015
When will you comfort me?
I am profoundly sad.
The truth is what I need most.
Give me understanding.
Be gracious to me.
Turn my heart.
Turn my eyes.
On June 30, 2015, I wrote and prayed this Psalms (31:10, 14-15):
I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Misery has drained my strength; I am wasting from within. But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying You are my God! My future is in your hands!
I wanted to wholeheartedly believe. I just couldn’t.
Contrast that with my entry to Michael on the same date…
June is gone and so are you… I think I smiled more than I cried today when I talked about you.
I count the hours throughout the day – they go so slow. I like the days best where I sleep. I’m seeking God’s will. It’s my only hope for peace in all this. I wish I could be with you.
One day at a time sounds trite, but it’s true. God began opening doors before I even knew they were there. Through the journaling, sleepless nights, questions and tears – He slowly softened my heart. So many years I “served” God out of fear, obligation and pride. But, I didn’t truly know Him, love him, believe Him like I thought I did. It’s not always a priority to build a relationship with God when the world seems right. Now, I was desperate. And as a parent holds a heartbroken child – I started to feel God everywhere.
As I read my posts and journal entries I can see the progression I couldn’t see in the midst of the storm. I wrote only the following words on Sept. 1, 2015, from 19th century pastor Charles Spurgeon in my faith journal that resonates today…
“Don’t you know day dawns after night, showers displace drought and spring and summer follow winter? Then, have HOPE! Hope forever, for God will not fail you.”
God did not fail me, despite my disbelief.
He comforted me through Bible readings, books, church, people and prayer. He still does. He changed my heart and my priorities. I no longer view the world or problems the way I did before. A friend shared God was working faster in some areas in my life than others to make himself so obviously known I couldn’t deny Him. Maybe my heart was truly closed off that much.
In November, I wrote for the last time in Michael’s journal. The words captured what I’ve wrestled with and still do – the guilt associated with my disbelief, grief and survivor’s guilt:
Nov. 10, 2015
Passed our anniversary and approaching five months and the holidays. I don’t feel you around much anymore, but I’m hopeful you’re well.
I feel guilty for living and being able to love again. It doesn’t replace you, but I’m happy. That is a miracle… I’ve cleaned out the closet and I’m getting ready to remodel. I need the house to be different, the space to be new. I’m still sad when I think of you being so sick and the way you died. But, you have taught me how gracefully it can be done.
When I read back I remember all the feelings and emotions, but I also see how far I’ve come. While I may not feel you near, I do know God is, and my life is not finished.
I will never forget you. Your work here was finished, your legacy is big, and your memory will always live on in our lives through the love we now carry forward.
My pastor asked the question from a series titled, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense:” What if the scene of our greatest disappointment was the setting for our greatest moment? He used the illustration of Lazarus’s story – how with God, a waiting season is never a wasted season and God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials.
Waiting is never wasted… It’s a paradigm shift for me. Waiting began on Sept. 27, 2013: Waiting on test results, waiting on radiation, waiting on chemotherapy, waiting on doctor appointments, waiting on planes, waiting on MRIs, and then, waiting on death. The time that passes after a terminal diagnosis is at a much different pace. Time passes quickly up to the point of death, then, it crawls – a day is a week, a week is a month and a month is a year.
However, waiting is not wasted when spring comes forth from winter. The trees roots are a little deeper and the world comes alive anew and refreshed.
It is difficult to bless and release the guilt of disbelief I carried in my heart for God through much of Michael’s illness; the guilt of being happy more than sad, seeing another spring… And yes, a measure of guilt for being in love with someone who knows my pain and walks the same path I do. That, in and of itself, could only be a gift from God.
But even as I wrestle with guilt and grief, I feel hope in the depths of my heart and soul.
Hope that God truly answered my prayer of healing for Michael in his perfect way and will.
Hope, that despite my actions, He didn’t or will never abandoned me.
And in surviving an experience I’d pictured to be unsurvivable – Hope that He isn’t finished with me yet.
If you would like to read more of Lori’s writings, you can check out her blog here: www.thesuburbwoman.com