“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.” (Unknown)
Eighteen years ago today my beloved husband was laid to rest in a tiny cemetery in North Carolina. The part of my heart that belonged to Ray went into the grave with him that sunny, late-April afternoon. Several weeks later I placed a call to “Focus on the Family” to request materials on dealing with grief. In the midst of my conversation with the kind person who answered I said, “I feel like part of me is missing.” I’ll never forget her reply, both compassionate and oh-so-insightful: “During the time you were married you and your husband became one. Part of you is missing.”
Months passed and I was having yet another day where I was struggling with the pain of losing someone so dear. Sensing my sadness, the woman I was meeting with inquired about how I was coping. When I confessed how difficult some days were she introduced me to a concept I’ve held onto ever since. She suggested I envision a beautiful piece of furniture, a chest with many drawers, each containing memories and their associated emotions. She went on with the analogy saying, “When memories of your husband’s death arise at a time when you feel you aren’t able to deal with them, imagine tucking them into one of the drawers, closing it gently and re-opening it when you’re ready to do so.” I’ll admit there have been times when a drawer has sprung open and caught me off guard. Times when a memory has overwhelmed me and I’ve struggled to shut the drawer. But more often the mental image has served me well.
The week before and the week after the anniversary of Ray’s death I’m quite intentional about opening the drawer. I think about how we spent our last few days, oblivious to the fact our time together was winding down. I remember the day of his passing with such clarity it could have happened recently, not so long ago. And I recollect the days following, when I had to make decisions I never expected, much less wanted to make at such an early age. My reminiscences are deliberate and purposeful, a way to honor Ray as well as remind myself of lessons learned and affirmed by losing him, such as:
- The importance of numbering our days aright and keeping current in our relationships with those we hold dear.
- The need to keep things in perspective, saving emotional distress for things that can’t be “fixed,” no matter how much money or time you invest. (And its corollary: things can be replaced, people can’t be.)
- The ability of prayer to strengthen and support when raised up by myriad family members and friends on one’s behalf.
I’ve kept a journal for ages. On the night I returned home from the hospital, dazed and in a mild state of shock, I penned these words: “This is the worst day of my life up to this point – Ray, my dear, dear husband and friend died tonight. Even as I write it I don’t believe it. It will probably take time for the numbness to wear off, but when it does, Lord, please enfold Mary, Jessie and me in your love. I don’t understand this and I can’t even begin to imagine what my life will be like without him.” I was right. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like and to this day I don’t understand. But God heard my cry that night and many nights since. He’s been so faithful to me and my family, loving and sustaining us all the years we’ve been without Ray.
Which brings me to another point regarding the imaginary chest: it contains numerous drawers. Although some hold remembrances that evoke sadness, there are many more containing memories associated with great joy. I open those on a regular basis, reliving and savoring the moments, praising God for His goodness and grace. And each year when April 19th comes around, I remind myself I’m another year closer to once again seeing the man I was blessed to call my husband. The reunion is guaranteed because of the broken body and spilled blood of the One who instructed His followers to remember Him, His sacrifice, His promises. And so we wait in hope and assurance.