And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. And God shall wipe away all tears and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain. Rev. 21.
It started out like any other fall day on Folly Beach, South Carolina. It was a beautiful cool November morning. However, this would not be an ordinary day for me or my family. It will be a day etched in the memory of our minds forever.I could not perceive what was about to happen. My husband and I had arisen early. He was his usual jovial self that morning. He whistled while he shaved. He took a shower and I could hear him singing an old George Jones song that we both loved. He stopped loving her today, they placed a wreath upon his door,
I could hear him croon in his wonderful bass voice with that rich Tennessee accent. I thought about this later and wondered why he had chosen this particular song to sing. We ate our breakfast, cleared the table and waited for the plumber to arrive. Jack had planned to drive to the Citadel , his college alma mater, to get some pictures they had taken when he was inducted into the Arland Williams Society just ten days ago. I planned to wait at the beach house while the plumbers worked on the dishwasher. I could hear Jack laughing and talking to the men. He loved to hear the Geechie brogue that some Charlestonians have and these guys certainly had it.
He casually walked out on the screen porch where I was painting a gift for my friend’s birthday. It was November 22, 2005. I don’t know why but I felt like a young girl when he came out and talked to me, like he was flirting with me as he had so many years ago. I could feel my face blush at his quiet laughter, but for some reason I didn’t look past his eyes. He said he would be leaving soon and wouldn’t be gone long. A few minutes later, I heard a thud come from the dining room. I thought the plumbers had dropped the dishwasher when I heard one of them yell, “Ms. John, Ms John, Mr John has fallen.”
I ran out and saw my sweet loving husband laying on the floor, his breath knocked out of him. We turned him over and I felt for a pulse. It was faint, but still there. He was alive. The nurse in me kicked in and I started CPR. I could feel his spittle on my lips and I knew that he was slipping away. I prayed and I told him not to leave me, but I knew when I saw his fixed pupils that he had already gone. I couldn’t figure out how to use the phone that I had used a million times before. I threw it at the plumber and yelled dial 911. When the ambulance finally arrived, I knew it was too late and he had already gone over the rainbow bridge. It was like a kaleidoscope circling the room. Everything was moving way too fast and my brain couldn’t keep up. I felt as if I was watching a movie and could see myself in it. I wanted to turn it off and have it go away. Jesus, God, I screamed in my brain, please don’t let this be happening.
My sister arrived and she drove me to the hospital. I wondered how she knew. Did I call her? Did I call my kids? I could not remember doing any of that. I kept telling her that my Jack was dead. “No,” she would reply. I said, “You don’t hear any sirens going on the ambulance do you? Now that’s a sure sign.” She kept telling me to think positive, but I already knew the answer.
When we arrived at the ER, they escorted us into a private room to wait for the Doctor to come in and talk to us. I had used that line many times as an ER nurse, “The Doctor will be here in a minute to talk to you.” What they meant was, your husband is dead and he is coming to tell you that. Another sure sign. I had been an emergency room nurse for over twenty years, I knew how these things went. I was not wrong. They took me back to the cubicle where he lay. I caressed his hair for what seemed like hours. I couldn’t move, I didn’t want to move. I wanted to stay by his still warm body forever, maybe God would come revive him. “PLEASE GOD, “ I screamed in the portals in my mind. It was if I was in a bad nightmare watching all of this from a distance. I wanted to wake up and leave this horror behind. I didn’t want to see what was in front of me. This man whom I had adored since I was eighteen years old was gone from this earth. This man who was my soul mate, my husband, my best friend, my companion, my critic, my lover, the father of our children, my destiny, was no more. I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know how to feel.
Someone began to talk about organ donations, I could hear her voice, but could not distinguish her words which seemed to go on forever. Don’t ask me about his organs, he’s going to need those organs. I’m not giving anything away.
I don’t think I was very nice to my family, friends or anyone I came close to those next few days. My brain was numb and my heart was broken. I could not conceive that he was really gone. This man who was bigger than life, who had so much passion for the things that he loved, how could he be gone? People kept saying that he was in a better place. I didn’t want to hear that, I wanted him here with me. This was the better place. Couldn’t they see that? God didn’t need him, I did.
Three of my high school girl friends came to the house and prayed with me. These friends I had known since I was five years old. They hugged me and made me feel blessed. I don’t remember what they said, but I remember their generosity. That was a blessing.
The days that followed were like a blur. We got through two memorial services with the grace of God. Our children were fantastic. They took charge and led me through the rituals although I know their hearts were just as broken as mine was but I could not help them. I was not capable of helping myself.
I worried about everything. He had always wanted to be cremated. I worried that I was sentencing him to hell fire and damnation until our minister asked me what I thought happened to your soul when you died. My answer was it leaves your body and goes to heaven. He said, “That’s your answer, the body is just a vessel for the soul.”
I was sad that we didn’t have a chance to say good-bye. A few nights after he died, he came to me in a dream and kissed me good-bye. It was so real, that I awaken expecting him to be laying beside me. God had given me a gift.
Later on, I worried about whether he had gone to heaven. I was on a women’s retreat walking the grounds on our solitude time. I simply asked God to show me a sign. I just needed to know for sure. I looked up in the sky and the clouds made a formation that said YES. I knew I had worried for nothing.
I prayed that I would find some writing or something that said how much he loved me even though I knew that he had. He showed me every day that we were together and why would I ever doubt that now. My sister ran across a letter that he had written to my parents telling them that I meant the world to him and that it was almost unbearable to be away from me for any length of time. God had humored me once again.
Weeks passed, then months. I felt like half my heart was missing and would be forever broken. I could not stop crying. I think my tears could have filled up the entire Atlantic Ocean and made it overflow. My family and friends were wonderful to me, but they were not the person that I really wanted. The physical pain that accompanied my mourning was almost unbearable. I literally ached so deep that it is impossible to explain. I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt. No one would possibly believe me, so I suffered alone. Only those who have lost a spouse that they adored will understand. Down deep, I was mad at the world. I wanted my life back, the life I had with my husband. I ached for that life. I ached for his touch, his voice, even his bad habits. I had spent nights alone when he was traveling for his job, but these alone nights were so much different. I knew he would not be coming home on Friday or Wednesday night or ever. I enclosed his pillow case in a plastic bag. I feared that I would lose that smell of him. I made mental images of what he looked like. I kept the only voice mail that I had that he left me ten days before. I listened to it over and over again.
I knew in my heart, that I had to do something to get me out of this funk that I was in, but I was too afraid to let go of the pain. If I did, somehow, I felt like I would let go of him. So I reveled in my pain, I took joy in my pain, I wanted it to hurt so bad that every memory I had of him would remain in my painful brain. It was as if someone had written graffiti in my mind and the walls were so jumbled up, I could not read it. I would catch a glimpse every so often. I did pray a lot. I prayed more than I ever had in my entire life. I kept asking for His love, His guidance. Tell me what to do dear Jesus, tell me what to do.
I blamed myself for not being able to revive him the day he was stricken, but I didn’t tell anybody that. I could not. I was too ashamed. Somehow, my nursing skills became sub-par. I had always prided myself that I was a good nurse. I couldn’t even remember how to dial the phone to call 911. Maybe I did the CPR wrong. Did I breathe the right amount of breaths in him? Were the compressions strong enough? Lord, forgive me. Jack, forgive me. I let you down. I had helped save many people in the ER during my career and yet, I couldn’t save the one person that I loved the most in the entire world. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.
Finally, through many weeks of Grief Share, I began to see a tiny light at the end of the tunnel. I began to volunteer at the Gate House, sitting with dying patients. I did this for myself as much as for them. I had not been given the privilege of being able to hold my husband’s hand or wipe his brow while he prepared his journey into the next life, but I could do it for others. I read scriptures to them and told them how much they were loved and that death was not to be feared, I would stay with them to the end, they would not be alone. God began to speak to me in the strangest of ways. My daughter and I were invited by a friend to meet her for lunch. Upon arrival, I saw another widow friend eating alone. I remarked to her, “How do you do this? Eat alone in a restaurant? I don’t think I can do that by myself.” She told me that I would get use to it. God spoke to me that day and I started a group for Widows. No one should have to dine alone unless they want to. I wanted to have a Social group for Widows. We could help each other and I knew that I needed this help. I kept hearing God’s voice in my head. I spoke to my Pastor about my idea. He had been praying for years that someone would start a group like this, so I did. God led me to do all of these things.
Slowly, I began to realize that only through forgiving myself, would I survive, only by helping others, would my life change. God had forgiven me, then why couldn’t I forgive myself. Two years passed and I was still grieving his death. It consumed my entire soul. I decided to go back to Folly Beach that winter for a month. I felt like I had left him there and I needed to go back and say goodbye. So I rented a condo and drove myself there. It was a spiritual retreat for me. I prayed and cried and remembered all the things we had done in our life time together. I told my husband how much I loved him and I knew he would want me to build a life without him in it. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he would always be a part of my life. You could not erase fifty-four years of being together. I now had a life without him, a good life, not a better life or a worse life, but a different one. I had been mourning for something that could never be again, the life I had with him. I tried blaming everyone and everything for his death, but that month watching the Atlantic Ocean that I loved, ebb and flow with the changing tides, made me realize that things are constantly changing. I became at peace with my life. I knew that God would never forsake me, He was my constant, my rock, my salvation, my life line. All was well with my soul. It was time for me to change my way of thinking. I knew that God wanted me to use the life that I had left to be a blessing to others, just as He had blessed me and believe me, I have been richly blessed.
When the month was over, I packed my car and headed back to Pennsylvania. Through the car window, I saw the palmetto trees swaying in the breeze, singing with the ocean; the skyline of Charleston with its beautiful churches standing tall and majestic. As I crossed over the Ashley River Draw Bridge, I could see the turrets of The Citadel where my husband went to college and thought of the many times we were in a hurry to make our school deadline and got caught by this bridge letting a sailboat go through. I could see the yacht club where we would go on dates and dance to the music of Perry Como and MUSC where I went to nursing school; the live oak trees with their branches gracefully touched by spanish moss; the smell of plough mud penetrated my nostrils; sailboats with their sails blowing in the wind; the grace and charm of this magnificent city where I had been raised, where I had fallen in love and left for my man. As I reached the last landmark of the city, the Ravenel Bridge that lazily spanned the Cooper River, I realized that we had made unforgettable memories here. This city contained a special time for us when we met and fell in love. We would return to this magical city again and again, each time we would feel something special, something that we felt when we went on our first date. I think we knew at that moment that we were bound together forever, that it was our destiny. Somehow, as those memories flooded my mind, I knew at that moment that I would be okay. God had whispered in my ear and my heart was full again.
People have this idea that grief should last for a specific amount of time. I can tell you that it does not work that way. It has been almost ten years since that day that will be forever etched in my mind, the day that my husband went to be with His maker. There are times that I still grieve for him. It may be a song that I hear on the radio or a joke that I think he might like, or I see a man wearing a baseball cap riding his bike, or when I see one of my sons use a jester or smile or walk with his swagger, or my daughter have that same intensity that was his that I am reminded of him. Do I cry bucket of tears like I use to? No, I do not. I sometimes feel a mist come into my eyes when these things occur. I still miss him every single day, but God has shown me the light at the end of the tunnel and has helped me through that long dark tunnel, sometimes carrying me, sometimes with His arms around me and always holding my hand. I know that He has other plans for me to do His work. I pray that I can always hear HIs voice and heed His word. I fall on my knees and thank Him for the great love of my life and for the memories that we shared. I feel so grateful that we wasted little of our time together being out of tune with each other. For my friends that still have their husbands, my advice to you is to love them every day, be kind to them and enjoy each moment that you have together. Don’t waste your time with trivial things that mean nothing in the scope of things. My husband and I did that so I have no regrets on that score. My Momma had given me a small piece of advice when we married, “Don’t ever go to bed mad.” We never did.
Daily prayer taught me to forgive myself for not being able to keep him alive. It was time for him to go. God had other plans for my sweet husband and for me. I may continue to grieve for him until I am able to join him in heaven, but my life will go on and I will try to be a blessing to others just as God has blessed me. So please don’t be critical when you meet a widow who ten or fifteen years after her husband’s passing is still in a state of grief until you have walked in her shoes. It is not the same for everyone. Some people can get over it in six weeks or six months, some people cannot. There is no guide for how long we get to grieve.
I sometimes look up in the clouds and I can see his face and I smile. Life is good. I was given the opportunity to love someone beyond measure, to the moon and back and then some. I was one of the blessed ones who had a husband who loved me the same way. As my granddaughter says when I say, “I love you to the moon and back.” She answers, “I love you more.” Then we both say, “Impossible.” This is how much I loved my husband, my Jack, the other half of my heart, my destiny. I know he is in a better place now. One day I will join him there, but for now, I will live the life that God has planned for me, praising His name and doing whatever He asks me to. God works through you. For I know now that the joy of giving, is the joy of living. God is good. God is good all the time.
My heart is broken, all laughter gone,
Tears stream done my cheek, I feel so alone
I hear a bird’s song on a snowy winter’s day,
Christ has spoken to me in His very own way.
All is well, all is well, all is well with my soul.
Time goes by, Oh Lord I pray,
Help me through another day
I see a hyacinth come through the earth,
It makes me smile, I forget my hurt.
Each day, God put a blessing in my life,
Healing and protecting me from days of strife.
Thank you Lord, for all you have done for me, I pray.
Suddenly and gently I hear a voice inside me say,
All is well, all is well, all is well with my soul.