The year of "Firsts"
I thank my God every time I remember you.
~ Philippians 1:3
Yesterday while out visiting several hospice patients, I stopped to visit the wife of one of my patients who died just before Christmas. As I knocked on the kitchen door coming in from the garage (Those of us who grew up in the country understand coming in the side door of the house. Only strangers knock or ring the front door bell.) I heard her familiar voice call from the other room to enter. When I said her name, she came from the other room, arms open, and hugged me. "I've missed you!"
We sat in the kitchen, surrounded by cabinets that her husband had made by hand in his workshop, and we drank coffee as the sun filled the space.
When I asked how she was doing, she shared that she was having "Good days and bad."
She pointed to an overturned coffee cup next to the coffee maker. "That's his cup. I haven't had the heart to touch it," and she began to cry.
For nearly fifty years he would begin the day by taking his coffee cup, turning it right side up, and drinking from it throughout the morning as he worked on a number of things on the farm. When he was done with his coffee, he would then rinse out his cup, dry it off, and then place it back in it's original space, upside down. "That's how I would know that he was done with coffee for the day and I wouldn't make any more. It was our system," she continued.
The coffee cup still sat in the same place since the last time that he had used it.
"I suppose I'm waiting to walk in the room and find it turned upright again. I just can't seem to find a way to do anything with it right now."
We talked about grief, and how grief shows up in many ways. She even reminded me that, "Time doesn't heal all wounds. It just gives us space."
Losing someone we have loved deeply can paralyze us. People, like this couple who have been together for over fifty years, become a part of one another.
I remember how paralyzed my great grandfather became after over seventy five years of marriage, and the death of my great grandmother. He literally died of a broken heart just a few months later.
When someone close to us dies, our thinking, feeling and actions change. When someone we love dies, a part of us often dies as well.
Like this woman I spent time with yesterday, she is about to enter the year of "Firsts," as she shared. The first Christmas, New Years, birthday, anniversary, and a number of other holidays that will now be the first without her husband.
I always remind folks that grief is a lifelong journey. Sometimes it takes that first whole year of "Firsts" before our hearts can fully say good-bye, and the initial pain of grief begins to recede.
For many of us, we soon discover that these losses serve as a spiritual guide for us as well. It's not that they are no longer with us. They are now part of eternity that directs and draws us closer to God.
As I prepared to leave yesterday, I was reminded of the words, "Blessed are those who mourn."
Because God knows our hearts, God also knows our pain. When we mourn, God mourns with us. By allowing for our mourning, God then allows us also to know God's consolation.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2019
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Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.