Seven Years Later

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Two years later and I still hate the word widow. Two years later and the grief, although much different than it once was, is still there. Two years have brought with it a lot of new firsts that you weren’t here for and that makes me sad. Two years later, I’m still angry at you for leaving me like you did.

Two years later, there is hope for a new tomorrow. Two years later, my faith in God is stronger than its ever been. Two years have brought with it countless times that I’ve been able to share my story and, along with it, hope. Two years later, I have someone in my life who wants to help me remember the good times with you and also makes me realize I will be able to love again.

Two years later, you are missed and loved by all who knew you.

I wrote this five years ago.

I should probably back up.

Seven years ago on this date, my late husband, Paul, died by suicide exactly one year and two days after his youngest daughter died in a car accident. After her death, he relapsed in his recovery and spent most of the year soothing his grief with alcohol. He completely shut me out and couldn’t get himself to AA’s first step in getting help: “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

On the day of his death, we had separated. The night before was the first time I felt physically unsafe with him and I can vividly remember the fear I felt until he eventually passed out. I was surprised that he was the one to suggest a separation. At the time, I thought it was because he finally understood how his drinking affected me. After he died, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was already making plans to die. He moved into a townhouse that we were trying to sell. That afternoon, he shut himself in the garage with his car and motorcycle running. After he left me a voicemail in error, I thought there might be something wrong and called 911. Paul was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late.

At the time, I didn’t see it coming. When I look back, I can clearly see the signs, but that is largely due to educating myself on suicide. His death turned my world upside down. No, that’s not strong enough. It shredded my world into tiny pieces, set those pieces on fire, and then scattered the ashes in hundreds of different places to make sure I could never put my life back together again. Or at least not my life as I knew it.

When I look at what I wrote five years ago, it seems like a lifetime ago and that’s probably because it kind of has been. Since then my mom died (a little less than 15 months after Paul died), I have completed half of my Master of Divinity (and in the process changed what I believe about and how I related to God), married Jason (one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – he saves my life every day), moved to Arizona, become a pastor, and am getting ready to finish my degree.

I’m not the same person I was five years ago.

But yet I am.

The grief is still there. Different but still there. I still have feelings about Paul dying by suicide, but it’s more sadness than anger these days. What I do still get angry about is that around this time every year, my thoughts are consumed by what was going on in 2014. About how Paul’s drinking made me feel very unsafe. About how much his actions affected my health. About how his addiction had rooted itself so firmly in his life (and mine by association) that neither of us had any hope.

It’s the absence of hope that is the scariest when I think back seven years ago. How, in the moment, it felt like things were never going to get any better. How I had resigned myself to always having a knot in my stomach because of the stress I felt when he drank.

If you’ve ever lived without hope, you know how dark it gets. Hope is often the only thing that makes life bearable. It gets us through the troubled times. Well, hope, medication, a good support system, and a good therapist. For me, that hope is found in the light of God’s love, mercy, and grace. But up until Paul died, my hope was shallow. I used to believe that my relationship with God meant that everything would turn out ok. It does not always turn out ok.

Side note: Christian siblings, we must stop selling a bill of goods that says Christianity magically cures all ills. Life will always be difficult. Stop telling people otherwise.

But even when life is not as I imagined, when I have difficult times that suck the life out of my soul, I can almost always find hope. I find it in Scripture. I find it in the suffering of Jesus knowing that he didn’t deserve the suffering he endured. I find it in my relationship with my partner because he is a constant source of comfort and encouragement. I find it in the cards I receive from my congregation members or pictures that I get from the kids in my church. I find hope in the people that are fighting injustice. I find it in the treats that sometimes get delivered to my office. I find it in the texts from friends checking in on me.

I decided to updated what I wrote five years ago.

Seven years later, I don’t think of you as much and sometimes I feel guilty about that. Seven years later, I still wonder what you were thinking when you finally decided to die. Seven years later, I am still sad that you were hurting so much that you believed death was the only answer. Seven years later, I still wish you would have left a note.

Seven years later, I am working through the trauma that was caused by your actions. Seven years later, I am married to a man who understands that trauma and loves me through the ugly times. Seven years later, I’m living out my calling calling as a pastor which includes talking about mental health, suicide, and addiction because your death made me realize that we don’t talk about those things in church. And I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to suffer in silence like I did. Seven years later, I can look back on my journey and see that I am far stronger than I give myself credit for.

Seven years later, you are still loved and missed by all who knew you.

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson

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