Tomorrow marks five years since I last saw you and got to speak with you. The morning I left for work you did not feel well, battling what we thought was the flu. I am so sorry we did not know better. We actually talked on the phone just minutes before you apparently departed this world saying we should go to the hospital to check you out when I got home from work.
It is easy to get caught up in the “what ifs” of grief. What if I had left work earlier that day? What if you had gone to the doctor that morning? What if… However I have learned a lot of things during these last five years. I think you would be proud of me, Alan. I wanted to share some of my revelations in an open letter so others might see and be encouraged as they face their own sadness, fear, and grief in saying good-bye to a loved one.
I have learned that even though something hurts so much that you think you might not survive – you can. Those first few hours are still very much of a blur: the wonderful EMTs; the compassionate police, the neighbor who closed up the house, my friends who met me at the hospital and held me through the night when I cried. I remember just enough to still have nightmares and flashbacks at times. So I have stopped trying to relive those hours in order to figure everything out. It does not matter the exactness of my memories. It is enough to know that I did all I could for you and that friends stepped in and were there for me when it counted.
I have learned that while time does not heal all wounds, it does lessen the sharpness of the pain. The moments when I cannot breathe because the agony is too great have passed for the most part. Yet, the tears still flow – maybe more often than others think they should. But that is also something I have learned. No one else gets to tell you how to grieve. The way you mourn and face your sorrow and loss is your own. Be kind and offer grace to yourself as you learn how to live life a new way.
There are no formulas for getting through the death of a loved one. I remember a friend told me that it would take x amount of months to achieve wholeness again because we were married 26 years. I have long since passed that time limit. But I have learned that it is important to give yourself permission to handle grief your own way. As long as progress is being made on your grief journey, you are doing well. Just because someone else may have already moved on to dating and remarriage does not mean that you are failing a task. It simply means your journey is taking a different route.
I learned that I have strength. I also acknowledge that it does not come from within myself, but from God above. Calling and telling our sons of your death was probably the single worse task I have ever had to face. I had others with me at the time who offered to share the words in my place. But those were moments that we would all remember for a lifetime and they needed to come from me. So I did it. The next day it was incredibly difficult to look at pictures of caskets and choose one. Setting up your service was unbelievably hard since we had not once discussed what you would want. You were only 49 years old. Who thinks of those things at that age?
It was ridiculous the amount of time I spent in conversations and engaging in battle for my rights with your former employer to get what was rightfully mine from HR. But through all those conversations I learned that words matter. The way things are said make a difference. Kindness and compassion are missing from this world far too often. I have learned that if you can share these aspects with others, you must do so. You never truly know the path others are walking.
I have learned that having faith before your death, Alan, kept me from despair. While I still cried, was scared beyond comprehension, and required an incredible amount of help and guidance in those first few months, I knew that God was there for me, carrying me when I was too weak to continue on. He allowed me rest from exhaustion after nights of sleeplessness and comfort in the presence of darkness and continual nightmares.
Five years ago tomorrow marks a day that I have come to dread each year. It may be that way for the rest of my life. However, knowing ahead of time that it will be a hard day allows me to prepare for it. Writing an open letter this year has helped me process a little more. Taking the day off work tomorrow is my gift to myself. Sharing my journey with others not only helps me, but I pray provides a source of hope, help, and the beginning to healing that is needed in journeying through grief.
How do you close an open letter written to someone no longer here? I suppose by simply saying I love you still and miss you daily.
Until next time –
With the holidays approaching, Grief Letters makes the perfect gift for those walking through loss and sadness. This devotion book is filled with lessons learned from my own journey as well as suggested activities written to help achieve forward progress through grief. Place your order today!
Grief Letters By Karen Bransgrove, Published by WestBow Press. You can order here.
Hardcover | 6 x 9 in | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869674
Softcover | 6 x 9 in | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869667
E-Book | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869650
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