I wrote a series of articles about my experience of understanding bereavement following the death of my husband last year and the difference that understanding made to the process of grieving. We’ve just passed the first anniversary of his death and I’ve been reminded again of the importance of understanding – understanding myself and my feelings, understanding those around me but also of not getting stuck in those feelings but keeping sight of the bigger picture.
It’s been a very difficult year with many additional challenges that I did not expect. Shortly after Stephen passed away my youngest daughter left home and, when I returned to work, I discovered that my job was redundant. Although there was another post I could have applied for I decided to take Voluntary Redundancy and have a completely fresh start. The Lord clearly led me to Halesworth to work in the church here; initially I came for 3 months and then decided to settle here. I put my house in Redcar up for sale and moved 300 miles into a lovely little cottage in the town. During that time my parents, who had previously been fit and well, both became ill, my father died in February and my mother was in hospital in Harrogate for 4 months. I have spent much of the year commuting between Halesworth, Harrogate and Redcar – I am familiar with every service station and speed camera on the A1!
I’ve seen the Lord’s provision for me so clearly throughout this year in many ways – in the provision of a lovely home in Halesworth, a church that has prayed for and supported me, work that is interesting and perfectly suited to my skills yet flexible enough to fit around my nomadic lifestyle. There have been instances too numerous to mention where I’ve experienced the Lord walking with me and guiding both me and my family – a potentially disastrous house sale due to a damming survey report that my next door neighbour decided to buy, the provision of a care home place at just the right time for my mother and a place at Bible College for my daughter and (eventually!) the necessary funding in place.
As I’ve written that, I’ve paused again to marvel at just how good the Lord has been and how clearly he has led me through this year but that isn’t the whole story and that is why I’m writing this. I’ve had some very dark and difficult patches during the year, times when it has felt like I’ve fallen into a dark pit and cannot see the way out. I have grieved for my husband and father and for the life that I’ve lost; it’s right to grieve and much of what I have felt has been understandable and part of a natural process but there have been other feelings, such as guilt, which get mixed in and can lead to everything feeling overwhelming and unmanageable and that is where understanding has been invaluable. Had I not had the opportunity to understand those dynamics, through talking with people who love me and listening to the Lord, I don’t think I would have been able to find my own way out of that pit of despair.
As I passed the anniversary of Stephen’s death and turned to face the prospect of the rest of my life on my own I had another dark patch, compounded by a trip north to visit family and friends which, although lovely, also contained many painful reminders. This time I didn’t take the opportunities to share my feelings and seek to understand them – and I suffered as a consequence, as did those who tried to help me. However I have learnt valuable lessons through the experience – I have seen the importance of acknowledging and understanding my feelings but not allowing them to define reality; my feelings only tell part of the picture, a small snapshot based on how I feel at any one time, but there is a much bigger picture which needs to be held in balance at all times. I’ve also realised again that God didn’t design me to be self-sufficient, that he has placed me in his family to be loved and cared for and that I need to allow people to love me – so I can, in turn, love others.
As I write this it is the 31st anniversary of the day we got married – there has been obvious sadness but I have been able to feel that sadness in the context of the bigger picture, of knowing that Stephen is with the Lord and that my life is in his hands and recognising God’s goodness to me. I’ve been able to feel the depth of the sadness but, by keeping the bigger picture in focus at the same time, it hasn’t overwhelmed me and it has reminded me again that understanding is a continual and very necessary journey.