My husband and I are on our way back home, after spending time with my brother-in-law, Jim, during his last days on this earth. His journey across the divide was shorter than any of us ever expected. We felt blessed to be able to say our “Farewells” and assure him of our love. My sister was by his side when he breathed his last.
After the initial shock, we helped my sister, her children, and grandchildren plan the memorial service and together we grieved the loss of a great husband, loving father and grandfather, brave fire fighter, loyal friend, gentle servant, and generally funny guy.
As I attempted to ease back into some semblance of normalcy, I logged into my Facebook newsfeed and was greeted by this quote from St. John Paul II, “I plead with you – never ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”
I know that many of you may call this “coincidence.” Some of you may say that it is an “ironic happenstance.” Still others may say it is just “pure chance” and that, if I had been greeted by any other quote, my broken heart would have found a way to relate it to this recent loss.
Believe what you will, for me, these words have touched my brokenness with love and reassurance, like no other could.
When someone you have loved for over 54 years passes from this life, the loss has deep physical repercussions. For the last ten days, though I feel profoundly exhausted, my sleep has been fitful. There is a physical sensation in the center of my chest that I can only describe as a heavy emptiness. Symptoms of acid reflux have amped up and tears always seem to be just below the surface during any conversation. The mention of his name, and even the most happy memory puts a lump in my throat and pressure behind my eyes. I feel slightly off-balance and easily distracted. It is difficult to accept the fact that I will no longer see him or speak with him in a physical sense.
My usual daily routine has been everything but normal. I have been trying to nurture my sister as she learns to carry the pain of her widowhood, to be a gentle companion as she attempts to get through this dark forest of grief. In some ways it is the blind leading the blind, but I truly believe the old adage “a burden shared is a burden lightened.”
While it is true that we have lost our parents and many beloved relatives and friends, this loss is different. It is a loss that has stripped away great chunks of her confidence and energy. It is a loss that is felt every time she opens the door to an empty house. It will be experienced each time she gets into the car they bought to accommodate his increasing medical needs. It will fill her days and nights in ways that no one but she will truly understand. Still I hope that when those times come, she feels our love and realizes that though she is lonely, she is not alone.
For now, Jim’s laughter and off-beat sense of humor are conspicuously missing. We all tell ourselves that one day his spirit of joy will again well up in our hearts and shine through our own eyes, but right now we are numb, exhausted, and hurting. Right now, hope is all we have. We are contending with the temptations of doubt, discouragement, and fear. We are leaning on the foundation of our faith and the love of friends and family.
Into the midst of this darkness, today a light has shown. It was like standing in a pitch-black room being fearful of stumbling when a ray of light illuminates the familiar and comfortable surroundings. In my heart I feel Jim reaching through the veil. It is his voice saying, “Never ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”
Okay, Jim, I hear you!!