“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”—J.R.R. Tolkien.
Gandalf is right.
Frodo is too.
I wish it—our unimaginable loss—need not have happened in our time.
Even when we need to grieve.
We can decide to honor our waves of grief, too
It’s not an easy choice, but we get to decide all the same.
Like I get to decide if I get up every day and make my bed. Or I get to decide not to.
There’s no one formula for how a person chooses to or needs to grieve. I am curious why do we tell each other how to be grieve—be strong, check the boxes, do this, do that, and move on?
Many years ago, I heard the best most life giving words after a loss. They were, “May you take all the time you need to heal and grieve.” I have sent them to countless grievers ever since.
May we take all the time we need to grieve and heal.
I hold those words close to my heart.
Two weeks ago, I piled the kids and suitcases in the car, we hit the road to a few familiar places in a faraway land.
We drove over 1800 miles to find solitude, silence, peace, healing, adventure, sunshine, warmth, and rest. We wanted to just BE as we processed through many things.
Despite the need for silence and because we were moving and grooving “to the heights,” (ode to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati) and thrill-seeking kind of people, there was hardly much silence or rest except when I was driving that one long stretch home, and the kids were all fast asleep.
So there was a few—albeit rare—moments of silence in our 10 days on the road.
But I’m learning being in a place that restores us doesn’t need to be silent, and rest isn’t only defined by sleeping or lying around.
Also, grief is an extremely exhausting process. Grief is such an unexplainable, indescribable thing that affects everything.
We needed to get away from the world and the demanding noise to continue to process all of it.
I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone what “all of it” is.
But for those who are new to my recent weaving of words—brain cancer, loss (my mom and then my husband,) and more tumor progression and symptoms and stroke and seizures, and hospital stays and college kids balancing living away, graduation, and burying our beloved Jon, my husband of 25 years and father to our four kiddos is the “all of it” that has consumed the majority of our last three years.
You may have a story, circumstances, or a loss you are processing, too.
Maybe we won’t be processing forever.
But for sure, the gaping hole—where my love once stood in my home and heart—will always be there. The “all of it” was not something we got to decide. We didn’t choose any of it. As Frodo said, “I wish it need not happened.”
But it did, so we can choose how to move forward in our time.
That choice includes living while also riding the waves of emotions that ebb and flow or rush in like a tidal wave while also trying to rebuild a new life parenting these kids without my partner and running a home we bought together and where we dreamed many beautiful dreams.
A young widow friend said the other day, “This is a permanent alteration of your life. It will take a long time to fully process the magnitude of it.” Harsh truth we are grappling with.
I also know we are not made for this world. We are Easter People.
But it does not change the fact that our lives are forever changed.
What a Juxtaposition.
I’ll always long for heaven—now more than ever. I know it feels as backwards as seeing this truck on the highway to long for Heaven while choosing to live. But half my heart and soul left me for there—Heaven—far too soon.
We’re left wondering how on earth we’ll get through.
So I decide to lift my eyes toward Heaven and him (Jon) and Him (God). I have remind myself many times as I wake each day “head up and feet down.” It’s how I decide to grieve and pursue each day.
The sting and pain may lessen over time.
Maybe it won’t.
Maybe it’s too soon—just 9 weeks when writing this—to really know anything about grieving a loss of this magnitude, AND we’ve already been processing this loss long before Jon took his last breath.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati lived his short holy life knowing and living, “Verso L’Alto—the higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ.” This is why Verso L’Alto has resonated a lot throughout our journey. Our lives here are only temporary and our suffering can be our journey to sanctification.
We anticipated it since the first day of diagnosis, July 2020, even when we didn’t focus on an outcome we couldn’t predict.
And we can never truly understand how anticipating a permanent loss will manifest itself.
Grief is an incredibly complicated and messy thing. It is a complicated path.
But we knew this was a life-limiting disease.
So we did our best to turn down the noise and set aside the unnecessary parts of life and focused only on living in the moment and supporting Jon as he lived with brain cancer and prepared for his journey to his eternal home in the last several months. We decided how to live in the time we had and live life to the fullest as best as we could with and for Jon.
It seemed more than appropriate the kids and I needed to get far away in the last few weeks. I would choose farther away land, but it isn’t in the cards for us right now.
I already feel like I live far away from the life I once knew.
Maybe someday, I’ll make a dream come true—the one Jon and I dreamed for so long. But that dream will never be the same, anyway, not without the other half of my flesh to see it through.
The trip the kids and I took the past two weeks was more than we could have asked for because we chose how we would live with the time we had.
We made new memories while frequently reminiscing about old ones. We went on thrilling adventures, opened a window into the past, walked miles down memory lane, and lived very much in the moment while finding joy.
Thankfully, we still remember to laugh, dance or belt out tunes.
We had deep conversations, recounted traditions, and prayed over every meal for our food and the souls of the faithful departed.
We allowed tears to flow in front of one another and sometimes unexpectedly to perfect strangers. Big surprise!!!
We ate familiar fare and indulged in a few treats. We searched for cake—we didn’t eat these cupcakes. We talked too much and sometimes grated each other’s nerves while we chafed our feet from the miles we walked.
We trekked no less than 5 miles a day and sometimes more than 8 as the sweat glistened upon our faces.
We could have filled buckets with both sweat and tears. The week’s most memorable and hysterical phrase was: “I couldn’t get my face to stop crying. I am not sure if it was sweat or tears.”
It was hot as Hades, so likely it was sweat mixed with tears.
So we fell silent, allowing tears and the pool to cleanse and refresh.
Silence and solitude can bear good fruit, even when our corner of the world is noisy. The solitude is necessary to ground us as we still feel untethered.
We will likely feel this way for a long time—maybe not forever.
Only God knows the timing of that. I long ago gave up on trying to predict unpredictable things.
I have decided to stay in the moment unless we reflect back to search our hearts and precious memories.
We took a step back in time and talked about the future even if we had no idea where to begin. So we decide to start with one day at a time because we know God makes all things new.
We retold stories of years gone by and took some photos in some familiar old spots.
Oh, the sweet memories of the life we built.
As we made tracks for home on the last leg of another spontaneous, thrilling, restful (sort of), healing, treasured adventure with my people, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for how we decided to live “with the time” given to us these last few summers while Jon lived with the dreadful life-limiting disease that is GBM.
We made some unforgettable memories on each spontaneous trip squeezed into small windows of time between treatments, surgeries, therapies, the doctor’s encouragement to go, and praying for our miracle.
Truth is, most of our travel adventures have been spontaneous and last minute. I would love to have been able to plan some things at times, especially the last few years.
But letting the spirit lead has brought incredible unexpected joy and hope.
Our trip last week differed from those we took the last three summers, but it was familiar. It was planned to help us dig into our past to unlock treasured moments we desperately wanted and needed to remember.
We could only remember a little beyond the medical days.
There’s as much to grieve, heal, and restore from the trauma we experienced related to a loved one suffering from brain cancer as much as there is a need to mourn and heal from the actual death of that loved one.
But we have a choice to be present even if circumstances are challenging and memories stir up every blessed emotion.
There’s no going around it, only through it.
What a time we had because we got to decide how to use the time we had.
We allowed the spirit to lead the way.
Though there will be an ever-present chasm—the price of love—without the leader of our adventure-seeking pack, the kids and I continue to choose to live while honoring our need to mourn.
We’ll be present, dance even if out of step, sing to road-trip tunes, take risks, jump scared, say yes, laugh until we cry, cry until tears run dry, love even when it hurts, leave space to mourn, offer gentleness toward ourselves and others, pray over every meal and decision and then thank God for all of it.
Seeing and living life through a lens of grief and loss is interesting, to say the least.
The kids and I had long, in-depth conversations about how to honor the loss we’ve experienced while treasuring the life we’ve built together and spreading our wings and how it’s okay—for our family—to choose to get up each day and move forward.
We are not moving on. Jon is part of every fiber of our being.
Your story and grief may differ for you.
Speaking of father’s, I received the gift of two beloved spiritual fathers checking in on the kids and me while we were away.
I’m grateful for both of them. Both offered comforting and life-giving words, counseled me on the more complicated things, and gave me space to laugh and cry.
I’m grateful to have their sage wisdom staying close. We are never alone.
I’m also grateful we haven’t lost our desire to laugh.
Joy and grief can coexist.
Laughter is so incredibly healing. When I laugh, I hear Jon laughing with me. We always laughed together—ergo, the House of Love and Laughter.
I’m learning that my walk with mourning other loved ones is far different than mourning the loss of a husband with whom I built a life. I am told young (under the age of 60) spousal loss is a whole different sort of grieving.
I believe this is true.
I am suddenly and unexpectedly surrounded by a community of young and seasoned widows who have walked the road a few steps before me with their chafed feet and hearts. What a gift community can be. It is hardly a community any of us wanted to join.
It’s a community of women who have lost part of their soul too.
“May we pay attention to the people God puts on our path. —Henri Nouwen
Funny, as I type Nouwen’s words, I recall posting this exact phrase and a reflection two years this week. It may be worth a read again. God has a perfect way of filling the voids and sending us Siimons of Cyrene.
A loss like this is a hard road, and I am only two months into this, and yet I have been already grieving it for months upon months before I encountered the permanence of death. There was so much suffering in silence.
I think it’s hard to know what to share concerning grief and loss because it’s different and personal for everyone.
I shared the following thoughts with someone the last few days who asked how the kids and I were doing.
I told her we just got back from a trip. And that my kids amaze me. We are managing this grief road well, considering. But it is hard to talk about because either people want or expect you to be in complete despair or just moving on.
We are neither. We are grieving a gut-wrenching loss and we are learning as we go.
The kids and I are choosing to lean on one another and are constantly reminded God is near. Jon is too.
He is clearly present in each one of them in different ways. And the messengers and messages we receive provide comfort and consolation.
It’s tearful and hard. We know we will have harder days than others. We just need to give one another grace.
We still laugh, have fun, dance, sing loudly, especially on long journeys, and stare at the fireworks in the sky. They all remind us of Jon. He loved fireworks and the 4th of July.
Yet he is still NOT here.
With all the seasoned wisdom of what to say and not to say, its curious and it seems universal no one knows what to say though well meaning, loved ones try.
This will be a long, hard journey until I see him again.
Jon wanted us to live as best we could as he accepted he could no longer do all he wanted to do and that his time on earth would soon end. Though he never complained, he suffered far too long on this Desert Road. We did too, and he did not want that for the kids and me anymore.
So we continue to move forward as we accept and embrace whatever faith and God sends our way—all the sweat and tears, hard and sad days, chafed feet and grated nerves, joy and laughter, dancing out of step, singing out of tune, and watching fireworks light up the sky.
We will take all the time we need to grieve and heal.
And we will decide how to use and pursue joy in the time given to us.
Also its good to be home.
As I leave you, I want to share this song that has been tucked in my heart. I shared in this post on July 4th a day that stung more than expected. It’s about life being fleeting. So we can decide to embrace the moments even as we grieve. I have 4 children/young adults who will continue to look to me to guide their steps forward. It’s up to me to guide and tend their hearts with gentleness, honesty even joy as we process and make sense of all that is out of our control. I hate that this is our story. For whatever reason, this is my path I am trusted to walk. I pray as I journey onward, I honor Jon, protect and care for my children and tend our hearts while pursuing giving Glory to God.