October 27 is a bittersweet day for me. It is a day that leaves me kind of weepy, sad, and nostalgic all at the same time. It is also a day that reminds me of the joy of having Christ as my Savior and the hope of heaven. Eight years ago today my husband of 28 years woke up in a glorious new place, and sometimes I envy him for getting to experience what I long for someday. Then five years later to the day, and almost to the same minute, my Mom silently drew her last breath and was welcomed into heaven.
I miss them both, and selfishly, I would love to still have them here by my side. But the reality is that life goes on without them. I have had bad days and good days, but the good ones outnumber the bad ones. I have learned I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. I have grown a little wiser and I have learned some lessons about life.
Here are some of the lessons I learned:
How you die doesn’t really matter, it is how you live that is important.
Both my husband and my mom had a big influence on the lives around them. At each of their visitations, there were long lines of people who had stories to tell of how they touched their lives.
I will never forget one man telling me of the time Tom came and visited him in the hospital when the man was sure he was going to die. He felt hopeless and defeated. Tom laughed with him, joked with him, and let him know that he really cared about what he was going through. The man told me that was the moment when he decided he was going to fight for his life. I never knew that until Tom’s funeral. I am sure even Tom never knew what that one hospital visit did for a friend. People shared story after story with me of how much they appreciated my husband.
At my Mom’s funeral one of the young men she mentored shared his story of how Mom impacted his life. He indicated that he would have been walking a totally different road filled with drugs and alcohol if she had not taken him under her wing. As he wept for her, it just reinforced our knowledge that Mom (and Dad, too) was always willing to take a chance on someone and give them a reason to be better people.
Losing someone doesn’t make them a less important part of our life.
I think that sometimes when we lose someone we are afraid that they are going to totally disappear. But I see Tom in so many ways around me. I see him when I look at our children and grandchildren (some who never had the joy of being held by him). I can hear him boasting about his garden sometimes when I pick up a huge tomato at the farmer’s market by my house. I miss him on holidays and during family celebrations, but he is always remembered. He was and always will be a part of my life.
It is hard to describe the legacy my mom has left for so many people. She was tough as nails and quite the perfectionist, but she was also a great role model. She was a realist and a survivor of a difficult childhood filled with poverty and the stigma of a mentally ill father. She taught us the value of hard work, education, and family. And she made the best homemade donuts and rolls you will ever have. As anyone in our immediate and extended family could tell you, she was the very definition of the word matriarch! She was and will always be a huge influence on her family.
Grieving is necessary but it is okay to live
I think a big lesson I learned is it is okay to grieve, but it is also okay to be alive. Certainly even after all this time, grief still sneaks up on me like a thief in the night, but it is okay to keep on laughing, loving, and living. I think that is one of the things I learned from Mom. She had a lot of loss in her life, but she did not let that beat her into the shell of a woman. When my Dad died, she grieved for him, but she still let herself find joy in her family and friends. And in reality, I did not grieve in the way that someone who has no hope grieves. I have the hope of heaven and I know my husband and my Mom loved God. And so, the biggest lesson I have learned is:
Life is short, make sure you are ready for the future.
I know that I have a Redeemer and his name is Jesus. I look forward to seeing his promises fulfilled. Someday this lowly body will die and I will have a new one in heaven. Time as I know it will be no more. I do not know when that will be but I do know that the older I get, the more quickly time passes. I am not sure what heaven will be like and I kind of think it may not be anything like I imagine. But I do know that I eagerly anticipate the day I will be able to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come,” along with the throngs in heaven. I get chills when I imagine that day and the anticipation of what is to come. I want to be ready when God calls my name and says “Welcome home.” And I would like to think that Tom and Mom are there, too, with arms open wide, welcoming me home.