Budd and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary with deep gratitude for all God had done in us and for us. We talked a lot about our 40th and planned to take a trip to the Northeast, something we dreamed of doing since we lived in Boston during Budd’s Army training days. We loved taking long drives when you could visit four states in a day, and the Northeast in the Fall is….stunning! Budd loved planning vacations for us.
Two weeks later, on July 10, Budd died in his sleep. We had played golf that day then shopped for fixings for a ‘Low Country Boil’ he was making for several friends who were coming to dinner. It was a great day. For some reason I was patient and helpful (not always my go-to attitude with Budd’s projects). It was a really, really good day. I usually went to bed a couple of hours before Budd as he was an extreme night owl. At 2:40am I woke up because Budd was snoring loudly and that was unusual. I nudged him to get him to roll onto his side but he was already on his side. I couldn’t wake him up. I called the paramedics. Budd was gone. Just like that.
Up to this point I had experienced death as an event, one massive loss. And it is. But with Budd’s death I also experienced an ongoing loss. I anticipated it would be like an explosion where I would get hurt but then just wait until the wounds healed. And there is some of that. What I hadn’t realized is that the first time, a couple months later, someone from his past would call to say hi and I would have to tell them he had died. It was a first. September 21st is my mom’s birthday. She lived with us and she and Budd were really close. On her birthday it was fresh again. October 9th was my birthday. October 16th was our daughter’s birthday. November 24th was Thanksgiving…Christmas…and on it went. Birthdays, holidays, experiences. Rather than an explosion, losing Budd was like a dying ivy plant. The plant has died at the root but the leaves haven’t all been impacted yet. So you see a green ivy leaf and expect it to be alive but it isn’t. The memory of Budd’s involvement in just about every facet of my life would give the impression that he would show up in some way for all of it. But he didn’t. In the day-to-day stuff I got used to it but on those special occasions it would throw me again.
Once I embraced this journey, I found that I would look for that ivy leaf and let it touch me with a gentle grief but also a deep appreciation for who Budd was. He loved me very much. He took care of his family well. He was funny, tender, smart and sometimes a pain in the neck. All of that was a life that grew intertwined with mine, and when he died it was a slow unwinding of our two selves. I have a good life today. My kids and grandkids are wonderful. Because of Budd’s wise planning I am comfortable in my life. I have had to learn a lot of new things over the last years but it’s been doable.
Grief is a very personal journey. I’ve learned to give myself and others permission to find their way. I have faced other losses that are not as dramatic as the death of someone so close to me, and I find that allowing for grief and time is still the best way to walk. Avoiding grief doesn’t work. Let it come, let it touch you and let it pass.
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God has been very faithful to me and my family. My church community has walked every step with us, too. I no longer pine for Budd. When the family gets together we often laugh and tell Budd stories. It is not melancholy, it is family. There are important events where his absence is noticeable because of who he was – like when our latest granddaughter was born and when our grandsons each graduated from high school. Budd loved being a grandpa.
Seldom do ivy leaves crop up anymore. The grief and pain are gone, but occasionally I’m aware of loneliness. There is now a deep appreciation for the life of someone I loved and who loved me, a man with whom I built a solid life of faith and family.
The Bible is filled with stories of loss and grief. We’re never told to ignore it, nor are we told to set up housekeeping there. “In this world you’ll face trouble.” Jesus said it and he was right. I’ve talked with people who turned their back on God because he didn’t spare them pain and loss. That seems an illogical response to me. Sadness, loss and grief are going to happen to all of us at some point. Why would we choose to navigate those times alone? God promises to be with us through all of it.
My life has held its share of struggle and sadness but certainly not worse than most people I know. It just is. In every single case God showed himself compassionate, merciful and wise. It is always a choice to face life with God or to go it alone. Its really not a choice any longer…He is the only way to life, peace and hope. It’s just a fact.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
John 16:33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Revelation 3:20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
Psalm 145:18 The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.
Acts 17:27 His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.
Isaiah 43:2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
May the God of peace be your traveling companion in life…invite Him.