My Dear Friends
The most amazing, terrible, and wonderful thing happened earlier this week—my Terry joined his beloved Jesus, and now my two Lovers are together. I came to Starbucks this morning for breakfast because that was our big treat Sunday mornings—breakfast here reading our books together. Being a diabetic he would pick up a Burger King breakfast sandwich and then get his “skinny hot chocolate” (meaning sugar-free) here at Starbucks. So I thought it fitting to come today and tell you about a beautiful and terrible week.
Every summer I go to visit my friend Marilyn for a few days, where we talk non-stop until the wee hours of the morning, a mixture of girl talk and Jesus. It’s the highlight of my summer. I left Tuesday morning and headed the four hours to Ohio, planning to stay until Friday. Our sons Jeremy and Chris work near our home at our office, and they told me that Tuesday Terry was confused at times throughout the day but hadn’t slept well and said he was fine, just tired. For lunch he did what he enjoyed doing when I was gone, going out to eat somewhere I didn’t like and reading his book, and I found the receipt for his lunch at Red Lobster, which solved that mystery. At home he ate supper and I talked to him at 6:44, and we went ahead and said goodnight. Between then and 8:26, when he didn’t pick up my text, he laid his glasses on the footstool by the couch, took his shoes off, lay down on the couch, and with his hands clasped across his chest, he fell asleep. The coroner said that it was a stroke or heart attack. Terry was supposed to pick Chris up the next morning about ten and meet Jeremy at my parent’s to take my dad to a doctor’s appointment, and when he was late calling Chris and he wouldn’t answer his phone, Chris walked over to our house. Chris tells how merciful God was in that He prepared him for what he might find so he wasn’t blindsided when he went in to find Terry lying peacefully on the couch.
It was a rough time, especially for Chris, and he and Jessie had to face the paramedics, police, and the coroner on their own, taking care of everything. Jeremy and his wife Jessica arrived from an hour away soon after that, and I came straight home from Ohio to where my children were waiting for me at Jeremy and Jessica’s house.
My children, including my daughter-in-love, and soon-to-be son-in-love, have been my rock. It took me five hours to get home from Ohio, including a lot of being lost before I made it back. I talked to Terry’s brother Shane on my way, and he has been here with us as we’ve floundered our way through. The whole way home I worshipped, occasionally shouting “I’M SO HAPPY FOR YOU! But it stinks for me.” I’ve always wanted to react like Job when he got bad news—just fall down and worship. About thirty minutes into my trip home I thought “OH NO! I wanted to have fallen down and worshipped!” But then I realized that I COULDN’T fall down and worship, I had to drive, and I had been worshipping the whole time already.
God has been amazing as we piece together our lives and move on, performing miracle after miracle in how He has worked everything out. A few months ago as Terry was leaving on a business trip I casually asked, “So, I know everything will be fine, but if something happened to you is there anyone capable of continuing the business?” He assured me there was, naming Jeremy and Chris and three others intimately involved in it, saying that they were perfectly capable of continuing the company and they knew all they needed to know.
The timing was good, I wasn’t home to either have lifelong guilt because I didn’t interpret the symptoms and call 911 in time, I wasn’t there to see it, and I wasn’t there to talk to him and keep him from going peacefully while he slept. While it hurts my heart to have not been there, my children are so grateful that they could carry that for me.
Monday, the day before Terry died, he and I had a conversation about heaven, and Terry laughed and said, “People have no idea how really ready we are.” He was so passionate about God, always saying “I’m my Daddy’s favorite. You can be His favorite too if you want to, but I’m my Daddy’s favorite.” I love what our good friend Bettie Ann said, “I can just hear Terry laughing and saying, ‘See? I TOLD you I was His favorite!’”
Last Monday night at Ginmay (God Is Not Mad At You), our Monday night group of “our kids,” Terry passionately told them how they didn’t need him, the Holy Spirit promises to teach us all things. To make his point he told them that he and I wouldn’t be there “next week,” and he asked one of the kids to take his place and bring something fresh for the group this Monday. I will be going after all, and it will be a hard but celebratory night of laughing and remembering Terry. And I guess somehow we will go on.
Normally, when Terry and I are apart overnight, we talk at bedtime to say goodnight. But as Marilyn and I ate supper her husband asked me what brand blood sugar test kit Terry used, as he had a lot of test strips he couldn’t use and would give to Terry. So I whipped out my phone and called Terry, and he sounded fine as he went to see what brand he used. It wasn’t the same brand, but we talked about our day. Otherwise, my waiting until bedtime would have been too late.
Terry loved to say “We’re not human beings having a spiritual experience, we’re spiritual beings having a human experience.” I loved it when Jessie’s best friend said about him, “A very spiritual being has ended his human experience.”
My plans are to stay in Richmond, but I’ve given my notice and will be moving into something smaller by the end of the month. Our business board will meet next week to determine its future, but the options are all good. My children continue to hold me up and tenderly take care of me as we laugh and cry and remember and marvel at God’s goodness. We’ll have a simple get-together on Saturday to remember Terry, no service, no funeral, just friends laughing together and celebrating his moving into a new home.
Recently Terry bought the shoes Jessie wanted so badly for her wedding, so when they arrived in the mail she brought over her wedding dress and modeled it all for him. It means the world to Jessie that God orchestrated that moment, that while he won’t walk her down the aisle as he has always wanted to do, he got to see her in her dress.
There are the funny moments too. Like what do you wear to go pick up your husband’s ashes? There aren’t any catalogs for those occasions. And when I started to give my opinion the other day on something that wasn’t any of my business I could hear Terry saying, “Stay out of it!” I was relieved to see that the black metal box from the crematorium was hidden safely in a normal-looking, white, cardboard box, but I had to smile at the large, block letters stating CREMATED REMAINS, spoiling the illusion that it was from amazon.com. And I’ve laughed this week over having forgotten all my pants at Marilyn’s so I’m wearing my “seconds” while waiting on them to arrive in the mail. And I grin when I remember how I stopped to get gas on my way home from Ohio and forgot to pay for it, but I did make it back to pay before the police caught up with me.
There isn’t time to tell all the marvelous and miraculous things that God has done and is doing in our celebration and devastation of losing Terry. I’m holding up well. I’ve learned an encyclopedia’s worth of things in the last few days. I’ve learned that the loss of a spouse and soul-mate is such a deep and terrible loss, so personal that there are no words to describe it. I feel like I’m having to take a scalpel and divide one person into two, cutting apart veins and heart and sinew, deciding where he stops and I begin. The process of cutting one body into two will be a long one but my Jesus is with me as I walk it out.
I’ve learned that grief can’t be planned for those two hours I’m alone, I can’t just turn it off and on when it’s convenient, and that grieving is a personal process. I’ve learned that the grief will blindside me. I’m fine as I hug his pillow and see his bathrobe on the back of his bathroom door. I enjoy using his office while family members sleep in mine. I love seeing his shoes sitting neatly by his desk and his glasses here by me on the mouse pad. But opening the laundry room door and seeing his favorite shirt hanging up hits me in the stomach. Putting in a load of laundry and finding his clothes in the basket with mine, knowing it’s the last time I’ll wash them, sends me reeling. Seeing his blood-sugar test kit lying open really got to me, and the second day I just put it together and zipped it closed, jogging my memory when I saw the brand and solving the mystery of why I had talked to him at 6:44. I had emotionally prepared myself to pick up the cremation box but I wasn’t prepared for the clear plastic bag from the coroner of the things in his pockets: his wallet, keys, watch, chapstick, and wedding ring.
I’ve learned that a lot of my thoughts begin with “Little did I know …. “ Little did I know that the pimento cheese I made would be his last meal. That I would eat my leftover burrito from our last meal together after he died. We talked recently about how he’d designed our house we’re going to build one day. He knew I wanted a small house and he wanted lots of room for the whole family. I teased him saying, “I’m going to have to come live in your mansion with you, aren’t I?” And he said “Yep, but we’ll have your little cabin in the woods for our weekend retreat.” Little did I know it wouldn’t be a physical mansion! I’ve learned that where I was passionate about food before, now all food tastes like cardboard. I’ll think that I’m doing pretty well and then notice my hands are shaking.
I’ve learned that to focus on his gain and God’s miracles in this process changes my grief from being devastatingly fearful and painful to being a tool towards healing and wholeness, with my eyes on my beloved Jesus and knowing He is with my other Lover.
Yesterday I was surprised by joy. It was just there, tiny tendrils of it tickling my insides, and it felt good. Fixing lunch today I was surprised to hear myself start whistling. Jessie and I had a same-personality moment and burst out laughing. We sat and discussed how we are both analyzing our grief, trying to stay busy but also not miss out on experiencing the grief, it’s a part of life too.
I am so happy for Terry! He is with his Beloved, and I know he is driving Jesus nuts with his questions. I’m just jealous, I wish I were with them! I know he is enjoying his dad, who died about four years ago. I know he is having a wonderful time learning everything we always wanted to know. We teased each other that the one who went first would come back and tell the other some of the answers we were searching for. So if you hear some wonderful revelations in my articles you’ll know I have the inside scoop!
I’m off, I have too many things to do. I’m not sure what, but I’m sure there’s something I’m supposed to be doing! While we were blindsided, I know that God saw this path and He wasn’t surprised by it. Thank you all for your love and concern, your prayers and your strength. They mean the world to me. And while you grieve with me I also ask that you celebrate with me over my thirty-six years with my beloved and his joy that is now complete.