“See, Life Is Still Beautiful!”

Lately I can not escape the magnificence of the sunrises and sunsets. I wake up to gorgeous red and pink rays streaming through my plantation shutters. Invariably, wherever I am, at the end of the day, the sky is on fire.  I am inclined to think the Lord is telling me, “Elizabeth, look up! See, life is still beautiful!”

My husband and I captured hundreds of sunrises and sunsets on our iPhones throughout the years. It didn’t matter what state of affairs our day was in or what season of marriage we were in: mad at each other, agitated with one another, elated with one another: if the sky looked right, we hopped in a vehicle and made the way to the best viewing spot. We were diligent at chasing the spectacular sunsets the last year of his life.

This past weekend the whole sunrise, sunset thing overwhelmed me. Almost 19 months into widowhood my grief comes in waves now. It is no longer the daily put one foot in front of the other, praise God! But in some ways, this is worse. I don’t know when it will debut. On Saturday morning my daughter’s boyfriend put a picture on Instagram of one of our favorite places at the beach, at sunrise, and I was absolutely overwhelmed with grief. It was as if I was back to the first week of his death. Uncontrollable sobs that I had not had in months. This is the part of grief that I truly don’t like, and can’t figure out. And, yet, there God was with this spectacular sunrise right out my own front door, “ Elizabeth, I am making all things new!”

I called a friend of mine who lives over an hour away and she said come for dinner. I stopped at Lidl to pick up some tulips to bring as a hostess gift. As I was waiting at the light, the sky lit up the most beautiful orange. It was more than annoying. It also made me cry. Which annoys me more. “Elizabeth, I am near” (Psalm 145:18). There are few times in my life when I have heard the Lord. It is not an audible voice, people. But I heard Him in the spirit. Meanwhile, two annoyed patrons honked behind me not knowing I was communing with our Lord.

I arrived at Lisa’s beautiful cottage and it was like coming home. Lisa, is only one of two widow friends I have. We are the same age. Our husbands died fairly young. Our husbands illnesses were terminal and quick. We both have two daughters. We both have autoimmune diseases. We both have somewhat neurotic dogs. We both have extremely complicated family dynamics. We both married quintessential eastern North Carolina men, who we are  sure either knew one another or had many mutual friends. We both loved being married. We both are writers. We both wake up every morning going “How in the hell did we get here?”  We have considered a  live video or a podcast about our lives: we are fun, we can be hilarious, I  am getting hit on by 70-year-olds on at least a tri-weekly basis. We have a lot of material! Alas, did you just read the above paragraph?  We decided, on second thought, how the heck could we be a beacon of hope for anyone? Bahaha!

As I drove home last night I felt settled and that felt good. My oldest called me from “the normal bar” I didn’t ask, she’s a grown woman. And then Lisa called to make sure I got home. It’s not my husband. It’s not my parents or in laws or any other deceased people in my life but its people God put in my path. He is near. Look at the sunset this week. I promise it will bring you joy.

Grief Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

Forrest Gump’s mother  was certainly wise with her iconic life lesson

“Life is like a box of chocolates you never know what you are going to get”  

I have found that the grief process has been exactly like a box of chocolates. Contrary to everything I’ve been told and read (about grief and its many stages) mine is so uncategorized and random.  I never know what attribute of grief is going to pop up  or when.

My 52 year old wiser widow self knows better than to expect grief to fall into a box of categories landing on specific goal months. However I do find it ironic that I am almost 15 months into this gig and I can’t make neither head nor tails of where the emotions are supposed to land. I guess, like  many things in life,  you have no idea what to expect when you aren’t expectant.

For those of you who have children do you remember the books ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’ and ‘What To Expect The First Year’? In 1991 my husband and I  read every single page. We anticipated each change my body would make. If a symptom did not coincide on the month the book said it was to occur?  We became worried and secretly frantic. Our 24 year old minds were captivated with the mind blowing prospect that this little person was going to be growing and as if on command “performing” milestones in utero. The reality was each pregnancy is different and some things occurred on said months and some didn’t.

Likewise when our oldest daughter was born we devoured the pages of  


‘What To Expect The First Year’   
because,  well, we had no idea what to expect!  If our daughter didn’t achieve the milestones the book said she should on the exact  time, day and month? We were full of worry and angst.  Our 25 year old young first time parental selves thought every single thing must occur according to schedule.

I have never gone through ”Grief In A Box’ per se or grief  in the appropriate order that Elisabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler write about in ‘Five Stages of Grief’.  This is the gold standard of grief for our country. But it doesn’t fit my grief. And that is okay.

I’ve never felt anger. And that might be because my husband had a terminal illness.  ALS afforded  us time to fulfill bucket lists, cross t’s, dot i’s, throw parties, say ‘i love you’s’. I’ve felt betrayal and anger at my circumstance surrounding my family but never angry at my husband or God.  I have felt anguishing deep pain, heartbroken, empty, lonely, unmotivated, hazed, distracted and unfulfilled but never angry. And all of these feelings do not come at once. They come at random times. They may hang on for months or be fleeting after several hours. And it is not depression. Undoubtedly depression is a very real component to grief. These feelings are grief.

The hardest part of grief for me are the ever changing emotions. After 15 months the daily non stop crying has ceased but new feelings are now at the forefront. Things I haven’t felt before or dealt with before. I have a new found sense of independence. Yet the awareness that I am now absolutely unequivocally alone is luminous in every aspect of my life. I often feel a  sense of disbelief. It is as if a light has just been turned on and illuminated the fact that Robin is truly gone. I found great comfort, just as recently as six months ago,  being surrounded by couple friends and their families. I now find it an agonizing reminder of what is no longer.

And through it all I know that it will eventually all be well. But it is not well with me  yet. It is hard. I often think how much easier it would be  if grief came in absolute stages and steps. Then we would all be able to check off each emotion:  “done”…next.  Until then? All we can do is trudge forward. Know that we will never  know from one hour to the next what we are going to get in this journey called grief. And that is okay for today.

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