I have mentioned my husband Roger’s death in other articles I have written over the last year and a half since joining the LandMarks staff. It has been two years this month since his unexpected passing. I would like to share my experience with grief. This may be more for me than the readers, but maybe my experience will bring one of you comfort and encouragement.
It had started as a beautiful, sunny Sabbath day. Roger and I had been to church and enjoyed a peaceful ride home. It seemed like every other Sabbath and there was no hint that it would end in a way I could never have imagined.
Within an hour of arriving home, he collapsed at my feet. I remember clearly the disbelief and fear that I felt as I yelled his name, patted his face, and begged him to wake up. I called 911 and then performed CPR, while I waited for the paramedics to arrive. My mind kept shouting, “How did this happen? He was fine. He was laughing.” Why?
The fire department in our little village is volunteer and all the firemen and paramedics were out in their fields harvesting wheat, so I’m not exactly sure how long I performed CPR before they arrived.
The 911 dispatcher was a young man, at least he sounded young. He was calm, supportive. His compassionate voice kept me updated on how soon help would arrive. He encouraged me when I said I was getting tired and wasn’t sure I could keep up the CPR. He stayed on the phone with me until everyone arrived. I don’t know who he was and I never got to thank him, but I hope somehow he knows how much of a lifeline he was to me that day.
I think everyone, even I, knew that Roger was beyond saving, but they all methodically did their jobs, making the supreme effort to bring him back. Once at the hospital, I waited less than ten minutes before the doctor came to tell me that he believed Roger had suffered a massive heart attack, a widow maker, and truly was gone. The only thought in my head was, “What will I tell his children?”
They let me sit with him for a while. I cried. I asked him why he left me. I asked God why He let him die. I went back through that last week trying to find some explanation for the unexplainable. But I didn’t find any answers.
I discovered that day that God often allows bad things to happen and doesn’t always make clear why. That’s not a complaint, it’s just a truth. I asked, “Why did You let this happen? You could have kept him alive or brought him back.” Even my four-year-old grandson said “God raised Lazarus from the dead. He could raise grandpa from the dead, too.” Yes, He could have, but He didn’t.
I went even further and asked, “If You were only going to give us five years together, why did You even bring him into my life at all?” That was the only moment of anger I really felt toward God and I quickly backpedaled on that one. Roger had brought so much happiness and love to my life. How could I be so ungrateful? And how could I feel anger toward Roger? I know that he would not have willingly left me.
So, as is my way, I threw myself headlong into doing what needed to be done. As long as there was something to do, I didn’t have to think about why or how alone and empty I felt.
I have to recognize how much Roger’s family did for me during this time. I have my own brother and his wife who came from a long distance to be with me for a while, but Roger’s family, his siblings and all their children, gathered around me and without them I’m not sure how I would have managed many of the things I had to do. They were open and giving beyond anything I could imagine. They told me I was part of the family, and I always would be.
I also have many friends who helped me; some waited with me at the hospital, others just stayed with me, in the beginning, so I wouldn’t have to be alone, and others helped me with the tasks that needed to be done to sell our home.
I won’t go into all the details since I have talked about this before. Suffice it to say that I was able to hold off facing my grief for just about a year. But grief must be faced at some point.
They say there are five stages of grief. The assumption, maybe only my assumption, that once a person dies, then those who are left behind begin the journey through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, for me, kneeling on that floor, pumping on Roger’s chest, I passed quickly through denial, anger and bargaining, but I got stuck on depression and acceptance.
It was easy not to face these two as long as there were things to do, but about ten months after Roger died, I realized that I had pretty much finished all the business of our life together. I started having trouble concentrating at work. I would hear certain songs and cry uncontrollably. I would watch funny videos and think how much Roger would have enjoyed them. I would laugh and laugh and then realize I was crying and couldn’t stop. Nothing seemed right and all I wanted to do was walk out into the field behind my house and scream Why until I couldn’t scream it anymore; but I didn’t do that. I held off the whys for as long as I could, and then they came rushing back. “Why did You take Roger away from me?”
After I first came to Steps to Life, I was proofing an article for this magazine and came upon a quotation from an Ellen White book that I had never heard of before. I found it in our bookstore and checked the quotation, but then spent a little time browsing through it. I came upon a letter Mrs. White had written to some friends who had lost their daughter. I read this one sentence and I’d like to say that it chased away all the sorrow and emptiness, but it didn’t. What I can say is that it gave me strength. I had put my faith in God and He had steadfastly led me to the best place I could ever be, had made everything possible that needed to be possible, and then He led me to that sentence, “[Y]ou are sustained by arms that never tire, and comforted with a love that is unchangeable, enduring as the throne of God.” Daughters of God, 217
As if He hadn’t already proved His faithfulness to me, He restated it for me in print. Those who know me will understand why this is significant. I have many times said, and maybe you have, too, that I wish God would just leave me a note and tell me what He wants me to do. And there, He did just that. He told me that He had been, and He would be, taking care of me if I would let Him; that even if now wasn’t the time for me to know why, I could still know that He would be with me as I walked down this road of grief.
People had told me it was time to move on, but I asserted that I already had. My whole life had changed, everything. My husband was gone, I had lost my home, left a job I had loved doing for eight years, moved to another state, taken a new job I had never done before. Everything that I had known was gone or changed. How much more moving on did I have to do? But moving on is more than just moving around, so I decided that it was time for me to face my grief.
I searched for a Christian counselor in the Wichita area and the Lord led me to Susan. I have since counseled with her for almost a year. Turns out I had more grief to confront than just that associated with losing Roger. I had never faced the grief of losing my mother in 2012, and seems that losing things like a job you love, uprooting your life, leaving your friends, come with a kind of grief all of their own.
I want to recommend at this point that it is better to face grief early. I know we don’t want to, but I believe now that when we continually push away these feelings of loss, we are denying the power and love of God to help us through the terrible time. Like, we think if we work hard enough, we’ll be just fine. But could we instead be doubting that God can understand what we are going through, when all the while, there is no one who understands better? Or, maybe, do we think we can do His job better than He can?
Another point I might make is that there is no timetable for grief. We all grieve differently, and it takes different amounts of time for everyone to reach that final stage of acceptance. Don’t go by how a person looks or acts to decide if they have finally overcome grief. For many, grief is a personal thing. It may seem that they no longer grieve, but that doesn’t mean that someone might not still need encouragement and friendship.
I recently heard a quote, amazingly from a totally unsanctified source, but it struck a chord with me: “What is grief, if not love persevering?” I think that grief, to some extent, must stay with us, because who would ever want to lose the love they felt for the one they lost? Grief becomes a part of the life we live though no longer the controlling emotion. We will continue loving the person we lost, though sad that they are gone, but moving forward with the life God has planned for us while longingly waiting for that day when we will be reunited.
Susan wasn’t the only one God sent my way. I had the opportunity to visit with a family member of friends who had lost her husband some years ago. Speaking of her husband, she shared this realization with me, “He was not mine to lose. He belonged to God. He was only lent to me.”
That was a solid hit to the heart. Roger was mine. But the Bible says, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. … For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.” Psalm 50:10–12, last part. He knows the very number of the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). Our names are inscribed on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). He knew us before we were ever born (Jeremiah 1:5). Roger was not mine. I am not even mine. All things in this world, all of us, belong to God, our Creator and Redeemer.
I still miss Roger’s “Hi, my sweetie,” when he would come home at the end of the day. When something exciting or difficult happens, my first thought is still, “I’ll call Roger.” But, my life with Roger, in this world, is over. Whatever I was meant to know or learn during the time we were together I will now have to find out without him. As I have worked at Steps to Life, and as I have worked through my grief with Susan, I have discovered that I still have a work to do for Him. And that work isn’t just for the readers of this magazine.
There are people that He perhaps wants me to reach out to and tell the truth of the gospel to, and to share the experiences of my own life with. And sadly, since the beginning of Covid-19, I have had that opportunity more than once. But most of all, I think, no, I’m certain, that there is work I must have done in my own life—a work that God and I must do together. Perhaps we all need to reflect on that very thing. So many people in this world believe that they are sufficient Christians. But we cannot be true Christians if we have not died to self.
I have no children of my own, but I have grown to love Roger’s son and daughter, their spouses and children. It was with great joy that I received the news last fall that my stepdaughter and her husband were expecting their second child.
But in February, I received the heartbreaking news that the baby was stillborn at six months. My stepdaughter delivered a beautiful baby girl, but instead of celebrating the joyous birth of a granddaughter in May, we were attending her funeral in February. How my heart ached for them. I knew what must be going through their minds, but I no more had the answer for them than I did for myself, except this:
God does not deal in death. Satan is the one who brings death. Yes, God allows it, but He allows death for a time so that all can see the true character of Satan and sin. And as we all face the death of a loved one or a friend at some point in our lives, more often than not, we do not know why. What we do know is “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28. There is only one kind of death that God has any part in and that is when we die to self, for without His power and grace, we cannot do this alone.
My father-in-law, Roger’s dad, had been in a years-long battle with a number of medical conditions. He was an average man who loved his wife and kids and grandkids. We would tease him that a cat has nine lives, but he had more. So many times it seemed that he would soon leave this life only for him to recuperate. As his health continued to decline, some in the family questioned whether he would make it to his birthday this year, but he did, turning 86 in March. We had a wonderful party for him with a house filled with family, laughter, and love. But a little over a week later, He passed away and sleeps now, as does Roger, waiting for the Lord to come.
Roger’s and my granddaughter’s deaths were sudden and unexpected. Many people, like my father-in-law, die of illnesses that take months, even years, before death finally comes. None of us has a guarantee regarding how long it will be before death comes calling. Whether we are the one who is ill or a family member who provides care, it is so important that no one of us should look upon the days ahead as though we have all the time in the world to prepare to be ready for Jesus’ coming.
I have myself many times claimed this promise found in The Desire of Ages, 224, 225: “God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning, and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as coworkers with Him.”
Joni Eareckson Tada was a teenager when, in 1967, she broke her neck in a diving accident. She has lived for the last 55 years a life of continual pain and struggle as a quadriplegic. Yet her life has been devoted to God and to spreading His gospel around the world. But who is to say what her life and influence might have been had she not experienced this tragic accident. Joni has a ministry, part of which includes brief, inspirational talks on the radio. Let me share with you just a bit of one that was a great encouragement to me.
“There’s not a cross so heavy that it outweighs the grace given to carry it.
“In this wheelchair, every day I’ve got this incredible chance to prove it. … Age only makes my disability harder and heavier to bear. And when that happens, first thing in the morning when I sit up in my wheelchair; when I sit there, you know, kind of assessing things—my stiffness; my soreness; my goodness, there’s some new pain in my shoulder—when that happens, I remind myself that Christ did not call me to follow Him; He called me to die for Him. …
“It is daily dying to yourself and living for Jesus.
“Most likely you are not in a wheelchair like me; your cross looks different. But we both can agree, it is so hard and it’s really painful. And at times, it honestly feels utterly impossible. And if that’s you, then do what I do when I wake up, facing another day of quadriplegia, and a monthly anti-cancer shot that only exacerbates my pain … I groan and I say, ‘God, I cannot do this. But for some reason, You think I can. At least, with Your grace, You think I can. So I’m going to believe You. I’m going to believe that You’re not out to hurt me but to help me. I am going to take You at Your word and place my confidence in You and say, “I cannot do this. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” ’
“Friend, right there is the way you die to self and live to Christ. [O]ur Saviour has proven His trustworthiness in the worst of your trials. … Don’t you think that proves His loving intentions toward you? … So when it comes to your suffering, Jesus … extends to you His love, His grace, His help, His hope.”
We find this same promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation [test] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Everything in this life is a test. Depending who we rely on during this testing, we will either build character fit for heaven or be a soul lost to self. We must rely upon God and His promise that if we place our confidence in Him, He will help us. God doesn’t intend that we will live this life without difficulty. Rather, He intends for us to live through our difficulties trusting in Him to deliver us from them, transforming our sinful self into a shining example of His character.
“It is moral worth that God values. Love and purity are the attributes He prizes most.” The Desire of Ages, 219
As I bring my thoughts on the subject of grief—and this is by no means all of them—to a close, let’s return to Daughters of God, 220, 221. To two different friends, both of whom had recently lost their life companions, Mrs. White wrote:
“What can I say to you in this, the greatest sorrow that has come to you in your life? Words fail me at this time. I can only commend you to God and to a compassionate Saviour. In Him is rest and peace. From Him you may receive your consolation. Jesus loves and pities as we have no power to do. Jesus Christ Himself does sustain you … . The disappointments and distress and perplexities, the bereavements we meet, are not to drive us from God but bring us nearer to Him.
“How we pant and are weary and agonized in carrying ourselves and our burden! When we come to Jesus, feeling unable to bear these loads one instant longer, and lay them upon the Burden-bearer, rest and peace will come. … Never let us lose sight of the promise that Jesus loves us. His grace is waiting our demand upon it. …
“Just repose in Jesus. Rest in Him as a tired child rests in the arms of its mother. … A compassionate hand is stretched out to bind up your wounds. He will be more precious to your soul than the choicest friend, and all that can be desired is not comparable to Him. Only believe Him; only trust Him.”
“My sister [my brother], no longer show any distrust of our Lord Jesus Christ. Go forward in faith, believing you will meet your husband [wife] in the kingdom of God. Do your very best to prepare the living to become members of the royal family and children of the heavenly King. This is our work now; this is your work. Do it faithfully, and believe that you will meet your husband [wife] in the City of God. Do what you can to help others to be cheerful. Uplift souls. Lead them to accept Christ. Never torture your soul as you have been doing, but be humble, true, faithful, and you have the word of God that you will meet when the warfare is ended. Be of good cheer.”
“God’s peace is greater than your pain, and His promise is greater than your loss.” Source unknown
And therein lies acceptance.
Judy Rebarchek is a member of the LandMarks team. She may be contacted by email at: email@example.com