Our culture doesn’t know what to do with grief.
Grieving well doesn’t mean forgetting so that we can move on.
Grieving well means learning to live with your love and without your loved one.
Rather than forgetting so that I can somehow move on, I’m learning to carry my husband’s love forward after loss. That first means realizing what I cannot do.
I cannot be both father and mother.
My husband was an avid outdoorsman. He loved to take the kids hunting and fishing. He’d pile them into his truck, crank up some Willie Nelson and spend the day outside.
In all the ways he was an earthly father, we feel a huge gap. Some of that has been filled by friends and family, but most will always be missing. I cannot be both father and mother.
My job is to be the best mom I can be and go to God for that lack. God says He is the father to the fatherless and I have very practically gone to him for the protection, leadership, guidance and provision my husband always provided.
I cannot live the life we would have had.
Carrying his love with me doesn’t mean trying to live in the past. I can’t cling to the life we had or try to re-create it.
That life is gone.
The rhythm of our home and family has changed. Single parenting has meant changes for all of us. I’ve lost the dreams and plans Dan and I had together, the memories and inside jokes we shared, the sweet awe at watching him flourish and grow in his work.
Grieving well means letting go of the life that was to engage in the life that is.
And there are three things I can do to carry my husband’s love forward.
I can steward well how I finish raising our children.
Grief can so easily cripple us. I could feel it crouching, threatening to paralyze me with fear and despair. Those first few years, I honestly just wanted to pull the covers up and stay in bed.
But of course, I couldn’t. I had seven kids that needed me. They’d already lost one parent and they couldn’t lose another. I needed not just to show up, but to be very present in my parenting.
For the first time in my years of parenting, I saw what it really meant to be a steward.
How often I’d heard that my kids weren’t mine, but the Lord’s, and I was stewarding them for him. I knew it intellectually, but hadn’t really wrapped my heart around it.
Now I see clearly that with Dan gone, I’m left to steward our children. To continue with the vision we laid together, broken though it seems. To pass the baton of faith we so wanted for our children. To teach them the skills and values we held dear.
Maybe you’re stewarding children after your spouse died, or grandchildren. Maybe you need to steward your relationship with a parent left after the other parent passed away, or steward extended family, or a family business or legacy.
Grieving well helps us see how to carry that love forward.
I can honor my husband with traditions and stories.
I remember the first time I told a story about Dan and caught myself smiling, rather than crying.
Remembering his idiosyncrasies, his habits, the things that made him mad or made us laugh have become warm memories, like sunbeams spilling into the dark spaces of missing.
I love to honor Dan with stories and traditions. Dan and I first met in middle school youth group. We starting dating in high school, went to college together and got married at twenty. I have to remember my kids don’t have that warehouse of memories and, even those they know, they love to hear re-told again.
Telling them stories about Dan, our dating, his boyhood and Dutch heritage, is not only healing but helps my kids honor their dad. Dan may not be here, but I can pass on his zest for life, his courage to try new things, his love of the outdoors and how crazy he was about his children by intentionally telling his stories.
I can live life to the full.
When we look back to tell stories, we have to guard against staying there.
Of all people, our loved ones would want us to relish the time God gives us and to live each day well.
It’s easy to think the best time, the most abundant, joy-filled life is all behind us. Those were the days, we sigh.
And they were.
But that doesn’t mean these can’t be the days as well.
God promises abundant life and that’s as true after tragic loss as before. In my deepest grief, I clung to the promise that I’d see that abundance again, when my feelings screamed otherwise. I wrote the date and our name next to Psalm 27:13: “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”
Each day we embrace, each opportunity we go after, each moment in which we’re fully presen, honors our loved ones.
Hard as loss is – and it’s excruciating – the beauty is this: we get to take the love with us. That love doesn’t stop when our loved one passes away because it is part of us. It has shaped us and woven itself into the fibers of who we are.
And that love, too, is carried forward into all that God has for us in the next chapter.
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