The moment my husband stopped breathing was a moment which irrevocably altered my life. When you lose your husband, you know with your head that Christ defeated death. You might even know it with your heart. But your body is slow to fall in line.
To lose your spouse is a very particular kind of bereavement. You feel it in your gut. You feel it as an amputation. The person who was by your side for all those years, to whom you would normally turn to discuss this insane scenario, with whom to share — oh the casual imagery — a post-mortem moment. “What just happened there? Did you see that?”
Well, that person is gone. He may be safe in the arms of Christ. But he is not safe in yours.
The Magical Lie
Some say that pain is subsumed in Christ and if we belong to him, he will somehow magically make everything OK. It is a lie. Mine has not been a year of magical thinking. It has been several years of blasting magical thinking to hell.
I have not lost my faith. But I have had to dive deeper, much deeper, to realise what faith is. I am now coming up to the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death. Like a patient recovering from major surgery, I can no longer click on the morphine button. The sutures healed long ago. The rehabilitation has begun. It is painful and annoying and I have been too lazy to do the physio regularly. Or perhaps it isn’t laziness. It is many things.
The other day I had a long and harrowing conversation with another widow. Younger than me, with four children still growing up. Her husband died suddenly, shockingly, of an unsuspected heart condition. In the prime of life. Mine died of a common disease, diagnosed too late, and we had two and a half years to prepare (but you are never prepared, not really).
Anyhow she shared with me, very honestly, the madness she had gone through in the first year since her husband died. I repressed the obvious thing that came to mind. You think the first year is bad — wait till you go through the second.
So while I knew I had to be careful with her, full of care (the lack of which does so much damage in the Christian world), I also realized that there are so many resonances between our experiences. Perhaps I can be useful by speaking honestly about what these terrible years have been like.
Christ No Shield
It is very important for Christians to be honest. Belonging to Christ does not shield us from trouble. From terror. From grief. But half the burden of grief, more than half the power of terror, comes from feeling we are alone, anomalous in our foundering.
St. Paul says we do not mourn as the pagans do. I think we have to admit that we do. We do descend into Hades, into the tomb. It was not beneath Christ to do so. Down there in the darkness is not nothing. He is waiting for us in that unspeakable pit.
Nicky Rowdon is a writer who has worked in both the US and the UK. She writes for Humanum, among other publications.