A New Year, a New Chapter

by Nancy Howell

I did it.

Well, let me rephrase that.  We did it.

In a whirlwind trip, my boys and I travel to Kansas, where my late husband is buried.  We haven’t been there since Thanksgiving.  This trip is significant because we are going to be there on the observation of his first year of being in Heaven.  I don’t like to call it the first anniversary of his death.  Anniversaries are typically happy events, marked with parties, flowers, cards, and laughter.

My younger son, now nine, has not yet visited his dad’s grave.  His grief has been different than his brother’s—he avoided feeling anything for months, but is now working through many grief issues.  I hope that both boys will want to visit the grave, but won’t push it.  Who am I to tell them how to feel, how to process the loss of the most important male in their lives?  We’re on this journey together, in it for the long haul, but we are all at various stages.  When we’re on the same wavelength we cry, reminisce, and laugh together.  When we’re not, we pull together, helping each other out.

We compile a list of accomplishments that we’ve made during this first year, so we can share them with Mark at his earthly body’s resting place.  It’s a long one, with items as varied as one son’s beginning piano lessons to another’s selection to the Little League All Star team to both of them being elected student council representatives at school.  My successes range from taking over his outdoors column for our local newspaper to figuring out how to ride a lawn mower to attending She Speaks conference this past month.  We’ve come together as a team.   Above all else, we’ve asked God to keep holding our hands.

I trek alone to his grave to read the list.  The drought’s left the grass brown and prickly so I end up sitting on top of his ground-level mausoleum.  I feel like I’m sitting on his lap, as I’d done countless times in the past twenty-five years.  As I begin to read it, the narration becomes a one-sided animated conversation.  I add in extra commentary as necessary—laughing, crying, and smiling throughout.  He is there.  Not just his earthly body, but in his glorious heavenly body.  It is palpable, so much so I feel I can reach out and touch him.

As I leave the cemetery, I spot a large bird flying overhead.  It’s a bald eagle, the first I’ve seen in central Kansas—ever.  It swoops over me, landing in a tall tree nearby.  It follows me in my truck, flying from tree to tree, settling in not fifty feet from the driveway.  I get a better look before he flies away.  Wow!  What a gift God gave me in sighting that majestic bird.

The scripture running through my head, over and over, is:

“He gives strength to those who are tired and more power to those who are weak.

Even children become tired and need to rest, and young people trip and fall.

But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again.

They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; they will run and not need rest; they will walk and not become tired.”

Isaiah 40: 29-31 (NCV)

Both boys accompany me to their daddy’s graveside our last night in Kansas.  We all three sit on the top of the mausoleum as a full moon begins to rise.  Each boy individually kneels at that grave and copious tears flow.  Each of them converses with their heavenly Father and their earthly daddy for a long time.  I give them the space and privacy to grieve.   As I stand only a few feet away, I fight to keep from scooping them up in my arms.  I so want to take their grief away.

Then I feel God whispering, “Let them feel this.  Don’t worry—I have them in My arms.”

We’ve made it through the first year of grief.  Although it was hard to see at the time, as I look back, I see God’s hand in everything.  He was part of every decision, every blessing, everyday.  His presence is real, tangible, and solid.  He stands ready to scoop us up when we are in pain or unable to walk another step.  He is actively working to weave something beautiful for my family of three as we move forward with our lives.

We are becoming strong again.

Dear friends, God will never abandon you.

He will never forsake you. 

And in the darkest hours of your grief, whenever you aren’t sure if you can even take a breath,

He is there. 

Open your hands and your heart.  Although your life will never be the same as it was, it will be good again. 

God will make sure of it.


Dear heavenly Father,

I pray that you would bless every person reading this today.  Bless their loved ones, too.  Enlarge our territories so we can comfort those who need us and be an example to those who think there is no future awaiting them.  Please keep your hand on us, and keep us from evil.  Let us not cause pain, instead let us trust in You, and You alone.  Give us the strength to rise up like the majestic eagle I witnessed, and walk forward on our journey without tiring.  We will give You all the praise and the glory, for You make our lives worth living.

In your son Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

11 replies
  1. Widow Remarried
    Widow Remarried says:

    “My younger son, now nine, has not yet visited his dad’s grave. His grief has been different than his brother’s—he avoided feeling anything for months, but is now working through many grief issues. ”
    My now 10 year old son was similar. He came to me a year after my husband’s death and told me things he wished he had said to his dad 🙁 He seems to internalise it. He is so much better now that he has opened up a little.

  2. Betty
    Betty says:

    Dear Lawrence,

    I am so sorry for your loss as well.
    What a wonderful post you left for Nancy. To have you speak of her Mark in a way she may not have known about before can be such bittersweetness. Your encouragement of her and what she is doing with her boys is priceless coming from someone who was that young age as well when your loss occurred. It may give her hope to know how far you came with the same support she is giving.
    Bless you!

  3. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I understand so deeply how you and your boys feel. My husband was called home to heaven last year after 25 yrs. of marriage. How I miss him so, But God has taken control of my life and is a husband to a widow Isaiah 54:4-5. My faith in God makes this sorrow light, He loves us so much He puts our tears in a bottle Psalms 56:8. We serve an awesome God, Amen. We believers will see our beloved again in Glory. In this hope I stand.

  4. Jeannine DeLaney
    Jeannine DeLaney says:

    Thank you, and thanks be to God for giving you the ability to express yourself with such purity and clarity of thought. He blesses us all through your writings.

  5. Lawrence Dorsey
    Lawrence Dorsey says:


    My name is Lawrence Dorsey and I’m a fisheries biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. I am a Facebook friend of Tom Lang’s and this is what lead me to your blog. I didn’t know Mark personally although I came very close to on at least one occasion. In 1997, while finishing up grad school at Tennessee Tech, I applied for the Asst District Supervisor working for Mark. At that time, there were many potential candidates and TPWD conducted a phone interview to screen candidates for an in person interview. Mark called me and interviewed me via phone. Several days later he called and offered me an in person interview. A few days after that I called to remove myself from the candidate list as Texas was just too far from my home state of NC and there was a potential to get a job here. If I am not mistaken, Mark hired Brian Van Zee at that time. Given Brian’s progression through TPWD, he definitely hired the best candidate. Over the years I would see Mark at AFS Meetings but never bothered to introduce myself in person. That’s my loss.

    I also come to this from another angle. I lost my Dad when I was 9 to cancer. He was sick for two years but I never considered (what 7 year old would) that there dad was dying. I missed out on a ton of stuff with my dad and I’ve never completely gotten over that. My mom did exactly as you are and righted the ship and kept it sailing for my sister and I. I was angry at God for many years for taking my dad away from year. Over the years, the anger has left me and I think I understand why he took my dad although I have a hard time putting it into words.

    I admire your strength and understand so very well the hurt your boys are going through. It will take time and there will be bumps in the road but with enough love and the ability to express their feelings, it will work out.

    God bless,


  6. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Betty and Leah,

    Thank you, and hugs to you both. I feel so lucky to have encountered such beautiful Godly women who know exactly what I feel.

  7. Leah Gillen
    Leah Gillen says:

    I LOVE this! What a beautiful picture of God’s grace and healing mercies! I am so proud of you, and I know Mark is pleased as well. You are doing a great job with boys, and they are so blessed to have you for their mama! 🙂 I, too, am blessed to call you friend!

  8. Betty
    Betty says:

    God Bless You My Dear Nancy,

    As you and I have shared our personal emails lately, we have both crossed the 1st “Year Mile Marker” on this “Grief Road”. I am with you, anniversary just doesn’t fit. However we are all on the journey just at different “mile markers” which is why I especially LOVED the way you described allowing your boys the freedom to grieve as they needed. That was so helpful in regards to my 20 year old son.
    Thank you for your beautiful description of honoring your husband as well as honoring all of us by sharing it!
    You my dear are doing an awesome job with your journey!

Comments are closed.