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.