My Popeye

Bob had just come off a Mediterranean cruise when I met him. While they were traveling around the world to 36 countries on the USS Saipan, he didn’t have much to do in his spare time than work out. So, he was quite toned. Being a Sailor, I decided that I had my own Popeye. So, naturally, that made me Olive Oyl.

My 18 year old self was so proud to be his girl. He was the older, very handsome man in the NAVY. And, as the years passed, I became even more proud to be his wife. He genuinely cared for people. I can only hope to live up to the woman he saw in me.

He found small rubber figures of our namesakes at an Arcade while we were dating, and they now sit on my desk. These small reminders of our wonderful love story is what gets me through my days at present. And, that’s what early grief feels like. Each day finished is an accomplishment. We need to celebrate those small victories.

Love to My Valentine in Heaven

This was first my first valentines without that amazing man. To help my heart, I read back through all those love letters from our dating days. You may remember that he was in the NAVY when we met, so we had a long distance romance for most of the year that we dated. Those letters are now priceless! He wrote in a letter dated August 14, 1982:

My Dearest Susan,

I miss you so much. I’m just not complete without you. I don’t know why the Lord would have us so far apart but I’m sure he will help us make it through this most difficult time in our lives. I don’t want you to ever be unsure of my love for you. Yours Forever, Bob

It was so interesting to read those words 38 years later to find that they are so appropriate for what I am going through now. I miss him with every fiber within me and am definitely not complete with him, but trust that he is walking the streets with Jesus and happy. I have faith that both my Lord and Bob will help me make it this most difficult time in my life.

And, I include Bob because I know he is looking down on me from Heaven. He promised he would. His last words were, “Dave, you take care of your Mom. Suz, you take care of Dave. Tony and Lauren will take care of themselves and our kids. And, I’ll look down and take care of everybody.” And, I trust that because 2 Corinthians 5:8 tells us that, “The same person who becomes absent from his or her body becomes present with the Lord.” So, even though I miss him terribly, I know that he is happy in Heaven.

Even more, I can’t imagine the glorious body he is now – no pain at all. I Corinthians 6:3a says, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” I can’t imagine just being with the angels, much less being higher. So, while it’s more than depressing to miss him so much, I try to remember God’s promises. And, I will be with him again; this is just a pause.

A wonderful Godly friend reminded me very soon after Bob moved to heaven that he just said, “Good night.” Soon, we will get to say, “Good morning.” 

But, We Will Survive

Continuing the analogy of the tree, we will survive! Just as this tree was not stopped by the piano in its way, we will move on – whether we want to or not. And, in early grief, there are days where it’s work simply to get through the day and to want to go on. (And, those of us who’ve walked this journey understand that there’s a big difference in not wanting to go on and being suicidal.) But, it’s important that we put the work in – for ourselves and for those that love us.

This is an important image for me as I work through this grief on Day 111 (and our daughter’s 32nd birthday). Yes, I still count the days. I know there will come a day when I will move on to counting months, then years. The loss will always be with me. I will always miss him, but life will push on – just as the life in this tree pushed through the piano. Will the weight of grief be as heavy as this piano? You bet ya! But, life gives us choices. We can work to walk alongside the grief, just as this piano sits alongside this tree creating a beautiful image of the trials of life. Or, we can allow the grief to swallow us or tamp out our life. My hope for you is that you choose to live, to walk alongside the grief.

But, enough with the imagery, what are the skills to survive? It’s important to be with those going through the trials and tribulations of grief – to show up. But, what can we actually DO to help? First, say something. A colleague at work texted about a work question, but first said, “I think of you often, but don’t reach out because I don’t know what to say.” You don’t have to know. Just that you’re trying is enough. Please don’t pull away out of fear of saying something wrong.

In article for The Guardian, writer Giles Fraser calls this “a double loneliness” – on top of the loss of someone they love, the griever loses the connection and alliance of the people around them (Fraser, 2016). For fear of making things worse, people go silent just when we need them most (Devine, 2017).

As a friend or counselor, you are not expected to be perfect. It’s perfectly ok to lead a conversation with, “I don’t know what to say.” Most don’t. This is a difficult and awful time, but we do need to be there. Admitting you’re uncomfortable allows you to at least be there and say something. That’s the real gift – Companionship!

If you’re not sure what to say, ask! It’s always been confusing to me why we think asking what to say is wrong. It reminds me of the cultural connection. If I don’t know someone else’s culture, it’s respectful of me to find out – to ask them – rather than do the wrong thing. This is much like that. Your friend or client is walking a path – a culture – that you may not have walked. Err on the side of being present. Your effort really is noticed and appreciated (Devine, 2017).

References

Fraser, G. (April 27, 2016). The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice. On Being. Retrieved from onbeing.org/blog/the-gift-of-presence-the-perils-of-advice/.

Devine, M. (2017). It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. (ISBN: 97871622039074)