A Different Kind of Goodbye

Saying Goodbye To You

Saying goodbye to Ben when he died was like saying goodbye to him as a person. For the first few years I had to say goodbye to all that he was to me. He was my best friend and wonderful husband, my love, my cheerleader when I doubted myself, my comfort at the end of the day, my assembler of confusing IKEA furniture, my plus one, the one to remind me when I needed to rest or take a break, an amazing father to our child, my artistic partner, and so much more.

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I was fortunate enough to stay in the same house that Ben and I found together before he died. We moved into a townhouse in February 2014 and he died in August 2014. The townhouse we found was spacious, practical, and ideal at the time. But three years after his death that began to change.

As grief became less intense it’s like the scales on my eyes fell off and I was able to really see the house and the way I arranged things in a different way. I unpacked and put things away mostly by myself as Ben slept most of the days and sometimes whole weekends because of chemo. During that time my mind was on overload and not able to think through things clearly, so many things were put in odd or hard to reach places.

The summer of 2017 I began to rearrange my kitchen, purge many baby items and baby clothes, and things Ben picked out for me but I never really loved. Getting rid of those things began this process of saying goodbye to Ben in a different way.

Things were pushed to a new level when my landlord verbally threatened that my son and I had to be out of the townhouse in 30 days in October 2017 for reasons that didn’t even make sense.

Our landlord never did send the written 30 day notice but it began the process of asking the Lord if the townhouse was still the place for us to be. It turns out He did have a better place in mind and He led me to a place that I would have never have found if I wasn’t listening to Him as I was driving around after work.

Saying Goodbye To The Old Me

I had to start sorting through the whole house and garage and decide whether to keep, donate, or store. This was not a goodbye to Ben as the person anymore. But this time it was a goodbye to the person I was. A goodbye to who we were together. A goodbye to the dreams we shared together. A goodbye to my past life. A goodbye to things I had learned to love or tolerate. It was a goodbye to all the ways I was an amazing wife and partner to someone.

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All the boxes in the new place
The realization you are not a couple anymore is not an immediate process. Your brain knows what it means but it is the heart and the emotions that still feel connected that takes time to process and let go of.

Three years later I now feel mentally and emotionally not married to Ben. It is a strange thing to say or explain but a huge milestone to realize and to embrace for myself. I now see Ben as my late husband as in the past and embrace the new current single me today.

Saying Hello To The New Me

Saying goodbye to who I was is emotional but it has been a beautiful exchange at the same time. As I have learned to say goodbye, I have also learned how to say hello to the new me. Hello to a deeper and wiser person. Hello to being more compassionate and more understanding. Hello to a new style of clothing fashion. Hello to a stronger and braver person than I ever thought could exist apart from Ben. Hello to a new perspective on life. Hello to new communities of people who are willing to sit in my pain and healing journey. And most of all a hello to a deep-rooted faith and understanding in a God I could have never known without Ben’s death.

I have this vision of my life with Ben being like living in a beautiful house. When he died it was like a terrible storm tore every single last bit of the house to shreds and all that was left was ashes. The only thing left standing was the solid foundation the house was standing on and me in tears with our son in my arms. The Lord represents my solid foundation that holds me up when all else fails me. This has not taken away my pain or grief but it has made me realize that even though it seems like everything around me may seemed destroyed or lost He never changes, moves, or passes away. He remains the one thing that remains in my life forever.

 

Grieving Is About Letting Go and Forgiving

One of the first things most people do when a loss happens is they go through the stage of “why.” 

“Why did this happen to me?”

“Why did this happen to someone so young?”

“Why did they have to die?”

And then people go through the “if only stage”

“If only I would have seen the signs.”

“If only I would have not lost my temper the day they died.”

“If only they would have told the doctors sooner.”

All of these stages should not be suppressed and all of these stages are actually needed to get though grief. Why? Because asking these questions are part of the process of working through grief. The things that we think and the things that we feel in grief doesn’t always make sense but that is not the point. The point is to let things come to the surface. The “why’s” and the “if only’s” really have to do with our hearts being hurt and  being in pain.

Too many times I see believers skip through acknowledging the pain and go straight to praising the Lord that their loved ones are not suffering and they will see them one day in heaven.

It is great to know that we will see our loved ones again but it is not truly comforting to our hearts when we miss our loved ones. We miss having their presence in our lives and we miss the ways they were a part of it. And grieving this part matters! These stages need to be processed and they need to be grieved. Acknowledging these things are needed to work through the chaos. We have to start somewhere and sometimes that means being really raw for a period of time

But eventually grief takes on a different stage. There is a part of letting go. I had to come to grips with how much I was not in control of. Yes, I can get to make my own choices but I have no control of the outcomes or the other people around me.

For me, I felt angry I didn’t see the signs of how sick my late husband really was. When I think back on our dating and even early marriage there were little warning signs that seemed more like personality traits than major health problems. I thought it was just a personality trait of his when he would sleep so much during the day. I thought it was because he was such a chill guy that liked to relax. I thought all his stomach pain was because he stuffed himself too much at meals.

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My late husband’s nickname was BBQ Ben because he loved to BBQ meat so much
My late husband chose to not find out why he slept so much throughout the day. He chose to ignore his stomach problems. He chose to ignore problems with his bowel movements. He chose to ignore and suppress his emotions that caused harm to his body. He chose to ignore a lot of other things I probably was not even aware of leading up to his stage 4 colon cancer. The doctor said with Ben’s condition he probably had the cancer for about 10-15 years. All of these things and countless other things that led to his death were his responsibility NOT mine.

Grieving is not only about letting go it’s also about forgiving.

Forgiveness is about bestowing grace upon another person and to stop feeling angry or resentful for a flaw or a mistake they made. Forgiving another person is to give grace to the things you couldn’t control and wish the other people who you felt wronged you well and give grace to that debt.  If your loved one had an addiction they died of you eventually have to let go of your own anger toward them so you can be free of resentment and accept that they chose into it not you . If a doctor messed up with a surgery that may have saved your loved one’s life you eventually have to wish them well and bestow grace and peace upon their future. If after your loved one died there were friends that stopped inviting you to things you have to forgive the fact that you couldn’t control their choice they made and wish them well. You can still acknowledge how people hurt you and still forgive them and then wish them well.

But sometimes the hardest part of forgiveness is about forgiving yourself and giving grace to yourself for the choices you made or the things you were unaware of but not responsible for in your loved one’s death.

And for me, I am the hardest person to forgive. I realize now that most of the things I’m angry about  Ben’s death are things that were never my responsibility to keep or to hold onto.

I had to sort out what my husband was responsible for and what I was responsible for. I let go of things that were out of my control and responsibility and gave it to the Lord. The things I was responsible for, the Lord and I worked on together. And we continue to work on as they come up to the surface. The Lord calls me to be diligent with what he puts before me and accept what I can and cannot control. And to me, that has been so freeing and so comforting in my grieving process. It takes the burdens that were not mine to bear off of me and the ones that are mine can be  joined and worked on with the Lord.

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Our responsibility is to find out what hinders or blocks us from the Lord, have space to process it, and eventually be freed from it. Because of the Lord I can be free from the guilt I felt of maybe not doing enough when Ben was alive. I can be free from hiding how I really feel from the Lord. I can be free of carrying burdens on my own. I can be free to face all that life throws at me with the Lord. We have faced one of the hardest things life can throw at us and we have gotten through it together. It has given me hope on my hardest days of being a young widow and raising a son on my own. It has given me strength when I feel like I have none. And to me, that has made all the difference.