Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 22

Same old blog - just a new look.  I had not intended to update anything, but then my blog started putting these annoying lines between paragraphs.  It bothered me so much that  I ended up just switching a bunch of stuff until I got rid of the lines.  I ended up with a whole new look as a result.  I've always liked the classiness of black and besides,  right now that color really suits my mood.  I'll save the pink swirls for a day when my heart is lighter.


June 28, 2013


Day 22


I am finding it interesting how a person (namely me) can go through their entire lives assuming they know God to the fullest capacity possible.  I was content with my spiritual life.  I knew there were areas that could be improved, but hey – there was room for improvement in ALL areas of my life.  My motto throughout life has pretty much been, “close enough is good enough” (this drove Paul (Mr. Perfection) nuts, by the way) and, sadly, this was evident in my Christian walk, as well.  What is interesting is that now I am knowing God and I am astounded at all I missed before.  There are times now that I am hearing God speak.  No, it’s not a literal voice, but He is speaking so clearly into my heart that there is no room for doubt Who it is I am hearing from.  Some might argue that I am simply “hearing” my own thoughts, but I know that’s not the case.  The words God is using are not even ones in which I would typically think.  For example…


Earlier this week I was once again feeling regret over things I had done/not done in my marriage, unrealistic expectations I had had of Paul, times I withheld forgiveness, etc. I know I’m forgiven, but I found myself just crying to the Lord, expressing regret for not always cherishing my husband like I should have.  Immediately, I heard these words,


“Daughter…you are loved.”


Goosebumps arose.  And then I wept as I was once again reminded of just how much God, indeed, loves me - even when I am at most unlovable.


Fear is a pretty constant companion these days.  I fight against it, try to remind myself of God’s promises, but it seems like fear never quite leaves the room.  There’s a lot that concerns me – money, the kids’ emotional states, re-emerging difficulties with Ben now, Will’s future, my physical safety…just to name a few.  The other night I was expressing my concern to the Lord over my perceived inability to raise these children I have been left with.  On a good day, I am somewhat confident in my abilities.  But on a bad day – and they’re all bad days right now – I tremble with the knowledge of what I must do.  One child has reached adulthood, but yet he still needs guidance as he spans the bridge from childhood to complete adulthood independence.  Ben will need assistance his entire life.  Right now he is not dealing with his dad’s death very well and I am finding it extraordinarily difficult to parent him.  And the others all need guidance in varying forms.  Three are still so little, not even in school yet.  There is so much they need to learn and Lizzie, of course, still bears wounds from her early, chaotic years of neglect.  I don’t know if all the love in the world will ever be enough to grant her complete healing.   And then I homeschool on top of everything else.  And I want to homeschool.  I believe it is something God has called me to do.   But it is another load to carry.  To think that I am solely responsible now for every aspect of children’s upbringing – spiritual, behavioral, educational – is really heavy.  So I was reminding God of all this one night recently.  He spoke to my heart again.  He said simply,


“I will strengthen you.”


That was it  But it was enough so that I was able to metaphorically quit cowering in the corner, straighten my shoulders, and once again, pick up and don the mantel of parental responsibility.


Other things…


Yesterday, we went to Family Camp for the day.  It was our first experience at any Family camp, ever.  For the first few years we were out here, money and Paul’s available vacation days made it pretty difficult to even consider going.  In the last few years, Paul had begun to talk about it more, even going so far as to bring home brochures on the camps.  He would say, “We really should…” and that’s as far as it ever went.  But Sunday my friend Debbie invited us to go as their guests and I found myself agreeing.  The kids were pretty excited by the prospect of a day up there.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but knew it would be different from our normal Thursdays anyway (although we don’t really have “normal” Thursdays anymore, or any other days of the week).


I got fewer than 4 hours of sleep the night before, but didn’t have any trouble with the 2 hour drive up to Clear Lake.  I am so glad we went.  Maybe I should just re-post today’s Facebook status here.  It kind of sums up our day:


Sunburnt, stiff, and sore, I am rejoicing today in God's tender care. Invited by friends, we spent yesterday up at Family Camp. For the first time in 3 weeks, my kids were able to have fun and engage in normal, pre-June 6th activities. I reconnected with old friends and made a new one - a woman who has walked an eerily similar path of early, unexpected widowhood (and she lives in my metro area!). I heard a message on suffering that I am pretty sure was written just for me. Ps. 23-2-3 talks about God's care for wounded hearts. Ours continue to be bound up by our loving Shepard and others who are loving Him by loving us. Very thankful...


Pretty wonderful day.  But there were moments of pain, even in the fun.  I found myself feeling guilty that the kids and I were enjoying ourselves.  Aren’t we supposed to be grieving?  Well, we still are, but I quickly decided that fun and grief are not necessarily exclusive.  It is possible to have enjoyment in the midst of pain – odd as that sounds.

I felt bad that Paul wasn’t there with us, because he would have loved that time up there so much.  Then, it occurred to me that, well, Paul probably was having a very wonderful day, too.  And then I felt  bad that our good days weren’t being spent together.  Sometimes grief isn’t very logical.


 When we arrived, Debbie and Keith checked both our families in.  They had already told me they intended to pay for our day up there.  But after they finished registering Debbie told me, “They wouldn’t let us pay for you!”  Later, the  camp director pulled me aside during the day and told me that they would like us to come up in August for an entire week of Family Camp.  It took me a moment to realize what it was he was offering us.  He explained that another family had anonymously donated weeks of family camp for the use of two different families that the camp thought could benefit.  They wanted us to be one of the families.  It’s an enormous gift (I figured up it would cost us $755 if we had to pay) and am so incredibly grateful.  I’m a little nervous about the details – doing a vacation without Paul’s help, with all the additional assistance that Ben and Littles require.  But I’m going to assume that God will work out the details and indeed, be my strength.  The kids are over the moon with excitement and I find that I am anticipating August as well.  I am hopeful that our hearts will heal even more that week as we’re surrounded by God’s Word and God’s people.


The very first thing we did at camp after registering was to attend the morning worship session.  The had us sing “It is Well with my Soul.”  I couldn’t do it.  This is my most favorite hymn in the history of hymnology and I had it sung at Paul’s funeral as a way to honor him but to minister to myself.  I didn’t have any problem singing it at the funeral.  But I could not do it yesterday.  Instead, I cried as others sang.  Then, the guest pastor began to speak.  His message was on suffering.  Did God have him choose this message knowing that I would be attending only that session on that day?  I don’t know, but I was ministered to.  As he closed up, the speaker gave us the following statements.  They’re penned by Dr. Paul Tripp, who I am very familiar with from video sessions we have done in our church on parenting and most recently, marriage.  I found the statements particularly challenging.  I wasn’t able to jot them down, but a friend spoke to pastor’s wife when she heard that I wanted to hear them and today, she facebooked the statements to me.  I was so touched!


So the war rages.


Will I rest or complain?


Will I believe or doubt?


Will He be my greatest joy, or will my heart be ruled by the joys the earth offers?


Will I let pain and disappointment put a wedge between me and my Lord?


Will I continue to hold onto my dreams with clinched fists long after they have slipped through my fingers?


Will I enviously compare my life to those around me?


Will I allow myself to rehearse to myself again and again how my life could have been different?


Will I try to drug my disappointed heart with the temporary joys of the surrounding world?


Will I let devotion to God give way to questions that can never be answered?


Will I begin to walk away from the one place of hope to which I once constantly ran?


Will I let my joy ebb away, or will I, in the middle of my disappointment, battle for my heart with all the fight that I can muster?


Will I worship a God whom I cannot fully understand?


Will I find joy in Him and His love, even though I struggle with the difficulty He has brought my way?"


I’m going to print these out and hang them somewhere I can read them every day – seriously! 


I ran into a friend camping with her family yesterday.  She, in turn, introduced me to her friend – who was widowed suddenly 11 years ago at the age of 41, leaving her to raise 3 children alone.  We talked and talked.  She even took Ellie for me all afternoon so that I could spend time doing whatever I wanted.  What a blessing!  After the evening session, before I left, she hugged me and told me, “You are the reason I came to camp this year!”  I tear up again just thinking about it.  God is so, so good to me!


I’ve been able to write about a lot of really good things in this entry.  But of course, it’s not all good.  On the way home last night Ben had a major melt-down.  It was very reminiscent of his puberty years.  Will pointed out to me that Ben was extremely tired which probably contributed to the tantrum.  But I cannot always ensure that he will get enough sleep.  I am hopeful that this will pass as his heart heals, but it’s a huge burden on me right now.  I am actually minimizing this right now in my writing because I don't want to alarm my readers.  But I need prayer for wisdom in this area, specifically.


Paul would have been on-call, starting today.  It occurred to me just today that our lives and income are no longer going to be dependent on the weather.  I’ve just gotten so used to thinking that way – hoping for extreme weather conditions during his on-call weeks and even his normal weeks just for some regular hours and decent paychecks.  Now I can actually be a “normal” Iowan and hope for cool summers and warm winters!  But anyway, I had his on-call schedule on my calendar.  I remember when I wrote it down being concerned that he would be on-call on Ellie’s birthday, which is this coming Monday.  It’s always been really important to me that we celebrate birthdays ON the actual birthday and I was a bit worried that Paul might be too busy with work to do that.  It never once dawned on me that he might be dead by her birthday and not be here at all.  Paul never once missed a child’s birthday celebration.  It’s going to be a different day on Monday - and for many birthdays to come.


Sunday Will and I visited US Cellular.  It took a long time but we got Paul’s phone number disconnected.  I took over his phone, which was purchased this spring and thus newer and nicer than my ancient flip phone.  Our service was in his name so I had to switch that to my name.  I bought a plan that includes texting.  I always swore I’d never give in to the texting craze, but it dawned on me sometime this last year that my resistance to learning something new was leaving me a bit behind most people.  I reasoned that with all the extra help I am now needing, texting might be a more convenient way for me to be available to others.  And of course, Will was egging me on, with visions of unlimited texting dancing in his teenaged head (he’s bought his own texting plan for a couple of  years now, but was limited to how many he could send a month). One nice thing US Cellular does is to download deceased customers’ voice mails to files for their loved ones.  I got that email this week.  I’m not quite sure how to get it transferred to my mp3 player, but I’ll figure it out. 


  They ended up merging Paul’s contacts and mine together.  I spent some of my time last night while driving home (riding, not driving – Will drove) deleting Paul’s contacts and updating my own.  But then I got to the Ps.  “Paul” from my contacts was right above “Princess” from his.  I couldn’t do it.  I don’t need those numbers anymore, but I could not physically bring myself to delete them from my phone.


  So I didn’t.  And then I cried.



















Day 20

I wrote most of this a couple of days ago but got so busy that evening that I wasn't able to finish it as planned.  I had a few more things to write, but will include them in my next post.

June 26, 2013
Day 20


This evening I will attend my first viewing/funeral event since Paul’s death.  An older man in our church died from cancer Sun. evening and now his wife is walking the road of widowhood, as well.  I am tempted to not go tonight, thinking that it will bring back painful memories.  I have noticed that I tend to be a bit weepier at church – I think it’s because it brings back emotions from Paul’s viewing and funeral.  But…life is not all about me and my emotions.  It meant a lot to me when people were there for me.  I will not be selfish and deny giving myself to others in their hour of need.

   Today has been a rough day for a variety of reasons.  I dreamed about Paul early this morning.  He was clean-shaven again.  I really wonder about the significance of that.  Why am I only dreaming of him without his beard?  In this dream, though, we had lost a child; I don’t know which one.  We had been lost in our own little grief worlds for some period of time and in my dream I was longing to go back to him, so that we could come together and support each other in our shared grief.  I’m not sure that there is any real meaning to that – dreams can be pretty random.  But right now every small thing concerning Paul takes on heightened meaning and awareness for me.  I woke up and realized that it wasn’t a child I was a mourning, but my husband. Crushing. 

I know I have written about the literal pain in my heart area, but today I realized it’s just not only that part of me that hurts.  My stomach feels like it’s been kicked and I can’t catch my breath – brings back memories of elementary school kickball games with forced PE participation.  How I hated gym class!  I hate this worse.  One of Ben’s teachers sent me some song links last week and one is called “Better.”  I listened to it and could really identify with the lyrics.  They’re about being willing to do just about anything to escape the pain and to feel – well, better.  That’s not to say I will do just about anything, but I understand the sentiment.

I got Paul’s death certificates, too, today.  It was pretty difficult to read those.  Actually, it was devastating.  His cause of death was not what I was expecting and I was immediately flooded with feelings of regret, anxiety, and fear that I had not done all I should in the moment.  But my pastor and other friends circled around me, reminding me of God's truths. 

This morning my brother sent me an email detailing a time when Paul was helpful to he and his family.  Yesterday, I had a similar email from a member at our former church.  Wow – these stories are exactly what I need to hear right now.  My mom made a comment to me this week about how Paul was able to pack more into 18 years of fatherhood than a lot of men do over the course of a lifetime.  I need this stuff!  Of course Paul wasn’t perfect (which drove me nuts at time, wanting him to be better – why was I like that?  So ungrateful..) but he was still a very good man.  It is a balm to my soul right now to hear these stories of appreciation and gratitude from others about the way he touched their lives.  I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life when I have opportunity to minister to others who are hurting over the loss of a loved one.

This morning Ben had an intake meeting at Genesis ( a sheltered workshop in Indianola – he’s going to be attending their activity program one day a week).  When I had to originally reschedule this meeting because of Paul’s death, the worker sent me an email in which she mentioned the name, “Jesus.”  That’s pretty rare unless someone is a Believer.  Today, I met with her and she quickly informed me that she had been praying for our family.  She told me straight up that she is a Believer.  Her husband is a youth pastor there in Indianola.  But she had been hearing about Paul and told me he sounded like he was a real man of God.  She used to have unsaved neighbors that she witnessed to regularly.  They ended up getting saved – and they attend our church now.  In fact, they brought me lunch this past Sunday.  What a small world it is within God’s kingdom! 

One thing Will and I have commented to each other about is the difference in condolences from those that know Christ and those that don’t.  Of course, I am thankful for all expressions of sympathy, no matter who they come from.  They are all honestly very comforting.  But we’ve noticed that when the unsaved offer them they kind of look down at their hands and mumble about “not understanding why.”  The saved may also say something similar, but they look us straight in the eye and add, “But God…”  There is a tremendous difference when one knows the Lord and knows that He is working ALL things together for good.












Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 18


June 24, 2013


Day 18


I ache.  Saturday, I awoke with the intensity of my heartache ripping into me with an insistence that would not be quelled.  It’s still there.  Perhaps I will learn in time how to function with the feeling that half my body and soul has been ripped away.  I’m not quite there yet.  I’m putting one foot in front of the other and doing what needs to be done, but it’s with great effort.


Today I did a little bit of shopping, something that in my old life brought me a great deal of pleasure.  I’m a bit of a retail queen!  Of course, with a family of 8 (now 7 – that just hit me the other day that even our “number” is no longer the same) it seems like somebody always needs something from a store. Since I get a kick out of shopping, it always worked.    But today, it wasn’t fun.  I found myself anxious while I shopped and impatient to be finished.  Normally, that feeling only happens when I am grocery shopping.  Death is coloring even my “fun” activities.  I haven’t touched my kindle since before Paul died.  Now if I read I only have an appetite for the Bible or devotional books or books about death and widowhood.  I quit listening to the radio all together.  I have no clue what is happening in the world anymore because I just no longer care.


I am finding myself impatient with the world at large.  People are so wrapped up in inconsequential activities and interests.  They’re buzzing about the latest celebrity hook-up or what racist thing some celebrity said thirty-five years ago (Ok, I did catch a little bit of the news one day).  They’re racing from entertainment to entertainment and when they’re not doing that, they’re buying new clothes and having their hair done in preparation for the next fun activity.  I’m impatient because none of it matters!!  My husband just died, my children no longer have a father, and yet the majority of the world twitters on like absolutely nothing has happened.  To be fair, it hasn’t happened to them.  I get that and I’m not resentful.  Honestly.  But my perspective has been irrevocably changed and it’s hard to believe that I will ever be able to enter into mindless activities like I could at one time.


And it’s not true for everybody.  People that know us – they’ve been affected.  I’ve had more than one friend tell me how they completely wept and wept when they heard of Paul’s Homegoing.  I’ve had other people tell me how Paul’s death and funeral have caused them to re-evaluate some things in their lives.  That pleases me, actually.  Even today, the office manager at Paul’s work commented to me that I probably don’t understand just how deeply their company has been affected by Paul’s death – what it has done to the morale and the employees and so forth. 


As I just referred to, I did visit Paul’s employer today. It was difficult to make that trip.  The last time I had been in there had been the day Paul and I left on our anniversary trip.  We stopped by so he could show off the girls before we dropped them off at our friends’.  And now I was coming back to return his things because he doesn’t need them any  more – kind of poignant and sad.   I needed to get some paperwork and return Paul’s work clothes.  I did beg for one of his shirts that has his name embroidered on it.  Actually, I offered to buy it and they just gave it to me.  They also had a check for me from one of their suppliers.  They knew Paul as he would come into their warehouse for supplies and felt so bad about his death that they cut a check for his family.  I was so touched!


Little things are continuing to jab at me.  Yesterday, I got the newspaper and removed the coupons like I always did.  They fluttered to the floor and when I picked them up I saw a page of coupons for Long John Silvers.  I would give those coupons to Paul.  He LOVED LJS.  I hated that place!  He knew I loved him when I would grudgingly consent to go.  Now we don’t have a use for the coupons.

It occurred to me that I will never celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary.  I know it’s just one day, but that was something Paul and I used to talk about – how we would celebrate that big day.  I could just see a roomful of grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathering to wish us well on our once-in-a-lifetime milestone.  I may remarry someday, but I won’t live long enough to have a golden anniversary.  That makes me sad.


Yesterday a friend at church told me how nice I look.  I think that actually translates to, “You don’t look as awful as you did two weeks ago!”  Getting myself presentable right now seems to take tremendous effort.  I still can’t bring myself to wear make-up.  I was thankful for her observation, though.  At the same time, I was reminded how Paul always, always complimented me on my appearance, particularly on Sundays when I would be more dressed up.  He liked it when I went “all out.”  I’ll never forget his appreciative wolf whistles…He never seemed to see the stretch marks, gray hair, sunken chest, or varicose veins.  I was beautiful to him.


Saturday I mentioned to Will that three weeks ago that day he graduated and we had his party.  I said, “Does it seem like a lifetime ago to you?”  He said it did.  It’s a lifetime in which we’ve all suddenly grown older and sadder.


I’ve had several widows reach out to me through the internet now.  They’ve heard about me from others and have taken the time and effort to contact me.  I am grateful for that.


Today my Mid-American bill arrived.  That wasn’t a problem.  What did make me catch my breath was the front of it.  This time it had MY name on it.  That was a bill that used to come addressed to only Paul.  I knew it would happen.  After all, I called everyone a couple of weeks ago and let them know what had happened and that I would be assuming responsibility for the bills (not that I wasn’t already – I paid everything).  But it still hurts to see it, you know?  We needed new checks and so I ordered some last night.  But I ordered them to say, “Mrs. Sarah Heywood.”  I’m not ready to give up my married status even if I am technically no longer a spouse.


Well, this has all been really depressing!  Honestly, I don’t think I’m depressed – yet, anyway.  I’m just sad.  And I have a good reason to be sad.  So it’s going to color my perspective on everything for awhile.  I do still laugh about some things.  I pull myself out of bed every day and I’m not self-medicating.  I’m not even needing the Advil PMs anymore, actually.  I’m not entertaining suicidal thoughts.  I’m doing the “next thing” as Elisabeth Elliot used to always advise on her little programs I listened to in the early years of marriage and parenthood.  So I think I’m doing ok, all things considered.


My friend Jenny loaned me a couple of message cds last night that she found helpful.  I listened to most of one today.  It’s John McArthur speaking on the sovereignty of God.  That’s not a subject I’ve ever really wrestled with.  If I did, that was pretty much settled after Ben’s birth.  But I’m actually really appreciating what I’m hearing on the cd.  In times like these, it’s comforting to be reminded of not only God’s sovereignty, but His deep care and love for us.


I’ve been listening to the following song quite a bit.  In February, when Paul and I were in Colorado, we happened across a Christian radio station that played really nice music.  It was such a relief to find such a thing because our stations out here insist on only playing the latest stuff.  Some of that is fine and I do hear modern songs that I like.  But most of them I don’t care for.  Christian music seems to be shifting it’s message from being God-centered to being people-centered.  There are a lot of songs out there that focus more on convincing their audiences that they are worthy in and of themselves.  It’s a trend that bothers me.  But, I digress.  Paul and I could talk about that subject for hours!  And we did. But we found this station playing older and/or nicer, slower songs.  One was a song by Cheri Keaggy that I had not heard before (I haven’t heard anything by Cheri played on our stations in at least 15 years) , called, “There Will be One Day.” I thought it was really pretty, so   I jotted down the title that on the Denver roads and when we got home, I downloaded it.


Since Paul’s death, I have listened to this song repeatedly.  It is truly the cry of my heart right now.  I think God allowed me to hear and like that song, knowing that I would need just a few months later:


Oh God of comfort, comfort me,

Comfort me in this suffering.

I need to know you in this grief,

Oh God of comfort, comfort me,

Oh God of everything that breathes,

They say you are the God Who sees, so I am standing in belief,

That in this moment you see me.



 Chorus: There will be one day when there will be no more tears to wipe away.
There will be one day when there will be no more death to navigate.
But until then we are Your children
Your love cannot forsake.
There will be one day when there will be no more tears.


O God of sun and star and moon

When this old earth has felt its doom,

You'll find me clinging to the truth

That You are making all things new.

O God of love what love we've known.

Mercy keeps falling from Your throne.

Still we are waiting for that trumpet blow

When You will come to call us home.

There will be one day when there will be no more tears to wipe away.
There will be one day when there will be no more death to navigate.
But until then we are Your children
Your love cannot forsake.
There will be one day when there will be no more tears.

There will be peace just like a river,

Joy like we've never known,

We all will be delivered

When we get home, home,

Home, home.

When we get home, home.

When we get home.

There will be one day when there will be no more tears to wipe away.
There will be one day when there will be no more death to navigate.

There will be one day when there will be no more tears to wipe away.
There will be one day when there will be no more death to navigate.

There will be one day when there will be no more tears to wipe away.
There will be one day when there will be no more death to navigate.



I was going to end this diary entry with this song, but then Sam came in while I listened to this song once again.  I’ve had a bit of a hard time getting a read on him as to how he is feeling and just how much of his dad’s death he’s even comprehending.  He’s such a “scientific” and logical type of kid that he has seemed more interested in the facts of his dad’s death, asking just what seizures are exactly and informing me that his dad’s “spirit is in Heaven, but we buried his body” – stuff like that.  But he has not been all that emotional about his loss.  However, while I listened to this song, Sam suddenly said to me, “Dad’s in that place, you know – what they’re singing about.”


He’s 5 years old and he gets it.  He accepts it.  Years from now, we may have some emotional fall-out from the trauma of what he has experienced, and we’ll deal with it. But for right now, he’s ok with just knowing that Daddy is in Heaven.


I am too, Son, - I am too.


















Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 16


 June 22, 2013


Day 16


I actually had several “good” days this week.  I had not been struck with desire to visit Paul’s grave and had very few tears at all – to the point that I wondered if I was ok.  Aren’t the bereaved supposed to cry all the time?  Well, I’m learning that there are really no “supposed to’s” when it comes to grief.  But while nothing is easy right now, the last few days had not been so extraordinarily difficult.


But then I woke up today.  I dreamed of Paul again last night.  It was nothing significant, like previously this week.  He didn’t sit on the edge of my bed and tell me he’s waiting for me, like some stories I hear.  We were just doing normal, household stuff, holding normal conversations like we did in real life.  And then I woke up and had to gasp at the pain of remembering he is gone.


Actually, yesterday morning I woke up crying, which I have never done in my life.  But the night before I had dreamed that Ben had also died, so I think that’s where that came from.   Of course, the tears were for Paul, but my dream was pretty horrific too.  However, it didn’t seem to color my day.  I fully woke up and got on with things and was ok.


But today – I’m not.  I’m short of breath once again, I feel this cavity in the area  of my heart with acute awareness (I understand the term “heart-broken” now – my heart feels like it is literally broken – more like ripped apart, actually).


Last night was my first drug-free night.  I am tempted to keep taking the pills if it means this is how I’ll feel when I wake up.  But, I remind myself of what I wrote earlier, that I have to go through this  time of grief.  I cannot go around it by drugging myself into oblivion or distracting myself from the pain with other activities.  It’s a miserable thing.


Will came home last night, after being gone for more than 8 days.  The trip was good for him.  It sounds like the pastor there in Utah had a special interest in Will because he had been informed what had happened and he reached out to Will.  Will has come home, burdened for the type of work this pastor does and tells me he wants to go back.  In the meantime, he plans to remain in contact with this pastor.


Just this week I was talking with Marcia about the need for the older boys to be able to talk to someone about their grief.  I suppose this pastor filled a bit of that for Will this last week.  I’m glad.  Now, I need to convince David of the need to talk to someone.  He says he feels “too embarrassed” to that, but I’m afraid of what will happen if he does not have an outlet for his pain.


I certainly have an outlet – many, really.  Many are sitting with me, letting me talk.  I feel like I’m repeating myself and I worry constantly that I’m telling people things I’ve already told them because I can’t remember who I told what to!  I’m sure people don’t mind, though.   Marcia came over Thursday and spent time with me in the Word and prayed with me.  She says this is going to be a regular thing.  I’m thankful.


I spent all Thurs. morning at the Farm Bureau office.  Pastor and Marcia went with me.  It was a long appointment.  Of course, I don’t get the life insurance until we have a death certificate, which may take months.  But there are so many other things to consider now that I am suddenly single (hate, hate that word – “single” – in fact the other day I was filling out some paperwork and I had to check a box, “Married, Single, Divorced, or Student.”  I carefully wrote “widowed” below all the choices).  We had to talk about life insurance for me, life insurance for the kids, guardianship for the kids, a trust for Ben’s care later on,  vehicle and house insurance, and  medical insurance for me because I am losing Paul’s coverage.  I was very thankful to have Pastor’s and Marcia’s ears because I just don’t understand all that I am told these days.  It’s like my brain can only handle so much information before it shorts out and shuts down.


Our pool is up!  Wed. night at church Pastor told the congregation that it was going to get hot this weekend and the Heywoods need their pool put up.  He was hopeful that a couple guys would volunteer.  My friend Danielle shot her hand up and calmly told Pastor that she would take care of it – funny.  Danielle is one of these uber-capable people.  I shake my head in amazement at her because she just runs circles around most women when it comes to ability.  The next morning she and another friend from church showed up and set up the pool.  Yesterday, Danielle was back, teaching me how to use the chemicals.  I took notes because I am not capable like that!  The kids are all pretty excited and are trying to coax me in the water.  I would prefer to avoid thermal shock by waiting until the water actually warms up.


David reminded me of last summer when Paul and I would get in the pool in the dark after the Littles were in bed.  It was romantic and quiet…until David would discover we were having fun without him and insist on joining us!


Remember how I wrote a few days about the regrets I had in our marriage?  There honestly was not a lot to regret because we were generally quite happy together, but as a wife, I know areas in which I was lazy or a downright failure.  I was praying about it a few days ago and I felt this immediate sense of peace and the sure knowledge that all was forgiven.  What a beautiful word.  I told this to Marcia later and she reminded me how God tells us that He buries our sins in the deepest sea and “as far as the east is from the west.”  It is remembered no more!  While wrestling with this, I had actually had the silly thought of wondering if now that Paul was enjoying the delights of Heaven, if he looked back on his time with me and was saying, “Yeah, I really had it rough with that woman!”  That thought made me so sad!  But God is not holding my failures against me.  And Paul is not, either.


We have continued to be blessed this week.  Both Thursday and Friday sacks and boxes of groceries were brought to me.  One even came from an old lady in our church who has such trouble with her vision that I had to help her up and down our back steps.  But she was insistent that she needed to bring me groceries!  Sweet. My brother’s old girlfriend UPSed us a box of homemade cookies all the way from Oregon because she remembered how I used to bake for Andrew and his friends when they would visit.  My Christian Moms of Boys group, an online group I have been part of for years, sent me six gorgeous frames, telling me that I can make copies of pictures of Paul with each of the kids for their bedrooms.  I know I’ve written before about tragedy inspiring generosity, but I continue to be amazed as I see it happening to us.


I’ve been printing out my Diary of an Unwilling Widow and re-reading my thoughts.  I didn’t think I would want to do that until much later.  But people are telling me they are reading my thoughts as I post them on my blog and then I feel curious enough to go back and see just what it was that I wrote.  I’m finding it comforting.  I suppose it’s because it’s all about Paul and continual reminders of him do make me feel better.


My greatest source of comfort, though, continues to be the Lord.  He is truly sheltering me under His wings and hiding me in the cleft of the rock. I’m not talking “Christianese” here – I understand now, for the first time, what people mean when they use these Biblical phrases.  When I think of Paul’s death I am comforted by the knowledge that his death was not a random, freak thing.  Psalm 139 tells us that our days are numbered before we ever come to be.  God was not surprised the morning of June 6th.  As I told the kids soon afterwards, God was not sleeping then.  He knew that Paul would live to be exactly 42 years, 5 months, and 2 days old.  We are surprised because we didn’t expect it.  We are lulled into a false sense of security because most people do live well into old age.  Death is a shock to us, particularly when it comes before then.  Paul had done exactly everything God intended for him to do.  And then He called him home.


Of course, we are left with broken hearts.  But I do not have to question God on top of everything else, wondering if He fell down on the job that night.  God’s purpose is not to ensure my perpetual happiness.  His purpose is to make me holy.  Sometimes, holiness comes through deep pain.  Actually, I think a lot of times that is the way it works.  So, even though I hurt with a pain that defies real description, I can rest in the secure knowledge that even now, God is at work.


That’s the truest source of comfort in these dark days.












Thursday, June 20, 2013

O Death, Where is Your Sting

The following is an account of the night Paul died, June 5-6, 2013.  I've told this story numerous times already as it actually gives me a measure of comfort (I don't know if that is weird or not).  So it is probably nothing new to my readers.  Some may actually prefer not to read it, finding an account of death disturbing.  It took me three nights to write it and it was kind of emotionally taxing.  But I am grateful that I got it done.  For better or worse, the events of that night are recorded.

June 18, 2013June 20, 2013



Within a few days of Paul’s death it occurred to me that there might be some value in writing down every detail from the night he died and I determined then that I would do that.  I guess, in thinking about, it’s not totally necessary that I do so, particularly since this is the single most horrific event of my entire lifetime.  Why would I want to recall all the details?  Maybe it’s my wide streak of morbidity.  Maybe it’s for my kids, since they all, save for Will, slept through the event.  Maybe it’s so that someday, decades from now, I will shake my head to think that I went through such events and didn’t crumble.  I don’t know.  But, for whatever reason, I am recording the events of that night.


And, actually, there are a few details that have to be added that occurred prior to the night of June 5th and 6th.


Paul began having seizures in his late teens.  Actually, when he was a toddler he suffered a febrile seizure and had to go to the hospital.  His mom always wondered if that was the start of his seizure problems.  His dad was convinced it was because they cooked him food on aluminum pans while growing up.  Everyone always second-guesses themselves when it comes to things like this.  Paul and I began dating when we were 19.  I remember he told me about his seizures, but the ones he described to me were of the petit mal variety.  In fact, just the other day I ran across some 3X5 cards he had recorded on at the time entitled, “Ceasure history,” which made me laugh (the spelling, that is).  He was attempting to establish a link at the time between his diet and seizure activity.  If Paul was having grand mal seizures at the time he didn’t know and nobody else did, either, since he slept alone.


A month after we were married I was awakened one night by Paul making strange vocal noises, getting out of bed, and stumbling around our bedroom.  At first I thought he was trying to be funny.  I quickly realized though, that this must be one of the seizures he had told me about.  I do not know why it never occurred to me to call for emergency help.  It just didn’t.  Soon, he fell back into bed and went to sleep.


And thus, a pattern was established.  When Paul would get overly tired or stressed, he would tend to have grand mal seizures in his sleep.  He would thrash around, often biting his tongue or clawing at his face.  The next day he would have no memory of anything, although he would have side effects sometimes that lasted for days – fuzzy headedness, impotence, loss of taste, etc.  But he never, ever called in sick because of a seizure.  There were times he would seize multiple times in a night and still get up for work the next day.


Paul was reluctant to take medication for his seizures, even though I urged him to do so.  He preferred to treat things naturally and he took a variety of herbs and vitamins, hoping he would eventually find the magic combination that would let him live seizure-free.  Finally, in the summer of 1996 (July 4th, actually, I remember) he had such severe seizures that he fell off the bed and cut up his chest on a sharp plastic garbage can we had beside the bed.  After that time, he agreed to go to the dr.


Paul was put through a battery of tests and eventually diagnosed with epilepsy, cause unknown.  He then began a series of different drugs that definitely worked.  Unfortunately, they caused him to be more fatigued, which made things more difficult for him especially as Ben was born during this time and David came along just a couple of years later.  His birth coincided with the purchase of our first home, which then began a 14 year odyssey of home remodeling, done on the weekends and late into the week nights after Paul arrived home from work.


Three or four years ago Paul participated in an epilepsy study at the McFarland Clinic in Ames.  They were testing a new drug and Paul agreed to be a guinea pig.  I honestly don’t know if he ended up sticking with the drug they tested on him or if it was something else, but Paul and I developed a good relationship with his new neurologist, Dr. Moore.  He put Paul on Keppra, which seemed like a wonder drug to us.  For the first time, Paul was nearly seizure free.  He very rarely had his petit mal seizures anymore and even when he had his grand mal seizures, they were rare and he could function the next day with little to no side effects. During the last decade, too, I had learned to intervene at the start of his seizures and was often able to interrupt them.  For the first time, I began to sleep deeply.  For years, I had learned to be a light sleeper, alert to any changes in Paul’s breathing that would indicate a coming seizure.  Life was good.


Looking back, the only thing that raises a possible alarm in my mind is that for the last year, Paul had had great difficulty sleeping the entire night through, which was frustrating to him.  He would often awaken around 3 or 4am and be unable to sleep any more.  He also struggled with ringing in his eyes and very dry eyes.  We figured it was probably all related to his drug.  But because it kept him relatively seizure-free, we didn’t pursue making any changes.


God was preparing to take Paul home, but we didn’t know it, of course.  Now we can look back on events and say, “Oh, God was working even then!”  The week before Paul’s death was crazy as we attempted to finish the house and clean everything up for Will’s graduation party.  Paul was missing sleep, which wasn’t a good thing.  In addition, he was getting up early every morning because he was working on a letter to Will.  This letter was a missive of sorts.  It was about 6 pages long and filled with fatherly advice to Will as he was about to set out on his adult journey.  Will treasures that letter now and even quoted from it at Paul’s funeral.


The night before Paul died, as we had been drifting off to sleep, being the needy female that I am, I had suggested to Paul that he needed to tell me how “amazing” I am.  He was really quiet and then I heard a light snore.  I laughed and told him I’d let him off the hook this time.  At 4 am the next morning, June 5, Paul awakened and then woke me up.  He began to tell me many things he loved about me and how special I was to him.    Then, I fell back asleep and didn’t even awaken to make his breakfast because I was so tired from being woke up at 4 that morning!  Later that day, we were chatting on the phone and I said something about being a “bad wife” because of that and Paul told me I “worried too much.”  He was always saying that.


My Wednesday was a normal day.  Actually, it was kind of nice.  I had been taking that week easy after the rush of the previous week and weekend.  I was tackling some long put-off projects and enjoying my still-clean house and brand new kitchen floor.  Will and David took the Littles to VBS that night and soon afterwards, Paul came home.  He walked in the house, crooked his finger and said, “Come here!”  Curious, I followed him out to his work van.  He asked me, “What did you call those chairs your grandparents used to have outside their house?”  I told him they were called “fan-back” chairs and I’d been keeping my eyes peeled for awhile, hoping to find some.  Well, that day, one of his customers had some sitting curbside and happily gave them to Paul when he asked.  Paul pulled them out of the van and explained that while they were a little rough-looking now, he planned to sand them and then we could spray paint them whatever color I wanted.  We carried them up to the deck and practiced sitting in them.  Then, Paul changed his clothes and left in my van to go to a side job for one of his elderly customers.


I had a long evening stretching in front of me, so I spent some time applying French tips to my nails (that I would later peel off in the wee hours of the morning as I sat with our pastors in their wives in my living room, stunned to my very core that Paul was suddenly gone.  I don’t know that I will ever wear French tips again.) and watching some crime show on television.  Paul got home around 10:30, explaining that the job turned out to be more of a job than he had envisioned and he actually had to run to a store for parts while up there.  He showered and came to bed.  I was already there.  David had come into my room while Paul was in the shower and had shared his shock over some information he had just discovered in the “So You’re About to be a Teenager” book we had given him in April when he and Paul took their trip.  His shock had to do with the birds and bees and it was all I could do to contain my laughter until David left.  I couldn’t wait to tell Paul and when he came to bed I did and we had a good laugh.  It was about 11:30.  Paul leaned over, kissed me, and said, “I love you!” like he did every night.  We both fell instantly asleep.


Ten minutes before midnight Paul began to have a grand mal seizure.  He sat up in bed, which was unusual, although he had done that before.  He had even walked around during a seizure before, which concerned me for safety reasons.  Once, he even went outside in his underwear during a seizure!  I was not about to let that happen this time.  I quickly grabbed his right hand and attempted to unfurl his fingers, which was the trick that usually worked for bringing him out of a seizure.  It didn’t work and Paul began to attempt to get off the bed.  I hung onto his arm with all my might.  He then fell over my body onto the floor, on my side of the bed, head down, with his feet up in the air.  At this point, I knew Paul would have to come out of the seizure by himself.  I could not move him.  I knew that within a few minutes he would awaken, realize he was not where he needed to be, and crawl back into bed.  I decided to go back to sleep.  So I laid there for about 7 minutes while Paul laid on the floor.  But his feet were tangled up in the sheets and I couldn’t relax.  It suddenly occurred to me that I ought to take a picture of him because he did look kind of funny, with his legs sticking straight up like that.  We could laugh about it the next day.  So, I crept out of bed, located my camera in the next room, flipped on the light switch and took his picture.  But then I realized there was blood near Paul’s head.  Concerned, I looked closer.  I saw that he dinged his nose on my vanity bench.  My first feeling was one of frustration.  We were scheduled to have a family picture taken in two days and now we were going to have to wait until that nose healed.  I wasn’t sure, but he kind of looked like he might need a stitch or two.  I leaned in closer an then saw a small pool of blood under Paul’s face.  It wasn’t coming from his nose, but from inside his mouth.  I began to frantically feel for a heartbeat, for a pulse – for anything.  I grabbed my phone and called 911.  I told them that my husband had suffered a seizure and I couldn’t wake him. 


I ran up to Will’s room and told him what was going on.  He jumped out of bed like I had lit a match to his foot.  He barreled down the steps and began feeling for a pulse.  I noticed that Paul’s face was gray, but I reasoned to myself that he was upside down and all the blood had rushed to his head.  I quickly dressed, brushed my hair, and even got a bag of Paul’s clothes ready.  After all, it looked like we were going to the hospital, but he would need some clothes for the trip home.  I even thought to throw my kindle and migraine pills into my purse.  I was ready!


It took about 15 minutes for the sheriff to arrive and about another 5 for the paramedics to come.  The sheriff came in and immediately lowered Paul’s feet and turned him over.  He began yelling loudly, “Paul!  Paul!”  But there was no response.  In the meantime, Will was doubled over on the front lawn, scared to death and in so much pain his body couldn’t take it.  I remember holding onto Will trying to recite Psalm 23 and being unable to remember all the words.  I was scared.


The paramedics rushed into the house, shoved our bed out of the way and began to do chest compressions on Paul.  The sheriff kept trying to shoo me out of the room, but I didn’t want to leave.  Paul’s face was so gray, so very, very gray.  The sheriff finally lead me to the kitchen and began asking some basic questions – what happened, Paul’s name, birthdate, etc.  He then turned to me and said, “I’m not going to lie to you – this may not turn out well.”  I am suspicious now that the sheriff already knew that Paul was dead at that point.


I had attempted to call our senior pastor when it looked like we’d be going to the hospital.  He had not answered (it was midnight, after all) and I had left a message.  Then, I called our asst. pastor.  I do not remember if I got him right away or if he called me back.


They strapped Paul to a board and took him out to the ambulance.  I peeked through the back window and I could see them still working on him, pushing on his chest over and over and over again.  I realized later they had also intubated him.  I don’t know how long it was, but the sheriff walked over to me.  I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the porch.  He said, “I’m so sorry.  We did everything we could, but your husband didn’t make it.”


I had just been delivered the most horrible news of my entire life.  I felt as though I were drowning.  I didn’t scream, I don’t even know if I moaned.  I just stood there, while the sheriff talked and asked who he could call for us.  I remember thinking that I was dreaming.  I would wake up and gulp mouthfuls of fresh air, relieved beyond measure that my horrible nightmare had ended.  Then, I would squeeze Paul in bed beside me, just to reassure myself that it had, indeed, been only a terrible dream.


I remember grabbing my phone and calling our assistant pastor back and just crying out to him, “Oh, Terry – Paul is dead, my husband is dead!”  I remember the terrible silence and then Terry telling me how sorry he was and that he would be there shortly.


I called my mom and left a message on their answering machine.  She called back within minutes, telling me over and over again that she didn’t know what to say.  The next morning she and Dad would throw some things in their car and would arrive by lunchtime.


I then made the hardest call I have ever made in my life, to Paul’s parents.  I got them both on the line and told them what had happened. I will never, ever forget the sound of Paul’s mother’s wails.  It was one of the most heart-wrenching things I have ever experienced in my life – informing a mother that her child has died.


While waiting for Terry to arrive, I suddenly was seized with the desire to see Paul again.  I asked to go in the ambulance and the crew quietly opened the door for me.  I would end up doing this at least twice more before they would take Paul.  I went in and Paul lay there under the bright lights so terribly still.  A blanket was draped around his waist.  A vent was in his mouth and blood was smeared all over the left side of his face and head.  He was terribly gray in color.  I couldn’t stop touching him – his soft hair, his bald scalp, the expanse of his broad chest.  And then suddenly, I would have enough, and have to go back outside.


When I walked out of the ambulance, Terry had arrived and was holding Will who was weeping.  He turned to me and embraced me as well.  Soon Joan, his wife, arrived and enveloped me in her arms.  Our senior pastor and his wife arrived almost immediately after that.  I was hugged repeatedly, but felt very little.  I do remember Joan sitting with me on our porch swing, rocking back and forth while she wrapped her arm around me.


The medical examiner soon arrived.  I know I was handed various pieces of paperwork to sign, but I don’t know what they were.  For all I knew, I was signing a confession that I had just murdered my husband (I hadn’t, but it occurred to me a day or so later that a terrible way to compound such a tragedy would be if a wife was mistakenly arrested for her husband’s murder – how awful that would be!  Fortunately, I only had to imagine such a scenario, and not live it).


I remember at some point inviting Terry to look at Paul and he did.  He pointed out to me a dent in Paul’s head I had not noticed earlier.  That dent was still visible the days of his viewing and funeral.  I don’t know yet if he hit his head there or if that was simply from resting against the corner of my vanity bench for so long.


And then, some sort of station wagon arrived.  It was into this vehicle they took Paul.  He was put into a white body bag and taken out of the ambulance.  His head was covered and he looked exactly what he was – a corpse.  I am quite sure my knees buckled a bit when they brought him out of the ambulance that way.


I was lead into my house by our pastors and their wives.  I began to scurry around, picking things up.  I knew that I would be having a great deal of company in the days to come and I had to have my house picked up!  I think Marcia, our pastor’s wife, attempted to get me to sit down.  In the end, she and Joan helped me pick up.  Pastor and Terry asked for some bleach and they cleaned the bedroom floor of Paul’s blood and moved our bed back into place.


Then we sat.  I don’t remember much of what was said, although I seem to recall that our pastor prayed.  I think he did – I don’t really remember.  I remember being so cold and shaking with shock.  Joan put a blanket over me.  Will headed up to bed after a little while.  Soon, I received a call about donating Paul’s organs and within minutes the organ donation center was on the phone with me, asking all kinds of questions about Paul’s health history.


Then, everybody but Marcia left.  It was about 4 am by this point.  The two of us sat in the dark and talked.  I told her about the morning before when Paul had awakened me.  She told me about a death in her family.   She quoted Bible verses to me.  Eventually, I tried to lay in my bed and she fell asleep on my couch.  I never slept.  I am a person who needs their sleep!  In college, I used to marvel at my fellow collegians who bragged of pulling all-nighters.  I could never do that.  I was never good about being up in the night with babies, which is how they usually found their way into bed with me!  But I did not sleep the night my husband died.


By 6:30, I was showered and dressed.  I grabbed my Bible – the one Paul gave me for my 38th birthday – and pored through the Psalms, reading them out loud to Marcia.  She scribbled a hasty list for me of ones that I found comforting. Two weeks later, I am still referring to that original list.  Then, we made a list of people to call.  I first called Paul’s boss, who was stunned by my news.  Marcia called most of the others.


At 7:30, I received a call from my friend, Tammy.  She asked simply, “Can I come?”  I answered with one word, “Please” and she did, for the entire day, leaving her own busy household of 8 children behind.


Pastor Johnson then arrived back at our house and the children began to awake, one by one.  David was puzzled as he walked into the kitchen and saw his friend, Jonathan (Tammy’s son) sitting at the kitchen table.  I knew I didn’t have much time before the kids would figure out something was drastically wrong.  I gathered them around and told them that their father was dead.  I don’t know if I have had a more difficult task than that one.  Four c-sections, a post-pregnancy stroke, a baby in the NICU, and an adolescent with autism were far easier to deal with than what I had to do that morning.  But I knew I had to be the one to do it.  I don’t remember everything I told them.  I do remember that as I delivered the news, they each began to weep and my heart broke open even wider to witness their pain.  I remember assuring them that we were “still a family.”  I remember thinking that I would endure anything if it meant I could take this pain from my children, but knowing I could not.


And there are other stories to tell.  I could write about all the people that crowded into my little house over the next few days – and who are still coming around with meals.  I haven’t done my own laundry or cleaned my house since before Paul’s death.  Every time I turn around someone is begging me to let them do something for us.


I could write about how our pastor and his wife suspended their own lives to be there for us.  In fact, tomorrow morning they are meeting me up in Urbandale at my insurance agent’s office.  Tonight my pastor informed the people of our church that it is getting hot and someone needs to get our pool set up for us!  I remember our pastor sharing with us the morning after Paul’s death about how dear the widows and orphans are to God.  I am learning that they are also dear to our pastors and our church.


I could write about the blur of  days leading up to Paul’s funeral and the funeral itself, which was – amazing and profound.


I could write about grief – not my own, but others’.  I quickly realized that I was not the only one hurting and those crowded around me were looking for relief from their own pain.  And, oddly enough,  some of them were hoping to find that relief from me.


I could write about the stack of cards that came to me and continue to arrive daily, even fourteen days after Paul’s death.  I could write about the hundreds of Facebook messages and emails that poured into my computer, lifting me up in spirit and to the Lord.


In time, I will probably cover it all, one way or the other. 


The death of my husband is the single most profound event of my life.  And, as odd as it may sound, I am thankful I was there.  Even though I wasn’t quite aware it was happening, I was there as he drew his last breath and entered Eternity.  I was the last person he spoke to, cuddled with, and laughed with.  Paul loved me.  And I loved him, even as he slipped away into the arms of Jesus.


This is the story of his death – and the beginning of his new life.