WSN: Grief Relief with David Knapp (A Guest Column)
“Till death do us part…” I repeated. Those words seemed to echo throughout the vast college chapel following my promise and then my bride’s commitment. The witnesses, family, and friends of our wedding stood by smiling. Our parents sat with proud looks on their faces. In all honestly, however, I only viewed those words as a symbol of commitment. I did not think I would experience that part of those important words, let alone do it twice.
Ruth and I had never been happier than we were that delightful day in July.
Our wedding crowned three years of getting acquainted through writing letters and occasional long-distance phone calls. Looking back, this strengthened our relationship because it forced both of us to express our hearts, feelings, and beliefs on paper without the distraction of the physical. That was great for my growth both emotionally with my wife and spiritually with the Lord.
The proof of the depth of our relationship revealed itself in the ensuing years of life. We were not only committed to each other, but we understood each other. We did, indeed, marry our best friend. To keep our relationship growth on a “roll,” we spent every one of our wedding anniversaries—alone—discussing the “state of our union.”
But the day would come when I dreaded our tradition. It occurred the summer following Ruth’s cancer diagnosis, surgeries, chemotherapy, and our loss of “normal.” Those events proved to be the biggest challenge to our relationship to date. Up to this point, our love had been a mutual give and receive. Ruth was so drained both physically and emotionally that she had nothing left to give—either to our four young children or me. Thirty-three is a young age to be facing a life-threatening disease.
Finally, for the first time, I sensed our relationship changing, and it hurt me in that realization. Ruth was no longer able to contribute to our relationship as before. And, in brutal honesty, I found myself questioning my love for her simply because things seemed to be one-sided for the first time.
Soon after, my dreaded “state of our union” meeting came. Sure enough, Ruth asked how I had been during the throes of the most challenging days that winter. I hesitantly yet openly shared with her how I had struggled and how God met me. She simply said, “I thought so. It’s okay.”
The following six years were days and weeks filled with hope and disappointment. We faced treatments and then recurrences, over and over.
The most memorable time happened again during the “state of our union” talk that next July. Following an unforgettable day on the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan, we sat talking. During a warm embrace, Ruth softly said, “I have never felt so at one with you.”
Three short months later, I watched her take her last breath. I did not know a human could hurt so much. Within days I became aware of this hole in my soul that seemed permanent.
Losing a spouse has many aspects to it that are not always understood by many. Indeed, there is the death and physical loss of that person leaving a void in your life. Theirs is also a loss of intimacy in communication. I had no one to tell even small things that Ruth would appreciate hearing. My most significant loss, however, was the loss of the relationship. It seemed that in addition to grief due to the death of a friend, I had lost the close relationship we had. Love songs were next to impossible for me to enjoy.
A year later, God brought along a godly widow lady to the school where I work, who swept me off my feet. What a beautiful lady!
The next year Judith and I found ourselves in a large church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with six sons on one side and two daughters and Judith’s sister on the other. Again, the room echoed our vows, “Till death do us part.”
These words had a much deeper meaning to both of us. We had both experienced this hard truth to the fullest. However, even with that, we idealistically viewed the reality of it happening again as being a lifetime away.
Now, the process of blending eight teenagers became twice the task either of us had imagined. Yes, the volume was an issue. When you bring two families together, they bring their baggage along. That meant twice as many problems. The growth and mistakes of our kids only drove us to the Lord and each other. We learned early on to talk about everything, no matter how hard the subject. We reviewed the development of each of our kids every three to
The joys and challenges we experienced in our successful blending of families from two different countries and cultures will have to be addressed later. I need to fast forward sixteen years from our wedding day.
Judith’s health began to be of concern. We spent five years chasing symptoms from doctor to doctor. We intentionally worked hard on her health, even though we did not know what we were fighting. Once again, we faced this issue together.
She had to have emergency surgery. During which the doctor called me in the waiting room. He said, “Mr. Knapp, I am sorry. I am seldom surprised but I found a very mean looking cancer tumor in Judith.” I immediately knew she was going to die. I sat down and sobbed uncontrollably for nearly an hour. My crying continued daily from that day in August ‘till Christmas day.
The next day a full-body scan exposed cancerous spots on her lungs and a large, stage-four tumor on her pancreas. With that news, Judith asked, “Does that mean I am going to die?” I teared up and nodded “yes” as I leaned over for a long sobbing embrace.
Judith and I talked about everything. This time was no different. The next four days in the hospital were full of time we spent mourning her impending death together.
Gradually we communicated with our eight children and their families that they needed to do whatever it took to come to see Mom/Grandma soon before pain medication made it hard for her to be alert. I watched, monitored, and participated in each one’s mourning. Some of our grandchildren wept in my arms.
A week before she left for heaven, Judith and I were talking quietly at her bedside when a tear trickled down the side of her face. Through her medicated fog, she whispered, “I’m sorry I have to die.” Now the tears were running down my cheeks. I assured her it was okay and that I would be fine. I gave her permission to go on without me and that I would be along soon.
Early Sunday morning late in October, Judith leaped into the arms of Jesus.
I was alone again. The loneliness was deafening.
Dr David Knapp is a certified grief coach and founder of Grief Relief Ministries. His professional career has been with a religious non-profit organization that includes traveling abroad, conference speaker and administrator and professor at the collegiate level. He has had the unfortunate experience of losing two wives to cancer. David is the author of the book: I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY: Being a Better Friend to Those Who Experience Loss which is available on Amazon. You can reach him through his webpage; http://www.griefreliefministries.com or the email, firstname.lastname@example.org