It was on Thursday January 5, 2017 at around 15h45 that I got the call at work.
Crystal, my wife Jasmine’s friend at work, was on the line.
“Ian, you’d better get here quickly. I think Jas has had a stroke or something”.
“She was fine 5 minutes ago, and when I got back to the office, we found her collapsed on the kitchen floor!”
Needless to say, I dropped everything and drove as fast as I could.
I got there in 10 minutes.
As I got close to her workplace though, I was held up by road works.
An ambulance appeared behind me…
a good sign that at least the best professional help was at hand…
They had her dripped, stabilized and at the emergency room by 16h30
I was only allowed a minute with her before they asked me to leave and closed the curtain.
I waited nervously. I made anxious phone calls to her mother and my family,
I drank LOTS of coffee and flattened most of my packet of cigarettes.
I knew instinctively that the longer it took, the more serious her condition was.
So when the Specialist Physician called for me at around 19h30, a full 3 hours or 180 minutes of fervent prayer later, I knew that the news was not likely to be good.
“Mr. Wilson” he said, “I’m afraid your wife has suffered a catastrophic brain hemorrhage.”
“I doubt that she will make it through the night”
In a blur, I looked at the scans he showed me.
In a daze, I followed him to the ICU and looked at that frail, pale figure lying between the beeping machines, with tubes and pipes and a oxygen mask…
I just knew.
I’d found the one.
I would pursue her till
her heart was won.
From the moment she raised her eyes and peeked at me from under her fringe
I was smitten by this stranger, the new boarder at a friend’s house.
She was from Knysna, casually invited me to visit next time she went home. I did.
I invited her to church. She accepted.
She tried dodging me when I started getting serious. She failed. Miserably.
She wanted an Ice-Cream cake for her 21st. I travelled 50km the night before to get her one.
We got engaged. We broke it off.
She moved to Johannesburg. We still spoke every 2nd night.
We got married at 4pm on 04/04/1992.
Our vows never included the traditional “till death do us part”
But it did.
24 years and 280 days later
09 January 2017. 07h30. I held her by now cool hand under the bed covers.
I couldn’t speak, so I just nodded to the Specialist and he turned the ventilator off.
I PRAYED. I HOPED. I IMPLORED. I PRAYED HARDER. I WEPT.
But after 7 minutes, her pulse stopped altogether.
That brave, fighting, joyful heart stopped beating.
One last goodbye, whispered in her ear
One last gentle kiss on the cheek
One more disbelieving tear shed
I oozed out of that hospital ward
Family and friends were there, but she wasn’t
81 days short of her 50th birthday
85 days before our 25th Wedding Anniversary
She wasn’t there anymore
We had a private family cremation service
One song to start, then those that wanted to, shared something
A verse or two, my one sister wrote a special poem to read out
Her mom, sister and I placed her beloved St Joseph lilies on the coffin
Freshly picked from her own garden
She hadn’t had a chance to see them bloom
Then we sang another Hymn, then pushed the button to lower the coffin
One last lump-swallowing farewell
A quiet service, simple.
She was humble, hated being the centre of attraction
Yet drew people to her by her compassion and care, her innocent love
Freely given, expecting nothing in return
It was fitting
We held another Memorial later, at our church
Open to all, and she would have been shocked at how many people came
Not only her work colleagues, but even customers and suppliers
Her previous bosses, travelled from far
Our friends. Her friends. My friends.
She was loved and respected more than she ever knew
To her, she was nothing special – just Jas
But to the rest of us “just Jas” was more than enough
We played a musical montage that I will touch on again
Our pastor spoke, and although he’d only met her a few times, he remembered
The smiling face, the sparkling eyes, the joy that shone from her. He knew her.
We played a video clip of her favourite song, a piano piece
Performed specially at her request by the artist a month or two before
Our home cell leader spoke of the Jasmine he’d come to know
Serious about her walk with Jesus, which still continues today, unbroken
In heaven and at peace, full of joy
Of how she had impacted on the group
Always asking questions and willing to be taught
Then we sang again and went for tea and eats
The greeting queue lasted an hour
So many people with so many compliments and good memories to share
That it was an such emotional blur. I hardly remember
A week later, we scattered her ashes, as per her wishes
Off the rocks in the sea, 150 metres from our house
Close to where we walked her beloved dogs
My Continuing Path to Healing
I’m no expert in this thing called life
Or death, for that matter
So, I write the rest of this out of humility
At the suggestion of someone I trust, who I told my story to
They feel that the story of my personal journey could encourage others
The experts tell me that the classic steps to healing are
Denial, Anger, depression and acceptance
I hate little boxes like that, they over-simplify life
If only life was 1,2,3,4 and all was fine
Mine is more like 4, 1, 2, 4, 3, 2, 3.. and any other variation thereof
Like a dyslexic Bingo player after one glass of red wine too many
Maybe the fact that I’ve been on medication for number three
Has helped me
After a month of tying to cope on my own
I went to my doctor
And she doubled my dose
So, so, so many people have shared their thoughts and own experiences with me
So many have cared enough to keep encouraging me, 3 months down the line
Many have also not, but that’s ok –
Cos for them, life carries on
Whereas mine will never be “usual” again
To have been part of “one flesh” for almost 25 years
And suddenly be an individual again?
It takes hard work.
People say what they think you need to hear
“I can imagine what you’re going through”
Though of course it’s well-meant
Coz although they may have gone through similar circumstances
But they are not me, and their loved one was not Jasmine
Their relationship was probably different
Ours wasn’t perfect
We had differences quite regularly
We were both stubborn and both right mostly
What worked for me was
“If there’s anything I/we can do, no matter what time of day or night”
When it was genuine and heart-felt
Step 1 for me was:
To not ALLOW myself to go down the “if only” road
Well, as little as I could/can anyway
You see, I know this:
If the roles were reversed, Jas would’ve also felt those things!!
Yes, I made a lot of mistakes but so did she
So I said to myself, “Let’s call this one a draw”
“Call it quits.”
If I was the one up in heaven, I would hate her to beat herself up like that
And I know she would feel the same for me.
In fact if the roles were reversed
I would want desperately for her to be even happier than we had been
I know how badly I fell short of the classic description of love
Found in 1 Corinthians 13
“Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered, It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.”
NEVER fails? Mine did. Ours did.
Can I do a quick bit of personal theology here? I ask your indulgence…
See, 1 Cor 12 and 1 Cor 14 are both about spiritual gifts
But because we read/see/study/preach 1 Cor 13 on its own so much
We treat it as if the Apostle Paul got tired of that subject
Needed a break from it, so decided to chat about something more light hearted
Surely this isn’t the case?
The love he writes of can only be achieved with God’s supernatural intervention
It’s an aim, a benchmark of a calling to love like he “Agape’s” us
Not a destination we can achieve on our own
1 Peter 4:8 says “Love covers a multitude of sins”
Is more apt perhaps?
Regret is normal.
It’s a part of feeling your loss
But don’t dwell on it
Because when you do, it consumes you
Be at peace with having done the best you knew how, given your human frailty
Know that God knows you did your best
And He still loves you, no matter what
Step 2 is perhaps part of my acceptance.
As a Christian, we should know that our loved one is now with the Lord
There’s a scripture that is read at most funerals:
1 Thessalonians 4:13 says “We do not grieve as those that do not have hope”
We’ve all heard it said, in various forms and translations
But when it was read at my own wife’s funeral?
- A. N. G.
It became as real to me as the suit I was wearing.
My Jas was WITH THE LORD.
What’s to grieve about?
She’s in heaven, and it’s not called that for nothing
The Bible says, amongst other things
“No more weeping, no more suffering and pain, no more fear”
“Eternal rest, everlasting joy and peace”
Her walk with Jesus has continued uninterrupted, as my friend Mike told me
It was ME that needed to grasp that fact
And believe it, grasp it, make it a reality in my heart!!
So how do we grieve, how are we supposed to, if the scripture is true
Which of course it is
I took comfort in the GOOD memories
There were and are so many
I had felt that it would be a nice introduction to the public Memorial
To show a slide presentation of happy pictures
From our holidays, which having never been blessed with children,
We’d had more than most
Jas had loved travelling, so I included many pictures taken during those happy days
There were pictures with her of our “fur babies”
She loved them all, not as replacement children
But as the special, caring person that she was to all God’s creations
Even the human ones that didn’t love her back
We showed shots of her garden, which she loved so much
And poured so much time into
Individual flowers and wide angle shots
She would have been so proud to have seen them all
We grieve for ourselves
We have lost someone very dear to our hearts
Jas-of-mine was gone forever
So do I dwell on my own loss?
Isn’t that actually just plain “feeling sorry for myself”
Selfish, in fact?
Step 3 may just blow some minds
I have a very different sense of humour, it takes some getting used to
But God has allowed me to become who I am
And so when I hear Him speak, He knows how to get through to me
During my time off work, the words of Jeremiah 29:11 come to mind:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Me: OK, Lord – so what are you telling me this for
For today, for my situation, for my grief
God: “My beloved son, does that scripture go on to say
Up until your wife dies, then you’re on your own?”
Woah!! Say WHAT??
Said scripture goes from head to heart in 0,003 seconds
He still has a plan for my life
Be that another 2 years
Or be it 10, 20, or 6 months
Understand that in my situation, the frailty of life is a reality
My understanding is stretched back to the reality of what I said earlier
As a couple, we live as a unit
Many changes are needed to adapt to being “one flesh”
“Leaving your family and cleaving to one another”
Results in many compromises being made
Dreams being pushed aside, even
For the sake of unity, for common ground to be achieved
And held firmly onto, together.
And so this revelation shakes me to my very foundation
Who IS Ian Wilson
And what is his future, where does it lie?
The answer is suddenly clear and definite
It lies in NOT walking around the mountain again, as Israel did for 40 years
It lies in taking a deep breath of faith
Being “Strong and VERY Courageous” like the Lord told Joshua to be
And crossing that Jordan
Into that land of milk and honey; of provision and blessing
A new and Promised Land
Bring on the giants…
It was inevitable, I guess.
The giants came
So, all the positives I’ve shared before are challenged
Especially keeping the memories limited to the good ones
Oh my word.
So many bad memories, what to do?
Hurt? Cry? Gasp for breath?
Prayer doesn’t even seem to help
Sleep comes fitfully
Self-recrimination, anger at her
Anger at her parents and family
Why? Why did she suffer so much hurt?
Not in death, the Lord in His grace took her peacefully
Hurt from me in my insensitivity
Hurt by her parent’s divorce when she was only a baby
At being raised never knowing unconditional love
Hurt by me when she needed love and I was too self-absorbed to hear her cries
And broke her trust
Why, the most gentle, loving, caring, sweet girl?
Shame upon Shame, is this Giant’s name.
The second is called Self-Disappointment
How could I have poured, in my own misguided way
24 years of unconditional love into this partnership
And yet have so often disappointed us both?
Must be something wrong with ME!!
In the grip of this same struggle, I went and left my job
Hastily and angrily
Out of the same sense of frustration
I just obviously wasn’t doing it well enough..
So badly that the owner had to keep correcting me
Well, then – let him run it himself.
Then of course, there’s the serpent’s favourite from the Garden
“Did God really say?” Doubt.
You’re changing in so many external ways
In faith right. Yeah, right!
God can’t use you, you’re imperfect, tarnished
You’ve done X and Y. And especially C and I, not to mention T
You don’t belong back on that worship group, you set a bad example
You’re judgmental and inflexible and unteachable
This little revival won’t last, why bother?
Emotions – out of control so often
Highs and lows, lows and highs
Seldom much in between
Is this the “new me”?
More like the old, pre-Jesus one
Coz he was like that before he found the Rock
So, you get in with Steve, or another Christian Counsellor
You chat to one of the elders, to “seek wisdom from the grey hairs”
Good start, I don’t care how tough you think you are..
You need people to talk to
And sometimes it’s just easier with a relative stranger
Relatives know you, but can be relatively biased too
Here’s an example, meeting with a Christian friend who says
“Just sit on the Father’s lap”
So I close my eyes and picture it
Yup, on Daddy God’s lap – for about 30 seconds
Then I’m off doing stuff – “Hey Dad, look what I can do!”
He says, “That’s wonderful my Son, but come and sit with me again now”
Repeat three times and I get the message
He knows what I can do, He gave me the gifts
In fact He knows my POTENTIAL
Better than I do
But He wants me to sit still and enjoy Him right now
Which I do
With my head against His chest, I can hear his heartbeat
But then I start talking, telling Him what I’m feeling
And what I’m thinking. And wondering. And how I don’t understand all my pain
He quietly just “shushes” me, and I get the message at last
I need to just sit still and FEEL His love, absorb it
I’ve found peace there
I can go back more easily now that I’ve found out that
He doesn’t need me to impress Him
With my works
Or my many words
He loves me just the way He made me
We know it in our heads
But if it wasn’t for my sensitive friend
I wouldn’t have found it in my heart
Busy-ness can be the enemy too, go back to the Rock of our Salvation
More steps toward recovery..
Yes, I’ve come to realize that this path
This trail through a rugged forest
Is one that you can’t just quit on
There’s no way out except at the end
Short-cuts only lead back to the beginning
Keep attending the course, keep seeing the counselor
Keep learning, keep seeking
Learn from those who have walked it in the past
From those who are walking it at the same time as you
Some for longer, some shorter
They’re never next to you for long because their path is as crooked as yours
But treasure the meeting points
Where you meet briefly and encourage each other
The path of death is one
Which we would never choose to willingly walk
But it can become your friend as you discover more
More about yourself
And what you need
To become the “new you”
The new creation toward His Glory
What baggage do you have to drop, to continue stronger in your walk?
To let this experience transform you from Darkness
into His everlasting light?
To become More Effective in achieving His calling for you
Because, (and here comes the stinger..)
We have to learn to accept that
It was part of His plan for our life
This being left behind
This lonely place of pain
If I believe that He has known me since my mother’s womb
If I believe that His purpose has shaped me
For this day
It. Was. In. His. Plan.
That’s a tough one
God planned for my precious wife to die and leave me?
YOUR (death/divorce/loss/pain/agony) HAS A GOD-ORDAINED PURPOSE!!
Listening to Louie Giglio yesterday
I find his messages inspiring
He spoke about “do we want a leading part in our own little life story?”
“Or a smaller part in God’s bigger Story”
In our story, this could be the start of the end
In His, it’s the end of the start
The beginning of a new Chapter
Our role in His story is one of our lives being
Offered to the director of the Universe
Lives sacrificed, bought by the Blood of Jesus
Willingly and submissively and humbly
Given back to Him to use
Let Him be God again
Don’t see yourself as a victim
You were BORN for such a time as this