On the Death of my Wife

 

The End

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…

The Beginning

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

Alone.

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

The Memorials

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

Some memories

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

As usual

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.

Trust me

People say what they think you need to hear

“I can imagine what you’re going through”

Not really…

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?

  1. 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…

Step Backwards

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.

Sorry, mate.

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

Cherish 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

Yoh!

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

and

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

Prepared 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?

OUCH!!

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

Find yours.

Our role in His story is one of our lives being

Offered to the director of the Universe

In worship

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

Yes.

You were.