(This blog post was written three months after Pam’s death)
I’m on the road again this week, though this time not alone. I am traveling into some really cold weather with our happy group of about 50 traveling senior adults. They’ll be alright until the temperatures dive into the low 30’s tonight! We are going north, back to Kentucky, to visit the Creation Museum and the Ark Experience in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio, where it’s cold. Where it’s snowing… in OCTOBER!
I am traveling as the official “chaperone” of group and as the “camp pastor.” So far they are easier to keep up with than the last youth trip I found myself on. But I travel with an empty seat beside me. I wish Pam were on this trip. I really do. She loved fall weather and fall foliage. I know today she sees much more beauty than I do… far more than I could “think or imagine.”
And yet, I miss her. Every day. Every night. The house is full of empty echoes. Places where she should be. I walk into rooms expecting her to be there. Sometimes, as I listen to music or have the TV blaring aimlessly in the background, I imagine I can hear her voice.
I have moments of clarity when I can fully embrace that she is gone and I am still here, and life goes on. I’m told it gets better. I’m sure it will, though there are days that I wonder. So much of my adult life has been lived and seen through her eyes as well as my own. I haven’t figured out yet how to sit at the kitchen table and eat a meal by myself. I guess I don’t want to accept that this is “normal” now.
Social events are becoming more complex. I am beginning to experience the “fifth wheel” occasions which many who are single or widowed talk about. And I’m still trying to find my “fit.”
Even church is hard, though it’s wonderful to walk for a few hours with the “family of God.” I’ve learned in the past six or seven months the depth of what it means to have such a family to walk with through the fire and trials that come to us all. But church was something “we” did together… and every corner and every song holds a memory.
A death is not much different than an amputation. You try to use an arm or leg that has been lost or removed, even though you know it isn’t there. Your whole life was oriented around having two hands, two feet, and now, there’s only one. So everything feels different, disorienting. Like having to learn to walk and feed yourself all over again.
And though I usually can contain or compartmentalize them, memories come sometimes at a furious speed. Some are wonderful and I weep. Some are hard and I want to forget, but they all seem tied together, so I can’t cauterize one without doing the same to the others.
As I suspected, memories are tied inextricably to tangible things. Last weekend, on campus we had several pastors and their wives from partner countries and cities where our church has gone on mission trips. Two of the wives (I judged) were approximately Pam’s size and I also knew they would appreciate some of the clothing in Pam’s wardrobe. So accompanied by a good friend, they came to my home (I wasn’t there) and had “Christmas” as they went through clothing and shoes in Pam’s closet. Pam had actually talked about sending some of her things as a donation to Haiti so this was even better as they came here to select what they wanted. They sent me pictures wearing some of their favorites from Pam’s wardrobe! It was both joyous and hard.
I find myself sometimes crying at inconvenient times. On a bike ride. In the gym. I miss her, and sometimes that thought overwhelms me like an ocean swell. And then, mercifully, it subsides in the same way and just as unpredictably.
I miss her when I look into the face of my granddarlin’. McCail, as you know, was the apple of Pam’s eye, and Pam’s greatest sorrow as she realized she was not going to recovery from the cancer was that her granddaughter wouldn’t know her. I promised her that every time McCail looked in a mirror, she would see her grandmother’s eyes looking back! But it is also true that every time I see or spend time with my sweet grand baby, I see her Mamaw looking back at me.
They say you can’t hug memories but I wish I could. Saturday I found myself back in St Augustine for the first time since her passing. We have so many great memories in the oldest city; restaurants we enjoyed, places where we would go for an overnight getaway, stores she like to shop.
I went there to be part of a wedding for a young man I deeply love. The wedding was great, but it reminded me in very vivid ways that I am alone. My wedding ring reminds me of that constantly, even as it reminded me of my love and commitment when she was with me. But Pam is no longer by my side. My bride has gone to an eternal home where I know… I know… I will see her again. But until then, I’m alone.
And yet, I am not lonely. My children have been wonderful to keep me forward focused, making me plan for outings and events. They include me in their plans, and I am daily reminded how great it is to be a father and grandfather, and that life must go on. I have many in our church family who regularly touch base in person or electronically, and friends around the globe who love and pray for me. I am lonely. But not alone.
The One who promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is faithful to His Word. He has never left me… and this I also know. He has never failed one moment to walk with me “in the valley of the shadow of death,” and no matter how dark it has gotten He still comes to bring light… and life… and hope.
And so, in response to you and the many who ask, “How are you doing?” I continue to respond, “I am grieving well.” But I miss her. I’m learning to “walk on one leg.” I’m finding “new normal” a piece and a day at a time. Some days I fall, but I try to fall forward and not backward.
And with God’s help and your prayers, I will… and my family will… keep walking.
With great love from your pastor,