It’s been 18 months since Kristen died. I had almost forgotten. Watching the calendar used to be an integral part of my grieving process. Each day moved me further away from Kristen, so I was determined to pause with every somber anniversary and reconnect with the life I once knew, before everything changed irrevocably on March 4, 2013. But I don’t cling to the calendar anymore. I don’t need to. It’s not that the passage of time has healed all my wounds—I don’t believe in that saying—but the distance that exists between the tragic death of my wife and the present has given me a new perspective. I’m now able to remember the joys I once shared with her, while also experiencing the joys that are right in front of me. It’s been a terribly difficult journey, but through all the ups and downs, all the tears and sadness, all the prayers and support, I finally feel like I’m discovering a new normal.
Throughout the first year of grief, I was encouraged by how much love and support people gave me. The constant meals, the diapers, the clothes, the sympathy cards, the emails, the prayers. I never worried about losing my home, going hungry, or being unable to survive. Family and friends watched my kids while I was on campus working, teaching, and studying, and so many people gave generously of their time and talents. It was such a comfort to experience that kind of compassion and selflessness. It gave me hope that my children and I were going to be OK, that even though we had suffered a horrible tragedy, we could continue to live.
But there were also moments of profound darkness and agony. As I allowed myself to feel the deepest recesses of my grief, the pain overwhelmed me. The emotional and spiritual turmoil was worse than anything I had ever experienced, and sometimes I wondered if my heart would explode from the intensity of it all. I felt like it was more than I could bear.
I thought my grief would kill me — and there were times when I hoped it would.
I couldn’t see the point to any of this. I didn’t want to be here anymore and continue on without Kristen. I wanted to escape the sadness and loneliness I faced. I’d be driving in my car and think about how liberating it would be if I died in an accident. Death seemed an easy way out of the emotional rollercoaster I was on, an end to the pain in this life followed by a sweet reunion with my dear Kristen in heaven. She was all I really wanted, but nobody could fill the void she left behind, no matter how hard I tried.
The most eye-opening and painful lesson God has taught me through all of this is that I need to be completely dependent on Him for all my needs. That’s been a painful truth for me to learn because I thought I had been doing that. I’ve always been in church. Always read the Bible. Always prayed before meals and at bedtime. I try to love people unconditionally and be a good friend to the people I know. I’m not perfect by any means, but I always thought God was the center of my life, the first in my list of priorities.
Losing Kristen taught me otherwise. Her death devastated me in ways I couldn’t even fathom. I soon realized she had become my world. She had become my reason for living. She was the one I had longed to love and to please. At some point in our 10 years together, I had latched onto her in an unhealthy way. I was emotionally dependent on her, and that was never a role she was meant to fulfill. Losing her meant I no longer had my emotional center of gravity, and as my spirit spiraled out of control in a swirl of chaotic emotions, I found myself confronting very difficult questions.
Why did she have to die?
Why was I still here?
Why would God separate us at such a young age? (30-year-olds are not supposed to die from childbirth complications!)
If God loves me, then how could life without Kristen—my wife and the mother of our two children—possibly be a good thing?
How could a loving God allow this?
Why had God forsaken me?
I wrestled with those questions for months, usually at night when my kids were in bed and I was alone. Sometimes I would cry out to God in anger. Other times in desperation. Rarely was I content about anything. Nothing made sense. God had never tested my faith like this before, and it became apparent to me that I had been basing the strength of my faith on secondhand knowledge rather than firsthand experience. I had read and heard sermons about trusting in God and leaning on Him for all my needs, but I had never needed to depend on Him because I had been depending on her.
So when God allowed Kristen to die, I no longer had anyone to latch onto.
It took me a very long time to realize I had been emotionally dependent on her. Even after she was gone and I couldn’t see her anymore or touch her face or hear her voice or smell her perfume when she got ready for work in the mornings, I kept trying to find ways to fill that void she left behind, but nothing worked. I didn’t know how to live without her, and I didn’t know how to depend solely on God.
Although I never actually contemplated suicide, I’m not ashamed to admit how incredibly difficult it was to continue living. It was the hardest battle I’ve faced up to this point in my life. Had it not been for so many loving people, and one very special friend who walked alongside me through it all, I would have drowned in my own grief. I would have sunk to the bottom of a dark pit where I would have stayed for who knows how long. I would not have remained on the path God put me on, I would not have turned to Him for guidance, and I would not have deepened my faith in Him. In short, I would still be where I was 18 months ago: sad, alone, and overwhelmed.
God never left me. He never abandoned me or asked me to fend for myself. He’s been with me this whole time, even when I lashed out at Him in anger. There’s no denying the heartache, the sorrow, and the loss I’ve experienced, but I’ve also had victory and triumph, and I’ve learned things about myself that I needed to know in order to grow in my walk with Christ. God has given me hope and joy in the midst of this great tragedy, and for that I am very thankful.
I still grieve 18 months later, but not because I can’t live without Kristen. I know God will continue to give me the strength I need to carry on in her absence. I grieve now because I’m alone, but I have faith that God will address that, too. This is a new stage in my journey through grief, one in which I can finally see myself moving on from the life I once had and embracing a new adventure with someone else. Who knows when that might happen, but at least I’m willing to give it a try, and that’s a milestone worth noting on the calendar.