“We were married 44 wonderful years the day Ann took the car and died driving off the road into a deep ravine. Even though the Alzheimer’s caused her to forget my name, I didn’t mind taking care of her. It’s been two years, and I still miss her so.” Joel and myself listened as our friend Tom recounted details surrounding his life with Ann, her decline into Alzheimer’s and traumatic death.
Tom shared with us his grief filled stories many times before. He continued on, “I never expected her to get into the driver’s seat and drive away. She was always a woman who loved adventure but she hadn’t tried to drive for almost a year. Every day I look at her photos and breakdown. If she was still here, we could enjoy each other’s company.”
Patiently we listen to Tom’s stories of grief because we know tears and expressed sadness are important for healing after the death of a loved one. Expressed mourning, sorrow and guilt help to release bottled up pain and allow healthy healing.
I think Tom is stuck in his grief because he can’t seem to forgive himself for his lapse in Ann’s supervision resulting in her death.
“Tom, we all make mistakes. I sense you’re having trouble forgiving yourself,” I offered. “I’ve hurt others often without meaning to. I’ve learned talking to God, forgiving myself and receiving God’s forgiveness brings peace to my heart. I can’t take back the hurtful words or actions but I can know healing forgiveness and peace.”
Tom thoughtfully responded, “Ann was a Christian and she would tell me to talk to God. I guess I’m an atheist. I have trouble believing in God.” I asked, “Tom, would it be OK with you, if we prayed right now for you to know God’s peace and forgiveness?” “Sure,” said Tom.
And so we did. As we visit with Tom in the future, we will continue to listen to his stories surrounding Ann, their lives together and her death. We know the process is helping Tom to heal. We know prayer is bringing Tom to a place of understanding God’s peace and forgiveness.
Is there someone in your life who is grieving this holiday season? Take time to ask them how they are doing. Encourage them to tell their story. Sincere listening might be the most loving and meaningful gift you give.
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. (NLT: Psalms 51: 1 – 2)
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (NLT: Matthew 5: 4)