Have you ever seen the Pixar film "Inside Out"? As Pixar evolved in its storytelling, this movie stands out to me as masterful in it's idea and construction. It's the coming-of-age story of a girl who leaves her friends behind when her family moves. The characters are her emotions and the background is the magical world of these characters (emotions) and how they express themselves and maneuver for control of the young girl. At the center of the story is "JOY". She's the happy-go-lucky emotion of a child-like life; exuberance, hope, and happiness. (Biblically, I would argue that she actually should be "Happy" and not "Joy" because you can't have JOY without the Spirit of God. It is a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness is its earthly counterpart.)
Anyway, the story is about how the life change (moving) affects JOY as it brings Sadness more to the forefront of the young girl's emotions and even takes control of her outlook on life. JOY is the main character. But she must figure out how to manage Sadness. What she learns in their 'journey' together is that she doesn't have to be in control. There is room for Sadness. IN effect, SADNESS and JOY learn to work together. It's a brilliant plot and an important process that people must navigate when they experience grief.
I have a friend whose name is JOY. (Seriously). She lost her husband suddenly and very unexpectedly. One moment her life was whole and in the next it was ruptured, fractured, and broken into pieces. Sadness consumed her. Her journey since that loss has been something to behold. We have stayed close enough to her throughout to get glimpses of her struggle. We have been friends and tried to help. Mostly she's had to go it alone. That seems to be the way of grief and the struggle between joy and sadness. No one else can go through it for you. And you MUST go through it. There's no (emotionally healthy) way around it.
At some point, you're going to learn that the area of your greatest struggle in life becomes the center of your ministry to others. The empathy you find in sorrow becomes a touchstone for you to relate to others. Your job/ministry becomes helping them along by sharing what only YOU know. By the way, if you don't do this with God, I encourage you NOT to help others get through their struggle. You don't have the words of life that come from allowing God in to bring the healing and restoration of joy and hope that only HE can bring. Just my two cents and apologies to my secular counselor and psychologist friends who aren't Christians.
And so I asked JOY to help a friend who recently became a widow at a young age. I asked her to write a letter to her (they do not know each other personally) and share what she has learned in HER journey. THAT is ministry. She wrote the letter below and I've attached it with her permission. The only thing I edited was her contact information.
If you are a widow or widower, perhaps you will find JOY in JOY's words. Perhaps you might be encouraged by this blog article to start sharing your own story with others on whatever path you had to endure. This is your ministry now. It's not one you would have chosen, but...
From JOY to Sadness....
I am a friend of Jeff and Debbie Smith and I just wanted to write you and encourage you. I lost my husband 3 1/2 years ago to a sudden heart attack. I did not think I would survive. And I will be honest with you and tell you I had my pills all lined up one night to end my life. But with family, friends, hope and God I can say 3 1/2 years later I am finally in a good space. I would say that I spent over 2 1/2 years in intense grief and very slowly with a few steps forward, and then a step or two back, I finally came to the realization that I could be hopeful and happy again and I had to fight for it. It was not easy. Do I have still have bad days? I sure do, but there are more good days and bad days. And I still miss my man incredibly. We were married for 33 years and he was my all.
Some thing that really helped me was joining Facebook groups of widows. I read a lot about grieving. I just needed to know that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. I saved a lot of articles and quotes and I go back and read them often. I just came across this recently and it describes me to some extent and thought if it may resonate with what you are feeling right now. The most important thing that I can say that helped me was connecting with a very good Christian therapist. I still see her and I believe I will see her as long as I can because I feel that everyone needs a good therapist in their life.
Grief can hit like a punch to the stomach.
Anxiety and worry can feel like bricks crushing our chest.
Overwhelm can consume us, leaving us feeling so weak.
There are times in life that no matter how hard we try to think “positive”, we cannot deny or outrun the emotions we are experiencing.
David explains what so many of us experience, in Psalms 31:9-10,
“Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress, my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning, my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.”
Sorrow, grief, anguish, groaning, affliction, weakness.
It’s not a “maybe”, it’s a “for-sure” that at some point we will all walk through these emotions.
In fact, some of us are experiencing them right now.
When you’re in the midst of life’s greatest hardships, it feels hard, impossible even, to see beyond it.
It’s like suffering has a way of blinding us from hope, and making us feel like we will never get through it.
But we do get through it.
You will get through this, too.
Because like everything in life, this too shall pass.
And listen, I know there’s some pain and loss we’ll carry for our entire life on earth. I’m not saying we’ll get completely “over” it (although that’s possible, too).
But the way you feel completely slammed and overcome by your emotions right now… that will pass.
I know it’s hard to believe.
But there will come a day when you will be able to think about other things, too.
You’ll be able to laugh and smile again.
You’ll be more open to people and life.
Even if you are carrying around grief.
When we turn to God for healing, He heals. Period.
It can be a long process, but you will not remain in the same spot that you are right now.
So as much as it hurts to be in this place, remember that it won’t always feel like this.
David, who was no stranger to suffering, also wrote this in Psalm 9: 9-10,
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”
He doesn’t leave us as we are, friends.
This will pass because He will carry us forward.
Someday you’ll see.
You’ll see how that hopeless situation turned.
You’ll see the purpose that came from the heartache.
You’ll see how God healed your wounds.
You’ll see His goodness.
It’s a promise.
~The Unraveling Blog with Kelli Bachara
I can’t say I’m on the other side because I’ll never be on the other side as Alan will always be a part of my life and I will always miss him. But I’m moving forward with him in my heart and my memories. I can even say that some day I may let my heart enlarge and make room for someone else. I never thought I’d even say something like that. And I still deal with anxiety about certain things. I have hard time in stores and just walking into church by myself. But I really make myself fight it and I feel strong when I’ve overcome it and proud of myself and thankful to God for being with me during those moments. He has always been with me and for me.
I’ve also come to the realization that it’s okay to have sorrow and joy/celebration in your heart at the same time. You will always have the tears for when you hurt but you will start to see joyful moments to.
Like I said I have a lot of things saved and my biggest need was to read and see that there were people out there who knew what I was going through. I will post one more for you.
Widowhood has been the most difficult and gut wrenching thing I’ve ever had to endure. I feel lost and overwhelmed most days. I miss my person more than words can adequately describe. I am living one day at a time.
Widowhood is more than missing your spouse’s physical presence. It is adjusting to an alternate life. One that you never would have asked for. One you never would have even imagined. It is growing around a permanent amputation. It’s having your heart shattered into a million little pieces and realizing your life will never be the same. A part of me feels like it has died along with my husband. He was the love of my life, a once in a lifetime love, my soulmate, my protector, my best friend, my confidant, my encourager, my partner, my everything.
Widowhood is going to bed for the hundredth time, and still, the loneliness never feels normal. The empty bed a constant reminder. The night no longer brings intimacy and comfort, but the loudness of silence and the void of connection.
Widowhood is walking around the house you have lived in with your spouse and it no longer feeling quite like home because “home” incorporated a person and they’re no longer there. Homesickness fills your heart and the knowledge that it will never return haunts you.
Widowhood is seeing all your dreams and plans you shared as a couple crumble around you. The painful process of searching for new dreams that include only you amount to climbing Mount Everest. And every small victory of creating new dreams for yourself includes a new shade of grief that their death propelled you to this path.
Widowhood is second guessing everything you thought you knew about yourself. Your life had molded together with another’s and without them you have to relearn all your likes, hobbies, fears, goals. The renaissance of a new person makes you proud and heartbroken simultaneously.
Widowhood is being a stranger in your own life. The unnerving feeling of watching yourself from outside your body, going through the motions of what was your life, but being detached from all of it. You don’t recognize yourself. Your previous life feels but a vapor long gone, like a mist of a dream. You begin to wonder if it happened at all.
Widowhood is the irony of knowing if that one person was here to be your support, you would have the strength to grieve that one person. The thought twists and confuses you. If only they were here to hold you and talk to you, you’d have the tenacity to tackle this unwanted life. To tackle the arduous task of moving on without them.
Widowhood is missing the one person who could truly understand what is in your heart to share. The funny joke, the embarrassing incident, the fear compelling you or the frustration tempting you. To anyone else, you would have to explain, and that is too much effort, so you keep it to yourself. And the loneliness grows inside you.
Widowhood is struggling with identity. Who are you if not their Angie. What do you want to do if not the things you planned together? What is your purpose when the life we were building together is gone. Who is my closest companion when my other half isn’t here?
Widowhood is feeling restless because you lost your identity, partner, lover, friend, travel companion, security, and life. And you are drifting with an unknown destination.
Widowhood is living in a constant state of missing the most intimate relationship. No hand to hold. No body next to you. No partner to share your burden.
Widowhood is being alone in a crowd of people. Feeling sad even while you’re happy. It is looking back while moving forward. It is being hungry but nothing sounding good. It is every special event turning bittersweet.
Yes. It is much more than simply missing their presence. It is becoming a new person, whether you want to or not. It is fighting every emotion mankind can feel at the very same moment and trying to function in life at the same time.
Widowhood is frailty. Widowhood is strength. Widowhood is darkness. Widowhood is rebirth.
Widowhood…..is life changing BUT….it isn’t something we have to go through alone. Below are some Scriptures that have been comforting and reassuring to me during the hardest days of my life. I hope that they bring some comfort to you as well.
The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He�rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”(Psalms 34:17-18)
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalms 27:13-14)
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. (Philippians 4:6)
I will never leave you or forsake you.
Widowhood is NOT an easy life but life can be good again. I enjoy my grandchildren and my children. I enjoy weekends away with girlfriends where I can let loose and have fun. I enjoy my alone time. I enjoy my career with special children.
I’m sorry if I did a lot of rambling but I pray that you hold onto Hope. Be proud of yourself for just getting up, being here and living. I know it’s not easy. Let God touch your shattered heart so that healing can begin.
I know you will experience joy, peace and love again. Be open to it. It’s okay. It does not mean you don’t love your husband any less. So many things will be different but your identity in Jesus will never change and He remains and will be the same yesterday, today and forever.
God’s blessings to you,
Joy Van Dyke