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Healing—and Leading—After Tragedy, Part Two

Recovering from trauma is possible, necessary, and sometimes very hard.

The days immediately after Rich’s death were a blur. Hospital scans eased doctors’ fears about internal injuries, so they released me. My parents took me home. I looked around my room, feeling hollow until I walked into our closet. His smell, his essence, was all over his clothes. I buried my face in his shirts and cried for a long time.

My practical mother recognized that I was not going to be able to sleep in my own bed and made up the futon in our home office. In spite of her efforts to get me to rest, I stayed awake that night.

My heart was in turmoil. Not only had I lost my husband; I felt abandoned by God. I lay grappling with my thoughts, trying to make sense of nonsense. I desperately needed to find some peace. After flicking on the desk lamp, I opened my Bible. A steely resolve filled me as I read about Job’s faith. I made a head decision that would lead my broken heart in weeks to come.

I chose to believe that God was good, regardless of my circumstance. It was enough that Jesus died for me. He proved his love for me a long time ago. Nothing that happened could erase that truth. I took a shaky deep breath that morning, and my spirit was refreshed. My soul, however, was still shattered.

I made it through the funeral in a fog and then took several weeks off. I felt burdened by the teenage grief I had witnessed, and a sense of responsibility toward the young people. Rich had wanted to help these kids, and I couldn’t abandon them. When I returned, I dove into my ministry responsibilities. This gave me a sense of purpose in spite of the death of my dreams. It kept me from imploding.

For several months, each morning I would wake up uneasy, trying to remember why things didn’t feel right. Within a few seconds, the overwhelming sorrow came flooding back. If you face that kind of pain, you will do just about anything to make it go away. I cried and prayed frequently but couldn’t find relief in that release.

I did my best for a while to ignore my emotions as completely as I could. I tried to shut down my feelings. I kept myself busy, avoided being alone. I connected myself with people who were so different from Rich that they wouldn’t remind me of what I had lost. In my efforts to cope, I did a few things that I regretted almost immediately, some of them sinful, some just foolish. Even though I wanted to do the right thing, I felt like I was failing.

I had deep, defiant rumblings of anger inside. Sometimes I was angry with God, but more I was angry with Rich. I felt abandoned by his recklessness, left behind with hundreds of hurting teenagers while he casually strolled streets of gold. Most of all, I was angry with myself—that I didn’t insist on a wiser plan, that I wasn’t braver at the scene of the accident. I was disappointed that I wasn’t handling this better.

February16, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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