In the beginning, the numbness fools others; they say, “Wow, you are handling this well.” My thoughts lingered in nothingness, unintentionally wearing a mask of strength and courage. Where does this come from, only God knows. A lot is forgotten about daily activities. I know the basics, I woke up, took care of the basics for the kids, went to bed, and cried a lot between or even during all of those daily tasks. I walked, or stumbled, through the motions to make sure the kids felt safe and loved. I often felt like I was treading water in roaring rapids being sucked under, exhausted, gasping for air and begging for the safety of secure grounds. Physically, there is pain with grief; my stomach burned with hot searing pain as if someone were twisting a red hot knife into my gut. My heart hurt the most. Imagine having your heart torn out of your chest, slowly, steadily for weeks with no avail. My head played tricks on me. I was moving in slow motion while the world around me kept spinning making me dizzy. I begged for it to stop; I needed it to stop…nothing would make it stop. The world kept moving as I fell further behind, being sucked under the water's surface. Exhausted by my thoughts and my sadness, I worried about my future.
During months two through seven after Matt’s death, I went through the process of peeling away the layers of my grief. It was a slow process, and I required a lot of support from friends and family. I steadily opened the door that I really did not want opened. It revealed a new reality filled with an even darker sadness. I feared what was to come without my husband. All that I had known and trusted was gone, vanished. The life that my children would have without their dad was frightening. It exposed loneliness, not just in that moment, but for the future. The life we had discussed, planned, cherished was no longer there. It was taken away by sudden death. I would struggle with efforts to keep that door closed, but I knew I had to face the fear lurking behind it.
When will I be ready? I had a choice to make…
allow myself to be consumed by the darkness?
force the door closed only to have it slowly destroy my spirit?
lose my family or choose the light of God?
look directly at my fears and experience them?
allow myself to go to those dark places understanding that God would be there and trust that He would not let me fall further than only He knew I could go?
Don’t get me wrong, there are some dark scary places and some conversations I’ve had with God that would alarm or frighten most people.
Choosing the latter has really brought me closer to God and hopeful about my journey on earth to guarantee my future with God and Matt. I began to cry less often and with less intensity, allowing myself to feel more grounded and increasingly able to focus on daily tasks with more strength and courage. I began to feel a little more capable of managing my life during months ten and eleven after Matt's death.
While grieving, trying to work, taking care of a household, caring for my children and all their activities and schoolwork, buying a house, a car and all the other first special events without Matt, we were also attending the criminal hearings for the man who killed him. Anger began to run parallel to my sadness and fear, but it bubbled under the surface and mostly without my awareness. The man responsible for this was behind bars. (Bail was actually reduced and he managed to get out of jail, but he did not follow release stipulations. He was arrested again eight hours after his release, and bail was revoked at that time.) In the five months after Matt was killed, we attended hearings which determined this selfish man’s fate. We had to watch this man show no remorse for his actions. He made efforts to portray himself as a victim of his own circumstances, and he cried and made excuses for his actions that day. The tears he shed were not for Matt, my kids or me…they were for himself.
This made my anger begin to fester under the surface. How could he be the victim? My honest, good-hearted, loving, funny husband and the father of our beautiful children was dead because this man chose to drink in excess and drive as he did most days if not every day. (This was his 3rd DWI.) But on that day, that very normal day, he would drive in a ditch on the wrong side of the road and at the moment he returned to the road, he was face to face with my husband, who did not have time to react…impact…head on. Within the next few minutes my husband's innocent drive home from work ended in a senseless tragedy. This man crawled out of his truck and walked away with a few scratches. His mind was polluted and he was unaware of the seriousness of his actions. Uncaring, no remorse, no regret…poor pitiful me attitude. Five months to the day, that man accepted a plea of 35 years in prison with possibility of parole in 17.5 years for felony murder. He is serving 35 years; the same amount of time that my husband was alive on this earth.
My anger toward this man lingered for a while but has only surfaced in a few moments of weakness. I chose early on that I did not want to be his victim…I wanted to show my kids that we weren’t going to let this tragedy break us. I did have a few moments of anger with God and his plans for everyone. I was angry because I could not understand how this man had the same opportunity to go to heaven and reap the benefits of God’s promises. How could God allow such a thing…”it’s not fair” I yelled at Him. “It’s not right that he gets to be loved by You when he killed my husband.” I was reminded by God through his written word that when Jesus was on the cross, there were two criminals on either side of him…one begged for forgiveness the other did not. Jesus granted him forgiveness because He knew his heart.
God knows what is in our hearts and if we are genuinely sincere in our efforts to gain forgiveness, we can achieve that. It's between that man and God, not me, that man and God.