Rip Tide

It’s time for me to be real and honest because life is hard, grief is messy and I’m far from perfect. I try to be positive and full of hope but the truth is some days are harder than others…some weeks are harder than others. This has been one of those weeks for me.

It’s summertime and I live at the Jersey shore, so the image of a rip tide came to mind when I thought about my grief. The rip tide is the most dangerous thing a swimmer can face. It’s not because the rip tide itself is so dangerous, it’s the way people respond to it. They feel themselves being taken in and they panic. They fight with all their might to swim against it, only to lose steam and be taken under.

Grief kind of works the same way doesn’t it? We go along swimming in the ocean of our daily lives, splashing, kicking, and enjoying the waves when BAM! It happens. We hear that familiar song we used to sing out loud together. We drive past our favorite restaurant, walk into a store where we used to shop together. Sometimes it can even be something so simple as the smell of a good cup of coffee. Suddenly, our mood shifts, our thoughts become derailed, our eyes fill with tears. The rip tide of grief pulls us in. The memories of what used to be, combined with the reality of what will never be again, is a powerful force. It pulls us into that deep, dark place. How did this happen, weren’t we perfectly fine just a minute ago? So we begin to panic. We panic because we are at work, at the store, an event, in church, with our kids. Sometimes we panic because it’s been two years, and in our mind we begin to think we should be past this point.

How does a swimmer survive a rip tide? They take a deep breath and relax. They realize that even though the tide is deep, the length is not long. They begin to swim parallel along the shoreline until they are out of the tide. Then the waves gently bring them back to the safety of the shore.

Surviving grief works the same way, doesn’t it? When we find ourselves in those moments we must not panic. We must not fight against the grief, that will only make it worse. We need to take a deep breath and relax. We need to realize that even though these feelings are deep and powerful, they don’t last forever. We need to swim parallel in these emotions. If we are in the store, we pull out our pair of sunglasses, the staple of every widow’s wardrobe! If we are at work or an event, we excuse ourselves and go to the bathroom. I have cried in countless public bathrooms, banged many stall doors and kicked more than one toilet! We learn to sit in the back of the church and always bring tissues. We listen to that song and we let the tears roll down. We allow ourselves to swim in the depths of these emotions and pray to God for the strength to swim out of the rip tide. And that prayer becomes the wave that gently brings us back to the safety of the shore.

I have been out here swimming for over two years now. So why is it still so hard? Perhaps it is because as I step out and walk this new path God is directing for me and become this new person that God is creating, I am faced with the reality that I’m further and further away from the life I used to have and person I used to be. I miss that life. It was a good life. I know it’s gone and I will never get it back. I know I will never get him back. It’s a painful reality and it pulls me in every time. I know that God has a plan and good things are in store for me. Even when I can see those things coming up over the horizon, it still doesn’t stop the tides from coming. When we lose someone we love, we will be hit with many rip tides, for many years to come. But for every one we go through we become a better swimmer, a stronger swimmer…maybe even a lifeguard for others fighting against the tides! At least that is my hope!

With Hope,
Gina McGrath

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Empty Chairs

Here we are in mid-June. It’s an exciting and busy time of year, filled with celebrations, graduations, weddings and of course Father’s Day. Yes, such an exciting time of year….but not for those of us who have been through a loss! For us June can be ….well let’s just be completely honest, June is pure torture! We bravely go to all these events and we put on our “Happy Face” for our families and friends. Then we sit down next to an empty chair. A chair that should be filled but never will be again. It’s a big chair, a heavy chair! An empty chair that is invisible to everyone else but is so painfully obvious to us. This chair is present at every school activity, every graduation, every wedding. It’s there to greet us on Father’s Day morning when we sit down at our kitchen table. Let’s face it, when it comes to difficult months June is not far behind November and December!
When we lose someone we love, we don’t just lose them once. We lose them a hundred times over through secondary losses. These are the losses we never saw coming, the ones no one warned us about, the ones we never expected to hit us so hard. These empty chair are one of those secondary losses. It’s that visual reminder that our love is gone….forever. I have heard so many stories from my brave widow sisters out there, who stood by their children at graduations and marriages. I send out hugs to you all! You have walked ahead of me and paved a road I will one day have to walk down. There is something quite heartbreaking to stand by your child’s side during these life changing events and not be able to share it with the one who helped you raise them. Even when the room is fill of family and friends, it doesn’t take away that empty chair. When you have to sit there as one when there should be two, it’s like ripping a band aide off a wound. In those moments you get to bury them all over again.
My children are young and at 7 and 10 their achievements are small in the big scheme of their lives. I sat proudly as I watched my son move up a rank in Boy Scouts. I attended a concert where my daughter’s endless hours of flute playing finally paid off. I listened to my son recite his lines in his end of year school play. I made the class party snacks and we all had fun at “Fun Day”. Through it all I was always aware of the ever present empty chair. On Sunday I will find myself facing that empty chair once again as we go through our third Father’s Day since my husband Brian’s passing.
So what do we fill these empty chairs with? It’s easy to allow Lady Loneliness to come and slide her way into that seat, but don’t let her. Despite her name, she never comes alone. She always brings her friends Bitterness and Anger. I can tell you from experience once you start to party with Loneliness, Bitterness, and Anger, you are left with an emotional hang over that will last for days. No we are better than that, we are stronger than that.
When you find your mind heading down that destructive path remind yourself of the One who has been with you on this journey. The One who gives you the strength to walk into these events and wake up and face Father’s Day. Invite Him to come and fill that empty chair. As He sits next to you, listen as He whisper in your ear “you can do all things through Christ who strengthen you.” I challenge you to fill that empty chair with joy, His joy, the one that gives us strength.
I know that it’s hard and its way easier to say it than to do it. I know that putting on our happy face during these events is one of the toughest things we will ever had to do. Yes, Father’s Day will come and we will look at that empty chair and yes, we will cry. But I pray that through our tears we will remind ourselves that our chair is not empty! That we won’t allow the pain of what isn’t to steal the joy of what still is. The biggest lesson I have learned from my loss is to cherish every moment, to take nothing for granted and never leave something unsaid. Let that empty chair be a reminder to us that we get the privilege and the honor to watch our children grow and mature into adults. We get to celebrate with them. There is still so much joy to be had. So I will clap a little longer, cheer just a little louder, I will hold my children a little tighter and tell them over again and again how proud I am of them. I will not let an empty chair stop me from experiencing joy, embracing love or living the life God has given to me. It’s this widow’s hope that you will do the same!

With much hope!
Gina McGrath

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Two Years and Then Some

2 years,
24 months,
731 days, that’s how long it has been since my husband, Brian, slipped from this world into eternity.

I sit here and reflect over everything that has happened since May 4, 2014. It’s been a long journey…and it’s not over yet.
Two years and then some.

There have been hard days, heavy days, and long days. Days I spent in the basement of my soul shifting through memories. Time spent sweeping up the broken pieces of my dreams, staring at the reflections of what will never be.
Then there have also been healing days, comforting days, and growing days. Days spent making new memories. Times where a ray of light came shining through my curtain of grief, giving me hope of things to come.

So what does one do on the two year anniversary of the death of your husband? When I first become a widow I so desperately wanted an instruction book to refer to. A step by step guide that would tell me exactly what to do and when to do it. I wanted to know when will I stop crying uncontrollably and not feel a heavy weight on my chest. How many months before I can sleep through the night again. How long do I wait before I take off my ring or clean out his closet. And will I ever stop counting the month, when will the 4th day of every month stop breaking my heart? I so desperately wanted to know the right way to do it because I felt like I was doing it completely wrong.

The truth is, there isn’t an instruction book and the only wrong way to do this is to do it without God. He is the only one who truly knows me and the time I need to heal. As I spent time with Him, He showed me what to do and when to do it. Through His comfort the heaviness in my chest slowly began to lift and my sobbing became more controllable. I don’t burst out in tears in the stores anymore, I’m able to hold it in until I get to the sanctuary that is my car. He gave me peace to sleep through the night at 16 months. At 11 months I took off my wedding ring, for me that was the right time to simply leave it in my jewelry box. Then one day I looked at the calendar and saw that the 4th had come and gone and I didn’t even notice. That happened at month 21 and my heart didn’t break. His clothes still stay hanging in the closet…there are some things I just need more time for. Two years and then some.

That’s the part that the rest of the world will never understand. The non-grieving world gives you about 1 year to mourn, after that you will be told to move on, get over it and put it behind you. They think that something magically happens on the eve of that one year anniversary. It doesn’t! There isn’t a widow fairy who comes and blows a handful of “forget him” dust over our head that makes us wake up completely ok! I need more than a year to grieve and as I get to the end of my second year I see how I need more than two years. I need two years and then some.

Only those who have suffered a great loss know that true grief never really goes away, it will always be there. It will change form but never dissolve completely. It merges into you and makes you someone new. I will move forward and make new memories with my kids but I will always wish Brian was there to experience it with us. I will heal and use my pain to help others but there will always be that small part of me that wonders how my life would have been different had my husband lived. And if God leads me to someone I will open my heart and love again; however, that person will not be a replacement for Brian. I love my husband; it’s not a past tense but something that will always be. I won’t get over him, but I will carry him with me everywhere I go.

I heard it said somewhere that your grief is the last act of love you can give to a person. If that’s true than I will be grieving for my husband for two years and then some.

With Much hope!
Gina McGrath

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What’s In A Name

What is in a name exactly? A lot! A name is who you are, it’s your identity, and it defines who you are. So let’s start by stating the obvious…..I am a widow. And with that let me also state how I HATE THAT WORD!!! It’s a word I have run from, hidden from and denied many times over the past 23 months since I have been given that title. And I’m not the only one; as a matter of fact I have yet to meet a widow who likes that word. It’s a title that we didn’t get to choose but instead it was forced upon us.
The Webster’s dictionary definition of a widow is: “a woman who loses her husband in death.” WOW, no wonder we hate that word so much. It’s so very simple, so very one dimensional, but as any widow will tell you, our life is anything but simple or one dimensional.
Yes, I did lose my husband in death. I lost him to cancer. It was a disease that he battled for three long years. A disease he was determined to beat, a disease that God was going to heal him from. It was never to be the disease that made me a widow, but on May 4th that’s exactly what it did. During the silent early morning hours I laid there resting my head upon his chest as the last bit of life passed from him. And as he passed into eternity so did the life we shared together. As one heart stopped another broke into a million pieces. In that moment time stood still for me and when the clock began to tick again it moved for a different woman. Who I used to be no longer existed and who I was now was someone I never wanted to be…. A widow.
It’s a club that nobody wants to belong to, but it’s also a club where I have found some of the most amazing women! In these past 23 months I have learned the strength these women have, strength that we never knew we had until we were given this title. Strength that makes me realize there is a lot more that goes into the name of widow than “a woman who lost her husband in death.”
So let me take a minute and explain to you my definition of a widow.
A widow is someone who has difficult conversations, conversations that no one should ever have to have. We have these conversations not just once but over again and again. On the morning my husband died, I sat on my bed staring at my two sleeping children. Brianna was 8 and Joshua had turned 5 only 8 days before. I was waiting for them to wake up only to have to tell them that daddy was gone. I remember sitting there that morning thinking how this was going to be the most difficult conversation of my life……I was wrong! I have had many difficult conversations with my kids. The truth is, these conversations will continue for many years to come, if not for the rest of my life.
A widow is a woman who has to make difficult decisions, extremely difficult decisions. The kind that will affect and change the rest of her and her family’s lives in many cases. And she makes these decision all alone. In some cases she might be blessed enough to have family, friends or pastors from her church to help and offer advice. However, when everything is said and done the decision itself comes from her. She will be the one that will have to live with the consequences of that decision.
I think I would also be correct in adding that a widow is tired…..all the time. Most mornings she wakes up and finds it hard to get out of bed. But she does, she gets up, gets out and does what needs to be done. Maybe she does it for her kids, maybe to honor the memory of her husband. But if I’m completely honest most days she does it because she has no choice. The bills still need to be paid, groceries still need to be bought, the responsibilities at work need to be met and the house needs to be cleaned…..well somewhat. The world around her still continues to spin and she has no choice but to turn with it.

I have also discovered that most widows develop a relationship with God that’s on a whole other level. A widow prays….she prays a lot. She prays for comfort to get her through those dark midnight hours when the silence screams at her. She prays for strength when life comes upon her like a wave threatening to take her out. She prays for wisdom when the decisions overwhelm her. Then there are the prayers of frustration and anger. Yes I will admit, I have asked God “Why” and “What now” more times than I can count. I have also had more than a couple of “Are you kidding me?” prayers thrown in there as well. Then there were the times when my words were all used up and I have just sat and cried at the feet of my Father.
So what’s in a name? A lot! It’s who I am. I am a widow but like so many others I am so much more. I am not the same woman I was that night my husband died. Through God I have been made stronger by my loss. I have found comfort in God’s grace, assurance in His provisions and hope in His love. I invite you to come along with me on this journey with all its twists and turns, the ups and downs, and all the surprises in between. I’m not sure where it will lead me, but I have faith in the One who is leading……and He has never left my side. It is in Him that we can have hope.
A Widow’s Hope!

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