Grief: Memorials and Remembrance

Last week we crossed over the 20th anniversary of my husband’s death. Without fail, this day still produces a catch in my throat, tear in my eye, and tenderness in my heart. It doesn’t take much effort for memories of the trauma to flood my soul even for my children as well.

Is that okay? I think so. May 17th is our Good Friday—a dark day of death. Are we emotionally stuck even after two solid decades? I don’t think so. For the Apon family of nine, remembering this scene in life’s drama has been good, necessary, and impossible to avoid. This is the day that changed the trajectory of our lives.

From our finite view, this day wasn’t supposed to happen, or was it? God wrote the story in a book even before time began. Because of Psalm 139 we know He knew, but did He allow or appoint such suffering? The same unanswered questions remain. The enemy knows when and how to use these to bring torment, if I let him. However, like Job, my response to silence the enemy keeping me at a place of surrender to my God is this information is too wonderful for me!

God responded to Job’s questions with the reminder of Who He was instead of explaining what He was doing. In my Bible, the title of this section makes me smile, “Job’s wise silence.” We are told that Job even put a hand over his mouth almost as if to say, “I am nothing, know nothing, and already said too much.” I can relate to Job.

“Then Job answered the LORD and said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore, I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

When you break down the word wonderful in this famous response, it means marvelous, surpassing, extraordinary, beyond one’s power, and difficult to understand. Most of us easily admit that suffering is beyond our control and too difficult to understand, but to define suffering as marvelous, surpassing, and extraordinary requires an eternal faith-based perspective. Shifting the focus from the natural to the supernatural is often a moment by moment, day by day, week by week and year by year requirement for healing.

There is a weight of pain AND glory in our stories that can’t be avoided—the tension is not to be resolved, understood, or explained. It’s just too wonderful!

Reflections of two decades with God as Husband and Father:

  1. God is God and I am not which is a very good thing.
  2. God is good no matter what our perception of “good” is.
  3. The Lord went before me whispering that we would go through transition, but it would be for our good and His glory, and we have found this to be true.
  4. Fight to avoid spiritual numbness.
  5. The Word of God is the anchor for your soul. Read God’s Word every. single. day.
  6. Embracing the pain is necessary for healing.
  7. We are not the same people on this side of the valley which is good!
  8. Single parenting wasn’t as bad as its reputation.
  9. I love my life! I’m content with God’s call to widowhood.
  10. Loneliness is real, but purposeful.
  11. There are treasures to be found in the dark.
  12. I know God in ways I never ever could.
  13. God has been my Husband. This is a foreign concept for many but relating to God in this way was life to me.
  14. Perspective matters and can determine the outcome of your life.
  15. It is crucial to think on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellence, and anything worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)
  16. God IS Father to the fatherless. This promise from Psalm 68:5 is true! We put our trust in God and His promise to be Who He said He was. The power in this trust gave us hope.
  17. Statistics are not the final word—by choosing life after death, you can change negative statistics.
  18. God taught me the necessity of being a prayer warrior. The best way to parent our children is on our knees.
  19. God hears our every cry.
  20. Great is God’s faithfulness! He uses the body of Christ and provides in miraculous ways. He is worthy of our praise!

 

 

 

 

While many across the country honor dads in June on Father’s Day, our family has chosen a different time for remembering Father’s Day. The date of my husband’s death is the day that God became Father to a dadless group of children, according to Psalm 68:5 that declares God to be a Father to the fatherless. Because of this truth, God gave our family a creative way to remember this day in our lives by leading us to consider our Remembrance Day as our new Father’s Day, replacing the traditional Father’s Day recognized by the world. Yes, we may have skipped Sunday School here and there to avoid the pain of making cards for a dad who is no longer here. We have acknowledged that in the midst of suffering there is a holiness wrapped around the acceptance of God’s sovereignty. Even though the day is tender, we have incorporated lots of traditions to celebrate this day making it sweet and memorable. If you have turned to God as Father, perhaps you might want to consider re-locating Father’s Day on your calendar as well.

My husband’s specialty was pancakes, so we would go out for breakfast to enjoy pancakes or eat them at home – I wanted them to always remember eating smiley face pancakes with Daddy! Because we didn’t have pancakes that often, especially colored ones, this is a treat! Nineteen years later, the tradition remains.

Since we were eating ice cream at the exact time of my husband’s death, we have included that “bittersweet” memory into this day of remembering. We head to the ice cream parlor at the end of the day to celebrate that God is sovereign. He saw the big picture – our family enjoying ice cream cones while daddy was making the choice to end his life.

Children love balloons, so I would buy balloons, one black and one of “their color” (each was assigned a color at birth – it has proven to be a great way to organize things with 8 kids, and they all think that color is now their “favorite” color). For devotions that night the releasing of balloons symbolizes two areas of reflection:

  1. Black balloons – I ask them to dig in their hearts to uncover any unforgiveness, anger, or pain that might need to be released. Tears are shed, and hearts are cleansed once again.
  2. Colored balloons – we thank God for all the ways He has been a father to them over the last year. We offer up a sacrifice of praise thanking Him for His faithfulness. He really is a good, good Father.

We cry – we laugh – we remember. From time to time, I would share with my littlest ones, and now my children share with their children, a story they need to know, “Once upon a time there was a real daddy living in this house, but God…” They listen intently as if I were telling a fairytale. I love to tell how God became their Father, how He is working all things together for good and how He uses everything for His glory! And perhaps there is a similarity to the ole fashioned fairytale…they lived happily ever after!

 

 

Remembrance Days are actually biblical.  We see in Scripture encouragement to stop and remember.  The Remembrance Day is the date a precious one departs from this world leaving life to never be the same again.  For many, no matter how hard you try, you will remember on the anniversary of your loved one’s death.  May you also take time to remember the faithfulness of God during your time of suffering.

Today’s article introduces a new section to the blog team, the voice of the fatherless.  We pulled out an old article of remembrance because we felt it was worth remembering.  Kayla Apon Whittinghill shares lessons from her pain:

Approaching May 17th each year feels a little bit like walking out of the mall after shopping only to find that it is absolutely pouring outside. You have no umbrella – your only choice is to dash to your car and embrace the inevitable drenching of you and all your belongings. You are safe once you get to your car, but the process is always a little messy.

This day feels the same to me – there’s no way to avoid the tears, the remembering, and the revisiting of scars that many times go unnoticed. It’s not fun. I will get wet, but on the other side, usually the morning of May 18th, I feel cleansed and at peace after tasting of His faithfulness once again.

12 years without my daddy.

Has it really been that long? In some ways it feels just like yesterday that mom came downstairs and told us through tears that we had a new daddy. On that day we joined the privileged group of people that are particularly protected and cared for by God – “A Father of the Fatherless and defender of the widow is God in His holy dwelling.”

“Do not move the ancient boundary or go into the fields of the fatherless. For their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their case against you.” (Proverbs 23:10-11.)

I never would have chosen to make the trade between a natural daddy and having God only as my Father – but I’m so thankful that God decided for me.

Every year the loss is felt in a new way. Last year, it was the pain of not having him here to know my husband; this year it hurts that he isn’t here to rejoice in this pregnancy, and I know next year I will long for him to be able to know and love my son.

The thing that hurts the most is that he chose to leave. He took his own life – no one but the enemy influenced his death. He didn’t have to do it. Yes, even in this, my soul is at rest because of what I know of my God:

  1. He is sovereign. Nothing can happen to me outside of His consent and all-wise plan.
  2. He can do me no wrongOnly because of the cross am I experiencing such grace in this life. Even the most severe trial is a taste of mercy because the pain doesn’t even to compete to the wrath I deserve but will not experience because Jesus drank it all for me.
  3. Knowing Jesus better because of this is totally worth it. If this is the way God has chosen to introduce me more deeply to Christ, if this is His preferred method of making me more like Him, and if there are lessons and treasures that can be gleaned from this trial that can be obtained in no easier way…then I am grateful. So. Very. Grateful.
  4. Knowing Jesus even just a little bit better is infinitely worth any amount of pain I must experience in the process. He is just so good.

I will definitely cry a lot on May 17th…I always do. But even in the pain I know that I do not grieve like someone who has no hope. I will see my daddy again. My pain can only go so far – and no farther, because Jesus is coming back and I will see my Savior’s face, He will wipe the tears from my eyes, and then I will always be with the Lord.

“Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad, who keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip. For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, Yet you brought us out into a place of abundance. Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul.” Psalm 66:8-12, 16