We laughed and we cried over those blankets, but making them and giving them to my kids was part of the healing process.
They all have different needs. And meeting them all, while grieving myself, was hard sometimes. It was hard to be strong enough for me, let alone for them. But I was their mom and it was important to me to be there for them because they’re my kids and I hurt so deeply for them. I would have done anything to shield them from that loss, but since I couldn’t do that, I did the best I could to support them.
I realized early on that people grieve very differently. One woman at a group said I grieved hard for two months but then I was done. For me, I was still struggling four years later with trying to let go and move on with my life. Everybody’s different. That group helped me feel normal, though, and that what I was experiencing was normal.
Everyone has their own normal and nothing is right or wrong. Grief is a personal thing. Some people clear out the closet the next week and are done; others hold onto things for years and years and years. Everyone’s different and everyone needs to figure out what is best for them. Letting yourself grieve is healthy and necessary and that looks different for everyone.
My husband Gary died at the age of 57 on March 27, 2011. He was a beloved husband, father of 4 (plus spouses), grandfather to 3 (at the time). Gary had had lung cancer for 18 months. The morning he passed away my daughters and granddaughter were there and we could tell it was almost time. We’d been listening to music, and sometime between the songs “Wonderful, Merciful Savior” and “Word of God Speak” he breathed his last and entered the arms of Jesus.
We held his hands and told him we loved him.
It was completely peaceful. Fittingly, the song that came on right after he passed was a gospel song titled Singing Heaven’s Song.
Gary loved life. He owned his own concrete business and he was a hard worker. One of his big longings he had said to the doctor was, “All I want to do is see my grandkids grow up and pour concrete.” He just wanted to live his life!
Gary loved playing basketball at West Side Christian School on Saturday mornings with a group of guys, and one of the other guys even accidentally ended up with a black eye one time. They were both competitive! Gary also loved to golf.
He also loved helping other people and he would literally give people the shirt off his back. I remember one time that he bought someone a car for $300, and he never got paid back for that, and it wasn’t an issue for him because he just wanted to help out. For years, he served as a mentor to students at Covell School. He was a popular mentor and every kid in the class knew who he was there for, but he also greeted all the kids and was a friend to them all. He was such an encouragement to staff members, asking them about their lives and praying for them and their families.
Early on in our marriage he helped at Gold Avenue chapel, a small church on the west side of Grand Rapids. He used to drive a school bus, picking up kids for Sunday school and then worship there in the mornings. He had such a heart for the kids and people there. He had such heart for service to other people and service to our church and community.
He loved his grandkids – at the time he died he had three of them. He just enjoyed being with them. I remember him getting a teeny golf club for our 4-year old (at the time) granddaughter and trying to teach her how to swing that!
I wrote on his Carepage these words: “I will be honest to say this is heartbreaking to lose our beloved husband, father, and grandfather – we are grieving, crying deep sobs at times, knowing that our lives are less without him here on earth – that just doesn’t even put it into words. And not just us, but also you who grieve a beloved son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, friend, and all that he is to so many who adored him and respected him and were honored and blessed to have known him in some way.”
Part 1 of 7. See below for more of Joanne's story.