It’s been six months since Nate died, but it seems like yesterday. Nate’s Hospice office called today, checking on my welfare and that of our family. It isn’t the first time DJ has called, and he’s been instrumental in helping us on multiple occasions. He was the one in charge of the Hospice memorial service we participated in a month ago, and he has connected us with people to talk to, as needed. The Hospice bereavement specialists know what they’re talking about, and several of us have taken advantage of their offers to listen and encourage.
In conversation with DJ this afternoon, I shared about my upcoming trip to England to meet the newborn twins and spend time with our son Hans and his entire family. As we talked about new life coming after the end of Nate’s life, DJ used the expression “secondary grief.”
“This is what you’ll feel when you first look at the new babies and Nate isn’t with you. It’s what you’ll feel when he’s unavailable to ‘hold the babies for a photo,’ and it will surface again when the changes in your son and family represent life moving on without your husband.” Although my eyes filled with tears as he talked, I knew he was right.
Every married couple has a litany of private jokes, little tidbits only the two of them understand, tiny pieces of family history that by themselves are nothing significant but strung together are like the beads of an attractive necklace. In our past visits to England, Nate and I would end the day chatting about what had been seen, heard, experienced, a way to cement the details in our minds. This trip I’ll be ending the day without that chat. Our couple-history has ended, and all the necklace beads have been strung. There aren’t any more. When DJ said, “Prepare yourself for some bittersweet moments along with the happy ones,” I knew he was telling the truth.
Nate’s absence will be palpable and painful. The sense of “never again” will be ever-present, and Nate’s love of travel and particularly of England will make me think, “What a terrible shame.”
I’ve been praying about all this for a while, seeking God’s specific preparation for the trip abroad and this new type of sadness. The primary grieving, me missing Nate, will continue, but the secondary grieving will increase.
DJ prompted me to think about another example of secondary grief, the sadness I experience while watching my own children grieve. Every mother has felt anguish over this, beginning in the pediatrician’s office during those first inoculations. Watching them go through physical pain is difficult, but knowing they’re undergoing emotional pain is torture. Little children, little problems; big kids, big problems.
I struggle in wondering if my children are suffering in silence. I hope not, although because our kids have become adults, I’m not with them daily anymore and may not know. Hospice’s willingness to be available (not just in the town where Nate died, but anywhere) is priceless, and I appreciated talking again to DJ.
Although today had been overcast and wet when Jack and I had made our trip to the beach, as I talked with DJ, the sun broke through. It reminded me that God is watching over us tenderly, sending refreshment exactly when needed, whether it’s sunshine streaming through the window or a phone call coming in from a caring Hospice helper.
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (Isaiah 40:11)