Grief Does Not Win

I’m watching the outer bands of Hurricane Ida sweep through the treetops around my house. A dreary and wet day on the outside. A somber and quiet day on the inside. The last few weeks have been a blur for me and my family. I told my son on Monday morning that we got through last week. We’ll get through this week. And then the next week after that. “But today is the first day of the rest of our lives.”

I don’t even know if I really understand what that means. I’m sure I don’t. But as I reflect on the recent events, I am full of dread and full of hope all at the same time. Dread because I know that life is different in a way that I never thought about until now. And the hope is there because I know my faith is solid and I have tons of support from folks like you that continue to check on me every day.

My sweet Beth passed from this earth at 9:52 pm on August 22nd. Me and the kids got to visit with her for a while before the nurses stopped the machines. We couldn’t be in the room while they turned everything off, so we huddled together in the MSICU waiting room. Aaron, our preacher prayed with us. My shoulders shook in waves of sobs. My girls held on to my arms, one on each side. Then the silence embraced us.

I could hear sniffles from across the room. An older gentleman. A younger woman quietly weeping. I became aware that we were not the only ones hurting. He spoke up first as he got ready to leave.

“How long were you married?”

He was far enough away that he had to raise his voice to get our attention. Our backs were to his corner of the room, and I guess he had been sizing up our situation for a while. One older guy. Five younger folks. Children there to be with their Dad. It wouldn’t have been hard to figure out.

“43 years this last May,” I said.

“I got you beat,” he said. “Fifty years for me and my wife. They just took her off the machine a while ago. She was gone pretty quick. I’m sorry for your loss.”

He stood and headed for the door. His daughter was already down the hall and gone. I turned to catch him.

“Hey. What was her name?”

He had already pushed the glass door open when he turned back to look at me. ”Patricia Ward. We live up in Manchester.”

“I’m sure we’ll be praying for each other.” It was the only thing I could think of to say to a stranger with whom we shared an unbearable grief.

Jessie came into the room. He was the nurse who had been helping us in and out of rubber gloves and plastic garments and masks for the last hour. We listened in a numbing disbelief as he told us she was gone. There was no pain. No suffering. She went peacefully. And I wondered how many times he had had to tell some family these words. How difficult this whole pandemic has been on guys like him who see the worst of it every day.

The next few days, surrounded by my three kids and their families, we looked through the tubs of pictures that detailed much of the last four and a half decades of my life with Beth and the joys of family. We laughed and we wept, and we told stories into the late-night hours. Sleep didn’t come easy for any of us. My life was upside down. Their lives were swept up into a whirlwind of decisions and trips to the funeral home and plans for the coming service.

An avalanche of food poured into our kitchen. Thank God for those who fed us and cared for us. We turned back flips for those who thought to bring us paper plates and towels, and some of the finest plastic cutlery I’ve ever seen. Every dish and every gesture of kindness was wrapped in an unexpected love that just blew us away. I hope you’re reading this.

On Thursday, the first wave of cards filled my mailbox. I’m a terrible card sender on occasions like this. Beth did all of that with grace and a finesse that I don’t possess. Cards came into our little house in the woods like flood waters move into low ground. Cards from cousins, from local friends, from high school classmates, from out of state, from places and people I hadn’t thought about in years. Each one of them like a soothing melody in the midst of our grief.

The one thing that struck me was that they were all addressed to “Paul & Family”. For the first time I was forced to think of me without Beth. In the last 43 years we had never received not one card in our mailbox that was not addressed to the both of us. “I am no longer a couple,” I thought.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that anyone was cruel. I’m not saying that anyone did anything wrong. How else could it be but “Paul & Family”. That’s my reality now. But it was one of those little things that poked my soul to the core. Grief can sometimes be a punishing adversary.

The other day I went to see my doctor. I wanted to do what I called a post-covid checkup. I felt like I was 99% over it all, but I wanted to be sure my Doc thought I was okay. I felt a need to be okay for my kids and my grandkids. He gave me the thumbs up.

When I got to his office, though, they handed me the standard paperwork to fill out. One of the forms asked me to update my personal information in case there were any changes. For the last 27 years since we’ve lived here, I have laughed at that page. Nothing ever changes. Everything stays the same.

Until now. At the top of the form, my status was listed as married. I had to cross through that and write the word widowed. I had to think about that. Not only am I now not a couple, but I am a widower. My new status on record. My emergency contact had always been Beth. I crossed through that one and left it blank. Another wicked cut from the razor-sharp talons of loss.

I want you to know that I am fully aware that I am not alone in this grief of mine. The funeral service this past Saturday was proof of that. Really, there’s been evidence of how full my life is all along these past several weeks. But the funeral was the celebration of love and life and faith that I had hoped it would be. Our friends came to be with us. Those who couldn’t come made sure we knew that they were with us in our hearts. Nothing about Beth’s funeral was sad. The tears shed were not for her but for us.

Know this. I am proud of my kids and what they have done over this dark time in our lives. They have shined like the sun. I wish you could know them. Because if you saw them. If you heard them. If you witnessed their rock-solid faith and hope. Then you would know my Beth. Her imprint is everywhere in their lives.

And you would know that we are going to be just fine in the days ahead.

16 thoughts on “Grief Does Not Win

  1. Paul, as I sit here in the dark with no power your post popped up on my email. I’m pretty sure this was the hardest post you have written. Your words touch my heart thinking of your grief. It took me back to when you and Beth were getting married. You were both so young and fresh and so in love. It takes my breath away to hear the pain in your words. But I know, because of your faith and your family, you will be fine.
    I want you to know our door (and guest room) is always open and the coffee is always hot.
    Paul, we lost touch for so many years, let’s not let that happen again.
    Trish

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  2. Paul, this certainly touched me as I relived my own experience. It is never one you wish anyone else would have to go through. But, those kids, the love of friends and family and that faith – that is how you know it all will go on and be okay.

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  3. Dear Paul, you know you are not alone, there is so many people that love you and your family. My heart was broken when I heard of Beth’s Illness and yours. I prayed for both and was glad you were getting better. Yet could not break the hurt for my friend. I was sad I was hurting..I could not forget I was in her place for a long time..I was prayed for and prayed for..no one knows what the outcome will be. My doctors say I was a miracle.. I am sure and I prayed for Beth to be one too. I think Jesus was ready for his new angel. I think he was not ready for me..he had more plans for me. I was not complete.He wants me to be more like him and Beth. I am not, but hope to be one day. Just know I love you and your precious family very much. Bless you all.❤️❤️❤️❤️🙏🙏🙏🙏

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    • Paul, as I read your experience I couldn’t help but think of my own. Why your Beth and not mine? I have asked myself this about others as well that had their lives cut short by this virus.
      Often times in conversation with others, topics of discussion come up that quite honestly, I don’t have a clue as to the why. This past Sunday’s sermon our pastor preached on Romans 8:28 which is the very verse I claim when I don’t understand the why’s in life. I just simply trust this verse and know that one day, the whys of this life will be known.
      After praying for your Beth and a full recovery for days, the news we got late in the night of the 22nd was not what we wanted to hear. But, our faith teaches us that this life is temporary. I have to believe that all Christians who have gone before us, given the opportunity to return to this life would reject it after having experienced Heaven. Because, they now know the why’s of this life.
      Even though I never met your wife, I know you and your character, and from that I know she was a much loved and respected lady because of you and your family. I’m sure your wife will live on in the legacy of your children.
      Paul, you and your family will remain in our prayers in the days ahead as you adjust to life without your Beth.

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  4. I am so sorry for your loss. I know how it feels as I was married for 441/2 years when I lost my husband. I felt as I had lost my identity because I was always his wife. I loved that title. We were a pair and I was proud of that title. Eventually you learn to cope; faith and family and good friends get you through. I wish you the best and I wish you peace.

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  5. Know that you and your family are still in our thoughts and prayers. May wonderful memories of Beth bring more smiles than tears in the coming days.

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  6. Paul, you and your family are it prayers and will remain there. Of course, I haven’t been in your shoes, but after loosing our sweet Patrick, I do understand grief. It is a hard journey with lots of ups and downs. Beth sounds like a beautiful, loving, spirit filled person…… a perfect match for you. Love, hugs, thoughts and prayers for today and many days to come❤️🙏🏻

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  7. As I type the words “I always pray for you and your family”, it makes me realize that truly this is the most powerful thing I can do for you. May you feel the peace that only God can give through such heartbreaking times. I will continue to pray because I know at this point in time you are relying on our prayers to carry you and your loved ones through. My heart breaks for you, and I shed tears as I pray. This earthly life is truly a test of our faith. God is so good to let us experience the love of a Godly spouse. I guess it is just a small taste of the pure love we will experience in His Presence.

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  8. Paul and family, I know that God was smiling down on you all during Beth’s uplifting service. What an awesome service. Continue prayers from old Ohio friends. May I each find a new pattern to your daily routines that will always include memories of your beloved Beth.

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  9. Paul, I know you hurt in one way…but also know that Beth is now in Glory walking on streets of gold. Take comfort in that!! I met you and her at Atlanta Christian in the fall of 1976. Wow! That is a long time ago. In 1985 you married Amy and I at Cartersville Christian. We have kept in touch some over the years. I will always remember my friends Paul and Beth fondly! Take care my brother!! Love you!!

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  10. Mr. Chappell, I am Ramya. I’m 22 and from India. I’ve been following your blog for two months now and eagerly look forward to reading anecdotes from your life and how you make moral lessons out of them. I remember reading about your wife Beth. The way you’d written about her and your marriage was really sweet, I remember wishing for a partnership like yours. I am back on WordPress after a while now and was saddened to read of her passing. May God grant you and your family the strength to carry on. I am sorry if this is me stepping out of line but I just felt I needed to convey my condolences as you have been graciously sharing snippets from your life through your posts and I have been learning from them. I hope you take care of yourself.
    With sincere sympathy,
    Ramya.

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  11. Paul, I have been thinking of you every day, since hearing of Beth and her passing. Our prayers have been going up daily for you and your family.

    Reading your most recent blog, I am sitting here in tears for you.

    Wishing we were nearby so that we could share food, hugs, love with you personally!

    Jan Lucas

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  12. Paul, you and your family are in our prayers. At times like you are experiencing words of love and concern offered through prayer are a gift of Christian love. A hand laid on your shoulder offers a spiritual gift of commonality between souls. I lay my hand on your shoulder today for you and your family.
    Mike

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