Guest post by Megan Achatz. Thanks to Heath for letting me borrow his blog to post this.
55 Year Age Gap
I was in a bad place, stuck if you will. It was just short of 2 ½ years since losing Grace and I was stuck in life, unable to move out of an automatic state of living, unable to reconcile the accident that took her life, unable to “move forward” and not sure if that was right, possible, or something I wanted.
Some time back a friend had pressed a manila envelope into my hand with only, “I think this will help you. I asked permission to give it to you.” as explanation. After reading the description it took 3 weeks to muster enough courage to open it and read the contents. Although the words freshly exposed some of the poorly bandaged wounds of my soul, there was a glimmer of hope. Maybe the author could help me find my way out of my “stuck-ness”.
That is how I found myself sitting in a well-worn recliner opposite a man and friend 55 years my senior. “I don’t know what to do. I’m stuck and I read your testimony and it seems like you are doing much better than me at living with losing someone and I thought maybe you could help me.” tumbled out the incredibly ineloquent explanation for my visit through an already burning throat.
“You’re normal, Megan” Joe said. Then he started to tell me the story of how he’d lost his first wife in a house explosion very shortly after getting married and what happened in his life after. His depression, running from his pain, his attempt at outworking his pain, the physical symptoms that began to manifest as a result. At one point he doubled back and instead of giving a brief reference, he gave me a vivid, detailed, moment by moment description of the day of the accident and the horrific days until she passed as if he was there, reliving the pain again until we were both choking back sobs. His (current) wife, who I’d just noticed had taken a less comfortable dining room chair at the beginning of our talk so I could have the recliner, got up and brought him a glass of water and both of us tissues and paused before she gently took over the story until he could continue.
It had been 60 years since Joe’s first wife passed as the two of us sat there in that pause sharing our tears and pain. It was that moment I realized it’s ok if I still sob while telling the story of the day Grace left earth when I’m 89 years old. That Joe was right in his response to one of the questions I’d brokenheartedly squeaked out, “You don’t get over your loss, Megan. You move forward with it with God’s help. It becomes part of you and that’s ok.” I saw from his story that it’s ok to grieve and live simultaneously (rather than grieve and just exist.)
How I loved them during that pause. Joe cared enough for me to revisit the worst pain of his life to help deal with mine while his wife seamlessly translated how his story practically applied to my life and listened with no judgement as I finally said things out loud I’d been holding in for 2 ½ years. There was no need for the pretense of being alright during the visit. I was there because I needed help and that had been accepted without judgement or question.
Joe took the story back over and began the beautiful part that began with a diagnosis from a medical doctor who’d written only 7 words on his pad, “A smiling face but a broken heart.” The short of it is that Joe started reading the Bible, looking for answers and, in his words, “A short time later I gave my life to the Lord. I had never healed from the wound 25 years earlier…I buried it. But after 25 years, God exposed the hurt and when I gave it all to the Lord, I started to heal. Yes, I still have scars…but I can live with these scars.”
One of the hard questions I asked was if Joe had forgiven the man that (accidentally) caused the house explosion. I appreciated that he did not flippantly answer but took a moment before answering “Yes” and then “I had to.” In return his wife gently added that I needed to forgive the man I only reference as “the other driver” but did not put pressure on me to make any movement toward that end at that moment. To me that is true caring, to care enough to bring up the difficult and painful in the kindest way because you know ignoring it will keep your friend from peace.
The pain of loss was still there when I left that day but I had been un-stuck and gently set down a path to healing by real love, caring, and faith. Perhaps the most liberating realization was that I did not need to try to “get over” the loss of someone I loved. I didn’t have to leave Grace behind to live. She was a beautiful part of my life in person and will continue to be a part of it. Sometimes that means intense pain and sadness and plain old missing her so very badly but sometimes it means joy as I carry and share the memories of her.
That day I had also been set free but I didn’t know it yet. You see, after Grace’s accident I often had flashbacks. They could happen anytime. I can only describe them as being trapped in a room, unable to escape reliving memories of that night while being able to see reality but not being a part of it. I’d have enough of a vague sense of what was really going on around me to fake being ok from the outside while I went back to those moments and experienced them again; the sights, sounds, smells, even tastes, and touch sensations. I’d fight to get back to reality, be exhausted when I did, and, as they often happened at work, try to get ahold of my emotions to continue whatever I was doing before the flashback took over.
The November after the accident the flashbacks peaked when for nearly 3 weeks I spent most of the day either in that state or recovering from it. The next November wasn’t good either, although I’d learned some tricks to help get out faster since they’d been about a frequent occurrence for well over a year by then. On the last day of the next November, I realized in the 4+ months since I’d talked to Joe, I hadn’t had a flashback. I still had very vivid memories, they were still painful, but the element of being trapped in them was gone. I could get out; the relief was overwhelming.
These lines are from the last 2 paragraphs of Joe’s testimony, the papers that had been inside that manila envelope. He wrote, “…give your grief to Jesus, He is waiting to help you as he did me. With this testimony, if only one broken heart is healed, it will be well worth my telling of it.”
One man’s willingness to share his pain and healing with me changed my life and it seems a fitting tribute to both Joe’s memory and the goodness of God to tell this story despite my private personality. If it can help one person start healing or help them get “unstuck”, it is worth it. If you are not a person of faith in Jesus, there is still wisdom and hope to be taken from Joe (and his wife’s) life lessons and perhaps you can see a glimpse of what the love of the real Jesus looks like through their lives and words told here; He’s much better than many have made Him out to be. Have courage to keep going, there is healing for your broken heart. I’m not “there” yet, wherever "there" is, but after that day, I know there is hope.