Facing up to Bereavement

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                           Rev. David Womersley

FACING  UP  TO  BEREAVEMENT

 

No 9  Happy Memories

 

Memories can be very comforting and are a great help in the healing process.  As time goes on, sad unhappy memories fade.  It is the happy ones that come to the fore and I have plenty of those 

There is nothing more fulfilling than knowing that together you have spent most of your lives in the will of God. God’s call came to us both separately but we believe the Lord brought us together. That does not mean that it was always easy. There were times in Africa of frustration, fear, opposition and illness but oh, so many times of fulfilment and satisfaction. A big advantage of being in God’s work for a long time is seeing fruit that has remained.  It has been a thrill to come across those trained by us who today are in leadership and doing so well in the Lord’s service, many with thriving churches.  I saw a lot of this on a visit last year.

Then there are the leisure times.  We spent enjoyable holidays camped by a Congo stream, in the Lake District, bed and breakfasting in Cornwall, Wales, Norfolk and the Yorkshire Dales. Bronwen loved looking for and photographing wild flowers and butterflies.  Consequently our house is full of her paintings, most of exquisite Congo flowers. Memories indeed.

On our 40th Wedding Anniversary, we decided to splash out and booked a bus trip to beautiful Lake Garda. We spent five weeks in Australia, partly for ministry and partly visiting my sister and her family.  Once we were invited by friends to Slovenia – what a joy! Many of these events have been recorded in colourful albums of photos, menus, sketches etc. Her artistic flare make these striking permanent memories.   

It is now just two years since Bronwen died. As I placed some roses (from her bushes) on the grave, I suddenly began to cry.  I was surprised! Surely after two years that wouldn’t happen! But I let them flow and in a strange way it did me good.  If you have been recently bereaved, don’t try and stem emotions.  After all, Jesus wept.

I remembered the happy fulfilled life and thanked God for our almost 48 years together.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases  His mercies never come to an end:

They are new every morning…   Great is The faithfulness, O Lord….

That is what my son and I have put on the tombstone: “Great is Thy faithfulness”.  Isaiah 63:7 says: “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD and the praises of the LORD”.

In my bereavement, I have found such a lot of comfort in remembering the good times, in seeing God’s hand on our lives.  I have been helped by a number of close friends and a loving son. In this my last article of this series, may I suggest you too look back on your lives together and thank the Lord. You will find much comfort in that.  I hope I have helped you face up to the inevitable and be better prepared for it.

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Facing up to Bereavement

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                               Rev. David Womersley

FACING UP TO BEREAVEMENT

David Womersley

NO. 8   MISSING MUCH

There are many times when I think: “If only Bronwen was here!” I’ve just had visitors staying. I took for granted all the work involved. Efficient Bronwen just got on with it!

She was a great asset in my work.  When I was editor of our Mission paper, I could not have done it without her input – she corrected my spelling (before spell checks), improved my sentence construction and did all the typing. My writing is inclined to be ‘bread and butter’ stuff, hers was arresting, colourful, bright. I guess it was the artist coming out in her words.

She was a good critic, in the best sense.  If I had not been too clear in my preaching, or went on too long, I was glad of her comments. She herself was a very good speaker though sometimes a bit long! Yet I often had to persuade her to speak.  She really knew the Scriptures.  About two years before she died, we were invited to a church where we hadn’t been for 20 years.  People remembered what she spoke on the last time but no one remembered what I had said!  Maybe the Lord wanted to keep me humble!

I miss her laughter, her humour. Only this week someone reminded me of it.  Sometimes when she was watching something on TV, I would hear a sudden peal of laughter, even from my study.  She loved music and singing and formed a little choir at the church.  When pressed to take on the group she agreed providing they let her bully them! Only one could read music besides herself yet she produced some great singing. When practising around our piano I often heard gales of mirth so it couldn’t have been all bad.   She was due to sing a solo with the London Crusader Choir in Maidstone prison one furlough. Her father Garfield Vale unexpectedly died of a heart attack when preaching in Wales, but she insisted on carrying out her booking.

She had other gifts.  She loved sewing, knitting, appliqué work etc.  She turned some of her students in Congo into very accomplished sewers. She specialised in painting African flowers. She was good at photography.  When it came to choosing colour schemes for the house, she took over. Occasionally, we chose together. Today while shaving, I remembered how we had gone to a number of shops before we finally saw a big mirror that pleased us both.  You will find certain things trigger a memory.  It is so different being alone.

She had a very strong character and once her mind was made up, she stuck to it what ever others said. She could be very outspoken and rubbed some people up the wrong way.  We clashed, too, from time to time.  Never a dull moment!  She was always sorry afterwards. Now life is too quiet!  I miss the occasional spark!  Yes, I miss much but am thankful to the Lord for giving me someone with so many talents.  If you have recently lost a loved one it will help you to remember the way in which your partner’s gifts complimented yours.  God sometimes brings opposites together for a purpose.

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Facing up to Bereavement

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                         Rev. David Womersley

FACING UP TO BEREAVEMEN 

No. 7  FEELINGS OF GUILT 

A friend of the family, a retired doctor, said to me: “Are you going to mention guilt? This is something bereaved people olden have to contend with.

l thought about that. l realised l had sometimes said to myself: “lf only…” not realising it was actually guilt.

I did frequently think: “If only l had pressed her doctor more!” It was obvious that my wife was not getting any better but the doctor dismissed it by saying her symptoms pointed to the illness she was being treated for and increasing the medication would do the trick. She told us to come back and see her in six week but in less than four weeks, she was gone! By the time l did insist, it was already too late – nothing could be done.

Bronwen sometimes complained that l spent all my time in my study and rarely went to sit with her in the sitting room unless it was the news! l did not think much of it at the time as she was always busy: studying God’s word, reading, sewing, painting, writing. But now l often think: “If only l had left my work for at least an hour and spent the time with her. She loved a discussion. l realise that she gave the appearance of being self sufficient but underneath, she could be sensitive and vulnerable.

l know Bronwen did not like it when I would leave her every second year for three months, and once for four months, to go to Congo and Zambia. Could I have planned that differently? If only . . . .

She liked an excuse to dress up and could look very smart. lf only l had told her how great she looked! As a Yorkshireman l am not very demonstrative – but that is no excuse. l have a friend who tells his wife every day how wonderful the meal was. l have always felt that was overdoing it, the impact was lost. Under-doing it is worse! l rarely told her how delicious I had found the food. She didn’t like cooking but spent hours when we had visitors, which was frequent, doing a really splendid meal. lf only . . . .

She sometimes grumbled that l didn’t appreciate the Christmas or birthday presents she gave me. “I haven’t seen you in that cardigan recently. . . .! ”l am wearing them now and they bring back memories and my eyes water, especially if it is something she knitted.

Looking back, I realise l took so much for granted. l could have been a lot more considerate. If only . . . . . but, of course, it is too late for that. l can’t ask her to forgive me but l do try and show my son appreciation for all the many things he does for me. Any who are reading this and are not yet bereaved, you know what to do about it!

We can always ask the Lord to forgive. At such moments He does come near. As James says: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

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Facing up to Bereavement

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                                 Rev. David Womersley

FACING UP TO BEREAVEMENT

David Womersley

 

No. 5  Living through grief

 

My late wife Bronwen and I enjoyed our time in Scarborough for the Prime-Timers’ get-together.  This is for ‘retired’ church leaders. We met up with old and new friends. Two months after she died, I was due to go again and I wondered whether it was too soon for me to face everyone.

 

I need not have worried. All were very kind. Some freely chatted about our last visit together and remembered a joke or a word they had shared with Bronwen.  It was just what I needed.

 

One old friend from Scotland gave me a booklet called Living Through Grief, by Harold Bauman and published by Lion Hudson plc. Its sub-title is “Strength and hope in time of loss” – only 47 pages but it has been most helpful.  It was a relief to find out that I was not strange or abnormal in my reaction! The book takes you through the different stages of grief that normally affect those who have lost a loved one – shock, numbness, fantasy and guilt, release, grief, painful memories and so on. I had already been going through some of these stages and it warned me there were more to come! The book links into the way Jesus showed understanding, encouragement and comfort to Mary and Martha when Lazarus died.

 

I keep it next to my chair by my Bible and quite often dip into it. I have bought a number of copies and sent them to people in need. One person replied: “Thank you so much for the little booklet…. It has been a great help and confirmed a lot of the feelings one goes through.”

 

I quote: “Sooner or later we all have to go through the grieving process.  We do not fully understand grief until we have walked through it our selves.  But grief has a common pattern and it helps if we know what to expect.”

 

I would also recommend this booklet for pastors and their wives and all those who visit. It gives good advice.  This is what it says should be done when someone has just been bereaved.  “At this stage in the grief experience, those who stand by may not know what to say. The important thing is just to be there, to share the experience.  The bereaved person wants to talk about the one who has died, to express grief, to accept the ‘rightness’ of grief feelings. He or she needs to find a good listener.”  

 

Let us be good listeners!

 

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Facing Up to Bereavement

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                                 Rev. David Womersley

FACING UP TO BEREAVEMENT

David Womersley

 

No. 4 Times of loneliness

 

There are times when you are overwhelmed by loneliness.  We had both led very active lives, both on the Mission field and in England.  We both had our own activities; we were used to being separated.  On a number of occasions I had returned to Congo for three months at a time. In this country we did not always go together to speak at churches.  My wife Bronwen as an excellent speaker and used to receive her own invitations too.  I was away more frequently, however.  I used to look forward to coming home, sitting down with a cup of tea and telling her everything that had happened. I wonder now whether I bored her at times but she never showed it!

 

I still find myself thinking: “I must tell Bronwen that!”  But now, of course, I come home to an empty house.  I must now make myself a cup of tea and later a meal.  That is when I feel very alone. I’ve never yet had anyone say to me: “When you get back, come round to our place for something to eat.”  It isn’t that they don’t care, but they are back in their normal routines.  I am determined to help anyone in the same situation.

 

Some also thought they ought to give me time to grieve.  Just recently I met up with a couple I have known well over the years, in fact they were colleagues.  They only live about 25 miles away.  I remarked that I hadn’t seen them since the funeral.  “We haven’t been to see you” was the reply “because we thought you would prefer to be alone.” Amazing!  Some said to me: “Let us know if you need anything”, but I never felt like taking the initiative.  Perhaps that is my fault.

 

Some days, for no apparent reason, you really feel miserable. Generally, it is after a busy weekend or when you have had some visitors.  Loneliness can overwhelm you and you may even find yourself weeping. When this happens, I am comforted by the fact that Jesus wept when Lazarus died – and He knew what He was going to do!  When someone close dies, “the broken emotional ties leave a deep sense of sorrow and emptiness”.  Releasing pent up emotions can help the healing process.

 

Time does heal.  Grief is not something you grow through but rather it is something you have to live with.  I find the Lord often reassures me, comforts me and encourages me during my morning devotions.  We always read and prayed at the breakfast table but we then separated for our own individual time. This habit is serving me well.  Thank you Lord!

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Bereavement

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                                    Rev. David Womersley

FACING UP TO BEREAVEMENT

David Womersley

 

No. 3 People’s Reactions

 

My wife Bronwen had died peaceably at home.  There was so much to do before the funeral that there was no time to grieve.  That really started when all the relatives had gone and the house was suddenly very empty.  That is when you need Jehovah-Shammah – The LORD is there!

 

People’s reactions are very different and sometimes surprising. After the service on my first Sunday back at church, I went up to speak to a prominent lady in leadership who was chatting to two teenage girls. I said: “Hello!”   She turned to me. “Oh hello” she replied, looking rather flustered and immediately resumed her mundane conversation.  She obviously had no idea what to say.

 

I soon found out that there were many who seemed embarrassed or feared to wound you by talking about your loved one when, in reality, the opposite is true. You want to remember her; you want to talk about her. Some feel they ought to say something and then say foolish things. One person asked me at the funeral: “Will you be moving now?”!  Some expect you to bounce back after the funeral and resume life as normal. It doesn’t happen that way.  That is the very time when you need help and encouragement.  I found it difficult to make small talk.  I did not like to hang around after a meeting and just chat.  Yet I wanted people who also missed my loved one to talk about her, to tell a story or a joke they had shared together. 

 

It is a sad thing to have to say, but sometimes people “of the world” are more helpful.  Our two very friendly neighbours came and knelt by Bronwen’s bed the day before she died.  I stood at the door and overheard her whisper to them: “Look after David when I’m gone.”  One was a church goer and she replied fervently: “Yes, we will!”  The other, a non church goer said nothing but I spotted a tear running down her cheek. Yet, afterwards, it was the latter that would pop in, at first almost daily, to see how I was and to offer help. I did not see the church goer for weeks! As a child of God, never promise anything you can’t fulfil!

 

What a lesson to us who love the Lord and who believe in the eternal hope of heaven.  Surely, we are the ones who should comfort and sustain and learn to say the right things.  Why not call for a few minutes, just to be there.   

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Bereavement

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                                   Rev. David Womersley

FACING UP TO BEREAVEMENT

David Womersley

 

 

No. 2 Saying Goodbye

 

In the hospital, where my wife Bronwen had gone for tests, we were both told that she had advanced cancer and we gathered that time was short.  It was a shock.  Bronwen wanted to come home.

 

The ward sister was wonderful.  She was in full agreement and arranged everything, going the extra mile.  She contacted the doctors, liaised with the local medical authorities for the necessary equipment – a special mattress and pillows, breathing apparatus and medication.  A rota of visiting nurses morning and evening was also set up.  My son managed to get time off work and a family friend of many years, a retired doctor, offered to help.  With three of us we were able to take it in turns to be by her bed night and day.  If it is at all possible and you are able to cope, I would certainly recommend that your loved one come home to a loving, spiritual atmosphere for her or his last few days.

 

Bronwen was brought in an ambulance on Tuesday evening and gently slipped away on Saturday morning.  People were wonderful, some calling to see her, including our previous pastor who came many miles and to whom she had been very close. What a comfort!  So many prayed with her, read the Scriptures, encouraged her and sometimes, she them.

 

After a loved one dies, there is much to do.  A doctor must come to sign the medical certificate.  This must then be taken to the registrar within five days.  It may mean travelling to a neighbouring town and an appointment is needed.  The undertaker must be contacted to take the body and funeral arrangements made.  Relatives and friends need to be informed. An order of service planned.  To my surprise, some six months before, my wife had written on a piece of paper the hymns, reading, poem and introductory music she wanted and had given it to my son. I don’t think she gave it to me as she did not want to upset me.  I wonder, had the Lord revealed to her that her time was short?  My son was a wonderful help.

 

It was a week of hustle and bustle.  There were phone calls and arrangements to see to.  One doesn’t have the time to grieve, that comes later after the funeral. In my case, that was when my precious sister had returned to Australia, and the house was empty.  At first you feel buoyed up by everyone’s prayers. Having the Lord by your side makes all the difference. The word of God comforts and sustains. What a balm it is knowing that your loved one is “safe in the arms of Jesus”.

 

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Bereavement

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                                     Rev. David Womersley

FACING UP TO BEREAVEMENT

David Womersley

 

No. 1 – The Initial Shock

 

It is quite a daunting statistic.  One out of every one of us will die.  That is certain unless the Lord returns in our lifetime to take His church.  I wonder, do we prepare ourselves enough for the inevitable?

 

Although my wife Bronwen had not been well for some time, she had been diagnosed as having something treatable and the doctor was not at all worried, in fact she asked us to see her again in six weeks.  However, Bronwen continued to deteriorate.  Ten days later it was decided she should go into hospital for further tests.  She walked to the ambulance.  Just one week later the specialist came to speak to us both.  As gently as he could he told us it was advanced cancer.  Bronwen asked: “Is there any hope?”  “No” came the answer.  There in the hospital bed she shed a brief tear but her faith was strong and she quickly regained her composure and was able to receive visitors normally.  Nine days later she was gone.

 

It was a shock for me.  Family and friends rallied around wonderfully but once the very large funeral was over and I was on my own, the house seemed so empty.  I wondered where Bronwen had put certain things.  I missed her all the time. Sharing your life with someone for almost 48 years is a long time, especially someone very gifted with a strong character.  She was always there when I came home, but now, nothing.

 

About a week later I had a phone call from Harold Berry in South Africa. Harold came originally from Lytham St Anne’s, he had been a missionary in Congo for over twenty years until the troubles of 1960.  He and his wife continued to serve the Lord elsewhere in Africa.  He had married Alice Wigglesworth in 1940, grand daughter of Smith Wigglesworth the world renowned evangelist.  She had died a few years before and he felt it keenly.  In his phonecall (now 93!) he said that when Alice died, his home had become a house.  Each time he returned it was empty, uninviting.  One day, as he entered, he felt a hand on his shoulder and he heard a voice say: “Jehovah-Shammah!”  Although a Bible student, he couldn’t remember just where that was in the Bible.  Then it came to him, the last verse of Ezekiel.  There it was: “… and the name of the city from that day shall be Jehovah-Shammah, the LORD is THERE.”

 

It so blessed him!  From that day his house became a home again.  It was a blessing to me too!  That was my first big lesson – the house is no longer empty for the LORD is here.

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