Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of my husband’s heart attack. As I reflected on that day and the months that followed, I recalled the events with new insight. I wrote this blog a few months after John’s death. As I read it today, I realized how much I have grown over the past six years, but was also reminded of the importance of daily renewal.
Grief is a strange and unpredictable process.
As I write my memoir I experience grief for the child that never knew love. While the grief I feel for my younger self is different than the grief I felt when John died, the pain is the same. The emptiness I felt after John’s death reminds me of the emptiness I felt as a child. Reviewing this post from several years ago reminds of the solution to the emptiness. I thought it might help others who struggle with the loss of a loved one or who struggle with the loss of innocence through abuse.
*NOTE-I have updated the post to include current events.
Six years ago, I stood in disbelief as I heard the doctor’s words to my husband. “You are having a heart attack, Mr. Thomason”. I sank into the chair next to the bed. “What? That’s not possible. He can’t be having a heart attack!” I thought as they rushed him away. For what seemed like an eternity, I waited for news about John. As I sat alone in the waiting room, I felt empty. I was not alone, but the others in the room were waiting for news on their family members. Everyone else in the room had someone else with them. The emptiness overwhelmed me. I was afraid. I was angry. I was empty. I wanted to fill the emptiness, but I did not know how.
At that moment, I felt disconnected from John. I anxiously waited for news that he was OK. However, when the doctor emerged from the Cath Lab, he told me John’s heart function was 22%. Those words pierced my heart! “I might lose him forever!” Seeing his smile when he came out of the Cath Lab, filled the emptiness and erased the fear.
10 days later he was gone forever. 10 days later the emptiness returned.
Emptiness is a physical sensation.
Emptiness is a hole in your heart. Emptiness is the chill of silence in a room full of noise. Emptiness is the echo in an empty apartment after a hard day at the office. Emptiness is four walls that no longer provide a home for two. Emptiness craves anything to fill the void. Emptiness demands your attention.
My Soul longed to fill the void.
In the months following John’s death, I reverted to old habits to push down intense emotions. I also attempted to use food to fill the emptiness I felt in my soul. My attempts were a gigantic failure. For, the emptiness could not be filled with food. Try as I might, food did not fill my soul.
A few months later, I was the one on the gurney
“We are admitting you, Mrs. Thomason. You may have unstable angina.” I was surrounded by medical professionals. Noise surrounded me. Yet, I felt empty. I called my family. I texted my closest friend. Emptiness invaded my soul. John was not there to listen, to say just the right thing, to encourage me or ground me so I could move forward. I wanted John. I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted to see his smile. I wanted him to be in his recliner when I walked in the door after my hospital stay.
My thoughts returned to other moments of emptiness in my life: a child alone in the hospital, a child alone in a dark room, a young adult alone after a rape, a widow alone. Then for a brief moment, I focused on the memories, traditions and laughter John and I shared. I cried, got angry, smiled and laughed. I could hear John’s gentle voice whisper, “I’m sorry you are having a bad, my luv.” Then for an instant, the emptiness receded and was replaced with his smile.
Later that evening, as I lay in my hospital bed, I felt peaceful and content
The feeling surprised me because none of my friends and family could be there with me. I did not feel abandoned. I did not feel “empty”. I realized that I was connected to each of them in a powerful way. They were praying for me. They texted and called me. I felt their presence and their love. I did not need their physical presence to feel that connection.
At that moment I realized that my connection to John remains intact. I have a choice. I can yield to the emptiness or I can choose to fill it with the memories of my life with him. I can attempt to fill the emptiness with food, isolate and feel sorry for myself because I am alone. Or I can choose to move from emptiness by connecting with a friend, texting someone or even inviting someone to watch a football game with me.
Hunger for Christ
I was more determined than ever to cultivate new habits and connections to lessen the emptiness in my soul. I realized that the “Him” that I hunger for was Christ. Matthew 5:6. My connection to Christ is not new, but I had gotten out of the habit of renewing the connection daily, “Romans 12:2.
During that time, I wrote in my journal,
“My soul remains empty and I long to fill the hole. My stomach can hold no more, but my mind tells me to find food to fill the void. I hunger for his touch for his smile his words of love. Food does not replace love. Food only makes me sick. Food makes me angry. Anger replaces emptiness, but only for a moment. Finally, I cry out, ‘Turn my eyes away from the hole in my heart turn my eyes toward Jesus.’ Christ keeps me safely in His arms replacing the emptiness with peace.”
Paul words to the Philippians
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
resonated in my mind the first night I was home from the hospital. I felt that peace. I felt loved. I felt full. When the emptiness returned, I was tempted to order a pizza, but I was not physically hungry. I was emotionally and spiritually empty. Instead, I connected with my Granddaughter. I decided to start a Bible Study with a friend. I invited another friend to watch the Super Bowl with me.
I renewed my connection with God, made a new connection, renewed a friendship and celebrated a memory.
Six years later, I realize the importance of daily renewal to maintain my connection to Christ.
I still miss John. I still long to hear his voice and hold him close, but emptiness rarely enters my soul. When I am sad, I allow myself to cry. I am not always successful, but when I begin my day by talking to God, the day seems less stressful. I sometimes still revert to old habits, but I am much better at resisting those temptations. I am content for the first time in my life because, for the first time, I believe I am loved by God because He created me and I don’t have to earn His love.
As I navigate grief, I try to:
- Remember to give myself permission to feel the emptiness.
- Remember the moments of joy I shared with John.
- Find ways to reconnect with friends.
- Renew my connection to Christ daily (even when I don’t “feel” like it)
The Art of Meaningful Connection
2 thoughts on “From Emptiness to Renewal”
Thank you Charlotte for demonstrating such great love, courage, and generosity to share such personal details of loss and healing. You truly fulfill Christ command to “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” What a privilege it is to see you pursue deep and intimate meaning in your relationship with Christ and others and not let loss and trauma cause your love to grow cold.
I too am a grief counselor and after 15 years of helping others I have to admit (after reading what you wrote) “I can help others, but I can not help myself”, I thought that is exactly what I feel like. But I am now more hopeful after discovering your writings and resources. So thank you.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad my words were helpful to you. Isn’t it strange how we, as counselors think we are immune to the things we tell others. That is one the greatest lessons I learned over the last few years.
Your words were uplifting to me. Thank you