Last December I wrote a short article “When Sorrow Strikes Home” about my wife’s (Fawn Winsted) being diagnosed with a particularly aggressive cancer.
On June 27, 2010, after an eight month struggle fighting this dreaded disease, she passed into the presence of her Savior. She was fifty-six years old. The family, during her struggle, kept thinking that the medicines and procedures had removed the tumor and cancer, but her doctors warned that it would come roaring back. It did. I was actually out of town when my wife called on her doctor and was told the cancer was now in her liver and that she had days to live.
Needless to say, the flurry of events over the next two weeks did not give me time to think about anything, even my grief. We had been married for thirty-two warm, fulfilling years, actually celebrating the thirty-second anniversary in her hospital the Thursday before her death.
We fulfilled our vows daily as God gave us grace to do it. We have eight children, ranging in ages from twelve to thirty. They all walk in faith. And, thankfully, they all were able to talk with Fawn at length before her death. This was no small doing as they were literally all over the world (one in Europe, one in Africa, two had just come home from the Middle East). It was indeed providential that their presence at her bedside worked out as well as it did.
The memorial service for Fawn was extraordinary; she had planned it out in detail the week before. Her favorite hymns were sung; the pastor gave a stirring sermon on the eternal reward of those who love the Lord and contrasted it to the living death that awaits those who don’t know Christ and are not saved.
The testimonials of my wife’s love and faith were breathtaking, as person after person told of how Fawn was a mother, a best friend, a person who was always available, a servant who made the person she was talking with the most important. At the end of the service, the pastor told me it was one of the most remarkable memorial services at which he had ever officiated, and he had been doing them for forty-five years.
But now the relatives have left, the sympathy cards have all arrived and are slowly being answered, much of Fawn’s personal effects have even been cataloged and moved, but what of my sorrow? My grief is real, ongoing, and overwhelms me.
I’ve just put down C. S. Lewis’s book A Grief Observed. In the first half of this short book Lewis found that in mourning for his wife he could not think straight; had hard feelings about God; doubted his own faith; was sullen and angry and possessed several other “unchristian” behaviors and thoughts. I can truly relate to him.
Lamentations 3:8–9 sums it up: “Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.” I often feel like an uncaring God has done his worst, and I have nowhere to go but into my own sorrow, tears, and remorse. God says in Psalm 56:8 that he records our lament, listing our tears on his scroll—my tear account has exploded over these past weeks.
One thing our marriage had that many don’t anymore, was a written record. Sadly today, most couples have no written record of their love other than an occasional birthday card with little said. I was in the Navy during the first third of our marriage and, therefore, on cruises/deployments/assignments that took me away from home for long periods of time. Because of that, Fawn and I carried on an active letter writing relationship.
These long, love letters are treasure houses of caring; she was an excellent writer who could express herself well, and boy did she! These letters flooded my heart and caused my passion to soar again, but what to do now that they belong to a dead person? More pain—will it ever end? I am thankful for them, but do they simply cause more anguish?
Her many journals, which were private (I did not see them during her life), held her remarkable notes for her Bible studies and daily devotions, personal reflections, and frustrations. Of course, we hurt the people nearest to us the most. Our marriage was no exception. In reading her journals my heart ached for the pain I had caused her over the years by my churlish, insensitive ways.
I was raised in a critical home, she in a warm, sharing household. Feelings were rarely, if ever, demonstrated in my home while I was growing up, for a variety of reasons; the opposite was shown in Fawn’s home. Yes, this took “getting used to” for my warm and affectionate wife in dealing with this “cold fish” of a husband. This was only the beginning of our adjustment problems while married. Therefore, in reading the journals, much remorse set in for me, leading to despondency and more painful sobbing.
These journal comments were, of course, snapshots of feelings, many of which Fawn would later confess to herself were wrong, arrogant, self-centered, and overdone on her part, but they were like stabbing swords into my soul. As I read them and remembered the particular incidents, I continually asked myself between sobs of pain, “How could I have said such things, done such things; why wasn’t I more caring, loving, and serving?”
My pastor finally asked me, after I shared with him about the entries, if Fawn would have really wanted me to read these journal entries so close to her death. I shook my head no. He then asked, “Were you able to confess these faults to her over the years?” Yes, I thankfully did ask her to forgive me, and she did on repeated occasions, but the black and white reality of past sins was too much for me. He followed up with, “Have you asked God to forgive you?” Yes, I had. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). The enemy was using these entries to undermine my faith and hope in God. I have put the journals away for now.
Remorse and regret are common characteristics after the death of a loving spouse. I was in full swing with these feelings. She had always told me, even to her deathbed that I was the man of her dreams, that she loved me above all others, and that her heart always jumped for joy when I entered the room. We were in love to the end. But remorse for not living day-to-day for my wife was real and excruciating.
God’s comfort is really the only comfort for a pain such as mine—I know this. No, it won’t bring Fawn back, but it does give me a new perspective on heaven, where we will eventually be reunited. She has no pain there, and because I would want her to be in paradise with her Lord whom she loved so much, there is comfort in this.
But, I am left behind, a broken man who is a walking, wounded victim of a death I never thought I would see (I was five years older than she was). I know it will take much time to heal my soul. Many who have gone through similar situations confirm this with me. Part of me has died, for we were one in Christ. At the same time, I must take solace in knowing that he will never leave me nor forsake me (Heb. 13:5–6); that he is acquainted with grief and sorrow (Isa. 53); that he is the father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3); and that he desires for me to come to him with a broken and contrite heart, casting all my anxiety on him because he cares for me (1 Pet. 5:7).
Yes, this is “head knowledge” at this point; I pray soon it will be heart knowledge. I am in the midst of Psalm 42, panting for God for relief; the roar of the waves break over me and have swept me away; I have put my hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
 C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (London: Faber, 1961).
Brad Winsted is the director of Children’s Ministry International in Tucker, GA. He has been a ruling elder in six OPC churches. Currently, he is Coordinator for Children’s Ministries at Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Powder Springs, GA. Ordained Servant Online, April 2013.