Five – FIVE?! – years


There’s actually something easier about saying “five years” than saying “five months.” And then, there’s something just unreasonably, ridiculously, stupidly horrible about saying “five years.” Five. Freaking. Years.

I can’t help but think of the beginning of the movie Elizabethtown. The main character has lost his company $972 million and the owner of the company is explaining to him how big that is. “How do I make the number real to you?” He talks about the basketball team and natural watchdog project the company owns that will have to go, and he emphasizes the fact that small countries are run for that amount of money.

That’s how I feel about trying to describe 5 years of being a young widower. How do I make that length of time as a young widower real to you? I’ve been a widower for one thousand eight hundred twenty-six days (as of October 14). You could basically round that to 2000 days at this point. Soon enough (March 15, 2016 to be exact), I will have been widowed for longer than I was married. Most people would have to live to be 120 years old to ever reach that point. I’m 34. I’m not even halfway through my 30s. But it makes me feel like I’m 70. It took me longer to graduate elementary school than it did for me to have a wife die. Both my kids have had more life without a mom than they had with one. I have friends who have grown their families from 0 to 3 kids in that time.


And yet, it can still feel easier than five months. At five months, it’s fresh. You wonder daily — instead of occasionally — if you’re going to wake up from the nightmare. You can’t imagine a day or a world that doesn’t involve figuring out how to do life without that other person. At 5 years, you’ve pretty well learned to manage life without. (What a horrible thing to be able to say?)

And that sometimes feels even worse. Effectively, I’m saying that I don’t need Stephanie. And if I don’t need her now, I never really did. It feels like such a horrible thing to say about someone you love so much. And yet, it’s a sentiment Stephanie and I shared towards each other. Our lives were not dependent on each other. We need God; not each other. Stephanie, in the midst of a struggle we were having, said to me, “I don’t need you.” She was right. She had promised to God to be married to me, no matter how hard things got between us. And that’s what she deferred to in the midst of struggles, rather than deferring to any presumed need for me. And that sentiment had the effect of spurring us on to work through that struggle and many others. I’m convinced that it is what made our marriage so wonderful. But, do hear me: I really wanted her in my life for 50 years or more. “Need” is not the same as “want.” If I needed her, that would mean my own sense of self was dependent on her and her existence in my life. That’s what most people would call a needy person. It gave me a great freedom to know that she was not dependent on me for who she was. And I, obviously, was not dependent on her for who I am. Five years proves that pretty well.

Furthermore, I’ve been able to grow so much in the past 5 years because I don’t need her. The man she married was not the same man she widowed. And the man she widowed is not the man I am today. As hard as it is to believe it’s been five years, this is a redemptive story. I thank God for the grace He has shown in my life and the lives of my kids. I’m stronger today than I’ve ever been. And I’m confident that I could survive any blow life can hand me, because I’ve survived this blow and seen that life does, in fact, go on.

Five years can make me cry, smile and laugh all in the same sentence. Five years can make me scream, yell and complain. Five years can make me ponder solemnly and find my pensive side. Five years can make me groan at so much life gone by, and it can make me indignant over the life left behind. Five years can make me realize I can’t imagine who my kids were when she died. I struggle to remember the Brady and Halle whom she knew, instead of the kids before me today.


Five years can show me the life and growth that comes. Five years can prove the strength God has given me, the resilience of my children, and the brilliant sovereignty of God. Five years brings so many new memories, so much new joy, and a life that gets restored. And finally, five years can give me hope for the next five years.

Made to feel

I have loved movies for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when the day came that I realized that they were more to me than just simply entertainment, but they are my favorite form of art. They speak realities about life. And they take me to a place that’s deep inside myself. That’s what art does. It opens our hearts and brings our emotions out into the light where we can experience them deeply.

Obviously, not all emotions are exactly pleasant, but I can honestly say that I have appreciated on some level every deep emotion I have ever felt in my life. Some are appreciated more when they are in the past.

I recently watched a movie called “If I Stay.” It’s a hard movie to watch, especially for someone who has lost someone close. I can’t say that it’s for everyone, but it was definitely for me. If my ratings for a movie are based on how much I cry, this one fared pretty well.

It’s about a high school girl, Mia, who is in a coma and on the verge of dying. We experience most of her life via flashbacks, as she both falls in love with a guy and chases her dream of playing the cello.

I cried most of the way through the movie. I’ve always said I was a sap because of how I cry while watching movies. What it comes down to is that I find it easy to relate to the characters portrayed on scene, whether it’s happiness, laughter or tears. And I’d like to think that’s how I relate to real people in my life, wanting to experience life through their eyes, so that I can “mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

There’s no shortage of scenes in the movie that I recognize from my own life. There is an endless line of people trotting in to her room to see her laying there. I can remember that scene with Stephanie so vividly, as if my own life plays before me like a movie. The wealth of love for Stephanie and for me was (and is) incredible. The waiting room was often filled with people. Praying for me. Holding me. Loving me. Hurting for me.

One of the characters in the movie chooses to let Mia go; to let her die. And I get that. There’s an amazing peace — I believe that only can come from God — that gives you the strength to say, “Okay. It’s time.” I’m comforted by that constantly. I never look back wondering if we shouldn’t have pulled the plug. I have never regretted it, painful as it was.

And movies like this remind me of those emotions. It reminds me of the pain which proves I’m still alive. And being alive means I get to experience all that God has for me in this life. And for that, I’m thankful. (I also get to watch more movies. So that’s a bonus, too.) It might sound crazy, but I love the reminder of how deeply I can feel — and have felt.

Endings are sacred

The End in a movie

I love movies, and fall more in love with them as I get older and see more of them. And the ending is often my favorite part. It is so critical to the story. It can make or break the rest of it. I’ve seen movies that have me thinking “meh” for 2 hours, and then suddenly bring it all together at the end. And then I have to watch the movie 37 more times and I still don’t get tired of it. Other movies have me engaged all throughout, only to shatter my fascination in the final moments. I’m left feeling angry that I just wasted those hours of my life.

When I was in college, someone told me the ending of the movie The Sixth Sense before I had seen it. And right now, I suspect that most of you who have seen the movie have your mouth gaping open indignantly. “Who would do such a thing?” Who would, indeed.

Endings are sacred. They should never be told. Only experienced. You’ve been on this journey through the lives depicted on screen, and at the end, you feel their resolution or surprise or satisfaction right along with them.

I don’t think it’s only movies, either. Books are another great example. But really, the ending for any story being told is clutch.

Including our lives. So many people have followed my story since Stephanie ended up in the hospital and died soon after, but truly we all have a story that’s being told through our lives. Personally, I can’t wait to see the ending to my story. It’s going to make the whole rest of this journey so much sweeter and that much better. And I’m expecting some pretty great things, to be honest.

And still there’s more: God’s story. I can hear someone saying, “but we already know the ending to that one.” In a manner of speaking, that’s very true. Be we also know that Romeo and Juliet don’t make it to the end, and yet it’s in the details that we’re captivated. And there are a lot of details we don’t know yet. God is going to show how awesome He really is through that ending. And that’s an ending I’m glad no one can spoil for me.