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.