There are times when what you most need to hear, people are least likely to say.
I’ve loved Husband since I was in 8th grade. But because Husband was Cool and I was Not, I had to love him from afar. Eight years later, I was a little cooler and Husband was a little more open-minded, and we had our first date. We’ve been together ever since. Life without Husband is unthinkable for me.
But two weeks ago, I sat on the edge of a hard, uncomfortable, industrial blue chair looking at just that: Life without Husband. I stared blankly at the hospital-beige walls, crying quietly, and all I could see was black. Because that’s what the world looks like to me without Husband. Black. Dark. A void.
The doctors and nurses were already working on Husband when I arrived at the hospital. There had been no time to tell him…tell him…tell him anything.
There was a sudden movement in my peripheral vision, and I turned my head to see a woman stand up and cross the room. She stopped in front of me. She was beautiful. Tall with flawless, ebony skin, thick black hair that fell past her shoulders in waves and large soulful brown eyes.
As I looked up at her, I knew what she was going to do. She was going to say The Things. And I didn’t want her to say The Things, because right now, from my place in the darkness, I couldn’t believe them. She was going to say God-words about faith and believing. But those words would not reach me in my place in the darkness, because I’ve lived a life and I KNOW THE OTHER THINGS.
Sister didn’t get to keep HER husband, and neither did Cousin, and they believed and faithed HARD. And thudding underneath all the losses the mean voices in my head were reciting like a litany was my original wound: We didn’t get to keep Brother. Brother slipped out of this world without warning – no time to faith and believe for Brother. Nothing but a phone call to tell us he was already gone.
SO I KNOW.
I KNOW we don’t always get to keep our precious loved ones. No matter faith and believe.
But I live in the south now, and there’s a protocol for how these things go down. The woman would say The Things, and even with the voices of terror and protest screaming in my head, I would smile, thank her, and tell her that I agreed. I would tell her that I knew God was good, that our God was the God of miracles and that I had faith and that I believed. Those are the rules.
There was a knot in my stomach, and I grit my teeth. Just say it, I coached myself. Say it and she’ll leave.
She didn’t say The Things.
She stood there, full of smooth self-assurance and poise, contemplating my face thoughtfully, an expression of great compassion on her face. I stopped crying, and something quiet and still crept over me. I felt as if her large brown eyes could see everything – my years with Husband, my terror at losing him, the still-present sadness about Brother, and the voices screaming in my head that I was going to lose Husband just like I lost Brother. I felt as if she could see ALL the turmoil inside of me. I felt like – I felt like the woman could see my SOUL.
The woman took a breath and said gently, but also firmly:
“You’re gonna have to let it go. He’s in God’s hands now, and there’s nothing you can do. Nothing. But your husband IS in God’s hands…either way.”
It was the either way that held me. Her willingness to acknowledge that there was a way this could end other than A Miracle meant a lot to me. No rushing me to “not think that way.” No admonishment that those kinds of thoughts “do no good.” No encouraging words to “Have faith.” She gave it space. She even validated it.
BUT IT WAS SOMETHING ELSE
But it was something else. Something I needed even more than space to feel what I needed to feel. It was the reminder — the assurance — that Husband was in God’s Hands EVEN IF it went The Other Way. I love Husband so much. Something about the reminder that he was in God’s Hands EVEN IF he was on his way out of this world – I found it profoundly comforting. I wouldn’t want Husband to experience that by himself. I would worry.
The woman’s simple choice of those two words brought me the only comfort I would know that evening until the surgeon came out to tell me that I would be keeping Husband after all.
I wondered later, looking back, how she knew what I most needed to hear.
I think I know.
Most times what a person needs to hear is that their loved one will make it.
A friend whose spouse is battling cancer: Listen, Karen, I have a feeling. And I’m telling you, he’s going to beat this.
A young mother with a gravely ill child: He’s such a fighter, Janine. He can do this.
A man worried about his girlfriend’s struggle with depression: It will get better, dude, I promise. Be patient. Remind her to take her meds and work her program. Remind her you’re not going anywhere. Remind her it gets better.
This is what most people need to hear most times.
But there are a handful of times in this life when a person needs to hear something else. And when those times come, God shows up.