Today we have a guest post from Holly Hrywnak, who blogs regularly at The Common Queen. Even though Holly isn’t a widow in the technical sense, she does know what it’s like to love deeply and lose the person she thought she’d marry. Holly has an authentic and engaging voice that tells beautiful and insightful stories. Here’s one that she wrote just for us based on her real life experience of love and loss.
His 35th birthday is this month.
It’ll be his 8th birthday in Heaven.
For JD’s 26th birthday, I surprised him. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Autumn, which made the four hour commute much more enjoyable. My plan had been to show up at his church and spend the day with him.
In the end, it was he who surprised me.
Arriving at the church, I saw his mom greeting people at the door, which is where he was supposed to be. We hugged and she told me he left the house early, but that he’d be there soon. I’ll admit, I was a little bit disappointed. I spent four hours dreaming up the look on his face when I entered the building, but now the moment was lost. Or so I thought.
I began helping his mom hand out bulletins, and greet people as they entered. I knew no one, but they all hugged me and smiled. I was distracted though – my eyes darting to the door whenever someone entered. Finally, I saw those familiar blue eyes. They met mine and his face lit up with such joy and love and it was better than I had dreamed up during my drive.
JD and I hadn’t been dating. We had known each other for a few years, but I could never accept that someone like him could like someone like me. Three years earlier, our eyes had met across a crowded room. We became friends – much closer than any of our classmates had known. We’d spend hours talking on the phone. I’d write him letters. He’d take me out for coffee. I’d find excuses to talk to him. He’d steal my friend’s seats in class to be near me.
It went on like this until graduation. He went back to his hometown and I prepared to move halfway across the US to work in full time ministry. Surprising him for his birthday would be the last time I’d see him before I moved, which is why it was so important to me.
After the hugs and line of questioning, we sat down as church began. I couldn’t tell you a song that was sung that morning, or the theme for the sermon. All I knew is that I was where I should be – next to him. During the message, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I want to take you up to grandma’s.” I looked at him and smiled.
JD’s grandparents had been very important to him. He’d spent hours on their farm as a boy and it was one of his favorite places. Now that his grandparents had passed away, the house was empty, but JD had hoped to make it his own. As we walked through each room, he’d share a special memory or renovations he’d like to make. In one of the side rooms, he pointed out the window to the apple orchard and the vineyards. He continued on to the next room, not noticing I hadn’t moved.
It was there that I knew his dreams were also my dreams.
The fact that JD was dreaming at all was hopeful to me. About a year after we met, he told me he had a terminal illness. He’d had it since he was a little boy and it had him in and out of the hospital. I still remember the night he told me. We were sitting across from one another in the noisy cafeteria eating dinner, but I was focused solely on him. There were lots of questions and he answered them all – I remained calm and collected, but told him I’d be praying and standing with him.
From that night on, I’d spend hours praying for him. Begging Jesus to heal the man I loved.
“Even if he never loves me. Please, God. Please.”
I was more diligent praying for him than for anything or anyone else. It was the fight of my life.
A few months after his birthday, I moved 1,300 miles away from him like I had planned. Each month, I’d send him a letter full of scriptures God had given me, quotes from songs I had heard and prayers that I had been praying for him. We’d talk on the phone when we could and I’d soak in the sound of his voice.
In May 2006, JD was back in the hospital and because of the nature of his disease, it would make it difficult for him to talk – he was on the lung transplant list waiting for a donor match. I received a text message from him that read, “I love you.” He’d never said that to me before. Things had been unspoken between us. I knew where I stood, but my insecurities kept telling me that JD would never love me.
But he did.
I called my best friend that night asking her what she thought it meant. She laughed and said, “It means he loves you, Holly.”
In August, I was able to fly back to visit him. He had been out of the hospital for a few months and I was excited to get time with him and feel his arms wrap around me. The night before my visit, his mom called me and said they had to go back to the hospital, but I was determined to get to him regardless of where he was. I spent the day by his side. In between doctors visits, he’d share the hopes of our future together. After all that time of waiting, he was finally telling me everything I had wanted to hear!
The tears rolled down his face as he told me how tired and discouraged he had become and how he felt like he couldn’t even pray for himself anymore. I reassured him that it didn’t matter because I’d continue to pray for him and that I wouldn’t be giving up.
That was the last day I’d see JD alive.
A few days later, I was sitting in a church, his open casket a few feet away from me. I watched his chest hoping to see it begin to rise and fall.
I thought you were going to heal him, God. Why did you take him from me?! This can’t be real.
The day his mother told me he died, life left me. All of my dreams and hopes for a future were buried six feet under. I just couldn’t figure it out – why would God give me such an amazing man only to take him away before we could enjoy life together? I still ask God that question. I’m not sure He ever plans on answering it.
It’s been eight years without JD and the loss has not gotten any easier. My grief has gotten easier to hide since most people have stopped asking about it. Everyone seems to think that eight years is enough time to “get over it”. They’ve forgotten it – why can’t I? The thing is, I don’t want to get over it or beyond it. I want to experience its depths even when it comes in waves. Waves so fierce they take the air out of me and my heart feels like it’s going to collapse from the weight of the loss.
Each day that goes by, is one more without him. The gap between us ever widening. I’m afraid the details of our time together will become more and more hazy – that I’ll forget the sound of his voice, the blueness of his eyes, or what it felt like to have my hand in his. I grasp on to the memories in an attempt to keep them from slipping away.
Within the past year, I’ve started dreaming again instead of just merely surviving from day to day. The dreams have many more question marks and blanks, but they are beginning to take shape. I’m no longer dreaming with a partner for the adventure, which makes the process that much harder and slower. I didn’t think it would be this way.
I never regretted loving him. I only regret not loving him even more fiercely. For far too long, I had kept myself at an arms length afraid to have my heart broken from rejection. I’ve stopped loving carefully. If I learned anything through losing him, it was that.
Holly is a 30-year-old writer who strives to share honestly and transparently in hopes that it will encourage others to be open about their own struggles and lessons learned. She’s been accused of being sassy, which she finds to be an admirable attribute. Her favorite things include: making people laugh, chocolate, sweatshirt weather and authentic conversations over coffee.