Welcome to “How You Living?” a transformative podcast featuring best-selling author, inspirational speaker and minister, Dr. Rick Rigsby—and, now, Dr. Rick.
Dr. Rigsby: Hello, friends. So glad you could be with us today. I want to discuss a topic that we try to put off. This topic is called grief. Now, you might be thinking, I don't want to hear a podcast about grief, but one day you will need a podcast about grief. May not be today, but such is the way of life. In fact, there's a scripture in Job that I love and I don't love. “The Lord giveth and the Lord take it away. Blessed be the name of the
Lord.” I don't have a problem with the Lord giveth, but I got a real issue with the Lord taketh away. [01:01.8]
Grief is a topic that touches every single one of us at one time or another. Grief is a topic that I am all too familiar with. For those of you that tuned in on a regular basis, first of all, thank you, and many of you know my story, and so I will not belabor it, but I do want to set the stage and make a couple of points by going back to the early 1990s.
It was in 1990 that I had graduated with my PhD from the University of Oregon. Go Ducks. My wife and I, and our two children, were finally out of graduate school after about six years, and my first teaching assignment was at California State University, Fresno, and we loved our time in Central California. We were back home—my wife grew up on the coast in California. I grew up in the Bay Area—and we were back close to parents and back to relatives, and we absolutely loved it. [02:06.0]
I was one of those privileged guys. I married my college sweetheart. I was in my chosen profession as a television reporter. My wife was a labor and delivery nurse. We get married and we were so blessed to have two amazing children, two sons. We were living a fairytale life. We’re done with school. It's time to earn some money and enjoy the better things of life.
No more than six months after getting out of school, Trina found a lump in her left breast. The diagnosis, breast cancer, advanced stages, and after a six-year battle, we lost Trina. Me and my two little boys walked up to Mommy's casket and we said goodbye, and the end of her earthly struggle ushered the beginning of ours. [02:58.2]
It was devastating. I remember crying out to God, How could you not answer our prayers, God? How could a loving God allow something like this? Rick, aren't you a pastor? I am, but more than a pastor, I'm a human being. I'm a husband. I'm a father and I couldn't bear the fact that my boys were going to go through life without their momma. I just couldn't deal with the fact that my girlfriend, my wife, my partner for life was gone, and grief set in a wave.
I'd never, ever experienced anything like this, especially about a month or so after the funeral. You see, that's when the reality sets in that they're not coming back again. The flowers have faded. The cards are turning yellow. No one is cooking you meals anymore. Folks are going back to the business of life and here you are stuck, and you can't figure out what to do. [04:03.8]
What I would do is I would spend the day trying to find myself in literature. I would try to find somebody that was struggling like I was that I could identify with and maybe I would learn from them how to get out of this pit, and so I searched to find myself. If someone could describe how I was feeling, maybe they could give me some critical answers like, How long will I hurt? How long do you deal with this kind of pain that numbs every sense in your body?
This was back in 1996, and we've come a long way in terms of grief, research and literature, but I couldn't find very many books about grief back then. I found C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. I found another book, but nothing really could mirror how I was feeling. The closest thing for me was a stranger at the other end of the telephone. I didn't know this guy, but early on, he gave me his phone number. We met on some occasion. [05:08.5]
He said, “Listen, my wife, a couple of years ago, died of kidney disease, left me with our two children. I have a sense of what you're going through, Rick.” He said, “Give me a call, day or night.” Convinced that I would never call this guy, I shoved his number away until one day at four o'clock in the morning, I called. I'll never forget what he said. He said, “I've been waiting for this phone call,” and I would talk to this guy for several months. I would talk to him several times a week. He helped me so much. He literally read my mail and, in fact, the last time I talked with him, I remember he said, “You know what? One of these days, don't be surprised if you're the one answering the phone and helping people as well.”
I’m sad that I don't remember who this guy is. I don't remember his name. Over the years, I have tried to find his phone number. I've wanted to call him and say thank you, but that's not really what he wanted. What he wanted was to help me navigate through some of the deepest water I'd ever been through. [06:14.7]
He wanted one day for me to pick up the phone at 4:00 a.m. and help somebody else. Now, these days, I see a lot of books on grief. I see a lot of books on loss and the stages of loss and grief, and the first book that I ever read, the only other one other than the one that I mentioned by C. S. Lewis that I'd ever seen was Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ book titled On Death and Dying, and she was the one that originally proposed the five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Over the years, there have been a lot of people who have added to or amended that list, and they include feelings and dealings and healings and, and shock as a first stage. Persistent sadness would also become one of the later stages. [07:06.4]
Now, I would include another stage of grief and it's called something that is really not characteristically part of any stages. It is not the loss of the physical or the intimate, but it's the loss of a historical connection. Let me help you explain. When I lost my spouse, the history of our lives together stopped. It's not a history that I shared with my children, not a history I shared with other family members, not a history I shared with my closest friends, but just a history that Trina and I had, how we first met, the song we first danced to, the first movie, the first kiss, my nicknames for her, her nicknames for me.
You see, I was so consumed by the physical loss of a wife and a mommy that it took me years to realize that I was also grieving a history that we would never ever contribute to again. I could no longer write that history with my wife because that history stopped on September 8, 1996. [08:11.0]
Although somehow you move on. There's no real manual, no book, no article, no research, not even a stage in the grief cycle to help describe this phenomenon known as a lost historical connection.
Now, I want to offer some cautions. Those of you that are struggling with grief right now, you may not go through all of these stages and the stages may not be in order, and the stages may or may not have a time limit. Grief is very unique. It's idiosyncratic. It's unique to every individual. But I would contest that stages are important and the reason is that you're trying to locate something, anything that describes your current state that describes what you're going through. I think it's important because you feel you're losing it, right? Everything is off-center. Nothing seems right.
There's no normal anymore and we need reassurances, the kind that are identified by a stage. [09:12.9]
One ministry that I never signed up for has become one of the joys of my life, walking through stages of grief with widows and widowers, walking the journey with those who have lost a spouse. I have several people in my life that I stay in contact with. We're all united by one thing. We've lost our spouses. And guess what? The number one question they ask is this. Rick, am I okay? Rick, I would have thought by now I'd been farther down the road, but I still find myself reeling. Am I all right? Then, see, I think that's why the stages are so important. They help us to identify in some way with what we think we ought to be feeling. [09:57.1]
I remember once I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I called my doctor and after my doctor realized that I at least could drive and meet him at the emergency room, I drove there and met him. We did all kinds of tests, including an EKG. The doctor with tears in his eyes concluded, “Rick, You're not having a heart attack. You're suffering from a broken heart.”
Friends, I want to tell you something. Do you ever get over a loss? I can't answer that question. I don't know. I don't think so. I can tell you from my perspective that while it is well with my soul today, at some point I am convinced I will still limp in the heaven. Something changes you forever and I'm okay with that. It took a long time, but I'm at peace with that today.
So, let me offer you some suggestions that are not stages of grief that don't come out of a book, but that have come out of losing a wife and trying to pick myself up and move forward over the years. [11:04.0]
Number one, breathe. If I'm talking to you today and you've lost someone dear, breathe. You're not dead. You haven't gone crazy. Just breathe.
Number two, baby steps are a good thing. Baby steps, in many ways, it means you're living an epic life simply by putting one foot in front of the other. I had one routine. I had one job on the days that I wasn't teaching or didn't have any other university responsibilities, and that was to take my kids to school. I would wake up, throw on clothes, take my kids to school, return home, pull off my clothes, get under the cover and hide, eventually fall asleep, hoping that at the end of the day when I would wake up, I would return back to my regular life. Hmm. [11:55.9]
So, a big baby step for me was getting up, taking a shower, putting on my clothes, taking my kids to school and going on with my day and not climbing back into bed. It didn't seem a big deal then, but those baby steps, actually, they became the pathway to hope, and that's number three. Hope.
I want you right now, if you're going through a very, very traumatic time, allow yourself 10 seconds, 15 seconds to dream of a better day. I got this text message from a guy who has been a widower now for about six months and what he said may not resonate with you, but it sure did with me. He said, “Rick, I watched a situation comedy on television and, after six months, I found myself laughing.” That is a huge sign of hope. That means that he is not only breathing, not only taking baby steps, but there's something inside of him that says, You know what? Maybe, just maybe I'll be able to go on with my life. Right? Breathe, baby steps, hope. [13:08.9]
And then, number four, stand. In other words, don't quit, y'all. Stand. Make a choice that you're not going to fold up the tent. Make a choice that you're not going to give up. You see, I just can only speak from my experience. I would have given up, I am convinced, had it not been for a couple of things.
Number one, those boys. Those boys had lost their mom. I could not imagine them losing their dad.
Number two, I had a wife that right before she died, she said to me, “It doesn't matter to me any longer how long I live. What matters to me most is how I live.” She had hope and was willing to stand until her very last breath. [13:55.2]
Number three, my daddy, the wisest man I've ever met in my life, that third grade dropout placed a demand upon me in the funeral home. When I said to him, “Daddy, I've lost hope,” his response was “You can't lose something God gave you. Son, you haven't lost hope. You've lost perspective. Now, son, just stand.” He demanded that I keep standing.
I want to tell you those words, the words of a dying wife, the words of a third-grade dropout daddy, they not only stayed with me. They became my crutches. They not only became my crutches. They became my corrective shoes that caused me to breathe, to take baby steps, to believe in hope again, and to eventually stand. [14:49.4]
Friend, whoever it was who said time heals all wounds did not lose a spouse. They didn't lose a child. I don't know if it gets less painful, but I can tell you it does get a bit easier to move on. Just remember this. Breathe, baby steps, hope and stand, and don't be surprised one day if you're on the telephone, answering the phone, when someone on the line is screaming, Help.
Oh, friend, not only is it possible, but it will happen if you just have the courage and the faith to believe. Friend, I want to tell you I'm with you. I wish I could hug each and every one of you that's going through a difficult time. I wish I could offer you a shortcut. Grief has no such thing, and so you stand there and you breathe, and you put one foot in front of another, and you hope. That's right. And, friend, I will tell you this. That hope will encourage you and strengthen you to keep standing. [16:04.4]
My hope for you, my prayer for you is that you will stand. Regardless of what you see and regardless of how you feel, don't give up. You keep standing.
Oh, friend, be encouraged. Be uplifted. Until we meet again, this is Dr. Rick asking you the most important question I can ask today. How you livin’?
Are you ready to make an impact in your world right now? Do you want to stop existing and start living your best life right now? Dr. Rick wants to give you the first chapter of his bestselling book, “Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout”, absolutely free. Just go to www.RickRigsby.com/FreeGift to get the print or audiobook right now.
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