Last Christmas was the first without Dewi, my husband. We had spent 49 Christmas’ together enjoying many happy times with family and friends, building up our family traditions. In our house, we wouldn’t open our presents until after dinner. Everyone was always keen to help with the washing up! Dewi took a large part in the preparation of the dinner on Christmas Eve and always enjoyed presiding over carving the turkey. He would be in charge of distributing the gifts from under the tree, making sure that everyone got a present in age order until all had been opened.
God with us
Dewi died at the beginning of October just after we had celebrated our Golden Wedding. The previous year he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and had had surgery to remove the tumour. We had initially been very hopeful as we believed the tumour had been fully removed. However, before Dewi had his second round of chemotherapy, we were told that the cancer had spread to his lungs and liver. It was no longer curable, but it was still treatable. Just before Christmas in 2016, Dewi became very ill as a result of the treatment and was admitted to hospital. Although he was able to come home for a couple of hours on Christmas day he was unable to eat anything and looked very frail. Thankfully, after further treatment, Dewi was discharged the day before his 70th birthday, and we were able to have a low-key celebration.
By July 2017, Dewi was beginning to feel quite unwell, and we were told that the cancer had returned to his bowel. He was unable to have any further chemotherapy, so we knew that unless God miraculously healed him, his life was going to be cut short. He was incredibly courageous, and we were able to talk about it. Dewi slept well most nights, although sleep often evaded me as I thought about what the future might be like. Others were confident that he would be healed, but I never felt that God had given us that assurance, rather that he would be with us through whatever may come.
During this time, I was comforted by two songs in particular. One was Blessings by Laura Story whose husband of just two years was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour. He survived surgery but was left with disabilities. She wrote this song:
We pray for blessings, we pray for peace,
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep.
We pray for healing, for prosperity,
We pray for your mighty hand to ease our suffering.
All the while, you hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things.
’Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near
What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise.
The second song I was comforted by is called Everlasting Arms by Lou Fellingham. This song uses the wonderful words of an old hymn by Annie Johnson Flint, a lady who suffered greatly throughout her life, and tells us to lean on the everlasting arms of our God.
He lavishes grace as our burdens grow greater
He sends us more strength as our labours increase
To added afflictions he offers more mercy
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance
When our strength has failed and the day is half done
When we’ve reached the end of our earthy resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
I played these two songs over and over again during the nights and felt nourished by their words. They reminded me that God has not promised us a life without difficulties and pain. Instead, he has promised to be with us through the trials, and it is in the pain that we come to know his presence in a more real way. It is only when we are in need of comfort that we can truly experience the comfort and strength that God can give us. As the song says, when we come to the end of our resources we have to lean on God to carry us through. I was given extraordinary strength and energy through those last days and felt that God was sustaining me in a remarkable way.
These words from Deuteronomy 33:27 were such a comfort to me as I felt that God was holding me in his arms and that nothing could take those arms from me.
The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Many people visited and prayed with us during this time, and the support that our church family gave us was incredible.
Dewi passed away peacefully at home at the beginning of October 2017. And so began the grieving process. In the beginning, it was so hard to really believe that he had died as he was always so healthy and fit. There is a sort of numbness that protects in the early days although at times the grief breaks through. Christmas approached, and I was glad when my eldest daughter suggested I spend it with them in London. It was good to be in a different environment especially as the previous Christmas had been so traumatic. Before setting off for London, I asked a friend to cut down a conifer tree from the garden, to use as a Christmas tree. For the last few years, we had enjoyed cutting down our own Christmas tree from the allotment and decorating it. We had grown them from little seedlings, so it meant a lot to bring one of them into the house. It felt poignant doing it on my own, but I was glad that the house felt festive for myself as well as anyone who visited.
On Christmas day, we were able to weep over the loss of Dewi, as well as being joyful for the sake of the other members of the family, especially the grandchildren. We reflected on the previous Christmas and how ill he had been, and we were grateful that his suffering was at an end and that he was truly restored, with a new body in heaven.
In some ways, I think we were all in shock, and it is only more recently that I have been able to process all that has happened over the last couple of years. That sense of God’s presence remains, although there are times when I lose sight of it. I cling to the fact that whatever the future holds for me, God is my refuge and underneath me are the everlasting arms of my Father, holding me close.