Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Facing a Tall Blank Wall

Leslie Basham: A few days after her husband had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Margaret Nyman cried out to the Lord.

Margaret Nyman: "Lord, I think I’m going to be alone. I think I’m going to end up alone." And I just cried out to God. The tears started coming and I said, “I don’t want this. I don’t want this. I don’t want this.” Again and again. That’s as far as I got. “I don’t want it. I don’t want it.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Monday, February, 26, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I suspect that there are hardly any of us listening to this program today who haven’t been affected in some way by death of a loved one—perhaps a parent or a grandparent, a mate, even a child, a grandchild. We know that separation of death, especially those that you are close to and that you love, is painful. It hurts.

We want to talk about the loss particularly of a mate over these next few days. I’m talking with my friend, Margaret Nyman, who’s written a book called Hope for an Aching Heart. Margaret, welcome to Revive Our Hearts, and thank you for joining me for this conversation today.

Margaret: Thanks so much for inviting me.

Nancy: I love the fact that in this book—well, there are a number of things I like about it. I love that you share out of your life and your journey of the loss of a mate. We’ll talk about that over the next few days. But even in the titling of the book, you acknowledge that there’s an ache that is deep and profound and painful but also that there’s hope and that both go together. And thank the Lord that in Christ we don’t have to just endure the ache that there really is hope through Christ to help us walk through those difficult journeys. And you've experienced that in your own life.

Margaret: Absolutely. Jesus Christ has become so much more real to me as a partner thoughout life than He ever was before when I had a husband, because when that void comes along, He promises to step into it. I've really found that to be true.

Nancy: It's one thing to know it in theory or to know it theologically, you knew that years before you lost your husband. But to really experience God walking with you through the valley of the shadow of death, it's like your theology proves to be bedrock, real, and practical, when you actually walk through that valley.

Margaret: I think the Lord gives husbands responsibilities to do things for women that when that husband slips away, He steps in and does it for them. If you have an earthly husband, I think there are times when the Lord steps back and lets him to that—to be that umbrella of protection, that person who comes alongside and is your ear to talk to. He steps in in a different way to take care of widows. I have found that to be absolutely practically true. His promises hold water, about partnering with us when we don't have our mates anymore.

Nancy: God really has a special heart for widows. You see it all through the Old and New Testaments. In fact, because God has that heart, we are supposed to have that heart as well. We're going to talk about that over these next few days about those of us who haven't had a mate or who have lost a mate but are not in the category of widows, how we can be hands and heart for those who are walking through that season of life.

We're going to be talking about widowhood, but this series is not just for widows. This book is not just for widows. It’s really oriented in a practical way to minister to widows, but as I reviewed it, I thought this is great for all women, married or single. There are a lot of practical insights in here about dealing with grief, dealing with loss, and how to bless and serve those in the body of Christ who have lost a mate—Christians or non-Christians who have lost a mate.

But we want to go back and unfold your story a bit and let our listeners get to know you and hear a bit of your journey, because it is a journey, right? It’s not just that you have one moment that you’re dealing with.

Margaret: Yes. Everybody’s on a life journey whether you’re a widow or not and everybody has grief and loss maybe not of that kind, but in a way where we need help from somebody bigger than ourselves. The Lord is certainly the one who can step in and do that. But there are other ways that we need help, too, in some of those ways.

My book is a devotional. I think when you have a great loss, your heart aches so badly that you really want to talk to God about it. Sometimes you want to yell at God. Sometimes you want to thank Him. Sometimes you want to cry for help. Sometimes you can’t get your thoughts in order. So the devotional book is kind of a little bit of an anchor for every day in a practical way to show you, “Ah, I can’t take care of these thoughts myself. What should I do next?” It can be for anybody who’s had a loss. Scripture is where the help is, and there’s a little bit of that on every day’s page.

Nancy: And they’re not long chapters.

Margaret: No, no.

Nancy: So they’re about practical subjects, and we’re going to talk about what some of those are. But I want to back up and say, do you remember when the thought first crossed your mind that “I’m going to be a widow”?

Margaret: It was when my husband was sick. He had pancreatic cancer. Every pancreatic cancer patient dies. There are no survivors and 98% of them die within the year of diagnosis. My husband had forty-two days which is not uncommon. Once the diagnosis is reached it’s usually in a stage III or IV already. So you don’t have much chance to attack it.

Nancy: So you and your husband were in your sixties. Your husband was sixty-four, and had he been having symptoms? How did that unfold?

Margaret: About six months before that he had back pain that was very bad. He had been a healthy guy for sixty-four years and treated it as, “Well, it’s my time to deal with doctors and things.” He didn’t even have a personal doctor at all. So he was grateful for that. But as we began investigating back surgery it was the summer of 2009 and our house was on market, we were looking toward retirement—or at least scaling down his heavy workload as an attorney.

We began visiting different doctors, getting different opinions about his spine. He had beginning stages of stenosis of the spine. He had five bulging discs. He had bone spurs. He had arthritis. There were actual back problems. I believe he did not have the cancer six months beforehand and the doctors also corroborated that. So we were scheduled for back surgery in the fall of 2009. It was in the pre-op tests that the blood numbers were skewed—they were a little bit off.

So they wanted to do a little bit further testing. And of course they did a chest x-ray and that kind of thing. And they saw a mass in his abdomen. So then they did a scan, and the scan revealed that he had some kind of tumor or mass on his liver. Well, that was just the tip of the iceberg. When they began really testing him, they learned he had this terrible rabid cancer and that he was not going to live long although they told us he would have six months. He only had six weeks.

Nancy: Were you in the doctor’s office with him when he got that word?

Margaret: Yes. It took us by surprise. He had back pain, but he had no other pain. He was working in the loop in Chicago’s downtown as a lawyer. He had a very busy practice and had been in court that morning, actually. He was wearing a suit and tie when we came to meet with this team of doctors at one of the cracker jack Chicago hospitals. We were in a room surrounded by eight people in white doctor coats. We had no idea what they were going to tell us. We were still focused on back surgery.

In one sentence it came out “pancreatic cancer . . . stage IV . . . metastasized . . . terminal . . . inoperable.” And we just looked like a deer in the headlights. We just sat there both of us stunned. Later we became acquainted with one of those doctors very closely. He said, “When your husband walked in with a suit and tie on and leaned over the table to shake each of our hands, I thought he would appear in a wheelchair by what we saw on the scans.”

So I don’t know if he just had a high pain threshold or what it was. But over that two hour meeting it began to sink in what was in our immediate future. Although the word widow never occurred to me at that point.

Nancy: So they said six months? Did they tell you that then?

Margaret: Yes. He asked, “Well, are you saying that I’m not going to make it?” And this was after the long medical explanations and everything.

And they said, “Well, not too much longer.” And when he pressed, they said, “Well, maybe we don’t need to discuss that at this point.”

He said, “I have a law practice. I’ve got a family. I’ve got things I need to attend to. So I would appreciate it.”

After much pressure they finally said, “Six months.” But they knew it would probably not be that long.

Nancy: So you left that meeting reeling.

Margaret: We were stunned. I remember standing in front of the elevator in the medical building there. We were waiting for the elevator to come. I put my arms around him and said, “How do you feel about all this?” Not that we had discussed it before we got in elevator, but he was trembling. This is a guy who hadn’t been afraid of stuff. He was not a hypochondriac or anything like that. He was just trembling, and so I knew it was beginning to settle in on him.

But then I thought, This is my time to be strong. This is my time not to fall apart, because I was kind of leaning in that direction, too. But as he experienced that, I was able to be strong through God’s power, I’m sure, and kind of hold him up a little bit.  

That night as we were driving back to Michigan (we had moved to Michigan that summer) . . . As we were driving back from the Chicago hospital to Michigan, he was sitting in passenger side, kind of stunned. He asked me to drive. He said, “I want to get on phone with each of our children and tell them this personally. I don’t want to email it or anything like that.” So he had this monster task. 

Nancy: You have seven children. 

Margaret: Seven children—all grown. Well, one was nineteen. But he wanted to talk to them each in his own words, and he did that on our ninety-minute drive.

Nancy: While you were listening to this. 

Margaret: I was listening to his end. Yes. 

Nancy: Over and over again. 

Margaret: Over and over. He was shaping it optimistically for their sake. But I think even in his own heart he was thinking he could somehow beat the odds and beat this. Even then he hadn’t fully accepted this was going to take his life pretty soon. I had been more realistic about it than he had when I heard that. By the time we got home he said, “You know, I think I can maybe make it to seventy.” Well, he was sixty-four, and we’d been told six months. So I thought, It’s okay. He can’t accept it. We’ll just go with that for now. Maybe he’ll accept it when he’s ready

Late that night, he had gone to bed on his icepacks at the small of his back, which he had done for some weeks. After he was sound asleep I went downstairs and called the doctor who we had met with—the one we were going to first deal with of those eight. And I said, “He’s thinking he can make it to seventy. Am I dreaming it, or did you say six months?”

He said, “You’re correct. I said six months. But don’t deny what he’s telling you. He can’t accept it yet. This is very typical for the one who has been given the death sentence. Just take it in bits and pieces.” So that’s what was happening there. 

Nancy: So let me go back to that question. When did the thought come into your mind, I’m going to be a widow? 

Margaret: I would say about halfway through. I remember specifically. I was in the bathroom. 

Nancy: Halfway through? 

Margaret: Halfway through the six weeks that we had. 

Nancy: And was he doing treatments during that time? 

Margaret: Yes. We were driving actually back to that same hospital in Chicago once a day. He had gone back to work the very next morning with this death sentence which tells you he had not fully coped with it, yet. But that ended up to be his last day. I think in a way he had to do that for his own sake.

But he got dressed up in a suit and tie as he always did. Normal life. “I’m on the commuter train. I’m going to Chicago. I’m a lawyer in Chicago like I always was.” I think that was going through his mind. “If I keep doing this, I’ll be okay.” It was a kind of a denial thing, I think. I was kind of glad to see he felt up to that because I was wishing it too, that it could go on like normal.

Nancy: Did he start to deteriorate pretty quickly?

Margaret: He did. He did. They started radiation even though they knew he wasn’t going to make it. They did the radiation because it would lessen his pain which was about to start in all kinds of places. He had four areas of oncoming severe pain: his pelvis, his hip, one of his lungs, and in the area of his liver. 

So they were radiating these areas to stop rapid tumor growth because when rapid tumor growth happens, it presses on nerves and muscles and causes intense pain. I mean, it presses everywhere. So that did help, but not until after fourteen treatments. So we went in fourteen days in a row minus weekends. 

Our kids began gathering in Michigan from all over the place—one from England and that’s a fantastic miraculous story on its own. But others from other places. It was amazing how their bosses—the ones who worked—cooperated and let them have time off. We were together in our little cottage there—fifteen of us—for most of those six weeks. 

They just wanted to be with their dad, and they were just going to get there. That was it. So while they were there and the house was full—two little grandchildren aged one and seven or eight months—it was quite lively. There had to be big meals three times a day, and there was lots of activity. 

I remember being in the bathroom, getting back to your question. I had just jumped out of the shower, and I remember thinking, I think I’m going to be alone. I think I’m going to end up alone. And I just kind of cried out to God, the tears started coming and said, “I don’t want this. I don’t want this. I don’t want this.” Again and again. That’s as far as I got. “I don’t want it. I don’t want it.” 

Nancy: You’d been married at that point?

Margaret: Almost forty years. Just a few days short of forty years. So that was my first realization, but I knew I couldn’t talk like that to Nate. He was in no condition to shoulder my burdens. 

Nancy: Did you have those kinds of conversations with him before the Lord took him?

Margaret: We did. Not necessarily about me as a widow. When he would bring that up, I would say, “You know, I’m going to be just fine.” I have a brother and a brother-in-law who both love the Lord, one is a lawyer, the other one was my just “do it all” kind of person who would take me into his home with my sister if I needed it. So I had confidence in them. I had confidence in my circle of women friends that were so strong. I had tremendous support from my children, my grown children who loved him as much as I did and had their own struggles going through this.

So I kept reassuring him that I would be okay and not to worry. His main concern, of course, was financial, and “Will you be okay?” I’d had the tremendous privilege of being a stay-at-home mother raising our seven kids. He wanted me not to have to jump into workforce at age sixty-four. I’d probably be at the local McDonald’s. So his concern was that I was going to be able to stay where I was and lead a life that was not going to be upside down and backwards.

So when we talked about it, we didn’t talk necessarily about heaven or his actual death except on two occasions. But other than that, we talked mostly about my practical needs. If you need your taxes done, here’s who you should call. He was more of what I used to call an old-fashioned guy. He took care of the same things my father took care of for our family, and I took care of the home and family for the most part. So his concerns were for my welfare and that of our children over other heart matters, although we did have some really incredible heart discussions.

Nancy: So he obviously came to the point of realizing he wasn’t going to make it to seventy.

Margaret: Yes, about half way through the six weeks I think that settled in on him, and he got very quiet. I would say the last week there was a moment that he was in a panic. We were going to have a nap together. I was exhausted from staying up late at night, getting up early in the morning, shouldering the sadness. 

I put my hand on his chest. He said, “You can’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.”

I said, “Alright. Alright.” I was lying next to him, and I said, “Does it hurt too bad?”

He said, “I’m so afraid. I’m afraid.”

I said, “Are you afraid to die?” because that was kind of a surprise if that were true because he believed in Jesus.

He said, “No. I’m afraid of how bad the pain is going to get. I can’t take more than I have.” And I’ve heard that from others who have shared about their husband’s passing. Death is messy. It’s like birth. Birth is messy. And death is messy and painful.

He was already at the top of his pain level, although he never complained it. But he would say, “Can we call someone and up my pain meds?” or something like that.

So that day we talked about hospice. That was a rough day. He wanted to know if I thought they could help him. I said, “They promised to help you with that pain at the end. They promised you that you would not have to experience more than you’re already experiencing now.” It was shortly after that we went on the big time drugs. That was the last week where he wasn’t unconscious. But in order to mask that horrible, horrible pain, we had to go on some morphine, and then it was just a matter of time after that.

It turned out he had a tumor that was about to burst in one of his lungs and causing his panic attacks because he couldn’t breathe. Death is terrible. As you said, it’s not what God intended. It’s something that’s tough to go through with a loved one. It’s certainly tough for them, but it’s tough in a different way to go through at their side. You wish you could shoulder some of that pain for them and take some of it away. You can’t. It’s agony.

I remember during those days we finally got a hospital bed into the downstairs in the tiny little bedroom place. We used to call it the library. It’s where we had our bookshelves, all the kids books and everything. Barely the hospital bed would fit in that little room. Our kids would squeeze in around there. These big, strong, strapping thirty-something men, my boys, with tears streaming down their faces, just sitting there, just being with him, just mourning, heartbroken. I would have to leave then because I’d fall apart to see them suffer so. It’s a complicated situation to have someone slip away like that, where there’s nothing you can do. 

Nancy: Was there any particular moment that comes to mind in those last hours or days of his life where the Lord in some way ministered special grace to you as you look back; you had a consciousness of Him walking through that with you? 

Margaret: Before the last week when the pain got so bad, he was managing well. We would climb on the bed together at about seven, seven-thirty, right after the supper hour really. We would read greeting emails from people. My daughter suggested we write a blog which many people do do when they have a loved one who is ill and update people daily on his condition. 

So I would sit there tapping out the blog. Sometimes he would suggest what we should write. Other times he would just say, “Well, I don’t have any ideas” if he was feeling low emotionally. But one day I said, “Would you like to write the blog tonight?”

He said that yes he would. He would like to write it.

And I said, “I’ll tap it out. You dictate it to me.” So he was lying on his ice packs and not feeling very good. I knew our friends would love to hear directly from him because I was the one blogging every night. 

So he started out, “I feel like I’ve come to a big, tall, blank wall. I can’t see over it. I could jump up and try, and I could listen, but I can’t see over it. I feel like on the other side of the wall is my future.” He was really saying he was just hoping to know what was going to happen tomorrow and the next day. This was maybe three weeks into the six weeks. But he was accepting that it wasn’t going to be good.

And he said, “I’m beginning to realize maybe it’s better that I not see over the wall. It might not be anything I want to look at.” And then he said, I love this line, or maybe he quoted someone else. I don’t know. I’d never heard it before, but he said, “It’s not the number of candles on a birthday cake—it’s how good the cake tastes.” And I love that line because it encouraged me to know that he was thinking he’d had a good life, and it’s okay if it’s at the end. And that was God’s comfort through his mouth to me so powerfully. 

When you get a death sentence for somebody like that, as a woman, as a widow, an about to be a widow, your first thought is, Oh, I’ve not been the wife I should be. I have this regret and that regret. Oh, I want to redo that. I want to go back and revisit that. I want to apologize for that and blah, blah, blah. But it’s too late for all that. Let’s just be a good wife now. I would fill a book with all the times the Lord stepped forward and showed Himself. 

Nancy: And in fact, you have written a book. I know many of our listeners are going to want to get a copy of this because you share so transparently and with a lot more stories of moments, hard moments, where God met you and is still meeting you with His grace in very practical ways and life giving ways.

The book is called Hope for an Aching Heart. We’d be glad to send that book to anyone who makes a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, which will help us reach other hurting women who need the hope that Christ can give. 

So I know that many widows, many people who perhaps have a widow in your family or you want to know how you can minister more effectively to widows in your church. This is a great tool by Margaret Nyman, Hope for an Aching Heart. 

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. To get a copy call us at 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the book, Hope for an Aching Heart. It's our gift when you make a donation of any size. You can also visit

Well, as Margaret Nyman watched her husband dying, she described it by saying, “Sometimes anguish and joy are hand in hand.” She shows you how to approach death and your spouse’s death with confidence in the Lord’s protection. That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help prepare you for every season of life. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.