Revive Our Hearts Podcast

When Anguish and Joy Come Hand in Hand

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Leslie Basham: Margaret Nyman remembers when nurses were giving her instructions on how to care for her husband in his final days. As a person with no medical training, she felt overwhelmed.

Margaret Nyman: Oh, wow . . . I can’t do all this! I’m not called to this! I was kind of, in a way, stepping back from it. Although I was nodding and saying, “Okay, okay,” in my heart I was saying, “Not me, not me!”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I’m so grateful to have with us on the program this week my friend, Margaret Nyman. She’s a blogger, an author, a mother of seven children. For nearly forty years she was married to Nate Nyman.

Here's a little piece of information that some of our listeners will appreciate. Some of you have heard me talk over the years about a woman I called Mom Johnson, a family I lived with when I was in college. She had a sweet investment in my life over many years. Margaret Nyman is Mom Johnson’s niece, so we’ve connected over the years through that relationship and friendship.

In the last few years, Margaret has been introduced to this new chapter of life called “widowhood.” Margaret, I’m so appreciative of the fact that you not only walked through this yourself with the Lord, but that you’ve been willing to share out of your life experience to be a minister of grace and help and comfort to others as well.

So, thank you for joining us here to share with our listeners.

Margaret: Thank you so much for having me.

Nancy: Margaret has written a book that we’re offering this week on the broadcast to any listener who would like to make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. We’ll be glad to send you this book called Hope for an Aching Heart. It’s a collection of uplifting devotions for widows.

I want to stress that, as I read it, I think it’s not just for widows. I think it’s a book that will minister to married women, women who have not been married, to know how to walk through loss, through grief—to know how to minister to others who are. It’s just real practical and keeps pointing you to Christ. So I want to say this is a book that I think will bless and serve women—of course who are widows—but other women as well.

For those who didn’t get to hear the first part of this story, you can go back to ReviveOurHearts.com and pick up the audio or the transcript from the last program. Nate had this death sentence of pancreatic cancer, metastasized, Stage IV, and it turned out to be just forty-two days until the Lord took Nate home.

This was a quick process for you, but I’m sure it must have seemed like an eternity at moments. You started a blog, and I remember reading it during that time. You called it “Getting Through This.” You were so open. You posted almost daily with updates on Nate, of course, that friends and family wanted to hear . . . but also how God was walking you through this.

You shared some of that with us in the last program, about how God ministered grace to you during that season. When we had to cut you off, you were getting ready to tell us another story about that season, those last few weeks of Nate’s life. Let me let you pick up there.

Margaret: Alright. I was looking at the table full of his bottles of medicine one day. I’m not a numbers person, and the instructions on each bottle were a little bit different. There were maybe thirty different bottles there; by bottles I mean those little pill vials that come from places like Walgreen’s.

Some were pain meds, some were for swelling, some were for a different variety of things. One might say, “Take twice a day (three times if needed) before eating.” Another might say, “Take with food only, once a day, two at a time . . .” It was just mind-boggling to me as not a numbers person, not a medical person.

I stood looking there one day as Nate was napping at the desk. It had about thirty of these bottles/vials there. I thought, I can’t do this, Lord. I can’t do this. It’s getting more and more complicated. I don’t know what to do. Please help me . . . just help me. I can’t do it.

That afternoon, a nurse-helper came, and she brought suppositories for Nate. She said, “Now these are pain suppositories, and you may need these.” I thought, Oh boy! I don’t think I can go here. I don’t really think I can do this. It was kind of piling up on me.

She was describing to me that eventually I would need to give Nate bed baths, and I thought, Oh, wow! I can’t do all this. I’m not called to this! I was kind of, in a way, stepping back from it, although I was nodding and saying, “Okay, okay,” but in my heart I was saying, “Not me! Not me!”

Finally, the day was coming to an end, and I went to the Lord and said, “I can’t do this! What do you want me to do?!” And His answer was simply out of Genesis: “Be a helper. I created a woman to help her man; here’s your man. He needs help. Just be a helper. That’s all I want you to do.

“If he drops something, pick it up. If he asks for an ice pack, get it for him. If his socks are biting into his swollen ankles, get scissors and cut them. Don’t worry about this. I’m going to send someone else to help with all this other stuff. You just be the helper that I made you to be. Help him through this.”

And I thought, Okay, those things I can do. It was a calming moment for me. Later, that very next day, my sister arrived, who is a nurse. She relished the task of managing those thirty bottles and took that off my shoulders, a hundred percent.

Nate died before I ever needed to give him a bed bath or suppository. The Lord knew: “I’m not going to ask you to do those things—just be a helper.” I did write a devotional about that in the book. It’s what He asks every wife to do—just be a helper. See where your husband needs help, and then help him.

So many of us tear down our men without meaning to—a little, tiny snip of criticism. Maybe, “Oh, it could have been done better,” or “You loaded the dishwasher wrong,” or any little thing. Instead, be a helper—an assistant, in a way. It’s such a rewarding place to be. It’s God’s design, and it’s wonderful for them.

Nancy: What’s sweet to see is how the Lord came to your rescue, to aid and help you, as you were just surrendering yourself to do what God was calling you to do. And what a neat reminder, too, that God doesn’t put on us . . . We get our imaginations going and get so easily overwhelmed, whatever our calling, with all that there is to do, all we imagine piling up.

But God gives direction for the moment and grace to do that and assistance for our calling. He takes off of us the things He doesn’t intend for us at that moment. There’s a lot of freedom in whatever our season of life, just embracing what God has given us to do at that moment, getting His grace for it, and then letting Him fill in what we can’t do or are not called to do. I think that’s good wisdom for each season of life, for everybody.

Margaret: My husband fell into that, too, when he was fearful of that end-stage pain. He wasn’t there yet, and he didn’t need to worry about that. But we do that. We jump ahead, and we all want to take on burdens, and we really aren’t there yet.

We may have to take them on, we may have to bear them, but not today. So we need to just manage today.

Nancy: I have a friend who’s the mother of eight children and is caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s and has lots of grandkids. Her life is complicated and overwhelming at points. She uses this word picture: She’s been in some underground caves, caverns, where they give you these miners’ headgear with the headlamp that just shines light on the path right where you are . . . it doesn’t shine ahead.

As you move, that light moves with you and lights the path right where you are. She reminds me sometimes that God’s grace is like that. It’s a light for our path just for where we are, not for where we’re going, where we’ve been, all the future, all the things that we might imagine happening.

We can walk in the light, that grace, that God gives for that step, for that moment. As I’ve listened to what you’ve said and read what you’ve written (as you were writing that blog over those weeks), that’s what God was doing for you. He was giving you light for that moment, just for that day.

Margaret: Writing the blog turned out to be quite a cathartic experience for me at the end of each day. As I sat down to write about the horrible things that might have happened that day at the cancer treatment center, or whatever, by the end of writing five-hundred or six-hundred words, God was reminding me, “Oh, but remember, this happened. This was good. You got some nice, fresh hot chocolate while you were in the radiation waiting room. That was nice!”

He would just lift up my spirit at the end of every day, so when I put my head on the pillow, I never felt it was going to be the end of the world. We could make it. We could do it. We could get through, day-to-day.

Even if I woke up feeling, Oh boy, what is today going to bring? it was a lesson that God was going to go into it with me, with us, with him. He was going to be there managing the details. He’s so much a God of the details. He’s there in tiny ways and giant ways. He’s there in tenderhearted, loving, parental ways for each one of us.

Nancy: How did you experience that when the end came? The end as we see it, not in terms of eternal life. That is the “beginning” in those terms.

Margaret: How did I see God’s details? 

Nancy: And how did He care for you? How did He walk you through that journey?

Margaret: The last two days, things were radically changing, going downhill quickly. Our children, who were all under our roof, were going in and out of the room continually.

Nancy: Under your roof because they were there visiting.

Margaret: Yes, adult children who were there because of their dad, and two little grandchildren. They wanted time with him, but didn’t want to tax him. He was often sleeping now. He was in the hospital bed. He had only climbed into it the day before.

The last few days he was on his feet, but he was very weak. Anyone who’s had a loved one have cancer, you realize it just eats away from the inside out, and everything gets weak and thin. They were all conscious that a good-bye was coming. We all knew that and had accepted it, just looking at him. He was a shadow of himself.

One day—this was God’s doing for sure—two days before he died, one by one the children drifted into his room and sat in the chair that we had right up by his head. He would reach for each one with his thin arm and hold their hand. They would say something, and it was amounting to good-byes.

I was there all the time, so I was witnessing all of these, “I’ll be strong” kind of good-byes. They were talking to him in ways that were special to just those two—a dad and son, or a dad and daughter. “I love you,” and his return of that was in only in a raspy, little, tiny voice by that time. But I saw him wink and communicate with the kids in other ways than in just a strong father voice.

One by one they all gathered in, and eventually all of us were standing around, squeezed into a tiny room around his hospital bed, saying “good-bye.” We had no idea he was going to die in two days—we didn’t know that. We knew it was coming, but you always want to elongate that.

My son-in-law came in and sat next to him. I wasn’t sure if he would want to do that or not. In-law children aren’t always quite as close. He’d only been in the family three or four years. He sat down and leaned in over Nate and just began praying. Then one of our other kids began praying.

I felt then like, if I could see the spirit world, I’d see the Holy Spirit there just covering all of us in a bundle together. The tears were coming, but not in an anguished way, just in a way of release and blessing. The next day Nate was unconscious, and we would have lost our chance for that had we waited.

We didn’t orchestrate it. We didn’t say, “He might become unconscious at any moment.” There was none of that. It was God prompting that moment. He was so in it. He was so present; there was such a warm glow in the room. It was excruciatingly painful, but so loving at the same time.

I think anguish and joy are almost hand-in-hand sometimes. If that’s true, that was surely true at that time. Two days later when he did die, the moment that he did die, he hung on longer than the hospice nurses thought he ever would. They said, “He just doesn’t want to leave; he doesn’t want to leave.”

I hear this about a lot of men. They don’t abandon their families. They often will slip away when their wife goes out of the hospital room or whatever. So he hung on. One of the hospice nurses—I’ll never forget this—sat all night, two nights before he died, on a little stool at the foot of his bed, and let the rest of us be close by to him.

She said, “I kept my eye on him all night long,” as we were kind of sitting in chairs and dozing in and out. She said, “I think he gets younger and younger looking as I look at him.” And I thought, Wow, isn’t that cool? Maybe the Spirit is doing something, getting him ready for the youth of eternity. I don’t know. Who’s to say?

We did gather around him right when he died. He was unconscious and slipped away peacefully, which had been my prayer. You hear these stories of people shouting or getting anguish on their face. I thought, What if the children see that? How will we ever get that out of our heads?

He died peacefully. We were all there, yet we couldn’t have said “good-bye;” it was too late for that. We were saying “good-bye,” but he wasn’t getting it. So I look back to the two days before when we got to be together. He was actually able to communicate and make eye contact and would smile and hold onto us. It was a God-given gift toward the end there.

He died at seven-thirty in the evening. We had just ordered Chinese food, and the food was in the kitchen, and everybody needed to be fed. We were standing there passing the tissue box back and forth over his body, where he had gone away, he had disappeared. “Himself” was gone, but we didn’t want to leave.

It’s an awkward, loving, strange time . . . a holy moment when someone slips away. My face was right up next to his nose, nose-to-nose, tears running down my face, looking for any glimmer of him seeing Jesus. And of course, because of morphine, that kind of thing doesn’t usually happen. It did not happen in saying “good-bye.”

I was holding his hand and stroking his forearm as he quickly was slipping away. In a matter of moments, he was cold. It’s such a reminder that that body that we were looking at, that was full of tumors and cancer—the enemy wants to kill and God wants to make alive. He removed the living part, left the burdensome part.

That body had become just a tremendous burden to him, full of pain and failure, and then off he went. It was so clear to all of us that he was gone. Then it was not difficult, after about half-an-hour, for us to leave the room. He was gone. It’s so clear when someone dies, the difference—even from a person who’s in a coma or a deep sleep. It’s just—they’re gone.

So you don’t stay there in that place. You don’t stay there. Life moves on.

Nancy: Did you eat the Chinese food?

Margaret: We finally did. We stood there and looked at each other, all swollen-eyed from weeping and crying and sharing funny stories through our tears, laughing, and talking about what Nate was going to be doing now and who he was seeing. Nate was such a history buff—I can’t even imagine the thrill of that. But, of course, the One we really want to talk to is Jesus, and get our questions answered, and just know all the mysteries that we long to know.

That’s where he was; that’s where he went, and we knew it. We were confident of it and that gave us peace, even as we were just weeping away. That’s the reality for a Christian who dies.

Nancy: And you’ve titled your book Hope for an Aching Heart. That’s the source of the hope—that Christ has taken our death, died in our place, so that for us death is not final, for the believer in Christ, the follower of Christ. I remember at my twenty-two-year-old brother’s funeral—having just been killed in a car accident (car wreck—there are no accidents with God) . . .

I remember one of the men who spoke at that service saying, “Contrary to what we may think, David has not left the land of the living to go to the land of the dying, he has left the land of the dying to go to the land of the living.” For the believer in Christ, there is that confidence, not only about the loved one who has gone on, but about ourselves who are left behind.

Christ is our life and is our hope. As you say, there is that juxtaposition of grief, ache, sorrow, but also hope and peace. You’ve used all those words, even within the same sentence. The only person who can talk that way, think that way, is a person who has a relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s so important we make sure that’s all right, before we come to that point where the spirit passes on.

I wonder if there isn’t somebody listening, even to this conversation today, who doesn’t face death—their own or others—with the hope you talked about. Maybe you needed to hear this story today and be reminded that now is the time to put your faith and hope in Christ so that when that day comes—as it will for all of us—whether it’s days, weeks, months, or years away, there will be that confidence when we leave this body that we will be with the Lord.

We want to continue this conversation with Margaret Nyman. I want to encourage you, whether you yourself are a widow or if you have a family member who has lost a loved one or if you know widows in your church or community of faith who need encouragement, this is a great resource for women and about women who’ve lost, particularly, a mate.

The book is called Hope for an Aching Heart. It's a series of short devotions (not long chapters) in Margaret’s style of just opening up her heart and her life, her journey, and how the Lord has met her through that. We’ll be glad to send you this book if you send to Revive Our Hearts a donation of any amount, as our way of saying "thank you" for your support of this ministry.

It’s our way of ministering to you in whatever season of life God may have you. We’re going to continue this conversation on the next program with Revive Our Hearts, and we’re going to talk about some of the “life after” the loss of a mate, what widowhood looks like in its early days, and then as you move on into that new season of life.

Thank you, Margaret, for joining us for this conversation.

Margaret:You’re so welcome.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Margaret Nyman, author of Hope for an Aching Heart. Like Nancy just said, we’ll send you a copy when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Ask for the book when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com to make your donation and request the book.

You might want to also check out Margaret's other book, Prayers for a Widow's Heart.

After her husband died, Margaret Nyman struggled to accept the term “widow.”

Margaret: “Here’s my friend, Margaret. She just lost her husband.” It becomes your wrap-around identity at a time when you’re struggling to get that identity and make it part of you. It’s a huge, huge word—“widow.” It’s dark; it’s negative, and . . . it’s you.

You think, Okay, how do I do this? I don’t want to do this. I never wanted to be a widow. Not to mention all the battles going on. You’re missing your man, in particular. You can’t even talk to him. So when you’re saying “no,” what you’re saying “no” to is, “Don’t introduce me as a widow. Don’t make me make small talk with people I’ve never met before. Don’t say, 'This is my friend, Kelly, and her mom’s a widow.’”

Give me a minute to get used to this. That was what I was rebelling against—not rebelling, really, but shying away from. Widowhood is as much a beginning as marriage. It’s not one we look forward to, but it is a beginning, and you can make of it what God wants you to make of it, or you can bundle up and stay like I was for a while. There was that little hermit phase for me that lasted several months, but after that, it was like God said, “Okay, now we’re going to continue to mourn, but the big tsunami is behind you. I think we can do something for someone else now. This will be good for you.”

Leslie: Hear Margaret next time on Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to walk with you thorugh ups and downs of life. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.