Loss of Spouse

From Harlem to Heaven: A Love Story – by Elise Minor

I met Sean in the early 80s when we were both sophomores at MLK High School in NYC. Like most high schools, the lunchroom was the social hub. Sean and his friends sat at the lunch table next to ours. They were funny but not obnoxious, well dressed, but not too popular. Sean stood out to me because he looked so nice and had a great smile. He gave me butterflies every time we made eye contact.

Over time, we crossed paths between classes, and I dared to ask him when he would take me to the movies. He responded without hesitation, “this weekend.” We exchanged numbers, and that evening I sat on my fire escape for five hours talking with him. When I hung up, I walked into my mom’s room and said, “I just got off the phone with my husband! I will tell you when the wedding is”.

We were fast friends and I enjoyed spending time with Sean. Teenage girls can sometimes try to act older than they are, and I was no exception. Sean slowed me down as he enjoyed being a teenager. I always thanked him for giving me back the gift of my youth, allowing me to stay a teenager and not rush off into adulthood. What a blessing it was at that time in my life.

Being so young and in love, we spent so much of our time talking about our future. Sean grew up in a traditional Baptist church, and I had no formal church framework. We were not God-conscious – yet God was conscious of us. In retrospect, I realize it was all God preparing us for the future, orchestrating our steps.

At twenty years old I found myself in love and pregnant with our first son. We were faced with becoming parents so soon, as this was not in our plans. I still remember the peace that came to me about it. Sean looked at me and said firmly, “I love you, and I will always take care of you… from Harlem to Heaven. I promise”. On November 19, 1988, we were married in my mother’s home in Trenton, NJ, in front of family and friends. It was beautiful and uncomplicated, just two families coming together.

Over the next thirty years, we faced so many challenges and setbacks. Yet, in the midst of them, we honored our vows and our friendship. Our marriage went to another place of commitment in 1993 when we found Christ. The best years of our life began because we now had a roadmap through the Word of God. I watched Sean dive into his Bible, having unwavering faith and trust in God. He constantly honored God in front of me and our children. I don’t want to paint a perfect picture – we had our struggles and battles.  There were times when we didn’t want to be together – but we always went back to the original plan. We promised, divorce was never an option.

Sean was an amazing visionary. He would pack the kids up in our Izuzu Trooper and drive us through these beautiful neighborhoods in Princeton, NJ. We would pick out features we wanted in our own future home. He would “drag” me to car dealerships to test drive luxury cars – we had zero money! I would complain because I thought it was a waste of time, but I soon realized this was his pathway and faith way with God, and how he wanted to keep his promise of a better life for us. It was my consent to these “adventures” that gave him happiness and drive. Interesting how his faith to want to see the best of things, allowed us to experience God’s best.

2020 started full of hope and excitement. I was completing my bachelor’s degree and we talked about legacy and purpose and how we needed to make sure our goals were in alignment with that.

We had planned two vacations. We had raised our children, enjoyed our grandchildren, and felt we could spend more doing the things that mattered to us. Sean did a lot of talking about legacy and purpose and how we needed to make sure our goals were in alignment with that.

We returned to NJ from “our graduation” in Florida and a week in Cancun two days before the world closed down for the pandemic. Sean declared, “we are going to get home, and then it’s you and me all day baby! I am forever grateful God opened that window for us to travel. Over the next six weeks, we spent so much time together and loving on each other. It was a glimpse and confirmation of what we figured our empty nest life would be like. 

The night Sean transitioned, we went to bed – talked about the day, and fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I heard him get up and go to the bathroom. When he got back in bed, he apologized for waking me up. Then we assumed our typical spooning position. The last words he said to me were: “Come closer to me… I love you so much.” Not too much later, I was awakened by gasping and realized he was having a seizure. He was not responsive to me shaking him or trying to wake him up.

For the next twenty minutes, I tried so hard to get him back – administering CPR and mouth to mouth. When the paramedics came – all I remember was praying from a place my soul never knew. After his transition, it was in that space that there was a tearing away of his soul from mine.

In the weeks right after Sean’s transition, I was overwhelmed with love and support. Even during the pandemic, people were sending food, flowers, prayer blankets, and other articles of love – I didn’t have any unmet natural needs. As time went on, a faithful few understood the journey. It was going to be a long haul. I understood they were assigned to me for the season, and I was extremely grateful.

The most powerful thing I observed was our friends just walking up and down the street outside of our home praying. While I grieved inside, people were praying for me outside.

Grief is about loss – losing someone or something you loved. When Sean passed, the world was in a season of collective grief and stacked trauma within the pandemic. What I have learned through my grief process is that grief is not linear. I can be okay for a while and accept my new reality until I am not okay. There are no rules or time frames for grief. You learn to live with it and take authority over the emotions it brings.

I was so vulnerable and worked through raw emotions as my heart was injured. Mark 10:9 states what God joined together, let no man put asunder. When something is forcefully torn away from you, the pain is felt in EVERY area of your being, and the enemy will try to take advantage of that. I call it the Asunder Effect.

I read about the widowhood effect. It is a scientific phenomenon when widows die within short periods after losing a spouse, also called Broken Heart Syndrome. I could relate to the pain as I walked around with a knot in my stomach and literal pain in my heart for the first few months. Very quickly, I realized I needed help and went through one-on-one counseling, a program called GriefShare, and connected to two amazing grief groups. Being connected to people familiar with and going through what I was going through was impactful.

A wounded soul cannot pray properly, and the body keeps the score. There is a natural and spiritual work that must be done. For me, Christian therapy was the pathway to help me sort through a lot of my feelings and maintain a biblical perspective about death. I had to live out Romans 12:2:

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

I am still processing my feelings. I was never angry at God for Sean’s death. I am thankful for a foundation in the Word that helped me cast down every negative thought and bring them to captivity when I felt the attack. With that, spiritual warfare is real, and the way the enemy attacks the mind after losing your spouse is intense.

Healing is a complex concept. It is a lonely and individual process. We say healing is defined as the process of making something whole or sound. Yet with grief and the trauma surrounding it, it can’t be fully achieved. How can I be made whole? I can’t replace Sean. I had to learn to harness the power of his memories.

I am dealing with grief and the painstaking process of allowing God to forge a new identity. I have identified as part of a couple for most of my life. The way I interacted in different aspects of my life, including church, family, friends, decision making, and even my worship, has all changed. I still feel married, my husband is just not here physically anymore. It is a slow process, as the readjustment of how I see myself has been challenging. I miss the intimacy I shared with Sean. It’s a void in my life. How can I just transition to being comfortable by myself after all these years?

I didn’t disconnect or distance myself from people intentionally, but I did learn to let go of people that were hindering my healing. I had to start living without them. I’ve realized that not everyone was equipped to go on with me on this healing journey. As the world is re-opening, I have established healthy boundaries for myself that will keep me “in perfect peace.”

It may feel like God is not fair, but He is a just God. Some attributes of God are harder to accept than others. He does not change, and He is always right. Learning not to see His decision regarding the transition of Sean through my definition of “justice and fairness” was (and sometimes is still) hard.

30 years. We allowed our marriage – good, bad, indifferent – to be used to encourage others to remain strong in marriage. Divorce was never an option for us. We understood our marriage became bigger than us – it was about being an example and an extraordinary seed planted in the hearts of those around us, our children, and grandchildren, and I am eternally grateful for our legacy.

I have learned to trust God with the ongoing process of helping me discover and rediscover the woman I am now and understanding the power of the resilience God imparted in me.

God’s peace has been my portion and my most earnest request. I have come to accept that Sean will never face another struggle. Death is the last enemy conquered and my husband now has the ultimate victory.

Encouragement for Moms:

Moms – remain full of faith and hope. Allow God to order your steps and show you how to be a Godly wife and mother according to His word and the examples He has set before you.  Psalms 37:37 exhorts us to “Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace”.  Not only do you want to seek these people out but also be that for someone else. Let wisdom and peace be your crown jewel so that God can declare you as his. Isaiah 62:3-5.

The word widow is mentioned 81 times in the bible. Be encouraged that God takes your situation to heart – He has made scriptural provisions for us. Grab hold to those scriptures and allow your heart to be filled with hope.

Know that God is watching over you and has promised to take up your every cause.

Exodus 22:22 – Do Not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.

I would say to other widows to not give up on God – He hasn’t forgotten you. Your story is still being written. Everyone loves a perfect ending but trust God with the story. Be kind to yourself. Allow all the questions and uncertainty, but never forget you are still here – you still have a purpose.

You will receive beauty for ashes.

Words of Wisdom for Couples:

Many young couples fall into what I call the comparison trap. They see other couples’ highlight reels and don’t know all it takes to accomplish what they see from the outside looking in. They grow weary of the season of “setting the foundation” – the early years of trial and error. Learning communication styles, love language, and their spouses’ faith pathways. The frustrations that can (and will) emerge can lead to disappointment and unrealistic expectations. The foundation takes time to set. The goal is that the two shall become one.

When the early years are valued from the vantage point that it WILL reap – if you don’t faint, I believe it is bathed in more compassion, grace, and understanding. Couples who have weathered these years owe it to impart wisdom to younger couples (whether they are younger in age or experience).

Marriage is about fulfilling God’s purpose on the earth. Be sure to create a legacy model and framework for your future generations – a living example of God’s love and faithfulness – until death do you part. They will invest the time and enjoy the journey. Keep a fresh and easy Godly perspective about it all – especially the hard times.

Preparation for the inevitable should be more than just having a life insurance policy. Marriage must be about preparing a legacy model that will undergird the surviving spouse spiritually and emotionally, as well as financially. What life looks like for children and grandchildren should also be included.

How to Support a Grieving Friend or Family Member:

Anticipate interactions that may be painful. People are uncomfortable in the space of grief – it’s weighty, and I have heard some bizarre things – things that stung like:

  • At least you found someone to love you as he did.
  • He’s in a better place.

There are a few things that people should be acquainted with regarding helping someone who grieves the loss of their spouse:

  • It is okay to just “hold space” to sit and pray, to walk in quietness (for those that are comfortable with it.) I didn’t have to be alone but did not have to say anything to anyone either.
  • Acknowledge and talk about their person (share a memory)
  • Speak life:
    • I am going to miss them too
    • I am going to miss their laugh
    • You are not alone; I am listening; I love you.
  • Instead of asking what someone grieving needs – just tell them what you will do. For example, I will have dinner/groceries delivered on Friday, or I will come by and take care of XYZ. People going through grief can barely process what their needs are. They are in survival mode.
  • In times of grief, send a card/text. For many, the cards are how your presence is known without intruding on their privacy. It is also a future seed of compassion for you/and your family.
  • Remember – the person you used to know is no more. That season has ended, and there will be parts of them that remain, but they are now on a journey of transforming into a different and hopefully better version of who they were.

~Elise Minor

To connect with Elise, visit her at www.healwithme.me. Elise hosts intensive Healing Cohorts for women who need hope to heal after trauma and loss coming soon.

FB Group:  Heal With Me (for people who need a safe space to share through loss and trauma)

GriefShare is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. You don’t have to go through the grieving process alone.


Want to learn more about Elise? Watch our Moms Night In conversation on YouTube:

Or watch on Facebook here:

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