Loss of Spouse

Healing for a Broken Heart – by Andrea Plowden

I knew Vernon was different the night I met him. I was in my late twenties and had moved from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Florida to work for a dot com company at the height of the internet boom. I traveled back and forth frequently to visit family and friends. I met Vernon in Atlanta on the night before New Year’s Eve in 1999. I was exhausted from celebrating all night and tried to convince my brother to leave until this man with the most infectious smile invited me to dance. There was something different about him as he absolutely lit up the room.

After dancing, laughing, and getting to know each other better, Vernon asked for my number. Informing him that I lived out of state, I gently declined. It didn’t take much for him to change my mind. Within six months, I moved back to Atlanta to be closer to Vernon and further my career in sales. We continued to grow our relationship but now on a daily face-to-face basis. I was impressed with his intelligence. He was a Morehouse Man, and the only black man I knew who spoke Russian. Vernon was also a Marvel fanatic. At one point, a neighborhood boy would stop over every weekend to discuss the comics with him.

After a year in Atlanta, Vernon proposed, and we decided to move to Jacksonville and start our life together. On May 3, 2003, we exchanged wedding vows at a beautiful waterfront property. Our family was blessed with two children, Skyla and Vernon Campbell, who both looked exactly like their father. I never could understand how a woman could carry a child for nine months and look nothing like her. Back then this bothered me as I wanted my physical characteristics to show up in at least one of our children. But since Vernon’s passing, I have sought out every single similarity of him that I could find in them.

Vernon was an amazing father – fun, kind, and loving. He was intentional about spending one-on-one time with each of our children. Friday night was our family movie night. I rarely saw him mad – he just always seemed to be happy. He was so friendly that I don’t think he had any enemies. Vernon just loved to laugh and lived to have a great time.

We soon joined the Church of Jacksonville where my relationship with God grew so strong. I had a true desire for Christ and my relationship with Him was in an accelerated season before Vernon’s death. I had an insatiable hunger for God’s word, and I now know that He was preparing me so that I could stand in His strength to sustain what was to come.

About seven years into our marriage, I decided to enroll in an accelerated program to become a registered nurse. Although I never had a previous desire to be a nurse, one day the thought seemingly came out of the blue. I was enthralled in my studies within a month.

During my sixteen-month program, Vernon was the primary caregiver for Skyla and Vernon Campbell. He would cook every meal, drive them to school, and help with homework, all while participating in all their extracurricular activities. The time he spent with them made an invaluable impression in their lives, even to this day.  Little did we know then how meaningful that time would be for the memories they would carry after his passing.

Unbeknownst to me, receiving my nursing degree was also a part of God’s plan to prepare me for my unknown future, ensuring I would have better career opportunities. I graduated at the top of my class. Three months later, Vernon was gone.

Vernon’s departure

As I write this blog, it also happens to be the anniversary of Vernon’s death. Although it’s been eight years, the memory and the emotions of that day still linger. Those emotions very well may never disappear, but God has graced me and all those who love him to live through our tragic loss.

On Friday, April 11, 2014, I received multiple calls from the local police. They inquired about Vernon’s whereabouts, as the police had located our car broken down and seemingly abandoned. Each call escalated with the whereabouts of my husband. The last call culminated in complete shock for me. I was informed that there had been an accident on the Matthews Bridge – one of the largest bridges in the First Coast region.

I didn’t know much about the accident details, but after being told the back seat was in the front, I grew more distressed. Our car was totaled, and Vernon was missing. I immediately started to pace, cry, and pray. Not wanting to alarm the children, I made arrangements for their care with a friend, dropped them off, and headed to the accident site. Traffic was backed up as they had closed off access, so I parked as close as I could and began walking up the bridge. Once I arrived at the top, I immediately knew in my spirit he was gone.

From my nursing training, I could feel my body begin to go into shock. I went right to the hospital to seek treatment to help calm my body and mind. The next day, my family and friends flocked to Jacksonville and started searching for Vernon. All the local news stations picked up the story of my missing husband.

Three days after the accident, the police came to the house, informing us that Vernon’s body had been located in the St John’s River. I later learned Vernon’s keys were left in the ignition, his wallet was on the car seat, and they found a shoe on the ground near the car. He must have been outside of the broken-down car and the impact from the accident threw him over the bridge.

The emotional despair was indescribable. The grief was like a wave of emotions that was unpredictable, yet frequent. I knew Vernon was never coming back and I just wanted to get through the grief. I knew I couldn’t avoid it, so I just wanted to push through it. There was no doubt that we would be ok and that we would get through this, but I knew we couldn’t avoid what was ahead of us.

Life as I knew it was forever changed. I expected to grow old with Vernon. I did not expect him to be snatched away from me and my children at the age of thirty-nine. I did not plan to be a widow. Women become widows later on in life, not at my age!

I also did not expect to be a single mother. I had been so careful to ensure that my children had the foundation of having both parents in the home. I did it the right way but so much I had planned was eradicated. I was now alone, left to raise my ten-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. This was not in my plans. Vernon and I had planned a life together, but those plans would never happen. He was gone and I had no say in the matter.

I just wanted relief from my pain. Our lives were turned upside down and I wasn’t processing my pain carefully; I tried to rush through it.  Sometimes I made irrational and unhealthy decisions, due to processing my grief incorrectly. As a consequence, many of my friendships suffered.

It is natural for one to ask questions when someone is taken from us. Especially when it is sudden, and the person still seems to have so much life ahead. To wonder “what if” and think “If I/he would have just…” are all acceptable and natural thoughts to have. These thoughts ran through my mind on numerous occasions.  This was an attempt to understand what went wrong and how his death could possibly have been avoided. Every scenario could have changed the ultimate reality I was living but it would never change the truth.

I had to lean into God like never before. His word tells us that He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). I can attest to this firsthand. I had never in my entire life felt the measure of abundant peace of God as I did, during this tragedy. God drew me close; I could feel His presence surrounding me during the days after Vernon’s death.

After the initial shock wore off, I felt God’s peace. So much so, that I never questioned God about Vernon’s death. I knew He allowed it and that I and my children would not only live through it but do so triumphantly. Still, there was nothing in my flesh that could sustain me in such a tragic time. Holy Spirit empowered me and prepared me for that moment in my life.

Grieving is a process that I would have just assumed to have skipped. I experienced and came through the shock of losing my husband, but the process of grieving was at moments absolutely brutal. I understand how this can sound like an anomaly considering I just spoke of how God gave me peace and the fortitude to make it through. Albeit true, the process was still the most difficult thing I have ever experienced. I wanted to run through it and be finished with the pain. I was ready to feel whole again. I knew I was whole, but I didn’t feel like it. I pleaded with God for the pain to end, but I was not privy to the time clock nor the expiration date for my grief.

My story is a reminder of Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God, ALL things work together for our good. God has restored what we lost on every level. When Vernon passed, I was at my lowest point emotionally and financially. I now have an amazing career, and I’ve been blessed with a Godly husband who is loving and kind, and a great father to my children. I have three bonus children a peaceful blended family with no drama.

God is all-knowing and was not caught off guard by Vernon’s death. He gifted us valuable time, enforcement of His Spirit, and beautiful peace along with the fortitude to make it through our loss. We often think that only our victories are a setup for His glory but so are our tragedies if we will just trust Him enough to hand our pain over to Him. He can truly heal our broken hearts.

Encouragement for Moms:

Know that the process of grief is one that you cannot rush through. You do not determine how long grief will last or how it will affect you day-to-day. Only you determine who to depend on during this time.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)

Do not be tempted by temporary fixes and distractions to ease the discomfort. The process of grief cannot be bypassed or eliminated. Go through with God and He will lovingly comfort you through these hard times.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3).

When the process of grieving is over, do not get stuck in what is now familiar to you. We were never meant to live in a constant state of grief. We have the promise of life and life more abundantly (John 10:10). God has so much more for us, even after tragedy.

Believers must trust that God not only will heal and make whole, but He also will restore that which is taken. Even in our grieving, we have to have the expectation of joy coming in the morning (Psalm 30:5). When that morning arrives, dry your eyes, throw off of the spirit of heaviness and exchange it for the garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3). It is our promise from Him. We just have to believe and receive.

Prayer for Moms:

God has not forgotten you in your grief and pain. He’s not a Savior that’s not unfamiliar with your infirmities. He sees, He knows, and has great compassion for you. Be reassured in knowing this: the God of all comfort WILL renew your joy. Have faith and wait in expectation of Him promises over your life.

~Andrea Plowden

Connect with Andrea:
Facebook – The Plowdens
IG – @theplowdens

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

Or watch on Facebook here:

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