I’m Ann Seaman, and this is how my family and I have been living deeply.
“Scott was seven years older than me. We met through my sister in college- he went to school with her. I was really close to her so I would come up and see her there. He didn’t even notice me at first because of the age difference. But I actually went home and told my mom after the first time I met him that I’d met the guy I was going to marry. He was just really cute – there wasn’t really anything else I was thinking about at that point! Fast forward a few years and we reconnected and started seriously dating when I was a sophomore in college. We got married four years later. Scott was a really hard worker, super loyal friend, and an incredible dad and husband. I’m not going to say we never had trouble in our marriage. We had the appropriate amount of issues – that’s how I’d put it – and we were committed to working on those in the Lord for ourselves and our four kids. We never said the word ‘divorce’ in our almost 27 years of marriage. About five years ago, we were in counseling for two years, and we came out of that stronger. We were very typical of a lot of couples – we had lost ourselves in our family. We realized we needed counseling because we weren’t connecting anymore. Both of us were like, ‘We know we do love each other, but we’re not doing so well right now.’ And we had done the right things like going on dates and going away for weekends, but still our identity was in raising our family. The counselor taught us we had started relating to each other out of the caricatures that each of us had built for the other through the years. We had to do the hard work of breaking that down: What was the false caricature each of us had built and why? We had to process that together in between appointments throughout the week. As we reconnected we began to live more fully from a new place of appreciation and forgiveness. We felt like we were closer and knew each other better than ever.
By December 2019, we had been in a really good place and were looking forward to our empty nest years. That was when Scott’s cancer diagnosis came. It was gastroesophageal cancer-stage 4, very deadly and super aggressive. Scott didn’t want to know a lot about his diagnosis. He didn’t want to see the X-rays or the MRIs. He didn’t want to wake up in the morning thinking about the visual picture of how much cancer he had in his body. I would learn about all that, but he did not and we didn’t tell him. He knew it was stage 4, he knew he was in a fight for his life, but he didn’t want to know the visual part of it. There was a lot of crying when we told the kids, who were all either in college or adults on their own by then. We just told them, ‘He’s going to fight hard and we’re going to do all we can to help Daddy live.’ By March, we were in a pandemic, so all our kids -even our daughter who lived in New York City – were home from March until the day Scott died: May 20, 2020. That provided a lot of comfort for Scott. He never really had a good day after his diagnosis. His pain was horrible. He was on very strong meds. And he couldn’t keep food down. This sounds strange, but looking back, it was good for the kids to see the process of death. It was tremendously hard, of course, but it helped prepare us all for his passing. When he went to the hospital the last time, the kids saw how sick and miserable he was. He was on a ventilator and heavily sedated. The decision to not artificially prolong life support measures, because we saw his suffering, was easier to make. The doctors told us they could try to wake him up and get him off the vent and we could maybe have a last meaningful interaction with him, but they couldn’t guarantee it. The unanimous decision was ‘No, let him pass in his sleep. He doesn’t need to wake up, know he’s dying and have the pressure of trying to say goodbye to everyone.’ The kids said, ‘We’ve had our lifetimes of meaningful interactions with Dad. He’s not held back anything. He’s been an amazing father. One more meaningful interaction is not going to change any of that for us.’ They were very sweetly and unselfishly able to let him go.
The grief process was overwhelming and scary at first. It felt like we were in a desert. Probably four or five days after Scott’s passing, I was in the Word and there was this passage in Isaiah. It basically talks about God creating out of Israel this lush livelihood using the word picture of a forest. He was going to do this through this forest with all these trees and streams. And the sense I got was ‘We’re provided for. There is going to be growth from this desert place.’ That provided me so much comfort- to feel like we weren’t going to remain a desert; that God was going to create something really beautiful out of this. The other thing I remember vividly was the sadness at thinking about all the life events Scott could miss: our kids graduating, getting married, grandbabies coming, things like that. It wasn’t just that he would miss them, but that I would miss sharing these with him and the kids would miss him being involved. And that’s all true. But I felt an impression from the Holy Spirit saying, ‘Don’t pre-grieve. Pre-grieving those events that are not going to take place for maybe years is not healthy.’ That makes sense for two reasons. One: I’m losing all this time between now and then grieving for something I don’t even know will happen. Two: We have no idea what kind of joy and amazing things are going to be going on in the meantime. So yes, of course there will be a measure of grief in these future events, but I am waiting to grieve until that time. And I’m also mindful that we have no idea what life will be like or what joys may be ahead. The joy will help to balance out the grief. But the biggest lesson God has taught me through all this is to take in the good things happening now while still allowing the loss to be fully felt. I think this has been harder for the kids because they have questions: If they are joyful while they’re grieving, does that mean they’re forgetting their dad? Does that mean they’re replacing their dad with something else they really love or like to do? That’s been a really hard thing, but we’re all getting there.
My life now bears out what God was impressing upon me for months: that you never can predict what may be coming down the road. This has happened really fast, but now I am getting married again to a fellow church member, Jim Pharaoh. He had actually been in our Sunday school class for years, but I didn’t remember that. And Jim remembers Scott from the class but doesn’t remember me. Our paths were crossing, but we weren’t aware of each other until the time was right. A mutual friend kept telling me month after month, ‘There’s this guy Jim. I want you to meet him.’ I kept telling her I was fine and didn’t want to meet anybody. But she kept insisting. We did finally meet and within a month of dating, probably, we were talking about marriage. So we were rolling with this relationship and then I brought the kids along, giving them little bits and pieces. I would throw out little nuggets like, ‘I’m seeing Jim tonight. We’re spending a lot of time together.’ Then finally I just told them I thought we were going to get married, and they were like, ‘What?!’ My daughter Jenny is the one who had been the most resistant to it, and her fear was that we’re moving on without her dad. That makes her sad. So she was trying to come up with every reason why she did not like Jim. But then one night she said, ‘I think the switch just flipped. I just like him. There’s no reason not to like him. He’s a great guy.’ And one of the sweet things she said was that Jim reminds her of her dad in a really good way. He’s really sensitive and caring, and really interested in their lives. And that’s how Scott was. So that actually makes her remember her dad instead of forgetting him. Instead of moving on, I like to say we’re moving forward. Moving on sounds like you’re leaving something behind. Moving forward is a little more gentle, and it just means we’re taking the next step. And as we do that, we all are who we are because of who Scott was and what God allowed him to build into our lives.”