Surviving spouse shares grieving experience

| August 12, 2016 | 1 Comment
Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth F. Revell, Command Chaplain, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, stands with his grand-son Brandon Revell at his retirement ceremony aboard the battleship, U.S.S. Missouri, on July 22, 2016. In his article, "Surviving Spouse, Single Parent, Full-Time Soldier", Chaplain Revell shares lessons learned from a life-changing event, the death or home-going of Anna Naomi Revell, his beloved wife of 28 years, in August 2014.

Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth F. Revell, command chaplain, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, stands with his grand-son Brandon Revell at his retirement ceremony aboard the battleship, U.S.S. Missouri, on July 22, 2016. In his article, “Surviving Spouse, Single Parent, Full-Time Soldier”, Chaplain Revell shares lessons learned from a life-changing event, the death or home-going of Anna Naomi Revell, his beloved wife of 28 years, in August 2014.

Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth Revell
94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM — “That which does not kill me will make me stronger.”

This was the attitude I took when facing the shock and awe of my beloved wife’s death. For the first couple of months, I was numbed, perhaps living in a zombie-like existence. All was surreal.

Oh, I was in touch with reality. I found a way, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to function while in the midst of pain. I was a shell of a man.

If you observed me from the outside, all looked normal. But if you looked inside, you would see that the lights were on, but no one was home. I was vacant, empty. Anna, the woman I loved with all of my heart and who was so much a part of me, had left the building.

The death (or as I prefer to call it, the home-going) of my beloved wife of 28 years, in August 2014, left a gaping hole in my heart. I was among the walking-wounded. And I knew that no matter how long I lived on the earth, I would always walk with a limp. The scar tissue of this loss was here to stay.

The feelings were and remain disorienting, overwhelming and all consuming; I can barely express them. Piercing loss, mental anguish and suffocating sadness from Anna’s conspicuous absence are immeasurable. The spiritual groaning and moaning of my soul and the constant adjustment to all the “new normals” created a daunting task.

I had preached funerals, memorialized Soldiers and assisted with death notifications of fallen Soldiers. But all of this would fade in comparison to personally dealing with the death of my own sweetheart. Nothing in life prepares you for such a sobering, gut-wrenching event.

Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth F. Revell, Command Chaplain, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, shares lessons learned from a life-changing event, the death or home-going of Anna Naomi Revell, his beloved wife of 28 years, in August 2014.

Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth F. Revell, Command Chaplain, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, shares lessons learned from a life-changing event, the death or home-going of Anna Naomi Revell, his beloved wife of 28 years, in August 2014.

Continuing on
Although excruciatingly painful and immensely personal, Anna’s death did not mean that life would slow down or that I would have the luxury of taking a leave of absence. This is not because my unit was not willing to grant me leave, nor was there a lack of compassion on their part.

The pressing issue that commanded my full, immediate and unwavering attention was that I now had the awesome responsibility of single-handedly parenting my 13-year-old grandson.

The purpose of this article is to provide you, the reader, with some of the lessons I learned (and re-learned) as I tunneled my way through this period of darkness and challenge.

I am an optimist by nature. But being an optimist and a chaplain does not give me diplomatic immunity from the aches, quakes and shakes of life.

My walk through the valley and the shadow of grief and loss was not a cadence (structured) walk. I did not always color inside the line. There were times I did not know where the lines were.

To use military lingo, I did a lot of round stepping, wobbling, stumbling and even, sometimes, low crawling. With grit, grace, prayer and the support of many shoulders to lean on, I learned to put one foot in front of the other.

I pray the lessons I have learned and now share below will shepherd you through some of the tough terrains of life. May God turn your scars into stars.
1. Attitude is everything. The attitude I adopted as I dealt with the grief and loss, coupled with fulfilling the demands of being a single parent and a full time Soldier, is “that which does not kill me will make me stronger.” Strength comes through positive struggle. I have a choice, and I am choosing to be bigger than what has happened to me.
2. Focus on things you can control. I knew that if I tried to control everything (which is, in and of itself, fundamentally impossible), I was putting myself at risk of being frustrated and burnt out. Hence, I choose to pick my fights and battles.
A wise person so aptly said, “There are two things in life you should never worry about: things that you can do something about and things you can’t. If there be a solution, seek until you find it. If there be none, never mind it.”
I was also mindful of the Serenity Prayer as I sought discernment in identifying things I could control and things I could not.
3. Living out of the will. I had to learn to live out of my will, not my emotions. Feelings and emotions have too many “bad hair days” and are not reliable guides for living effectively through the storms of life.
It has well been said that it is easier to act our way into right feelings than to feel our way into right actions. While cognitive thoughts and feelings often take us down different roads, it is critical that feelings and emotions do not drive the train.
4. Embracing the new normal. One of my new normals was the caretaking of our then 13-year-old grandson, Brandon. While assuming sole caretaking responsibility was a daunting task, I am quick to say this mission saved my life.
This mission saved me from the sabotaging behaviors of self-pity, self-absorption and the navel-gazing syndrome. Navel-gazing literally means engaging in self-absorbed behavior, often to the point of being narcissistic.
Needless to say, I feel a deeper love for Brandon, reaffirming that I was doing something right. The capacity to focus on someone else meant I was not focusing on my own loss and pain. Rather, focusing outward helped me to see that, while pain in life is inevitable, misery is always optional.
5. Journaling is a must. For me, journaling was a curative outlet for all the emotions that wanted to overwhelm me. I learned to journal like crazy.
I journaled about me, about Anna, about Brandon, about pain, about joy, about fear, about God. Putting feelings on paper was cathartic.
Journaling helped me in the long run to objectify the pain, to put it in a new light and to see it from a different perspective. I strongly believe that if you can objectify the pain, it loses much of its power over your life.
6. Choose your healers and counselors carefully. I found learning whom I could talk to about my pain and whom I could not was both an art and a science. Everybody has his or her limits. When it comes to counselors, there is no one size that fits all. You have to find a counselor with whom you connect and then share your feelings. If you discover that you no longer can share with your counselor, then it is time to find a new one.
7. Keeping your spiritual life hot. I had to work hard to keep my spiritual walk hot. While confession may be bad for your reputation, it is good for the soul. Since I believe that God knew everything about me and loved me anyway, I really had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
While I still hurt in fundamental ways, I am proof positive that living one’s beliefs are able to turn scars into stars.
8. Turn up the music. Nothing can touch the soul like music. When my thoughts start going negative and I am stewing over my sorrow, the right music has a way of turning my thoughts around. Find music, whatever the type that helps you, and embrace that it can lift your spirits.
9. Do physical fitness, go to work, do your job. I found it important and therapeutic to work hard, even when I felt I was moving through life like a zombie. I would wake up at 4:30 a.m. and run 4-6 miles almost every day – and I hate running.
I discovered that if you do not work hard to take care of yourself, the centripetal (inward) and centrifugal (outward) forces can take over your life. I am not advocating that you become a workaholic. However, it is imperative to have routines, objectives, vision, parameters, expectations, responsibility and accountability.
10. Pace yourself. The grieving process is generally characterized by five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The process is not a sprint. It is usually a marathon. When you lose a spouse, this is especially true.
The grieving process is rarely characterized by leaping over stages or moving smoothly from one step to the next. It sometimes entails going three steps forward and then two steps back. Before reaching the acceptance stage, many people get stuck for inordinate amounts of time (months, years) on a step that seems insurmountable.

As I ponder my life after losing Anna, I am reminded of a poem by Robert Browning Hamilton:

I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser,
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.

Finally, because I do not believe we suffer in vain, I have asked the Lord to take Anna’s home-going and to use the pain to make me a more caring, empathetic, compassionate, authentic, sage and grateful person.
(Editor’s note: Revell is the command chaplain at the 94th AAMDC.)

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