Walking Backwards, Sideways and Forward
by Rick Rood
“Life is for the future, Rick, not thepast,” a friend inscribed on a card he sent me not long after my wife Polly passed away in 2003. I must say,these were not the most appreciated words I received during that difficult time of life.
For the first year and a half after Polly’s death, much of my attention was focused on the past. We had been married for nearly thirty-two years, and I had cared for Polly during her twenty years of serious illness. So it was only natural that most of my thoughts were focused on our life together—the life that was past. And I would change nothing about those days.
After Polly’s death, I needed to revisit the places that had been important to us: the nursing home where she had resided for eleven years, and the places we had enjoyed together during the years she was able to leave her bed.
The first time I returned to her nursing home, I could only stay for a few minutes. So many memories were there, and returning was too emotional. The same was true when I visited the restaurant where I had brought her for many years to have breakfast, while she was still able to eat. There were also the venues of sporting events, concerts, and places of special outings we had enjoyed together and which had brought her so much joy. And there was the hospital where she had passed away. I had to take the time to visit these places again and again, until I grew comfortable and at peace with the memories. And this was something that couldn’t be rushed.
Shortly after she died, I donated most of Polly’s clothes to charity, and packed away some of her personal belongings that I wanted to keep. For the first year after her death, I continued to wear my wedding ring—and I left her picture on display in our living room. It wasn’t long after the first anniversary of her death, however, that I put the pictures away, and removed my ring. I realized that we were no longer married. Polly was in heaven. I was still on earth. And I found that whereas I had been “walking backwards” during that first year, I was now beginning to “walk sideways” so to speak.
Instead of thinking mostly about where we had been, I now found myself thinking more about thepresent. My main question in life was no longer, “How can I ever leave the past behind?” but it was “What shall I do now?” I started to think about finishing some of the things that I had put aside years ago when Polly became ill (writing projects and educational goals), and about theother people in my life . . . especially my children! I began to see myself more comfortably as a single person, and to explore the possibility of other relationships in life. This change in my thinking and the adjustment that came shaped my focus and personal growth for the next couple of years.
These past two years, I have begun to realize that I am no longer “walking backwards,” and I am also no longer “walking sideways.” Gradually, I’ve found myself actually “walking forward”–into the future! God has been at work in my heart, helping me not to forget about the past, but to treasure the memories and lessons of the past, and to utilize them in learning to walk into the future–one day at a time, one step at a time, one moment at a time. Life has become not so much about “where I’ve been” or even about “what now?” but about “what’s next?”
This is really what the life of faith is all about. It’s about letting go and moving on—not forgetting the past, but allowing the past to slowly release its tight grip on us as we trust God to bring healing to our hearts. In grief, we can take our time to walk backwards. Then, as we trust our Lord who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” to lead us on into what He has in mind for us the remainder of our life, we will start to walk sideways. Then, eventually, we will walk forward into the bright future God has for each of us.