Now his questions started to concern me. I could feel anxiousness rising from the pit of my stomach and slowly the words, “Yes, of course,” squeezed from my mouth.
On October 16, 2000, I was speaking with a member of the credit union in my office when I looked up and out of my tinted picture window saw a police car in the parking lot. Oh, no, I thought. I must have set off the silent alarm again.
I cautiously walked the member down the hall to the lobby and saw the operations manager speaking to the officer, so I felt confident that he would handle the situation. Someone called my name and said that our bishop was on the telephone and needed to speak to me. The bishop told me he was on his way to see me and would be here right away. As I disconnected the call, the policeman said that he needed to speak to me in private. Well, here it comes, I thought again. I have to be more careful with that alarm. I escorted the gentleman into my outer office, and as he turned and spoke to me, my eyes focused on his stern and gritty face. “Are you Dr. Burks?” he asked in his official voice saturated with authority.
“Yes, of course,” was my reply. “Is your husband Dennis Wayne Burks?” Now his questions started to concern me. I could feel anxiousness rising from the pit of my stomach and slowly the words, “Yes, of course,” squeezed from my mouth. He then started to tell me that Dennis was in an automobile accident this morning, but I interrupted him before he could finish. While searching the room with my eyes for my purse and making my way to the door I asked, “What hospital is he in?” His final words are etched in my mind forever, and they echo as I write this. The experience is still so real to me that the warning sting of the impending burst of tears has caused me to take a moment and compose myself before I can continue writing. Give me a minute, and I will be back.
OK, it is four hours later than when I stopped writing, but now I can continue. The officer’s words flowed from deep within his chest without a break as though I had never said a word, “And he’s dead.”
My mouth formed the reply, “My husband? Dennis Burks, my husband, dead? Excuse me; I need to take a walk.” My staff knew that I rarely used that phrase “take a walk,” and the last time was when an examiner and I had disagreed. I saw their eyes following me as I walked into the parking lot. The pavement was warm, and I believe I could feel the heat of the Texas Indian summer through my shoes as I forced my legs to carry me around the building. My heart went straight to God. I remember praying, “Not again, Lord; I cannot do this again. Help me, please, just help me.” A friend that worked in another suite asked if I was OK, and I asked her to please call my parents and have them come to my office right away. Thinking back, I can really appreciate the respect the members of our church always showed me.
She immediately went and did as I requested. I did not return to the building until my parents arrived. When they walked into my outer office, I instructed the policeman to repeat to them what he had told me. In couldn’t bring myself to say the words. As my parents took me in their arms my I decided that I would never feel again. Emptiness like a dark night invaded my heart, and my decision not to acknowledge any emotions whatsoever gave it the invitation to stay. Floods of emotions pounded my mind, and waves of fear crashed against my heart. I just turned off.
In hindsight I understand that the brain has a mechanism to protect us from unbearable pain. It will either go into denial or it will shut down. I retreated to my mother’s bedroom and cried myself to sleep. When I awoke I realized that I had to relive the experience of telling my children they had yet to bury another father. I called my daughter’s husband; I knew she would be at work. He insisted that he could handle the task, and I respected his decision.
My youngest son was in his freshman year of college as was my stepdaughter. I called his dorm, and his roommate answered the telephone. I first asked his roommate if my son was in the room, and then I told him to control his facial expressions. It is a valuable commodity to know your children’s friends. My son’s friend had been a frequent after-school guest at our home and often an overnight guest. I knew that I could count on him to help me. I told him my husband had been killed in an automobile accident and that I was going to tell my son. I requested that he remain with him while he absorbed the news; I also told him that someone would be there in the morning to drive my son home. I could hear the pain when I spoke to my son, but he had his friend close by, and the next day he would be with me.
The most difficult conversation was not to be made by me. In my distress and brokenness, I still had the ability to think about my children. I had my mother drive me to my late husband’s ex-wife’s house. She was not home, so I left a note for her to call me. An hour later she too was at my mother’s home, and we developed a plan to get her to my husband’s daughter, who too was a freshman in college. I purchased her two tickets and put the mother on the plane to tell her child that her daddy was gone.
Soon all the children were home and they were such comfort to one another. I found it natural to open my heart to my husband’s ex-wife, and she was made to feel at home with us. We were able to grieve together, but our mourning was different for each of us.
What is the difference between mourning and grief? Mourning is the behavior resulting from the death of our loved ones, and grief is the emotion that causes the behavior. We wear mourning garments not just because we may feel dark and gloomy, but because these garments inform those we encounter that our status is still fragile. When we change our clothing – for me it was from black to purple and then to navy – our friends and family can see our progress. I still wear mainly dark colors. I try the brighter tones but my comfort is still in the dark shades.
And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.
(2 Samuel 11:26-27)
Many forget that Bathseba was also a widow. She lost her husband because of David’s deceit, and soon after she finished mourning his death, she married the king and bore him a son. And just when she believed all was OK, her son became ill and died.
Bathsheba suffered grave losses; however, she finally gave birth to Solomon, the wisest man to ever live. Her mourning became bearable; then she had joy. I researched the words morning (break of day), mourning (wail, lament), and joy (gladness).
So what is mourning joy? It is the valuable experience gained after the period of sorrow has ended. I think about how precious life became to me after the death of my husband Garcia and how unimportant it has become for me to be right, or to be seen, or to be known. Life’s silly charades have little or no space in my world. All I desire is God’s joy.
Simple arguments of the past that I can no longer correct or make apologizes to my now deceased spouses have taught me to embrace life with joy. Petty torments can easily be ignored, and I have learned that love and forgiveness are the only fuel that generates enough power to live my life.
When I am faced with a struggle or a disappointment, I compare the distress to the suffering associated with the loss of my loved ones and gain an excellent perspective.
Occasionally I will find myself focusing on a problem too long, so I actually ask myself, “Would this matter if they were dead?” Suddenly I am faced with a valuable comparison. I am told I am too easy going or that I forgive very easily, but I am grateful that I know I will not have to look back at a situation and say, “I wish I had forgiven them.”
One late Sunday afternoon, I decided to go to the credit union and get a head start on my work. Mondays were always so busy that I thought it would give me less stress and more efficiency. My husband was watching a football game, so I was sure he would not mind, but as I told him of my plans, he asked that I spend the afternoon with him. I agreed immediately and even prepared him his favorite meal and desserts. We finished the game, had dinner, and watched a movie together. The next morning he kissed me good-bye and went to work. That was the last time I saw him alive. If I had insisted on going to the office, even just for a short time, I know I would not have enjoyed such a memorable last day.
Today that lesson is one I attempt to practice as frequently as possible.
We don’t know how long people will be with us. We must appreciate the life God has given to us and to others around us. The revelation I received about mourning joy is the power of the lessons learned through the pain of the loss. I have reprinted some to the scriptures that promise us joy and aided me in my recovery.
So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
As the days herein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.
For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night,but joy cometh in the morning.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.
The day after the mourning ends is the dawn of our new beginning.