A Softer & Gentler Grief
Our guest contributor to this month’s column is Dr. Robert Crawford, the younger brother of Janice, the matron of honor in Larry’s and my wedding. Janice and I have continued OUR friendship without paying much attention to our siblings except for occasional prayer concerns. I knew Bob was a professor in Canada, his wife was sick, he had a son and a daughter, had written books and articles. I asked Janice for his contact info; we chatted; he tentatively agreed to a column; and I asked him to fill in the blanks of his bio.
Bob was the son of a Plymouth Brethren itinerant preacher who attended Greenwood Hills Bible Conf as a teen. (I met Larry at this camp, along with lifetime friends.) He earned a BS in Engineering Science from Penn State (roomed with another Greenwood Friend, Carl) and earned a PhD in Computer Science from Cornell.
Bob served as a professor in the School of Computing at Queens University, Canada for 42 years and is now a Professor Emeritus at Queens. He is also chair of the elders board at Bay Park Baptist and chair of Ryansdale Transitional Housing (a charitable group in Canada that operates transitional housing enabling men to move from homelessness to independent living).
I have had wonderful catch-up conversations with Bob in the past few months, and he connected more dots between the 3 of us (Bob, Larry and me) by writing the following: “I knew Larry (Philadelphia Young People) and rode with him in his convertibles, and I knew you (that’s me) from Greenwood Hills. You two were the coolest couple. I, as a complete nerd, could only wish….”
More importantly, I introduce you to Bob, the loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend, and God-follower, who is willing to share a softer and gentler grief story with us.
Becoming me without Larry,
A Becoming Me Without You Blog
By Bob Crawford
In January 2011, Anne was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, with the assurance that this was a slow acting cancer and that she would likely die of something else. The next nine years included various rounds of chemo, a clinical trial drug, some localized radiation, and two stem cell transplants. Given all of that, Anne led, as much as possible, a normal life. She continued to lead a Bible Study for young women, mentor many, and travel when treatment schedules permitted.
Then, early in 2020, Anne experienced considerable back pain. More tests and scans. The cancer had gone into her spine. Trips to the hospital became more frequent; medical care in the home was a regular thing; changes in medication were common; the symptoms increased. A walker became essential, then a stair chair. For some months, there was hope for something to “work.” But by mid-2020, as far as treatment was concerned, they had run out of options. Then it was palliative care, at home, and it was clear that the end was near.
For the last few days, when she was no longer responsive, I would tell her two things, “You can go now.” “We’ll be fine.” And I thought that would be the case. But it was a lie. At 2AM on September 18, 2020, she went home to be with Jesus. I was so happy for her. But it wasn’t true that I was fine. I thought I had grieved with others in their losses, as was only biblical. I learned that I really never had. I didn’t have a clue. Real grief is raw; it is painful.
And it wasn’t that I needed someone to look after me. I had been doing the cooking and cleaning and other household chores for quite some time; I was happy to do that. And I didn’t miss people or feel lonely. I had wonderful family and friends. My daughter and son were amazing. I just missed her. I missed Anne. Her smile, her wit, her prayers, her listening ear, her companionship, her friendship, her encouragement, her love.
On a purely practical note, consider the timing. Anne’s serious difficulties arrived just as Covid did. So in 2020, there were hospital visits that I could not be part of, except by phone while sitting in a car nearby. And although we weren’t gathering with others socially, neither was anyone else. We had a small graveside service with twelve family and friends. Though it was all that we could do at the time, it denied so many others the opportunity to reach closure at least in some way.
So I began this new journey that I think of as walking at the intersection of grief and joy. I have great joy in my life; joy for years of an amazing marriage, for a wonderful family, for a career I enjoyed, for being part of Christ’s body the church, for God’s love and peace poured out on me. Yet the grief is so real, and I have learned at least a bit about lamenting. I don’t alternate between joy and grief; I walk at their intersection, both aspects present all the time.
Not long after Anne died, I read Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. I wanted to know all I could about where Anne was and what our future together would be like. I yearned for heaven … because I wanted to see Anne. Then I felt guilty; I was supposed to want to see Jesus. But I recalled, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” If I was to love my wife that much, in that way, that wasn’t a love that could end abruptly when she took her last breath on earth. God wouldn’t expect it to. He understood.
It was eight months after Anne died that I had a thought one day that if when we were getting married a voice had come from heaven saying, “You need to know that I can only give you 51
years”, I would have responded joyously. “Wow! We’ll get 51 years together?! What a blessing. And anyway, by then we’ll be old.…”
It was after that, that I began to recognize that my grief was softer and gentler. Still there. Still very real. But not so acutely painful. Not so pervasive every moment of every day. I am so thankful.
Mostly I smile when I think of Anne. I mention her regularly in conversation, and family and friends do as well. I do it naturally and in ways that others are, or seem to be, comfortable with. I choke up a bit when others share memories; so do others. That is okay.
After Anne died, a cousin shared with me how, over the years, “Bob & Anne” had become like a single word to him and his family. I liked that. What an amazing thing to have been part of “Bob & Anne.” But now it’s just “Bob”. Becoming Bob without Anne.