"Did Mommy Paint the Sky?"

by Danny Oertli

The sunset was as brilliant as any I'd ever seen. Hues of red and gold blazed above the Colorado mountains as the light faded. I pulled the car to a stop to enjoy the view and heard 4-year-old Gracie's voice in the backseat. "Daddy, did God let Mommy paint the sky tonight?" I turned and smiled at her, amazed once again at God's creativity in ministering to the grieving.

My wife, Cyndi, died of an unexpected heart attack at the age of 30, leaving me the single father of two small children. Suddenly my world changed, and I was faced with the delicate balancing act of grieving Cyndi's death while celebrating her life. To make matters more difficult, I had four little eyes looking at me for comfort and direction.

Lean into it. These were the words my Aunt Mary said to me early in my grieving. Having lost a son, she too knew grief. So in following her advice, each day I awoke with the goal to fully engage with this painful new reality. When I felt like crying, I allowed the tears to flow. When a random memory of Cyndi floated my way, I lingered, enjoying the remembrance. When the weight of grief felt too much to carry, I shared my struggles with a friend. Eventually, I found comfort in the leaning, knowing God holds every tear precious.

A friend once asked me, "What is one of your favorite memories of Cyndi?" The question took me by surprise. Many people had offered their condolences, but few people had asked about her life. In a time when so many things seemed dark, celebrating the joyful moments became a welcome reprieve. I realized that my children needed that same healing experience.

I began to share stories with the kids — not only stories of laughter and fun, but also of the deep movings of God, of failure and redemption. I told them how God personally and wonderfully orchestrated their mother's every step. I wasn't just sharing stories of Cyndi; I was sharing God's story in Cyndi.

Honoring my wife was easy; the hard part was moving on. Just the thought of pressing forward gave me feelings of guilt, as if she wouldn't be remembered. When do I stop leaning into the grief and start walking into a new day? When do I begin celebrating the new stories of God's power in the lives of those around me? How do I do all of this as a single parent?

As I approached the question of how and when to move on, I relied on God's still small voice for direction. In this newfound reliance, I was getting the one thing I needed most — a deeper connection with God. And the more I sought God for direction, the less burdened I was by definitive answers and the appearance of "grieving the right way." There was no timeline or perfect way to parent through the grief, only the diligence to follow God's leading when moving our family forward.

God has done much healing in the eight years since Cyndi passed away. I married a wonderful woman, Rayna, and she gave birth to Maggie, making us a family of five (with one profoundly ignorant beagle). But I'll always remember that little voice in the backseat during a spectacular Colorado sunset and the creative ways God cares for those grieving.

Single-Parent Tool Kit

Practical ideas for helping children deal with the loss of a loved one:

Encourage them to share their happiest memory of the person they’ve lost.

Find other families who have been through something similar, and schedule an informal get-together or play date. Knowing you’re not alone is incredibly comforting.

Look through photos and videos, and relive the memories. This may be difficult, but tears are often cleansing and healing.

Read Bible stories about families or individuals who suffered a great tragedy, yet were comforted by God. Focus on God’s faithfulness.

Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to help you and your family. You can contact us during normal business hours at:

(800) A-FAMILY (232-6459)

Or you can find resources, referrals and articles to help you right now.

CCM artist Danny Oertli is author of the book Mommy Paints the Sky.

This article first appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2010 Focus on the Family. ThrivingFamily.com.


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