A young widower shares his struggles.

by Mark Sluder

Direct Link to FamilyLife Article: My First Christmas Without Laurie

On July 8, 2009, my wife Laurie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost
three long years later, she died on April 4, 2012. Soon my two sons and I will
have our first Christmas without Mom. Although it hasn’t been easy, I am filled
with hope.

Like lots of other people I know, Laurie and I had a wonderful but imperfect
marriage. And despite the dings and dents in our relationship, I loved her
dearly. I often told her how much she meant to me … how she made me be a better
person. Part of what I gained from loving her as my wife for those 14-plus years
has helped me fill a hole in my heart with God’s strength, courage, and

Entering our first winter of loss

I am grateful that God gave Laurie to me for a season. This fall I was
reminded of that as I passed a stunning maple tree at the top of the hill
overlooking my house. Every October God blesses me when the afternoon sunlight
shines through those golden leaves. But then the inevitable always happens:  A
cold front moves in, the wind blows, and the rains pound down, leaving bare
branches and only memories of those October afternoons.

Now I’m left with only memories of Laurie.  Her death has left a deep void in
our family. The boys and I are finding that we need to be intentional about
filling that empty space with God. You see, a vacuum can fill up with lots of
stuff if you let it. It can fill with depression, anger, frustration, or fear.
It can fill with addiction to any number of things. It can fill with loneliness
or a relationship with the next person who comes along.

But repeatedly, God calls us to wait on Him. He tells us when we are weak and
laboring under heavy burdens to turn them over to Him. Paul told the Philippians
that he knew what it was to live with plenty and with nothing, but that he could
do anything with Christ who gave him strength (Philippians 4:12-13).

The gap in my family

Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Our family didn’t
fully appreciate the abundance we enjoyed until we had to live without the love,
joy, and beauty that my wife brought.

As a husband, I didn’t fully appreciate how she completed me as a person. As
a parent, I now struggle to balance being both the “bad guy” of discipline but
also the “good guy” of understanding, comfort, and sympathy. I often reflect on
how Laurie loved our sons, taught them, reined them in, and then let them go.

Laurie defined our parenting mission that I carry on today: “to raise
excellent, godly men.” She started traditions for us, like praying together with
the boys each morning while waiting for the bus.  Or saying, “YCDA!” (you can do
anything) as they ran off.  They would always reply, “Yes, I can, with God’s

She introduced me to Christian radio and FamilyLife Today® and
podcasts, where I constantly hear the right inspiration at just the right
moment. We challenged each other continuously to think about our faith. And she
challenged me in such a way that I studied and prayed more.

Spring will come

As Christmas approaches in the shadow of our loss, it’s easy to focus on
sadness, depression, and frustration. Some might even shake their fist at God
and ask why a person who gave so much had to be taken so soon. But I always try
to remember to say, “Thank you, Lord,” and to celebrate the blessing of Laurie.
I thank God for the difference she made in my life, especially how she drew me
closer to Him.

Only Christ’s unending love will help the boys and me make it
through our first Christmas without Laurie, through our winter of loss, and then
into springtime filled with hope.

Mark Sluder lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his two sons.