Judy shares the story of her husband being diagnosed & passing away from Non Hodgkin Lymphoma at age 25–leaving her to learn hard lessons as a young widow.
Judy Cromar: Asking God the Right Questions
Judy grew up in Samoa, Germany, and Oregon. She has since lived in Iowa, Utah, and California. Judy’s first husband, Dennis was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma when he was 25 years old and died soon thereafter, when their only son was only 8 months old. She learned many lessons as a young widow. She remarried and now she and her husband Richard have a Brady Bunch family of 8 children, and 32 grandchildren. Judy was a Special Ed teacher for 21 years. Judy and her husband Richard served a mission for their church in Hungary a few years ago and now keep themselves busy traveling, helping refugees, and getting together with their large family.
At the age of 23, Judy was just two years into her marriage with Dennis. They were living in the midwest in Sioux City, Iowa where he was working as a supervisor of instruction for their church. Four days before Christmas in 1972, Dennis woke up with his thigh swollen to twice its normal size. They immediately went to the doctor who performed many tests and finally determined that Dennis had Lymphoma. They didn’t know what Lymphoma meant–although the doctors looked very grave. The doctors in Sioux City at the time explained they didn’t have the resources they needed to specify what kind of Lymphoma it was and suggested they return to Salt Lake City to get more of a specific diagnosis, treatment, and family support.
So, they moved their family to Salt Lake City and sought out a more specific diagnosis. Judy still remembers meeting with the hematologist who told them Dennis had Non Hodgkin Lymphoma and explained that this was cancer. Dennis was diagnosed at stage IV b–The IV meant he was in the final stages of cancer before death. The “B” meant the cancer was active vs. an “A” meant the cancer was dormant or in remission.
Of course they were really young, and so their first question was, What are his odds for survival? The doctors told them 50%.
Changes for the their Family
They were devastated. They had just had their first baby, Dennis had graduated from college and they had the first job, and seemed to have such a full life in front of them. This diagnosis was so frightening to them.
He began treatments in Salt Lake City, and then they returned to Iowa where Dennis continued his treatments an hour away in Omaha. They tried radiation and chemo, but nothing worked. Nothing stopped the cancer from spreading. The doctors then tried some exploratory treatments which just seemed to make everything worse.
Dennis died 5 months after he was diagnosed.
The Hardest Things
The hardest thing for Judy was watching Dennis suffer. The side-effects of the treatments were horrific.
Faith, Nothing Wavering
Another hard thing was being Christian was not having the prayers of so many loved ones answered when they prayed for a miracle. Judy held onto the scripture that if she had “faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6) her prayers would be answered. So, through the whole process she wouldn’t even entertain the idea her husband was dying.
Judy remembers one day in particular where Dennis looked at himself in the mirror and saw how much he had wasted away. He commented, “I just don’t know how I can ever get my health back,” to which Judy replied, “You’re not doubting that a miracle is going to happen?” Dennis quickly replied no, he didn’t doubt but he didn’t see how physically he was going to get back to health.
Judy regretted not even allowing the conversation about the possibility of death to happen between them. Years later she still regrets she didn’t allow him to talk about it and she didn’t allow herself to talk about what she was feeling. Judy was so focused on the idea a miracle was going to happen. He was going to be healed in Judy’s mind.
In fact, she kept up this idea of faith with “nothing wavering” clear until the end. Dennis’ family came and talked to her about how her faith was keeping him there but he needed to go, and that created some hard feelings. But Judy couldn’t let go of the idea that perfect faith was all which was required for a miracle to happen.
After Dennis’ Death
When Dennis did die, Judy was left very confused about what faith was and why she had not received the miracle. She had tried so hard to have unwavering faith. She wondered if perhaps it was because she wasn’t worthy–and those were the lowest times.
It took her a lot of time to process and figure out what her faith should have been.
Pushing through Grief
Judy went back to school because she didn’t know what else to do with herself. She was in such a state of shock that she would wake up in the morning with her fingertips and the tip of her nose numb. It took her baby boy crying in the next room to even get her out of bed in the mornings and try to function.
Then something happened which turned her grief around. She started having massive bruising. So, she went to the same hematologist and he took one look at her and said, “I think we need to test you for Leukemia.” Judy just thought, “How can this be?” When she went home that day there was this little glimmer of hope that maybe she did have Leukemia and she could die and join her husband so her terrible loneliness might be over.
The Will to Live
As Judy tried to sleep the night after the possibility of Leukemia was mentioned she had many thoughts. She thought of her baby son, and she started to desire to live–to really live. She didn’t want to suffer. She began to desire to make a life for her son and be a family.
Judy was diagnosed with a much milder, non-threatening condition. But she considers this a blessing because it helped her make a conscious decision to fight and live.
Another important thing happened to help Judy progress in her faith which really changed her perspective. She feels she was very immature in her faith when Dennis was diagnosed and died.
An Important Conversation
One of her uncles knew a wonderful woman named Stella Oaks who had also lost her husband when she was young and was left her to raise her children by herself. Judy’s uncle asked if she wanted to talk to Stella, and Judy replied she thought it would be a good idea since this woman had raised an incredible family.
Venting to Someone Who Understood
When Judy went and talked to Stella she told her how she felt. She explained how her husband had been doing God’s work on the earth and wondered why the prayers weren’t answered. Why couldn’t Dennis still be alive and do God’s work?
Some people had tried to console her and explain that perhaps Dennis was needed more on “the other side” with God. But Judy didn’t understand how anything could be more important for him than being on earth with her and helping to raise their young son.
An Ah-Ha Moment
After Judy explained all this to Stella, she asked Judy if she had asked God that question. This surprised Judy because up to this point in her life she had never approached God with questioning. She had never talked to Him about why he answered a prayer one way or another. She had always approached God as she thought she should, rather than talking to Him about how she was actually feeling.
Stella encouraged Judy to go home and really talk to God–ask Him those questions.
Learning to Really Talk to God
Truly learning to talk to God was tremendously hard for Judy, but as soon as she did, her relationship with God changed. It wasn’t instant, but gradual. She eventually came to understand that the scripture about having faith “nothing wavering” meant she needed to have faith in God and in His purposes–and not waver in her faith in God. Certainly she could ask Him for things but then having faith “nothing wavering” that God would do what was best for her and His plan.
Be Open with God
Judy was so thankful Stella taught her to approach God as herself and not “act a part” to be acceptable to Him. It was liberating to Judy to really be able to tell God how she felt because as she did, she felt God’s love for her.
Judy explained, “I think I had the wrong notion that God loves us because we are good, when He loves us because we are His–good or bad, doubting or full or faith. He just loves us.”
God Takes Us Just as We Are
God is not a fair weather friend. He isn’t going to turn from us when hard times come. “I am thankful I can take my whole self as a sinner, as a doubter, as someone who is lonely to Him…as well as that person who is a believer, and is grateful, and is faithful–the whole me.” This has become a much more intimate and rewarding relationship for Judy. Her heart could finally heal with this relationship. This opened the door for healing and comfort.
Healing & Answers
So, the act of opening up to God allows Him to heal us. But being vulnerable and letting God see our whole messy self is really hard.
Just because Judy had opened herself up to God didn’t mean she had all of her questions answered. She continued to have a lingering question of why all the prayers that Dennis live weren’t answered. Judy knew the scriptures were full of stories of people being cured, and she knew people who had miraculous healings happen in their lives. She wasn’t sure how to pray. She didn’t dwell on this or let it be stumbling block to her faith but she still wondered why promised blessings and prayers weren’t answered.
An Answer that Took 30 Years
About thirty years later a Sunday School class taught by a humble man who shared his own father’s experience with cancer finally gave Judy the answer to her lingering question. The lesson was on miracles. This teacher testified he believed the prayers for healing offered for his father were answered when his father died and was finally released from his pain and suffering.
The Unseen Miracle
Judy said as he told this story she felt these tingles on the back of her head and felt God whisper this was the answer to the question she had been wondering about for over 30 years. The miracle was Dennis’ death. Sometimes death is the cure. We just need to be more flexible in our thinking of how miracles happen.
Stay Close to God
Judy said she thinks another lesson is to try to listen when God through His Spirit is trying to teach us something. That was her first experience with the Spirit telling her “this is the answer.” So, keep doing things which keep you close to God and the answers will come. Keep praying. Keep going to church–and be open to God’s Spirit teaching you.
Advice to Widows
- Learn to Live Fully Again. As soon as you can, pick those things that would help make you feel whole and do them. For example, one of the things Judy decided as a young widow she was going to do to show she was really living was to always have cookies in the cookie jar. In her mind a family had cookies in the cookie jar–and she decided to do this even though she didn’t have a husband to eat them.
- Use Healthy Titles. Judy decided she was going to use language where she referred to her and her son as a family and not a broken family.
- Learn True Faith. It is important to learn what true faith is and not allow the adversary to sow seeds of doubt that you aren’t worthy of a miracle. God loves us just as we are. He doesn’t give us negative thoughts. He loves us.
- Talk to Others in a Similar Situation. Talking to Stella Oaks helped change Judy’s perspective. It was nice to talk to someone in a similar situation. Judy encourages others to seek out and talk to someone who truly understands what they have been through.
- Time is a Healer. This common statement is true! “Grief and loneliness do not remain as raw. It does get better.”
- Grief Comes in Waves, Then Subsides. You will have bouts where grief will hit you out of the blue–just as intense as it was initially. Don’t be afraid of these. They are normal and they don’t stay. Things will get better.
- Remember to be Grateful. Focus on gratitude for what you have and not think about all you have lost.
- Fake it Until you Make it. Get up every day and make cookies whether you feel like making them or eating them. It is important to still feel grief but not wallow in it.
- Come up with a Plan. Keep hold of the goals you still can achieve. Judy took her son camping because she had originally envisioned doing that with her family. Keep living life the way you want to live life.
- Fill your Time with Good Things. Serve others. Don’t wait to feel more complete–it is a waste of time. Waiting is awful and nobody likes waiting. Act and enjoy life.
- Have Hope! Happiness comes. You will be able to laugh again. Being able to look forward to another day comes. And once you have mastered this you will be able to keep this knowledge in your tool chest of life.
Applying Life Lessons Later
Another Hard Time
Many years later Judy had another trial where she doubted herself and doubted God. Two of her daughters almost died within a 6 month period. One of her daughters was hit by a car and for a while they thought she wouldn’t live. She had a really long recovery period learning to speak with a full voice, regaining her sense of balance and they just didn’t know what they were going to deal with in the long run with her.
Not long after, Judy and her second oldest daughter got a flu bug which knocked them out for several days. Judy “woke up” a few days later but Magan continued to sleep and sleep and sleep. She took her to doctors and she slept through examinations. It was very hard to get a diagnosis for her.
This whole time Judy was in school full-time with seven children at home.
Asking the Right Questions
One day while she was driving to school she wondered, “Where is God in my life right now? Is He watching over our family? Why is the Lord withholding blessings from us?” An answer came very loud and clear in her mind that this had been a year of the greatest blessings her family had ever had. Judy instantly understood that both her daughters could have died but they both eventually did recover.
Judy was asking the wrong question. The right question for God was, “Help me see your hand in my life, and help me to feel grateful during this time.”
She felt so ashamed for thinking the opposite about God, compared to what was really happening. Since then Judy has prayed she can see the blessings of God in her life and feel God’s love for her even in tough times.
Often in hard times people will say God won’t give us a trial greater than we are capable of bearing. The truth of it is that any trial is more than we can bear unless we turn to God. Turn to God so He can bless you and so the miracles can come.
When we try to handle trials on our own we break down because we are inadequate.
Another prayer Judy has learned to pray during trials is, “Help me to learn what I need to learn so I can be done with this trail.” It is like working out in the gym. You only gain strength after suffering through all the weight training. There is no need to suffer in life without gaining the additional strength if you can learn from the situation. We grow in our relationship with God and in our own confidence in ourselves and our capabilities as we overcome trials.