Meeting God in the midst of bereavement

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Jonny Wicks, a former policeman and father of three, lost his wife Rachel to a brain aneurysm in 2019. Although greatly devastated, Wicks recounts how his Christian faith carried him through this extremely difficult time. Four years on he is now remarried and now works at Leprosy Mission as a Partnerships Manager.

Christian Today spoke with Jonny to hear about how God helped him to process Rachel's death, the comfort he received from the Bible, and what his role at Leprosy Mission means to him.

Tell me about your late wife Rachel.

We met at university in 2003 in Sheffield on our first weekend there. I was walking to church one evening and I noticed there was a girl following me. When I got into church she came in about 30 seconds after and we spoke. She said she was trying to find the church but didn't know where it was. She had seen the Bible in my hand so just followed me! That girl was Rachel and we started dating at the end of the first year.

After university in 2006 she went back to Cheshire where she was from and I went back to Cambridgeshire. We did not want to be apart for too long, so we got married in September 2007 and she moved up to Peterborough. We had three children, Harry who was born in March 2014, Josh, born in 2016, and Jude who was born in February 2019. It was in early July 2019, when Jude was four months old, that Rachel passed away.

What was special about Rachel?

Many things. She was someone who was very gentle and cared about people. She was very unassuming and also very prayerful. Months after she passed I found notebooks with prayers for me, the boys and people at church. She was just lovely and I think everybody would say that she didn't have a harsh bone in her body. She was also a devoted mother - the boys absolutely loved her. That was probably the hardest thing to deal with: knowing that she loved them and the younger two not really having any memory of that.

How did God help you process the loss of your wife?

I remember in the hospital being in a little room and having just had the news shared with me, initially it was devastating. There was a Bible in the room and I asked the nurse to read Romans 8 from verse 18 to the end of the chapter. After she read it I felt this immediate peace. I knew God was there with me in that moment. I asked a nurse if I could pray and I remember vividly praying the words of Job, "The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." I think back on it now, how on earth could you say that?! But that was God's spirit at that time just filling my soul with what I needed.

Rachel died in 2019.(Photo: Family handout)

God was incredible through his people. I will always be in debt to my church because they were amazing. They showed me so much love, grace and kindness. I just needed people to be with me, and so many came and sat and just wept and prayed with me. They supported me practically as well. I didn't cook a meal for about three months because people were always bringing food and cakes for us every week.

I went back to work eight weeks after it happened and there was a family in the church who had three teenage kids so they said they would have the boys every Monday from eight in the morning until tea time. I would go and have dinner with them as well and then we would go home at about 7PM every single Monday. They did this for three and a half years until I got remarried. And there was another lady in the church who would come and clean my house every week.

It was still challenging and painful and single parenting during that whole journey was a real challenge but God is so faithful and He looked after us and I will forever be thankful.

What Bible verses were your greatest source of comfort during this period?

Rachel was in hospital from Wednesday and she passed on the following Saturday. I remember Friday being with her and reading "for those who love God all things work together for good" and I circled "all things" because I was really convicted on that day.

That phrase, "all things", kept coming back to me. We have to trust God in all things, good and bad. He is a faithful God and how do I know he's a faithful God? He is going to give me all the things I need to walk through this life and remain close to him. How do I know that? Because he gave me Jesus. If he's given me his own son he is going to give me all the things I need. Three months after Rachel passed, in our small groups at church we were reading through Job and Job was asking the Lord, why has this happened to me? I have not once thought why has God done this to me. I think this is because He has kept reminding me that I don't understand it. He's working these things through and I just have to trust him - and I do.

What were the years following Rachel's death like for you and your sons?

They were very hard. The way I've described this time before is that it was very grey. There was very little joy and little colour to our lives. That's not to say that the boys don't bring me joy but everything was harder. I found it very challenging being a single parent in that context despite the fact that I had so much help and support. I'm genuinely quite laid back as a dad but I just found myself to be snappy or getting short with the boys. That was painful because I did not want to be grumpy. Nine or ten months after Covid hit we couldn't see other people, it was just me and the boys. I think this was partly a blessing because life seems to get very busy quickly.

Jonny married Gemma in 2022. They are pictured here on their wedding day.(Photo: Family handout)

What advice would you give to others who have lost a partner or spouse?

Christians should just throw themselves on the Lord. I think everyone processes bereavement differently and for me I found just talking to people and being with people very helpful. I know other people don't want all of that contact. Initially you need to do what's most comfortable for you just to get by. But throw yourself on the Lord because the worst thing that you can do is to cut yourself off from Him. It's only his peace that can make a difference. As a human it's devastating, it's life changing, it's the worst thing that you can imagine, so only the Lord's peace will make a difference. Keep going to him, keep pleading with him, just cry out to him.

How was your own faith impacted during this difficult time?

I don't think I've ever felt closer to the Lord. In my heart I just desired to serve him and to be near him. During those few months I think that whole experience just strengthened my faith. In some ways I'm sad that I don't have that same reaction now. I think it's almost our sinful nature that when things are going well we think 'I'm all right, I've got this'. When you cling to God he makes himself very real to you. It certainly made me bolder in terms of sharing my faith.

What surprised you most about grief?

Probably that it pervades everything. There's no part of your life when you're grieving that it doesn't touch. And it's so raw. Constantly there will be something that happens, a memory, even a smell or you will see something and that becomes a stab to the heart all over again. I think that will always be there despite knowing where Rachel is - particularly with the kids. They will do something and suddenly I'll think, Rachel would love to see this!

What excites you most about your role at Leprosy Mission and how did the role come about?

The boys and I received so much love and compassion, I wanted to do something to give this back. I started looking at charity jobs, particularly Christian charity jobs, and this role came up. I am essentially a liaison for our supporters to keep them informed as to what is happening across the world and then feedback to them the impact they are having. It is also a role where I can do creative writing. I have the opportunity to write about what is happening and share the stories of people affected by leprosy.

I applied and just prayed that God would give me peace about it because leaving the police seemed like a huge step. But I've never regretted it. I love the job so much and I feel privileged to be able to do what I do and honour people affected by leprosy. I am able to share the stories of people whose lives have been transformed, and I love sharing the stories of the staff who are serving faithfully in leprosy mission hospitals across the world.