Losing a loved one is perhaps the most difficult trial a human being can face. The grieving process that follows the loss of a beloved spouse, child, or friend is often a long and treacherous road, even for the believer. But the beauty of knowing the Creator of the universe is knowing the hope that is found in His sovereignty, His compassion, and His perfect will and glorious promise of redemption for those who know Him personally. Even in the midst of terrible loss, God will never forsake those who have put their trust in Him. In fact, He promises to be our comfort in times of grief so that we might be able to “comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).
Patricia Biehn, a blessed former member of Creekside Bible Church, became familiar with the devastating blows of grief when she lost her husband, Russ—the love of her life—after 56 years of marriage. But with this loss came the realization of the supernatural peace, comfort, and joy that can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Patricia’s story is one that she now hopes can be used as an encouragement to those who are struggling with loss, as well as a call to love Christ first and foremost.
Russ and Patricia met in high school, when he was fifteen and she was fourteen. “We came from two entirely different walks of life,” she explains. “He came from an alcoholic father and a mother that worked sixteen hours a day so that she didn’t have to deal with the alcoholism. So he wasn’t really raised; he pretty much grew up.”
Patricia, on the other hand, grew up with what one might call a more traditional nuclear family: strict house rules, a stay-at-home mother, and a father who led their home. As a result, Patricia says, “My parents became his parents after we started going together.”
When recalling their initial interactions, Patricia describes how a sweet friendship quickly transformed into a deeper connection, and how Russ began pursuing her more steadily after a surreptitious phone call, a dance, and a visit to her house to meet her parents.
Although Patricia says she didn’t necessarily have the same feelings for him in the beginning, his persistence eventually paid off when they started “going steady” on one condition: that he would abandon the devastating trap of alcoholism that had plagued his own father.
“I think he was actually an alcoholic when I met him at fifteen,” Patricia reflects. “I told him, ‘If you want to date me, you need to make a choice. It’s either me or the alcohol.’ And he chose me.”
Russ and Patricia were married two years out of high school in 1962. They made a mutual decision to have Russ further his education studying business in college while Patricia worked and, eventually, stayed at home with their children. “Russ loved going to school—he was always going to school!”
“We got off to a really good start,” Patricia reflects.
Russ got a job as an accountant for Long’s, they had their first daughter, Deborah, and they were able settle down in a mobile home. But Russ’s career path took a turn following a visit from his cousins in the early 60s.
“His cousins came over one day and told him about an exam they were taking for public safety officer in Sunnyvale, and they all said it was the hardest test they’d ever taken,” says Patricia. “Well, that’s all Russ needed, because he loved a challenge, he loved to study, and he loved tests! He took that test, and he passed with the highest score of anybody who had ever taken it.”
Russ began working as a public safety officer in 1964. They had a son, Richard, and both Patricia and Russ were saved in the early eighties (Patricia in 1982 and Russ in 1985).
In 1984, Russ was diagnosed with kidney failure. He went on dialysis and got a kidney transplant, and could no longer serve as a public safety officer. Russ decided to go back to school to study the Bible, and eventually earned his Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies, his Master’s of Divinity, and his Doctorate in Theology.
“I worked during this time, but I didn’t mind,” Patricia says. “He loved school.”
Upon graduation, Russ got a job as senior pastor at El Camino Bible Church, where he served for twelve years. When Russ and Patricia left this church, he had kidney failure and was on dialysis. During this time, he went to work on a golf course before getting his second kidney transplant (from their daughter) in 2004.
Russ and Patricia started going to Pastor Don Sheley’s church in San Bruno, where they were able to meet with Pastor Sheley every Saturday night for an entire year.
“We got to know him very well, and it was a huge blessing,” Patricia recalls.
After Russ’s second kidney transplant, the church asked him to come on board as a pastor, with Patricia as his secretary. “They gave us a couple of options,” Patricia explains. “One was marriage pastor, and one was family pastor. After we interviewed, they told us to pray about it and let them know. We looked at each other and I said, ‘I know which one I think you should do.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I do too.’ And that was the marriage pastor. God really used us during that time, and it was a great time.”
Russ and Patricia remained at that church for about twelve years, where they taught and counseled as a team. It was a blessed phase of life for the couple in which they were greatly used by God as mentors to others, but it was the period that immediately followed these years that tested Patricia’s faith beyond what she ever anticipated.
“Life was beautiful, and then he got this cough,” she reflects. “I came from a medical family, and I said, ‘Honey, that cough is not good.’ He insisted that he felt fine. So we waited until his physical in October, and it was then that we found out he had stage four lung cancer. We did chemotherapy, and he did pretty well for about a year. He still continued to pastor, and we still did the teaching together. He got really bad after that first year. He was too weak to work, so he didn’t go to work for the last six months. He passed away a year and a half after the diagnosis.”
It was only after Russ’s passing that Patricia was struck with the realization of how deeply she had depended on her husband over the course of their married life. The healing process, as Patricia describes, was a long and arduous one that was filled with all the painful and often unforeseen side effects of grief.
“I did not do well, because we were joined at the hip,” she says. “I’m not proud of it, but I just went to pieces. All our married life, I was the perfect little wife. I took pride in saying I didn’t want any regrets if Russ went home to be with the Lord before me, but then when he started to die what I said became a lie. I guess one could say the enemy got ahold of me, because the end result of pride is that we fall. After his death, I checked out. The thought of living life without him was just too much for me to bear. I was always a pillar through his many surgeries, but this was beyond me. My focus was on my circumstances and definitely not on the Lord, which was something I always used to say to all who came to me for counseling. I didn’t think I could live life without him, and it overwhelmed me to the point of being very depressed. Looking back, I think I loved him too much!”
About nine months after her husband’s passing, Patricia decided to go back to work, which did help in the midst of her grief. She continued to work for a year before retiring in December of 2014 and beginning the hunt for a new church family that was closer to home. Although the transition out of the role of pastor’s wife was a difficult one, Patricia was able to eventually find fellowship at GBF with likeminded believers, and more importantly, she was able to find peace and comfort in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Losing the love of her life is still a trial that Patricia has to face every day, but it has tested and refined her faith and dependence on the Lord to produce a joy like nothing before. Now, she uses her story to encourage others to love their Savior first, because He is the only One who can truly restore and satisfy a grieving heart.
“It has been three years now, and by the grace of God I think I have learned how to live life without Russ,” Patricia says. “If I were going to give advice to anyone who might be going through a similar situation, it is so important to make sure you love God first. I thought I did. The grieving process has actually been a real blessing, because I’ve grown so close to the Lord during this time, and He is my best friend. I praise God for all the comfort He has bestowed upon me! I wrote this little rhyme so other widows won’t make the same mistake I did: Don’t love your man as much as you can; do yourself a favor and first love your Savior!”