Remembering Death Teaches Me How To Live

The other day I listened to an NPR interview of Amy Tan, author of the Joy Luck Club among other best-selling titles.

Her brother and father died within an year of one another when she was fifteen.

I was spell-bound as she recounted how that experience shaped her adolescence and still shapes her today.  I identified with things I am observing in my children and things I feel in my own heart.

She said she thinks about death every day.  Not in a morbid sense, but in the sense that she is very aware death is every human’s experience, eventually.

Some of her friends call her paranoid.

Some of my friends call me gloomy.

But she went on to say that thinking about death gave her a precious gift

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/10/29/why-i-wont-forget-death-lessons-in-living/

I Want You To Know How My Son LIVED Not Only How He Died

As happens often, multiple conversations, experiences and random social media posts rattle around in my brain and then sort themselves out into a brand new thought.

I realized (maybe for the first time with genuine feeling!) that I want people to know how my son lived and not only how or even that he died.

Image may contain: text

It was probably almost three years before I could mention Dominic’s name without also adding, “he was killed in a motorcycle accident” to anyone who didn’t already know that.

It wasn’t because I wanted sympathy or special consideration but because I honestly could not think about Dominic without placing every thought in the context of his death. I was so aware of his absence that it pushed everything else about him into the background.

I was also horribly jealous of what I had lost.

I needed to express how desperately I longed to have him back so tended to share details about his personality, accomplishments and pet peeves from my own perspective.

I was mainly looking at him through my eyes instead of seeing him as a whole person distinct from myself.

I wanted to curate his image in the eyes of others.

But Dominic had been his own man for a long time when he left this earth for Heaven. He made his own choices, had friends I never knew, read things and saw places beyond my experience.

When I insist on introducing him first as Dominic the missing member of the family instead of Dominic the man he had become, I make him smaller than he was (than he is!).

I don’t want to do that.

Even though I rarely insist on mentioning his death anymore in casual conversation unless asked directly, I realize that I want to do more than just NOT mention his death.

I want to comment on his life.

I want to tell folks that Dominic was one of the most talented drummers I’ve ever heard. I want them to know about his quirky sense of humor, his insistence on super soft clothing and irritation with people who took two parking spaces in crowded lots. I want to share how even though you’d swear he was never afraid, he often felt like maybe he wouldn’t measure up somehow.

I want you to know that he was adventurous, athletic, addicted to coffee and adrenaline and a fierce lover of justice and his family.

Yes, Dominic died.

But he lived, too.

And that’s really what I want people to know. ❤

If you are a fellow bereaved parent, please share something about what makes your child(ren) unique. What do you want others to know about him or her?

Hurricane Michael-One Year Ago Today

One year ago today Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida packing more wind and damaging power than any hurricane ever recorded hitting there.

What’s more, it held every bit of that strength and smashed trees, houses and power lines for miles and miles inland including the rural county where my folks live 60 miles away from landfall.

My parents and aunt were trapped and unable to leave due to downed trees across the driveway, “yard” and the road leading out to safety. No electricity, not enough fuel to run the generator to power my mom’s oxygen and no running water (well water provided by an electric pump).

They didn’t evacuate because in the 100 years family had been living on that plot of land NO hurricane had ever made it that far inland with more than heavy rain, some strong wind and temporary power outages.

Thankfully, a neighbor had a bobcat tractor and he plus others with chainsaws and tractors were able to clear the dirt road to the main road. Thankfully, my youngest son, Julian,  was able to find a way through the downed trees and power lines between our house and theirs and reach them with more fuel, more chainsaws and another set of strong arms to help them evacuate.

Thankfully, the trees that fell around the house didn’t smash it or hurt anyone.

My family had survived the frightening but escaped the truly awful.

It felt like pure grace that no one we loved was killed that day although our hearts broke for those for whom that wasn’t true.

Once power was restored and my parents were able to return home, there was so much to clean up, so much to do and so many repairs to make.

Who could have guessed that less than a year later another kind of storm would sweep across our lives, taking Mama with it?

This time there was nothing left to do.

There never is when death comes knocking and steals a person you love.

I am so grateful for the extra almost-year with Mama. I am so sad there won’t be more.

And today, when I’ve finally stopped long enough to let my heart begin to feel what that feels like, I find my longing for her is folded into my longing for Dominic.

Two deaths, one broken heart.

I’m thankful and confident that death is not the end of their story.

Mama and Dominic and all the people I’ve loved that love Jesus are together in Heaven and waiting for the rest of us to join them.

Unlike the broken trees and broken homes left behind by Hurricane Michael, there will be no tell-tale signs of repair when on that glorious Day our hearts are made whole again.

Every sad thing will come untrue-as if it never happened.

Every tear will be wiped away.

Every promise kept, every stolen thing redeemed and restored.

And Mama will be dancing while Dominic plays his drums.

I Will Not Let Death Win


I’m not brave by nature.

If I have a choice, I will run every time.  But there are just some things worth fighting for.

My family is one of them.

I will not let the enemy have them.

I will not allow despair to overtake us, fear to bind us, hopelessness to sap our strength.

I will not let death win.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/23/i-will-not-be-moved/

Ain’t Nothing Easy About Death

I remember the moment I realized I was going to have to summarize my son’s life into a few, relatively short paragraphs to be read by friends, family and strangers.

It seemed impossible.

But as the designated author of our family I had to do it so I did.

Today I wrote my mama’s obituary and though her death was not as surprising as Dominic’s it was just as hard to swallow.

Mama suffered a stroke a few days ago and along with her other health problems the prognosis wasn’t good. So our family gathered, said what needed to be said to one another and to her and settled in to wait and see if her will to live could overcome the odds.

It didn’t.

She breathed her last in this world, fell asleep and woke up in Heaven at 1:45 am Friday morning.

I like to think that just after she saw Jesus she ran on to hug Dominic and her own sweet mama she’s been missing for seventy-one years.

I don’t know why I thought saying good-bye to my mama would be any easier than saying good-bye to my son.

It wasn’t.

Ain’t nothing easy about death.

Ain’t nothing easy about walking away from a hospital room or a morgue or an accident site knowing that whatever wasn’t said will never be said. Nothing easy about facing final arrangements, making phone calls, writing obituaries, finding photos for a slide show, wrapping up a life into a few words and a few songs and a few pictures.

My heart is used to the dull thumping pain of sorrow.

It’s grown accustomed to setting aside despair and doing what has to be done.

I know how to forge ahead and keep living and plan as if my world hasn’t imploded, making calendars and clocks and seasons and holidays irrelevant.

I’m sad today.

And I am all too aware that today’s sadness is small compared to what’s coming.

I’ll survive.

Compared to watching my son’s body lowered beneath the ground, watching my mama’s earthly shell lowered is easier.

She lived a beautiful, full and long life.

Still, there’s no way for the little girl inside this middle-aged woman to reconcile the fact that the world she inhabits no longer includes a mama she can touch.

I rejoice she’s safe and whole and pain free.

But I miss her. ❤

Scripture Journal Challenge: Grieving With Hope

I’ve shared often in this space that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, one of the things I had to do was drag out everything I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world and all the pat interpretations of familiar verses and hold them up to the cold, clear light of loss.

Today’s verses are some I had to think about carefully because they are so often tossed at grieving hearts like a magic cure for the pain of burying someone you love.

The church at Thessalonica was confused about some fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  They were frightened they had missed Christ’s second coming and they were concerned about loved ones that had preceded them in death.  

So Paul wrote this letter to remind them of truth and offer comfort in their emotional distress:

13-17 Now we don’t want you, my brothers, to be in any doubt about those who “fall asleep” in death, or to grieve over them like men who have no hope. After all, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death, then we can believe that God will just as surely bring with Jesus all who are “asleep” in him. Here we have a definite message from the Lord. It is that those who are still living when he comes will not in any way precede those who have previously fallen asleep. One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven! Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then we who are still living on the earth will be swept up with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And after that we shall be with him for ever.
18 God has given me this message on the matter, so by all means use it to encourage one another.

I Thessalonians 4:13-18 PHILLIPS

This verse is quoted often to believers who have lost a loved one.  At first, gently, sweetly–as an invitation to remember that God is in control, that He has a plan, that the grave is not victorious and that burying the body is not the end.

And, in the early days and weeks after the funeral, it IS comforting–I chanted it to myself like a mantra and it drew my heart from the brink of despair.

But at some point, this verse begins to feel like a rebuke–the well-meaning friend says, “Don’t you know, that Jesus followers don’t grieve like those who have no hope!”

And I turn, dumbfounded, to the person saying this, and wonder, “Have you buried a child?”

Have you grieved the too-soon, unexpected, violent end of your hopes and dreams without a chance to say, “good-bye”?  Do you stand over the patch of dirt that now covers the buried body of your son and wonder how this happened?  How can this be your life?

Do you wake up every morning and have that fraction of a moment where all is right with the world before your mind joins your eyes and reminds you that he is still gone?

  • Yes, I firmly believe that my son is now with Jesus.
  • Yes, I stand convinced that there will be a day when all tears are wiped away and I will be reunited with him.
  • Yes, I feed the hope in my heart with truth from Scripture and remind myself daily that the grave is not the end.

But I am made of dust.

I am human.  I am full of the emotions that God placed in my heart.

He gave me the capacity to embrace and love the tiny life growing inside me before I could see it or feel it.  He made my child leap in my womb when I listened to praise music.  He positioned Dominic as the third-born child in our family and gave him unique gifts and abilities.

And now He knows that as long as I live, I will grieve the son that I lost.  I will sorrow anew when others his age reach milestones–get married, have children–because not only did I lose the Dominic that WAS, I have lost the Dominic THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN.

I do “grieve with hope”–I breathe in the life-affirming and spirit-filling promise that the reality I am living is not the only reality there is.  I lean into the Word of God and trust in, rely on and affirm the victory of Jesus Christ.

But I still GRIEVE.  I cannot force my heart to ignore the pain and sorrow that has been laid upon it.

So I continue to live each day, doing the work that God has left for me to do, but walking a little slower, a little more bowed down.

For those of us carrying this burden of grief, the greatest gift is grace and mercy and kindness–we are doing the best we can.

Encouragement (lending courage to) must include acknowledging our daily struggle and the lifelong commitment we have made to battle on.

Ask us, listen to the answers and then hold our hand or dry our tears.

But don’t expect us not to cry.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do these verses help your heart? Why or why not?
  • What do you think it means to “grieve with hope”? Before your child left for Heaven did you have a different understanding of these verses?
  • Yesterday’s verses were all about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Consider those and these together. One of the amazing benefits of studying the Word is that it feeds our souls and strengthens our faith. What insights have you received from this study?
  • Christian cemeteries are traditionally oriented toward the east in anticipation of this glorious event. I drive by where my son’s body is waiting for resurrection often since it’s just a mile from my home. I always speak this promise to my heart when I do. It’s a small way of affirming truth that helps me wait more patiently. Do you think about the cemetery as a final resting place or as a future resurrection site? What difference might reframing your thoughts make to your heart?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You that we can grieve with hope. Thank You that we have assurance Your promises are true. Thank You that death for believers in Jesus is NOT the end.

My child’s grave is not his or her final resting place. It’s his or her future resurrection site. On that glorious Day when Christ returns, death will be defeated forever. What a reunion that will be!

When I am deep in despair, sorrowing at this temporary separation, help me hold onto that truth. Give me strength to endure and grace to finish well. Eternity awaits! Come Lord Jesus!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: NOTHING Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ

If yesterday’s verses were Paul’s closing arguments, these verses are his hallelujah!

When I am weak and weary and overwhelmed by the daily trudging uphill along the path of grief, my heart comes here.

Because truth is, over and over and over God has said in His Word, demonstrated by His actions and proved by His promises that love endures.

It was love that sought Adam and Eve in the garden.

Love that spoke to Noah and gave him strength to build the ark.

Love that drew Abram from the land of idolators, set him apart and made him father of nations.

Love that rescued the Israelites from Egypt.

Love that overwhelmed a young virgin and made her mother of Jesus the Christ.

And Love Incarnate that chose obedience unto death-even death on the cross-so that our sin debt was satisfied and the gates of Heaven opened wide to all who believe.

Love will not be denied.

Love wins.

Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms? Indeed some of us know the truth of the ancient text: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’.
37 No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us.
38-39 I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 8: 35-39 PHILLIPS

There is nothing that can separate me from the love of God.

Nothing!

I am not powerful enough to do it.

Death is not powerful enough to do it.

Love reached down and resurrected Jesus.

Love will reach down and resurrect my son.

On my hardest days, my darkest days I remember this: as fierce as my mother love may be, it can’t hold a candle to the ferocious, eternal, unquenchable, undefeatable, reckless, perfect love of God.

QUESTIONS:

  • When I am deep in despair, I remind my heart that all this love I have for my child(ren) is just a tiny drop compared to God’s love for me AND them. Does it help your heart to think about how fiercely God loves you and your child(ren)?
  • I have shared the story before of my son running barefoot through the woods, briers and all, to rescue one of our goats from between the teeth of two pit bulls. It’s my favorite picture of God’s redeeming, relentless, reckless love. Can you think of a personal example that reminds you of God’s enduring, unquenchable, unrelenting and rescuing love?
  • Theology matters. What I believe about who God is and what creation is in relationship to Him matters. If He made everything (and I believe He did) then it is all ultimately subject to His will. That is amazing reassurance. Nothing. No. Thing. can separate us from His love. No created thing is greater than its creator. Put that thought in your own words. What do you fear might separate you (or your child) from God’s love? In light of these verses, do you think that’s a reasonable conclusion? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Your love endures forever. Help me remember that. Open my eyes, Lord, that I may comprehend the depth, the width and the height of Your love. If I could grasp even a fraction of that, I’d never be afraid for a second that anything could get between You and me. Your love is relentless, reckless, pursuing and almighty. Nothing in creation can stop Your eternal, redeeming love.

My child may have made a foolish or even a sinful choice in his or her last moments on earth, but even that is not enough to separate him or her from You if they made a genuine profession of faith in Christ. How arrogant are we humans to think we can somehow undo the great redemptive work of the cross!

Thank You for this beautiful reminder in Paul’s words. Let them sink deeply into my spirit and bring life to my bones.

Hallelujah!

Amen.