I write this letter to share my heart with you, hoping it will bring some comfort. There are many studies, articles, and testimonies of how to walk through recovery from the death of a loved one. Elizabeth Kugler-Ross is the most published expert I am aware of. However, everyone who experiences the loss of someone loved is legitimately an expert. One way or another, they have paid admission to the company of those who understand the journey.
For me, it began with a phone call at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I answered the call to hear our son-in-law, Allan, saying our daughter Kirsten was in the hospital having a heart attack. Total shock overwhelmed my husband and me.
She is only 47! What on earth is happening!
We jumped out of bed, assuring Allan we were on our way. My God, My Father, save our baby girl! Then, before we could finish dressing, Allan called again sobbing violently, “She’s gone . . . she’s gone. They couldn’t save her, she’s gone.”
No . . . no . . . no . . . this not real!
The five-hour drive to Allan was made in a state of disbelief. No thoughts, no feelings, just focusing on finding Allan and getting to our baby girl who wasn’t here anymore. This is unreal . . . this can’t be happening.
But it was happening. As we drove into the hospital driveway, it became very real. Allan was pacing outside waiting for us. My husband and I fell into his arms—the three of us clutching each other, our faces soaked with tears, our hearts separately shattered, but one in our brokenness.
How we got through the following week remains vivid in my memory. When emotions are raw, relationships are strained, deeply tested. So many undercurrents played out through the drama of funeral arrangements, friends constantly coming by, weaknesses and flaws exposed, all somehow coming together for a greater good, for the ritual of saying goodbye. Sometimes I feel that these rituals are barbaric. Yet, if they bring home the reality, the finality of the loss, they serve a purpose.
We made it through the farewell ceremonies. The whole family came through with courage and a determination to honor our Kirsten. The chapel overflowed. It was amazing to hear so many share their connection with our daughter and how she impacted their lives.
People try to be kind in situations like this, saying kind words of comfort to the ones left behind. But what we heard about our girl was remarkable. Person after person, from various parts of her life, shared how she transformed their perspectives, enhanced their lives with her hope-filled attitude and enriched them in so many ways.
Kirsten wasn’t “religious” in the traditional sense. She didn’t aggressively force her faith on others. She was just there to help as she could. In my mind, it was as though God chose this little diamond with many facets to reflect His Light to others. And now, everyone was stunned that this light that had brightened their lives was gone, suddenly, without warning.
Our daughter was born feisty and remained spirited to the end. Along the way from infancy to her final breath, life hit her with some hard slaps and she fell into some difficulties. However, fifteen years before she died, she experienced a restoration of all that had been stolen from her through a renewal in her relationship with Jesus, the Christ.
Fresh in her confidence and faith, she fought her way to purpose and healing. As part of that return, she married her love, Allan, and they began building their life together. She looked to God daily for strength and inspiration. With Allan’s support, she went back to school and got a Law Degree—believing her purpose was to help others. Then, that fateful morning, she left us.
I am not the first to suffer such a shock; nor will I be the last. But, this was my shock and I had to deal with it. As a Christian, I survived many battles and multiple challenges to my faith. Anyone who lives long enough experiences life’s problems. These difficulties worked to wear me down, and, using a warring terminology, attempted to “take me out.’”But, with God’s help, I had come through reasonably intact!
Until . . . just as we were becoming adult best friends, my baby girl died. It felt like a house that imploded and then exploded when a violent storm hit. All that remained was the cement foundation poured long ago, with only a few framing timbers remaining upright on the base. The shell that remained had boards broken, twisted and scattered around the foundation. Everything else was carried away by the storm that blew the house apart. Questions I thought were either buried or dealt with in the past came back with a fury.
What purpose does this serve? How is good fulfilled with such a sudden and unreasonable loss? Was it the enemy of our souls who stole her from us? Did God say, “Come home, now Beloved. You are finished here; I have plans for you with me now.” If so, how is that a love-gift for me? Was it the physicians who failed miserably? Why did that old man in the same ER live and this young, God-loving woman die? Are the promises of God all a lie? What happened here? I am very far from perfect, but I gave life my best shot. How could this happen? Why now? What am I now to think—about God, myself, life?
I had been involved in Christian community for decades, trusted God for much. Shocked by my anger and fist-shaking responses—much to the dismay of my patient and also deeply hurting husband—I found myself leveled to the basic foundations of life. God was no longer my friend.
Perhaps you think that feeling betrayed is unspiritual, rude and totally illogical after all that has been done for me throughout my long life. But, logic and religious ideas do not hold water when the bucket is shot full of holes.
Until we lost Kirsten, I thought I understood the shock that numbs and paralyzes, knew the ebb and flow of anger. I was familiar with the process of grief. Now, I realized how grief can flood everything; creating a challenge to fragile sanity; grief that is fearful in its depth and power, causing us to numbly shut down in order to survive. This . . . this was different. This was a challenge to beat all challenges; a test I did not pass well or quickly.
Nonetheless, against all odds, a carpenter showed up at the collapsed house. He started examining the debris: picking up a board here, discarding another, taking down the crooked standing boards, using some of the good pieces, cleaning out inessentials—planning a rebuild even before the storm was totally diminished.
Slowly, restoration began; life started to show traces of fresh purposefulness. In this tumultuous world full many issues, I finally accepted that some questions will not be answered until we see God face to face. Then, ironically, the questions will not matter any more.
How you get to this point, dear friend, will be unique to you. As for me, I have rediscovered God is not one to judge quickly or in anger. It turns out, all natural semblance of evidence to the contrary, God is, and he is the God of mercy and love.
Because the man, Jesus, existed as God in human form, and walked the dusty, pain- filled road of life, he truly understands our condition. He is quick to forgive when asked, constant to love even when not loved in return, and is always waiting for us to open or re-open the doors of our hearts and let him in. He gave up his son because he loved us totally. His only son followed through with God’s Prime Plan because he loved us more than his own life. And God’s Spirit will give us the heart to really know him, if we will just ask. He will be strong enough in us to see us through—even through death.
This is Truth, but it is a hard won truth. I have come to understand that only this kind of Truth can stand up under stark questioning, destructive pain and warring conflict and still come out to be Truth on the other side of the battle. Whatever my circumstance, He is and He is love personified. In the end, Love wins.
Keep looking up,
© March 15, 2014