Coping with Death
It has been a year since I lost my best friend, Marcia, who was also my sister. All 50 years of my life, she was there. There was no day of my life in which she was not a part. Her loss left me breathless, literally - I could not breathe.
As she lay there in the hospital room, I had no idea how I was going to walk out of that room into the rest of my life without her. I was paralyzed with grief.
“Walking out that door meant it was over...”
My husband and my cousin did not know what to do. I could not leave her. I was unable to leave her. I just kept repeating, no, no, No! My heart breaks now, thinking about that moment, rubbing her feet that I loved so much. I couldn’t go. Walking out that door meant it was over. She was gone. I couldn’t breathe.
At Death's Door
At that moment of complete and utter desperation, my dear cousin suggested we help prepare her to meet Jesus. Immediately, peace entered my heart. God gave me the courage I needed.
“Immediately, peace entered my heart...”
Quietly my loving husband stood back and I got up. I walked out the door, but I do not remember putting one foot in front of the other, nor do I remember breathing. The numbness I felt protected me from the despair that was so close to the surface. I wanted to scream and tear my clothes, but I walked out and peacefully joined the rest of my family.
This walk I have been on this past year is different from my previous walks with death and loss. We are not immune to it on this earth. The Bible says in John 16:33 that in this world we will have trouble, “But take heart, [God] has come to overcome the world.”
It may sound strange but I am a veteran of loss. My mother died when I was 8, my father when I was 16. That is when this relationship with death and loss began. Over the years, I have lost my step-parents, my aunts, uncles, my grandparents, a dear friend, two pregnancies, my former in-laws and my first marriage.
The journey through each has been so different. When my mom died I had a child-like magical acceptance of her death. I really had no concept of what death really meant at the time.
God was not a major focus in our household as I was growing up. Church was not regularly attended except for an occasional Easter. Thanks and praise was not given. God was someone I feared and I prayed to only when something bad was happening, and in my household that was often.
“I felt God was cruel...”
Things changed when my Father died. He was an alcoholic and it was such a traumatic time. I turned from God. I hardened my heart. I felt God was cruel to take both my parents and leave me with a step-mom who did not want me.
What I did not see was that the further I got from God, the harder my life became. I handled things on my own. I needed nothing from anyone and that included God. The decisions I made were self-centered, and destructive. I was unforgiving and judgmental.
Accepting God's Help
But God is good and everything happens in His timing. Seeds were planted when I went to a Catholic University. I began to attend Sunday services for the music. Worship music spoke to me as nothing before ever had, but I still kept my distance from God. Through every loss and every trial, I held my own. I did it on my own, keeping my heart hidden from God.
During my first marriage I lost both my grandmothers, and my step-father. Then my mother-in-law got cancer. I finally turned to God. I asked for nothing, knowing I probably would not have my prayers answered. I found comfort from the community of my neighborhood church, the worship music, and the message. I continued to guard my heart from God, not realizing I had already lost the battle.
As the cancer took its final hold on my mother-in-law, my family was falling apart. On the night she passed, they were all depending on me. I was unraveling.
“I needed His help to keep it together, to guide me, and to wrap me in His arms.”
I stopped at the first church I could find, and got on my knees. For the first time, I asked God to help me, to calm me. I needed His help to keep it together, to guide me, and to wrap me in His arms.
For the first time that I can remember, God wrapped me in calm. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace envelop me. I got up, lit a candle for Dorothy and walked out, knowing I was going to be okay. My heart, which had been so very closed, opened wide allowing in my Heavenly Father.
This happened again three years later when I was going through my divorce. I was signing the final papers and I was so alone. My “ex-husband to be” was with another woman. The pain I felt was so overwhelming I couldn’t breathe.
I thought about driving my car into a wall just to end the pain I felt. When I got back to where I was staying, I again prayed that God would deliver me through the night. I prayed that he would send angels to protect me. The next morning when I woke, the heaviness of that pain was gone, and I was able to put one foot in front of the other into my new life.
Accepting God's Will
My sister, Marcia, had a heart condition. I always knew I would outlive her. She was a recovering addict and had many health issues, but I always thought we had more time.
We talked everyday, discussing our husbands, children, and grandchildren. We read from the same devotional daily, and we always talked about how God was using it in our lives. We loved to talk about our new favorite worship songs and when she was coming to visit next.
My husband came to get me from work to tell me she had had another critical heart attack. I asked God to be there with me, to not leave me, to not let me walk this alone. I asked my Heavenly Father to carry me because I knew I was not going to be able to handle this alone. This is what has made this journey of loss so different.
“I asked God to carry me, as He promises He will.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have asked, “WHY?” 10,000 times. I told God that He made a mistake. I told God I cannot go the rest of my life without my sister. I told Him that not hearing her voice, holding her hand, or hearing her laughter was something I was not capable of doing. I told God I could not survive without her. God knows differently, and He showed me how.
But this time, I asked God to carry me, as He promises He will. Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He WILL do this.” I asked God to catch my tears. I know I cannot do this without Him. When I cannot breathe, I ask God to breathe for me. When the weight of my grief keeps me in bed, I ask God to lift it. When I cannot put one foot in front of the other, I ask God to show me the way. I will not turn from the light because I did that before, and I have the scars to show for it.
Accepting God's Offer
In hindsight, I see where God was working when I thought I was alone. I see where God stepped in to show me another way, when I was not paying attention. I see how each loss led me to some learning or growing I needed to become who I am today. I see how each loss has made my roots in faith grow stronger and stronger, reaching for God first, instead of turning away. Even in the times of trouble I seek the Lord first. I will turn to my Heavenly Father first, and I will give thanks. Psalms 9:9 says, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” He IS the strength I will hold onto.
If you are ready to let go of the pain and heaviness of death, pray this prayer with me.
Jesus, I am drowning in my grief. I cannot find the strength to go on in my own power. I need help. I need you. Forgive me for trying to do it all and taking on the burden of grief and the heaviness of death. I know that you have everything in your hands. I ask you to take hold of my life and be the Stronghold I need to persevere. I will seek you first in all my doings and thoughts. Jesus, come into my life and be the Lord and Keeper of my soul. Amen.
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