I’m not better, but I have hope.

It’s been a hard few days. Grief ebbs and flows, life itself shifts and moves in unpredictable ways. Sometimes I can pinpoint exactly what has made a day difficult and why we have experienced more grief. Like yesterday when Robert text me and said, “I just saw a patient that I hadn’t seen since February 24. I saw them last time at 4:19pm. It was the last patient I saw before I got your call.” Situations like that are bound to bring about big and difficult emotions. Sometimes, though, there seems to be no specific reason for our heavy grief, except that Jane is still gone and that is reason enough. I don’t know that people always understand that.

I didn’t know how long it would take, but we finally received the first, “Are you better yet?” question. To be fair people may wonder this to themselves, but had yet to actually voice it out loud to us. I knew it would come eventually and it seems that almost four months is the time. Robert, providentially, received and answered the question. I felt my flesh and anger rise up. Am I not grieving on your time table?! Should I be better?! Am I being dramatic?! Robert was much more gracious in his response and I’m thankful the Holy Spirit bridled my own tongue.

If you are wondering, we aren’t “better”. But we are also not without hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 was a verse shared with us repeatedly early on after Jane’s death. I appreciated the sentiment, but I wasn’t ready to “mourn differently”. I felt grieved and sorrowful and it felt as if I were being told to rejoice, get over it and count my blessings. In the moment, it felt harsh. But I realize now that I have always mourned differently. The verse doesn’t mean we “suck it up and move on”. It doesn’t mean we never grieve or lament. We can have tears and hard days, but we ultimately know where our hope is found and that is why we do not grieve like the rest of mankind.

Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

The photo at the top of this post popped up in my photo memories today from two years ago. In my biased, mommy opinion, Jane’s eyes were one of her most beautiful features. They were bright blue at birth and seemed to get brighter everyday. I had the unfortunate experience of seeing those same eyes lifeless. I’ve told Robert how thankful I am that he didn’t have to see that. Please hear me, I am not trying to be dramatic, but that fact is a hard thing to face as a mother. It is horrific and tragic to lose a child. This side of eternity I will never be completely better because of it , but I have a firm hope that one day my heart will be better, fully restored, because I will stand in the presence of my Savior.

Two days after Jane passed away I received the following message from a woman I didn’t know very well.

Casey, I do not know you or your husband that well, but I did have the blessing of knowing Jane. I kept her on Wednesday nights, first as a baby and then as a toddler. We called her sweet baby Jane because she was just so adorable and snuggly! The thing that impressed me most is how her eyes would light up when you all would come to pick her up! She especially had eyes for her father. Can you even imagine how much those beautiful blue eyes lit up as she fell into the arms of her Heavenly Father? My prayer is that His peace that passes all understanding will envelope your family as you endure this unthinkable tragedy. I will continue to lift your family up in prayer. I am thankful for the short time I was able to love on Jane!

Today George told me, “I think Jane’s eyes are still blue in heaven. ” I smiled at him and said, “I do too buddy, but I think they are probably brighter than we could even imagine.” Just two days after losing Jane and seeing the brightness of her eyes dimmed, I treasured this woman’s message. It was encouraging. It was a reminder that I don’t grieve like those without hope.

We may never be able to fit into society’s expectations of us ever again. We may cry too much or seem too dramatic. We never be better enough or have moved on enough to please others. Frankly, I hope we don’t fit in. I’m not meant for this world anyway. We have joy and we have hope. We grieve and we lament. We don’t have to pick sides. One day my own eyes will grow dim on this earth, but they will shine brighter than ever before in the presence of my Heavenly Father. That’s the day I’m living for, that is where my gaze is fixed.

Finality is Sure

Finality is sure and right now it feels heavy.

While we are obviously living a life we could not have anticipated just three and a half months ago, there have still been so many more surprises and pain lurking in unexpected places. The early days after Jane’s death were thick with the fog of heartache and devastation. I remember thinking that once the funeral was over and once our family left there would be a finality and emptiness to it all. In some ways I longed for the finality and in others I dreaded the reality that would come with it.

In some ways I longed for the finality and in others I dreaded the reality that would come with it.

Truthfully, our life was permanently altered on the evening of February 24th. That was the day Jane died and that was final. She was no longer with us and the timing of her funeral or headstone placement would not change that fact. So while it doesn’t matter when her room changes, because it doesn’t change the fact that she is gone, it is a painful reminder of the truth. There are many different events that have taken place that seem to scream in our face “Your daughter is gone!” These things always feel heavy and they always reiterate a finality to the truth that took place just 14 weeks ago.

This week I have been pathetically trying to get ready for the arrival of our baby. She will be here in less than five weeks and I have never been more unprepared to welcome a child into our home. With many thanks to dear friends who have lavished us with love, support, and many practical baby items, I am slowly trying to prepare a place in our home for Lucy. Last night I started folding baby clothes and I was reminded of just a few weeks earlier when I did the final load of Jane’s laundry. That was a heavy and final moment. Last week I packed away Jane’s clothes. It was a horrible reminder of the reality we are living. 2T, the largest size of clothes that would grace Jane’s body. After I finished folding Lucy’s baby clothes, I started to swap out diapers. Size 5 diapers sat in an unused pile next to a new package of newborn diapers. I just stared at them for a long time with tears streaming down my face. Jane was ready to be potty trained, but I put it off. The diapers wouldn’t have been used anyway. But these were just more cruel reminders. More waves of finality.

A few weeks ago, Robert and I finally received Jane’s death certificate. I read the entire report, as if expecting to find a variant of information. Instead I found the truth, the finality we were already aware of on February 24. Date of birth and date of death. It was all information I knew and none of it had changed. There is an overwhelming sense of being mocked and reminded that in fact our daughter is gone and she will not return. These are the things I didn’t expect. The little things and the big things that remind us of the hurt of loss, as if we would ever be able to ignore the absence of our daughter.

I’m sure there will come a day when there won’t be anymore “final” moments. Jane’s things will have all been put away, the headstone has been in place for weeks, the bills to pay for death will come to an end and we won’t even be experiencing our “firsts” without Jane anymore. In a way, that brings just as much sadness and grief. If, Lord willing, we reach a day when we have been without Jane longer than we ever had Jane. That will be it’s own devastating reality.

Today I called the cemetery, a conversation that has been waiting since February. When we woefully picked a burial plot for Jane, the kind man helping us said he would reserve several of the plots to her right and left, in case we wanted to purchase those in the future. I called to tell them that for the time being we would just like to purchase two additional plots, one for myself and one for Robert. It seems incredibly morbid to think about a burial plot in your thirties, but there again, Jane was only two. The man on the phone was kind. He said he had been the one to help us the day we picked the original plot. I apologized for not remembering his name and he told me not to worry about it, he understood. He then told me when and where I could pay for the two additional plots. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. Mine and Robert’s days are ordained, just as Jane’s days were ordained.

It would seem our highest priority is life preservation and comfort, when in fact we will all meet the same fate.

I’ve realized how very little we think about the reality of death in our society and in the church. Through the cloak of optimism we deceive ourselves of the reality that faces us all. Even though we are familiar with the apostle Paul’s words, “For me to live is Christ but to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) We live a vastly different way of life. It would seem our highest priority is life preservation and comfort, when in fact we will all meet the same fate. We will all have a final day. I don’t know when that day will be, but I am determined to not only live well, but to die well too. My prayer is that my mind and my heart are so absolutely fixed on things above that the life I live on this earth will not be wasted. I hope that the finality of my life will be received as the grace that it is and that I can stand before my Lord and hear “Well done.” I don’t desire an easy life, I desire a fruitful life.

I don’t desire an easy life, I desire a fruitful life.

The finality of Jane’s life on this earth happened many weeks ago, and the fact hasn’t changed. We are merely receiving painful reminders of a truth already come to pass. I am not often thankful for the sorrow, but I am grateful for the change of perspective. I know where my fate lies and I know that it was sealed by the blood of Jesus. I know that while Jane will not return to us, we will one day go to her. (2 Samuel 12:23) Do you know what your final day will hold? Do you know for certain what finality awaits you? Do you know that there is sure hope and salvation in Jesus? If not, I hope you will meet Jesus today and let Him hold securely the finality you will one day face.

Friendships Forged by Funerals

Suffering cuts through the pretense and gets to the heart of the matter.

A few weeks ago, I drove to the cemetery alone. The headstone had not yet been installed and I had purchased flowers from the grocery store to lay at the graveside, just to mark the place. With groceries in my car, I walked up a small hill and placed the flowers on the freshly laid sod. I needed to get back to the car, I had milk and I didn’t want it to spoil. Instead I sat on the ground and wept. Only moments later a car pulled up behind me. I clearly heard it stop and the window roll down. A sweet voice called to me from inside the car, “Did you lose someone recently?” I turned and saw an elderly woman in the driver seat. I stood and walked over to her car and told her that I had recently lost someone.

This sweet woman began to tell me how her husband passed away a few weeks prior. The next Monday would have been their 63rd anniversary. I told her about Jane, how young she was and how we missed her terribly. She then told me how she had an older sister that passed away as a baby. She had never met the sister, but her family spoke of her often and she looked forward to the day when she would meet her sister in eternity. We exchanged names and said we would be praying for each other. I was thankful I had not rushed my groceries home that day.

I live in a small town so it wasn’t difficult tracking down Mrs. Carolyn’s phone number and address. I sent her a card telling her how much I appreciated her stopping that day and speaking with me. Mrs. Carolyn couldn’t have known that one of my heartaches in losing Jane, was that her baby sister will never get to know her. Lucy, who is growing in my womb now, will never have the privilege of meeting Jane on this side of eternity. Lucy and Jane will not share a room and they will never be in a photograph together. Mrs. Carolyn couldn’t have known that, but God knew that I needed to hear her story. What a blessing it was to me to hear of a woman, who has lived far more years than myself, still remember stories about her sister she never met and look forward to the day they can meet.

Suffering is an interesting thing. I hear from strangers that I have never met, and likely will never meet. They pray for us and offer condolences. I meet strangers at cemeteries now. We share stories and we share tears. My mere presence causes people to weep. Whether it be on my front porch or in the middle of the grocery store.

We had people tell us early on, probably too early, that we would be such a comfort to others. People said that God had given us a new ministry, and if I’m being candid that was painful encouragement. Days after the death of my daughter, I didn’t want a new ministry and selfishly I didn’t care about bringing comfort to others, I only wanted my daughter back. In God’s goodness He has softened my heart, and He has shown me the people who have ministered to us and cared for us in profound ways simply because they have also experienced great loss.

Don’t get me wrong, I still grieve the loss of Jane. I still miss her more than words can convey. I don’t enjoy our suffering and it pains me that our entire family is bearing such a lofty burden. But I am also seeing the privilege of pain and the beauty in suffering. Suffering is not superficial. There are very few pleasantries being exchanged these days. After a simple introduction, it isn’t uncommon for someone to share their heart and their hurts. Suffering cuts through the pretense and gets to the heart of the matter.

Suffering is not superficial.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-3 says that “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.”

This is not to say there isn’t a time for joy, laughter and feasting. It’s to say we can all learn something through suffering and sorrow. Recently I read an article by Matthew McCullough called Why Funerals are Better Than Feasts. In the article Matthew says this, “It’s not that death is better than life. It’s that we have more to learn from the sheer fact that our lives will end than from the fact that we’re alive in the first place. We learn these lessons not in the house of feasting, where quick-hitting pleasures keep our minds out of gear, but in the house of mourning, where we look long and hard at the truths that rightly break our hearts.”

I’m learning that suffering is hard, suffering is painful, but suffering isn’t necessarily bad. In not wanting to be selfish with our own suffering, God has opened the door to a world of broken and hurting people. We are a part of a community we never wanted to join, but are now so grateful exists. To bear one another burdens is a charge to Christians and a privilege to steward. Romans 12:15 says “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”

I’m learning that suffering is hard, suffering is painful, but suffering isn’t necessarily bad.

I’m thankful for those who have come into our house of mourning, both literally and figuratively. I’m grateful to have a community, some I know and some I have never met, that are willing to sit with us in grief. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with comfort we ourselves have received.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

What a blessing to know that we are not alone. What a blessing that God comforts us and allows us to comfort others. I’m thankful for the teary introductions at the grocery store. I’m glad to hear other’s stories and know how I can encourage and pray for them. It’s an honor to share our story and know that others are sharing in our sorrow. Over two months ago a sweet woman lost her husband of 63 years and I lost my daughter that was just two and a half. The loss is tremendous and the pain is great. Through the loss of loved ones, I gained a new friend. Mrs. Carolyn and I talk on the phone at least once a week. Sometimes we talk about her husband and sometimes we talk about Jane. Other times we talk about growing and canning tomatoes. We pray for each other and we encourage one another. We also suffer together and look forward to an eternity spent in the presence of Jesus.

Invisible Suffering

When an event in your life strips you bare, there is no good intention or false ideology to hide behind.

Enneagram 1 here. I have a great desire to “do the right thing”. I want others to also “do the right thing.” This isn’t bad in and of itself, but my tendency to be critical is extremely high. However, when an event in your life strips you bare, there is no good intention or false ideology to hide behind. Sanctification becomes intense.

Two days after Jane passed away I found myself in a department store trying to pick out the clothes she would be buried in. The process was horribly unsettling. I was in the midst of intense grief and everything around me felt completely distorted. People were walking, shopping and talking as if everything was normal. Of course it was normal for them, but for me the entire scene felt cruel and wrong. I couldn’t think clearly and I felt like I might pass out. I walked up to the register to pay for the clothes, the woman behind the counter was polite and asked for payment. I stared at her not being able to comprehend what she just said. I replied, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” She responded again asking for cash or card. My sister, who was with me, squeezed my arm and said, “It’s ok, take your time.”

I’m not sure what other people in line thought about me that day or what the poor woman running the cash register thought either. I have been known to show people less patience in similar situations. That day, and many others since, I have felt like telling and sometimes screaming at people, “Don’t you know what we’ve been through?! Can’t you show us some grace?!” The truth is most don’t know what we’ve been through. Even if they are aware of the situation, they likely and thankfully have not walked the same path. Sometimes suffering is visible and sometimes it is not.

Sometimes suffering is visible and sometimes it is not.

Currently, there are people who are in a financial crisis and concerned about providing for their family. Should I say they are insensitive for wanting to go back to work and don’t care about the health of others? There are also people who are truly high risk medically and afraid of catching a virus that would be life threatening. Should I say they are cowards and not thinking about the economy as a whole? The answer is no. My feet have not walked the same path. I can’t always see their suffering. I can listen. I can show empathy and I can try to understand. Even if I disagree or realize my situation is different, I can show love and I can show patience. And usually the best response is to stay quiet.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7