Lessons in Death

Confession…while I may feel that death has kicked the crap out of me, death will not have the final word.

Death and I had not really met before. I had seen it from afar when I lost various family members.  It had come and stolen a child from me some 14 years ago, but it came and left so quickly I was unable to understand the full impact of what had happened. Death threatened me almost 3 years ago but did not get its prize then.  This last year I have stared into this cold face twice. The first time I met death at the funeral of my good friend Lou Vukovich. That was a quick meeting. It left me resolute to live my life to the fullest for this life isn’t guaranteed to anyone. James 4:14 calls our lives but a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes. I want my mist to be meaningful.

This month I sat in a room with death. I realized that I was meant to learn something. I had avoided this lesson until now and had found some excuse to get out of class, so to speak. But this time there was no way to get out of this lesson.  I watched it ravage the body of a man who has meant so much to me. I learned what it means to love in a way that requires more than you have to give. I learned to be honest with myself. I learned to see the ugliness that lives in my heart. I learned how selfish I can be and how insensitive I have become. I learned that loving means letting go of what you want and hope for, so that the one you love can be at peace.

I did not want to learn these lessons. I almost excused myself from the classroom because the price of the lesson felt too great. I’ve heard people talk of sitting at someone’s death bed and I always thought “I could never be so brave.” I thought they had some noble character. I thought they were so giving and selfless. Now that I have gone through this experience, I wonder if I don’t have it all wrong. I didn’t feel noble. I didn’t feel giving or selfless. I felt small and powerless.  I wanted out. I wanted to be home. I wanted to be as far away from death as I possibly could. I wanted to pretend there was no one suffering, there was no one in pain, there was no one experiencing deep loss.  And yet, I couldn’t do that. My love for my father-in-law and my love for my husband kept driving me to that little room with the machines and their sounds. Is that noble? It didn’t feel noble.

Even the preparations of the funeral seemed like a surreal experience. I don’t think it has really hit me. The weight of what I did that week, the impact of my actions, the pain of it all hasn’t really settled. I just feel stunned. It’s almost a numbing experience and how tempting that is to give into the numbness.  To feel nothing would be exquisite.  After a month of feeling every single emotion imaginable and not being allowed to escape it, numbness looks appetizing.

And then God reminded me of James’ encouragement to us.

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

~James 1:2-4

This is a trial and my faith is being tested. This trial is producing endurance, I hope.  But I do need you all to know that there is nothing in me that has any value. God is where my value lies. He is the ONE that sees me through. He is the ONE who gives me strength. He is the ONE who will help me to stay soft and tender. He is the ONE who will keep me from going numb.  He is the ONE.

A verse from the hymn, Come Thou Fount, kept running through my mind the day that Dad passed.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

The desire to wander, the desire to find another way to soothe the pain is so great within me at times, I nearly choke on it.  I know I will never find a better comforter than God, but oh, how the temptation to wander tugs at my heart. I don’t question God’s sovereignty, I don’t question His will.  The desire to wander arises because I do not like pain. I do not like being vulnerable. I do not like it when people see me cry and I do not like it when they are close to me in moments of frailty. My heart is so fragile right now and the potential to be wounded is so great. I must trust that God will see me through. I must trust Him to take care of me.  That’s really hard for me to do, but I am determined to learn. I am determined to let endurance have its result. Death will not win.

Until another confession…

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