I heard the sirens from several miles away and I knew they were coming to my house. Sirens blare every day, but when they are coming for you or a family member it is very eerie. For years I cringed when I heard sirens thinking they too were coming for my dad having another heart attack. I was only 18 at the time. 19 on the second call. I lived for another 20 years before I had the final call on dad. Since then, I’ve had to experience the sirens several more times – sometimes for myself and sometimes for my son. It’s an awful sound.
I’ve faced death more openly than some because of facing it at an early age. Actually, my journey started much earlier with my dad being a pastor. He talked often about death and dying with me. He shared about people fighting death and those who welcomed the next step. Some are at peace. Some aren’t. Some go quickly. Some take a long time. Some are expected. Some are a surprise.
Currently, I’m still recovering from my neighbor Tom dying suddenly. Tom taught a Bible study on a Sunday titled “You have two weeks to live, what will you do?” Exactly two weeks later, Tom died. He laid down on his bed to take a nap and never woke up. I found out when the sirens came down our street.
Last week our family said goodbye to our little dog, Sammie. She was 14 and we knew that she was going. We held her as she took her last breath. I buried her in the morning under a tree. Death is a part of living but it sure isn’t the fun part. We live by faith for a new life and home. None of us know the time or circumstance when we will go. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could know we had two weeks left?
What would you do? Who would you see? Where would you go? What is left on your bucket list that needs to be done? Are you ready to go? Is your house in order?
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In a perfect world, all of us would make more than we need to live on. No one would need to struggle to live on minimum wage and no one would be a billionaire. Children and young people wouldn’t die at a young age while others seem to live forever even when they don’t want to. There wouldn’t be wars over who controls land. There wouldn’t be politics “as usual” with lying and bribes and back room deals – we wouldn’t even need separate parties. We would agree on what is best for everyone.
We wouldn’t open to obituaries to see another young person dead from an overdose or suicide. We wouldn’t hear about another murder in another city. There wouldn’t be gun violence. We wouldn’t have police violence because we wouldn’t need police.
I think a guy named John wrote a song that was similar to these thoughts and then someone shot and killed him for no reason before he was ready to go. One of his band mates died to early of cancer. Several of his friends died of drug overdoses. Some were rich and now they are poor.
John didn’t live in a perfect world and neither do we. We need to fight to live. You may be fighting any one of these battles or several at the same time. Hang in there. In a hundred years, no one will remember who or what you battled.
1 Peter 1:24-25 “All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
On a previous blog I wrote about over fertilizing plants in my office. Yes, I have learned that too much of a good thing can kill. I sit and watch these plants daily knowing that they are destined to die. I could just throw them out but . . . they are still green and they look alive. I know they are dying but as Monte Python said it best, “I’m not dead yet”.
When do we decide if a plant is dead? When it is brown and shriveled or when it is still green but lifeless? Green and lifeless is not coming back. Why do I keep encouraging it?
My first round of plants finally died from my fertilizer mishap. Now I’m on round two. I dumped all that over fertilized soil into a bag with other soil, mixed it around and then reused it on new plants that I bought. Guess what. Those new plants didn’t like it either and they are drooping and dropping all around me. They too are still green but I really don’t think they are going to make it.
Don’t we learn? I know that I can be slow but “I’m not dead yet”. Stop pouring water and tending to lifeless activity. Even Jesus cursed the fruitless olive tree. If it is not bearing fruit or giving life, let it go. Give your effort to something that is ready to grow.
Mark 11:12 The next morning as they left Bethany, he felt hungry. 13 A little way off he noticed a fig tree in full leaf, so he went over to see if he could find any figs on it. But no, there were only leaves, for it was too early in the season for fruit.
14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “You shall never bear fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
If you are faced with a loss, you will find two typical reactions from others – One side will act like ‘time is up’, ‘get over it’, ‘time to move on’ and the old ‘time heals all wounds’. The other side says ‘take as much time as you need’, ‘you can’t rush healing’, ‘everyone heals differently’, and ‘you will never face life the same again’.
While I may agree with all of these, I also find that there is a healthy balanced approach to life with mourning. We do heal differently. Some will cry every year, or at any mention of their loss. Some move on and look like nothing ever happened. We all have a different threshold for pain/loss and there are definitely different barometers for what the loss is – for example to me losing a parent when they are 50 years old is much worse than when they are 90. But to some that doesn’t matter – loss is loss at any age.
One of the struggles that we all have is memories. I lost my dad when I was 39 and effectively lost my mom around the same age due to dementia. I still have a strong memory of them but certain things are beginning to fade. I lost my grandparents at a very young age and don’t really remember them at all.
Is it better to hold onto memories or let them go? Are they causing pain or joy? Do we fabricate or ‘puff up’ the person we lost? Do we make them a hero or a villain in our minds?
As we remember Isaiah this week (at 3 years), we discuss the question, ‘will we remember Isaiah?’ We only had him in our home for 5 years. It feels like a short time now. We still laugh at the funny way he said ‘umburger’ and ‘porch’ instead of Porsche. But we also remember the bad times and the fear that surrounded them.
I can’t instruct you on ‘healthy healing’ or ‘healthy mourning’. I may be able to tell if you are far out on edge of ‘unhealthy’ but that is only my judgment based on my grid. Mourning is a part of life whether we do it in a healthy way or unhealthy way. I pray that you will be able to see the light that has fallen on you for the time that you got to share with your loved one.
Romans 12:15 (NIV)
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
At least once a year I watch part of “Saving Private Ryan”. Last night I watched the beginning and saw what I assume is a true depiction of the landing at Normandy. I don’t know how any of our men survived that. I can barely watch a fictitious Hollywood portrayal. If I had been there I probably would have just wanted to die quickly and get it over with.
The question in my mind last night was ‘how did the survivors of that go on with life in any normal way?’. Tom Hanks portrayed Captain Miller, a school teacher before entering the war. If he had survived how would he go back to teaching English to a bunch of kids who really didn’t care about learning? How would he go shopping and watch a ball game after seeing what he saw? How would it change his values, goals, ambitions?
How does anyone go back to “normal” after seeing tragedy, brutality, death or suffering? Beyond survivor’s guilt, how does one snuff out the sounds, smells and sights of awfulness?
At the end of the movie, Private Ryan is an older man and questions if he was a good man. What do we base our worth on? How do we base whether we were good or not? How do we continue living knowing that others are dying or suffering?
Acts 20:23-25 (NIV)
23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me;my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Our community is dealing with another horrific teen death. Here are a couple pointers for friends who want to help but don’t know where to start:
Don’t just say “if there is anything I can do”, yes there are things you can do. Just do them. Mow their lawn. Stop by and clean. Run errands. Don’t ask. The answer will usually be “no”. If you are a close enough friend just do it.
Give them food but be careful with perishables. We threw out so much bread and other perishable food. If it is frozen, make sure it is labeled and easy to prepare. If you are good at organizing, plan meals with friends over internet sites like Take a Meal.
One of the BEST gifts that we received will sound really dumb. Toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning wipes. Seriously. We had a lot of visitors and all of this came in very handy! Don’t be embarrassed. We all need it and when crowds come and go it is essential.
Give them money. Seriously. There are A LOT of bills to pay, time off work, and short term needs. We really appreciated all the financial help we received. Our church paid for our funeral expenses which was a huge help! These expenses are never planned.
Give a lot of hugs. Don’t overstay your visit. Families are very tired during this time. Don’t try to get into heavy discussions of “why” and “I wish I could have done something”.
One last item: Mourners are often overwhelmed during the first week. Remember your friends a month later, 6 months later and a year later. People forget that mourning goes on for a long time. Anniversaries are hard (see my blog). Don’t overwhelm them during the first week but overwhelm them later on when they really feel alone and sad.
Love your friends. Love your family. Most of all, love your children. If they are hurting from this, stay close and love them more.
A friend asked me the other day about Isaiah’s death. She said, “does it ever get any better?” I answered, “I don’t know.” In some ways it does. In others it doesn’t. I can’t watch soccer anymore. I don’t really want to discuss the World Cup. We have moments when we laugh about his funny exploits. We can talk about him and what happened without becoming emotional. I miss him just as much today as I did a year ago. Some of the pain is gone. Two years ago today he was in a youth correctional center facing felony breaking and entering charges. I forgot all about that until now as I began writing. That was a long summer with a lot of stress in our home. The reason I’m writing today is not to mourn Isaiah. I am mourning for another family in our school district that lost their 18 year old daughter to a drunk driver yesterday. Meredith Demko graduated from High School 25 days ago along with my son Josh. She was planning on starting college in a few weeks. You don’t need another another lecture on drinking and driving. I could rant and rage but it won’t change what happened yesterday. I’m writing because this has brought my emotions back on edge. Our little community has lost several parents over the past three years and we lost Isaiah. We have all been to more funerals than I want to go to in a lifetime. I didn’t know Meredith personally and yet the pain is hitting me in the face. Another family without their child. Friends without their friend. Teachers mourning the loss of a bright student. Emergency responders dealing with shock. Pictures of a smiling girl from the prom and graduation that will no longer be photographed. Our community will pull together again. Friends will support the family. Meals will be delivered. Parents will give their children an extra hug and say “I love you” a little more often. Parents will also remind their children a few too many times, “Please be careful driving.” Life can suck. It can really hurt at times. But every time we get knocked down, we have someone there to help pull us up. Does it ever get any better? Yes it does. I still love Isaiah. I miss him. I miss John, Scott and Tim who died way to early these past few years. I miss standing along the soccer field with them. Meredith’s family and friends will miss her too. Some days will be good. Some days will be bad. Someday they will be able to laugh about her funny exploits. But for now we will all cry.
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn . . .
Isaiah’s friend “I thought I saw Isaiah today. I know that’s crazy but I almost ran up to the boy and throw my arms around him.”
It’s not hard for me to understand – it happens to me all the time. I see boys that look like him and take a second look with my heart stopping a beat. I see him in pictures. There are moments that just strike a memory. Maybe food, clothes, smells, an activity that we did together. Sometimes it strikes laughter. Sometimes it brings tears. It always leaves a hollow pit in my stomach.
It’s a loss. I know it’s normal. I’m not suffering every day but there are constant reminders. There are pictures around the house – with and without him. Which ones hurt more? I don’t know.
I still get angry. Any loss hurts. Suicide hurts more because it was intentional. It could have been stopped.
Loss. Memories. Healing. Understanding. Tomorrow it will repeat.
On any given day someone somewhere is screaming for joy. At that same moment, someone somewhere is screaming in pain. A baby is born. A person dies. Someone cries over loss. Someone cries over excess. People heal. People get sick. Some are rich. Some are poor. Some are hungry. Some are full. Some are fat. Some are skinny. We are young. We are old.
Life is not fair. Some live too long and die alone. Some die too young and cause many to morn. Why?
We plan. We work. We save. We study, learn, grow, exercise, We try to do things right. Does it help? The wicked prosper and the good fall. One man runs a marathon and falls to a bad heart. One man drinks and smokes and watches the man run to his death.
We fall. We cry. We stand and clean our wounds. Life slows for a time while we heal but life goes on. Scars remain but the pain goes. We remember. We forgive. Sometimes. We judge. We accept. We evolve. Do we?
Life is not fair. Tears fall. Some cry until they have no tears. Can we laugh when we know others cry? How do we stand when we are broken?
Psalms 10:12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
A friend of mine will be buried tomorrow. He wasn’t a close friend. More of an acquaintance. We used to stand together and watch our sons play soccer. On Saturday he decided to end his life. This has been difficult to absorb with the anniversary of Isaiah’s death coming up soon. He will not be on the field this year to watch his son play. I won’t be watching because my son is no longer here.
Both were believers. Both knew Jesus as their savior. They weren’t drugged up celebrities that could no longer take the mixture of fame, wealth and lostness. They both had loving families. But they both hurt. They hurt so bad that they couldn’t continue.
I don’t get it. I never will. We’re only here for a moment and then we are gone. Life around us goes on. We go to work. We go to school. We walk on until its our time.
Psalms 103:15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,