First Brush With Death
I was five years old the first time I lost someone I loved. I don’t remember a lot. What I do remember is my grandfather being so cold and shaking.
I ran to get him blankets, but he was shivering so hard, I could hear his false teeth clacking together. I remember running behind a chair in the living room to pray. The chair was striped and velvety; the carpet was thick and cream colored. That was 39 years ago, yet those small details stand out in sharp relief.
I don’t remember my mom telling me my grandfather had died. I just remember looking at my grandfather in the casket and thinking it wasn’t him. All that made my grandfather him was gone: the big, booming laugh; the infectious smile; the twinkle in his eye.
My cousin picked me up and put my face up close to my grandfather’s. He smelled strange and I was scared. I spent the rest of the viewing hours out in the lobby with my Grandma Craig, tapping my patent leather shoes on the flagstone floor.
For over a year, I waited for my grandfather to come back. I kept imagining that he would burst into our house, laughing and saying it was all a joke. I was well into first grade when I finally believe he was really gone.
The Bewilderment of Grief
The next time I lost someone I loved, I was 25 and expecting my first child. As an adult, my experience was far different than when my grandfather died. Grandma Craig – the one who had sat with me in the lobby – was gone.
I remember feeling bewildered. How was I suppose to walk through this? How do you grieve? What does that even look like? Could you be happy about a coming baby and also be sad about the death of someone you loved at the same time?
Since that time, I’ve lost my other grandmother, a few friends, my brother and just recently my father. Even though I am not new to the grieving process, every single time, I still feel that strange bewilderment. How do you do grief?
Every grief is like a trip with a familiar destination, but each time, you travel by a different route.
Grieving Death is Different Than Grieving Tragedy
My brother died only two years ago, so that grief is still fresh and that road is still familiar. I thought I had a handle on this grief process, but grieving my father has been completely different.
With my dad, it felt like the ending of a fully told story. He battled cancer for four years, and I honestly thought he was going to die last year. I truly believe God answered my prayer for more time with him. I don’t know why He chose to answer that prayer since I know others have prayed it and not gotten the same answer. I am just unendingly thankful that He did.
Although I miss my dad terribly, God made it very clear to me that my dad had reached the last page of his story. Even though I didn’t want it to be the end and I didn’t want to close the book on his life, my dad’s life was one that was well-lived and finished well.
At his funeral, as people shared what my dad meant to them, I could see the far reaching ripples that his love of Jesus and his faithful service to Him had created.
It is hard to know that my dad’s story is done, but at the same time, there is a peace and a comfort in knowing someone has run their course well and finished the race. I grieve, but there is a softer edge to this grief.
My brother, on the other hand, took his own life. Instead of coming to the last chapter in his life, I felt as if someone had ripped it out of my hands mid-read. His death left a lot of what ifs and if onlys that still bother me some days.
My brother was intelligent, handsome and outgoing. He never met a stranger, and he honestly talked himself into an untold number of jobs that he really wasn’t qualified for at all. He had so much potential.
His death laid waste to it all before it was time.
It is the difference between a life well-lived and one stolen by mental illness.
It was the difference between the natural cycle of life and tragedy.
The Importance of Finishing Well
I am 44 years old. According to statistics, I’m truly middle-aged. Half of my life is over, and hopefully, if I am not felled by cancer or heart disease or some other disease, half of my life stretches before me.
Maybe it is because of my recent losses.
Maybe it is because of my age.
Maybe it is because I am facing a new season very soon, as my youngest will be a high school senior next year, but I am impressed more and more that I want to finish well.
I want to live my life fully with the right priorities. It’s so easy to get off track and to get caught up in things that really don’t matter, especially in the light of eternity.
I get it – the house isn’t going to clean itself and the groceries aren’t going to travel from the shelves to your fridge on their own. But I don’t want to be so busy doing all my to dos that I forget to really live life.
Choosing To Let Go of the Good
As 2017 slowly ticks down and a new year looms with all its newness and possibilities, I’m trying to slow down, to really listen to what God wants from me this year.
He has very clearly told me to write. I’ve felt it pressed into my heart and whispered in my ear. The thing is, when we say yes to what God calls us to do, we have to say no to a lot of other things – even good things.
What that means in my life is really looking at everything I am involved in and deciding what may be good but isn’t best.
I love Arabah Joy’s blog. Tacked up on the wall next to my desk is a quote from her.
You can’t do all the good things people ask you to do if you want to do the one thing God is calling you to do.
I made that quote into a cute printable and tacked it up by my desk, and yet, I’ve spent a lot of 2017 doing things that are good, but not best. That is going to change in 2018.
Why? Because I want to finish well. I want to reach the end of my life and see “The End,” not chapters I never got around to experiencing because I was too busy doing all the things rather than THE THING God has called me to.
What about you? Are there things you feel called to, but you’ve let busyness or other people’s expectations keep you from?
I’d love to hear about it!