When Death is a Chapter

Grieving child

I can’t imagine the bitter sweetness of Memorial Day for grieving military families. Just do a google search of “grieving army families/wives/children” and you’ll be shaken out of your images of today’s potato salad with photos like these:

Grieving army wife 6

Grieving army wife 5

Grieving army wife 4

Grieving army wife 3

Grieving african american

To those grieving today, I realize that no matter how much the nation or friends acknowledge the sacrifices made by those you love, your hearts and homes will feel empty tonight. Long after embers from the backyard grill die down, the flames of grief will singe the deepest recesses of your soul, engulfing the dry wood of your hope and faith in God.

To those with more joy today: We all won’t experience this particular pain, but we’ll all experience the grief of losing a loved one to death. And I thought of this today when I wrote the following to God in my journal:

“Why can’t I let you write my story? Or why can’t I accept the story you’ve written?

For me, that’s accepting the chapters of my life that include death:

When my mom died and I was only 24; barely old enough to have loved her well;

When my baby daughter died and I wanted to kill myself;

When my grandmother died and I became the family matriarch at age 39;

When six children in utero died and I grieved the end of my youth;

Chapters of my life. Painful chapters. But not the end of my story, the story God is writing.

In the weeks leading up to my dad’s death, he had a dream about being in a mansion. No lie. He referred to it as “The Kennedy House” and this is what he said happened there: “People were loving me in a way I didn’t deserve.” For a man whose personality was a cross between Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford, my dad would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS make up a story like this to make us feel good. After this dream, he elected to stop dialysis treatment. He started telling my brothers and me that he loved us, something he had never done. He moved into hospice care. He died in peace.

And he left us a few lines in this chapter called death by telling us a story of the mansion he saw. He confirmed what Jesus said:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. John 14.2

There, with Christ. There, with our loved ones.

Meanwhile, take heart, grieving souls. God loves you more than you know. His peace and mercies will flow as you weep and ask him questions; as you visit graves; as you scavenge for photos; as you try to get a grip and smile in someone’s backyard today. God has the pen, your heart is the page, and a beautiful story is unfolding. Don’t lose hope. Keep reading.

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