Since my husband Eric’s death in February 2016, I have had an acute awareness of the brevity of earthly life. Armed with this knowledge, I try to treasure each moment and each relationship just a little more. Hellos are more heartfelt and goodbyes are more intentional. It’s common in our family to ask for, “One more hug” and “one more kiss,” and to say one more “I love you.” I aim to frame my encounters – both with strangers and close friends – according to the possibility that this very exchange could be our last. When I remember this goal and have it at the forefront of my mind, I tend to be looser with compliments and as genuine as possible. This way of living is generally very positive.
But there is a dark side to my current understanding about life being short. Daily I also face this feeling of dread, that the ones I love are not safe from death. If my young husband can be taken away in an unexpected instant, if there was no miraculous earthly healing for him and he’s not coming back… then who is to say that someone else I love couldn’t die in another instant? If God is my protector and defender, but he has not actually promised life in the flesh, than how am I to expect that any of my loved ones will still be living tomorrow? How can I be sure that I will reach another birthday, let alone see old age?
For example, when someone I love is sick, my first thought is not to pray for healing, but rather to begin mourning their death. When a loved one goes away on a journey, I watch the clock and look out my window for them even though I do not actually expect them to return. When I kiss my children goodbye, I run through a mental checklist of my affairs to hopefully find them in order and consider letting someone know about my will in case I die before I see them again.
As I left the house for a meeting this evening, I hugged my boys goodbye and assured them that I would be home to kiss them goodnight. As soon as they were out of sight, my mind flickered… what if I don’t make it back tonight? What if tonight is the night my children become orphans? I brushed the disturbing thought out of my mind and backed slowly out of the driveway, hyper-aware of other cars. Worship music played through the stereo and I sang along to keep my mind occupied.
When I walked into the GriefShare meeting, I smiled at my friends who are facing hard losses of their own. These people haven’t been in my shoes, nor have I been in theirs (no loss is exactly the same because every person is unique and each relationship different from another). But they have encountered grief from the death of loved ones. There’s kind of an instant closeness between people who have faced the beast that is grief, and an easy vulnerability as we share stories of our loss with each other.
Tonight we discussed the question, “Why?” All kinds of questions come out of that one word… why him? Why me? Why now? Why there? Why that way?
When you expect that things are going to go a certain way and then they actually happen much differently… things get confusing. I believe whole-heartedly that my good and sovereign God works all things for good (Romans 8:28). I also believe that in His sovereignty, He is completely in control and nothing happens that has not first passed through His hands (Jeremiah 32:17). I believe that God did not cause the death of my husband, but I do believe that He allowed it. Why did God allow Eric to die? I couldn’t count the number of times I have asked that question of God and of other people who have studied scripture more than I have. Although I’ve never received a full answer to that question, I have experienced a peace that passes understanding which can only come from God. When my “whys” feel overwhelming, like they did with the terror that happened last week in Las Vegas, I pray that God will give me an answer or give me peace and trust in His big picture plan. I usually listen to things that point me in that direction, like this audio recording of a message that Eric gave in November 2015. I do not know the answers to my “why” questions, but I hold to the promise that He does have a plan and it will be glorious. Whether or not I feel comforted by that in this moment, the truth sets me free from getting stuck in the lands of “Why” and “Whatif.”
The rain on my way to the car made the lights dance eerily and the cold crept into my bones. Before I started my car, I took a deep breath. “Will this be the last time I drive this car? Is this the night that I die tragically before making it all the way home?” I asked God for protection, knowing that my safety might not be part of the plan but hoping that it was. Worship music flowed through my ears as the engine ignited and I steered the car carefully home. I must have been breathing as I sang along with the songs, but I couldn’t be sure when I pulled into my driveway. Relief flooded over me as I exhaled fully and I thanked God that I would get to put my kids to bed one more time.
Photo by Wenniel Lun