I debated whether to write about the year that just ended, but then felt that if I shared my pain, my faith and joy, it might resonate with some of you. In the process, I thought it might help me to heal and ease the moments of depression that have settled on me like ominous dark clouds throughout the past year.
A few days before 2016 came to a close, our daughter-in-law’s dad lost his fight with lung cancer. He was a kind man who loved his family and us. The loss was hard to deal with, particularly since he had just retired and had talked about the in-laws traveling together when his wife retired in 2018. We had much to look forward to which never came to pass.
In January, we lost two dear friends. We knew one of them had been fighting a battle with congestive heart failure for some time, and his heart finally just gave out. The other friend had beat breast cancer, and then it came back with a vengeance. Within days she was taken from us. That was just the beginning of a year that had us visiting hospitals, going to funeral homes and using up boxes and boxes of Kleenex.
All in all, we lost thirty-two friends and acquaintances. One of them was my best friend from first grade, right around my birthday in March. I was devastated at her wake and funeral. I had visited her just before she came home from the hospital. She had been home for a month, and was doing fine. Then she and her family went to a dinner party. At some point during the evening, she excused herself to use the women’s restroom and never came back. Eventually, someone went to check on her and found her on the floor, barely holding on to her life. She died of a blood clot in the ambulance ride to the hospital. Gone was the joy of singing “Happy Birthday” to each other year to year--something we had done since we were five years old. Gone were the Super Bowl Sunday festivities, and the fun we had planning the crazy menus each year. Gone were the chat-filled phone calls. She was just gone.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a friend for more than fourteen years suddenly stopped speaking to me. She won’t even look at me. I don’t have a clue to what I did to have her act this way to me. You might wonder why I don’t just ask her, but how can I when she turns her face whenever she sees me? I don’t know which is worse, losing someone to death or losing someone who is still alive but dead to you none the less. It just breaks my heart.
The year ended with a letter from a friend from Iowa. She is dying from an awful form of breast cancer. She calls us her angels for keeping her spirits uplifted throughout the ordeal she has gone through. Her letter ended with these words: “Do something special as you may not be able to do it again.”
So, what have I learned through this year of heartache and pain? I have learned to lean on the Lord in all things. He gave us a respite in October when we watched our oldest son marry the woman of his dreams in a fairy tale wedding. The Lord gave us days of joy and laughter and love. He gave us moments to cherish. Why share all this? Because I want you to know that you are never alone. Grief is a shared experience. Losing those we love allows us to see just how short our lives really are. It should also show us how to forgive and love one another now, not later.
One of our Lord’s most important commandment to us is “to love one another as I have loved you.” Yes, love brings pain and hurt, and sometimes misery, but that pain will be much worse if you let someone leave you and never tell them what you were thinking or how you felt.
I received comfort from many of you this year as my family and I dealt with the many friends and acquaintances we lost. Thank you for allowing me to enter your hearts to share my pain. Your prayers have sustained us. God’s love continues to lift our spirits as we pour out our grief to him when it hits us at the oddest moments, at the oddest times and in the strangest places. Grief doesn’t have a time table. It overwhelms you when you least expect it. A song, a movie, a hymn, a person in a store who looks just like the person you just lost, will start the tears a flowing. Weep. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. He wept because he loved.
My father-in-law used to say: “Don’t treat me badly while I am living, and then come to my funeral and cry like you’ve just lost your best friend. Treat me kindly and with love, despite all my foibles, while I am alive. Then when I die you will have peace that the time our Lord gave us on this earth with each other was spent in joy, love and kindness, and you will have no regrets once I am gone.” My father-in-law was an immigrant from another country, but his words were filled with the common sense of a man that loved and enjoyed the people around him.
Don’t have regrets. Don’t live with that kind of pain. Learn to love as our Lord commanded us, and enjoy the time he has given us on this earth with each other. There will be dark clouds—rainy storm clouds, and then there will be rays of sunshine that stream down to brighten our sadness. It’s God’s rays of hope, coming to you from the highest heavens and filled with his mighty love.