There comes a time in many of our family members’ lives when enough is enough. There’ve been too many times of unrelenting pain; too many trips to the hospital; too many times that the doctors say, “someone needs to make some major decisions.”
Too many times our loved ones are put through painful and embarrassing procedures to keep them here with us for a while longer. When all they really want to do is rest. Forever.
Because they’re tired. They don’t want to live like they’re living any more. They want to eat and drink normally without fear of choking or vomiting. They want to be able to walk on their own. To have a normal conversation without gasping for air or coughing uncontrollably. They want to be able to breathe without having a machine doing it for them, They don’t want to be in constant pain which can only be dulled, never really going away.
They just don’t want to be here anymore. And who can really blame them? Would we want to live like that?
Before you start saying that what I’m writing is wrong, cruel, or even anti-Christian, try to put yourself in their situation. Because one day you may be there.
We are never ready to say goodbye to our loved ones, especially our parents. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be blessed with one or both parents who live long lives expect them to be around forever. We want them to be, because the pain of losing them is too hard to bear. We don’t know how we’ll make it without them.
That’s being selfish. Because we’re only thinking of how we’ll react, how we’ll feel. We don’t stop to think about their wishes.
They want to “go home”. And not to the home they’ve been living in for so many years. They want to go to their eternal home, and be free again, pain free, with a new body that works properly. They want to join their loved ones who are waiting for them, and they want to be with their Lord.
My mother went through that. She told me that, in no uncertain terms. But did I want to hear it? Absolutely not. Did I know she was serious? Absolutely.
Did that make it easier? Of course not.
Fortunately I was never faced with those difficult end of life decisions that some of my friends are now facing with their loved ones. Because my mother passed into eternity before those decisions were needed.
And I’m sure that’s the way she wanted it.
Like many of us, my mother had a living will, an advanced medical directive. She had named me her medical power of attorney years before she’d ever been sick. And if you or your loved ones don’t have such directives, I strongly urge you to get them.
Because you never know when you may need them.
Although we’re all living longer, and many of us enjoying fairly decent health into those later years, our bodies do not live forever. They were not designed to live forever. Eventually they wear out and just can’t be repaired any more.
We pray for healing, not realizing that many times in these situations healing takes on different meanings, and our loved ones go on to eternal health.
But before this happens, quite often end of life decisions must be made. And it’s not easy, no matter how strong our faith, no matter how much we know in our head that such decisions must be made. Our emotions, our hearts, don’t want to go there.
Sometimes it’s not or parents, but our spouse. That’s just as hard, and sometimes harder, because we really don’t expect our spouse to pass asway before we do. We need him or her with us. For better or worse. But that vow also added til we are parted by death. We tend to forget that part.
However, we have to accept the decisions our loved ones make. Whether we agree or not. And that is part of honoring our parents, our elderly relatives. Or a spouse with an incurable disease.
Palliative care and hospice care are two options most of us don’t want to hear about, nor consider. But it is a reality, and one that more and more people are having to face for either their loved ones, or themselves. It’s not a decision made easily, or in haste. But it sometimes must be made.
It’s not easy. It’s also not easy watching someone you love dearly suffer. And I daresay none of us would want to be the one who’s suffering so badly.
No matter how much we love them; how much we don’t want to let them go, there’s a point that our love has to love them enough to let them go. To let them be at peace.
Those of us who have faith know in our hearts we’ll see them again. But it doesn’t make it easier.
To all of you going through it, or who have gone through it, be assured you did the right thing. No matter how difficult it was.
Unfortunately I only vaguely remember a few holidays spent with my family with my dad also there. Being only eight years old when he died wasn’t an easy thing, because it robbed me of so many memories I’d never have the opportunity to make. Oh, I do have some fuzzy ones in which we were all seated at my grandmother’s huge ornate walnut dining table, with her and my mom and my aunts bringing in huge plates of food, and my grandfather bowing his head and saying his quick “grace” before we all dug in to eat. But unfortunately, they are, as I said, fuzzy. Faces blur with time, as do my memories of who was really there at those early family holiday meals when my grandparents were still alive.
But the years have a way of fast-forwarding. Children grow up, adults grow older, and loved ones are gradually no longer with us. Holidays become increasingly difficult because our most special loved ones are living only in our memories, and our memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases past are sometimes remembered as being a lot more “perfect” than they ever actually were.
And we’re bombarded with holiday commercials where we see families joyously sitting down together, a perfect meal on the perfectly set table, adults and children alike beautifully dressed up, everyone laughing and smiling, clinking glasses together in holiday toasts, Christmas carols playing in the background, and perfectly wrapped presents under a perfectly decorated Christmas tree.
Those are my real holiday memories. They were fun. We enjoyed being together, and never even thought about not being the “perfect” picture postcard family gathering. We were Just Plain Family. And yes, I miss those days.
I totally understand now why my mom and her sisters used to talk about “the old days” when we were younger. Because now those “old days” I just described, that to me are just memories from what seems just a few years ago, are now “the old days” in the eyes of my daughter and her friends. How I wish I knew what “the old days” had really been like for my mother when she and her sisters and brothers were younger.
As the holiday season is ready to culminate this week with our Christmas Day celebration, I still long to look back and relive the memories of those family Christmases so long ago. But those special times, as I’ve said, still live on in the memories in my mind, shared by just a few who are still with us. We’re all scattered now, and yes, we’ve all made our own new traditions now, just as our daughter Ashley and her husband Chris and their two daughters will be doing again this year.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know many of my friends are going through similar feelings, for various reasons. It’s normal, and it’s a part of life. We’re expected to automatically be happy at this most festive season of the year, a season that celebrates love and family. But many of us are almost forced to hide our feelings behind smiles that we force ourselves to wear, because we think we’re the only ones feeling this way. We’re afraid to let anyone else know; but chances are, many of those we meet while wearing that smile, are wearing that same forced smile, because they’re hurting, too.
The next time you start feeling like that, don’t be embarrassed. Don’t think you’re alone. If you’re having a tough time, you’re not the only one. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And it’s OK to feel that way, because there’s a loss there that is still all too real, whether the loss is recent, or months or even years ago.
You may be bombarded right now with all kinds of reminders of the holiday season that trigger your emotions. Scents of spicy pumpkin, pine and spruce trees, or fresh-baked Christmas cookies. Colored lights on a tree, or glowing candles. A child’s laughter, or the sounds of Christmas carols. Though these reminders evoke memories of happier times that are now in the past, let them also be a reminder that there ARE better times coming, new memories to be made, and new delights in the smile of new friends who are yet to come into your world. While it may be difficult now, the hope and joy that is Christmas, and always has been Christmas, is just around the corner, waiting to be found. Find one thing that makes you the happiest right now, and share it with someone else as your gift to them. It’ll make you feel a bit better that you were able to share with someone, and it just may very well do the same thing for that person, too. They may end up doing the same for someone else.
We never know how we’ll impact someone else with just a small gesture, especially during this very special season. Make it your gift to someone else, even if you don’t know them. Isn’t that part of what the Christmas spirit is all about? You may be surprised at how much better it makes you feel that you’ve been able to bless someone else.
No matter how long our loved ones have been gone it seems we especially miss them at Christmas time. There are triggers everywhere which bring back memories to us of happier times, brighter times. A part of us longs for those happier days when we had those special people with this. And, oh, how we would so love to have them back with us, even for just an hour, to celebrate part of Christmas with us.
But what about those who lose their loved ones during the season? A friend of mine, whose story is told in my book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart”, lost her mother to a drunk driver just two days before Christmas. My friend was a newly married young woman looking forward to the best Christmas of her life. Instead, it became the worst.
Just a year ago during this holiday season two friends of ours suddenly lost their mothers within a 24 hour period. One of these friends’ mothers had only been sick for a few weeks. It appeared she had a stroke, was briefly hospitalized, and sent home. She had appeared to be somewhat recovering, and then took a turn for the worst, not being able to walk, feed herself, or see out of one eye.
Her condition deteriorated, and she was sent back to the hospital, unable to eat or drink without aspirating food into her lungs. Our friend and his wife, along with his father, went through a grueling week of stress and concern for his mother. Because she was unable to eat or drink, and her heart was quickly weakening, the decision was made to take her back to her own home with hospice care. She had only been at home for two days when she went home to be with the Lord. This woman and her husband had been married for 63 years, and the entire time she was in the hospital, her husband would not leave her side.
Our other friend had spent a great Saturday with her mother. They went shopping and were most likely finalizing family Christmas plans, and probably making arrangements for baking Christmas cookies for the annual church cookie exchange. When my friend left her mother that night she was fine. I can imagine in my mind them telling each other good night, and saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
But when my friend went to pick up her mother to take her to church the next morning, her mother was already gone. She had left sometime during the night to be with the Lord and her beloved husband of many years who had passed away several months before.
I can not in any way imagine how my friend felt when she knocked on the door, got no answer, and let herself in, calling out “Mom? I’m here. Are you ready?” And then finding her. I’m sure it was a total and devastating shock; something she will never, ever be able to put out of her mind. I cannot imagine the despair and helplessness she felt. How do you confront something like that?
And just this year, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, another good friend very unexpectedly lost her mother. She had talked to her on the phone one night, planned their weekend together, said their normal “good night, I love you’s”, and two days later, after my friend, as well as her mother’s friends, had been unable to reach her mother, Catherine received that dreaded phone call…her mom had been found unresponsive in her bedroom. She’d most likely passed away a few hours after Catherine had last told her “I love you.” Her mom hadn’t been sick; she hadn’t complained of any strange pains or ailments. We have no idea what caused her sudden demise, which left Catherine, her brother, and their families to try and put together the pieces and recover from a loss almost more devastating than losing their father several years ago had been. Because his death had been anticipated; their mother’s had not. None of them had in any way been prepared for this sudden event. But then again, are we every truly, TRULY prepared?
All of these families are very strong in their faith. But in these circumstances, no matter how strong, our spirits are shaken to the very core of our being, and as strong as our faith is, we scream out “WHY??” to the Lord. And during this Christmas season…”Why now???”
I have no answers. No one here does. Platitudes and statements like “It was her time”, “God wanted another angel”, “She’s in a better place”, “She’s with her husband and happy again” just don’t do it. We know all of that in our heads. But our hearts are shattered and crushed. Our spirits are destroyed. We don’t know how we’re going to be able to go on, and especially how we can get through this Christmas season. Because we aren’t happy or joyous. We’re miserable, devastated, and just don’t know how we’re going to get through the next day, let alone Christmas.
At times it seems we hear of more tragedies, more unexpected deaths, during the Christmas season than at other times. Or perhaps we just notice it more, because during this special season of joy and love, we want to dwell on the happiness, the joy and magic of the season, and only see the beauty and goodness that is supposed to be all around us. But when you’re hurting, when someone you dearly love is no longer here to help celebrate this special time with you, the tragedy and the grief are magnified, and finding the Merry in Christmas is almost impossible. You just want it to be over.
I cannot give you answers to make it better, because, as I said previously, I have none.
I can tell you that you will all survive. You will mourn. You will cry more tears than you realized you had inside of you. You will question God. Scream at Him. Perhaps even tell Him you don’t believe He’s even there any more. And He’s not surprised at any of these reactions. I had many of those same reactions. But He’s heard them all before. From lots of us. And He will continue to hear these cries from others in similar circumstances until we all join Him in eternity. Where we will have answers to all of our questions before we even ask them.
For my friends, I can only offer our love, our prayers, our shoulders to cry on, our arms to hug them, and our ears and hearts to listen as they pour out their grief.
For anyone who has lost a loved one at Christmas, it’s a grief that’s magnified even more because of the season. Everyone is supposed to be happy. But you’re not, and with good reason. Let me tell you, it’s ok to be sad, and it’s ok to cry; you’re not the only one in this situation. You may think you will never enjoy another Christmas, but you will. Time is a great healer, and with the Lord’s help, you will get through this.
You will make new traditions, and remembrances to honor your loved one. There will be new memories. It will be different, and uncomfortable, for the first year especially, and for several years to come. But the reason for the Christmas season will always remain the same. And because of that, we will one day be re-united with our loved ones for all of eternity. And eternity is so much longer than our stay here on earth.
For anyone who’s gone through it already, you know the pain of going through that first Christmas without your loved one is unlike almost anything else. It was bad enough when you lost him or her. You didn’t think it could get any worse. Well, it really can’t….until you lose another loved one. But going through a holiday like Christmas for the first time without that special person, when so many memories are tied into that holiday, well, it can be one of the most emotional times of that first year.
For me, there were a lot of moments during that first December without my mother, which brought not only a rush of memories, but buckets of tears and a lot of streaked makeup running down my face. Even when you finally start to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit, those memories sneak in and hit you where it hurts the most.
But somehow the Lord always gives us certain “divine appointments” with others in similar situations who also need to know they’re not alone, and He sends them right into our path to make each of us feel a bit better.
He certainly did that for me that first Christmas without my mom. Shopping that year was extremely difficult. There were so many happy faces, heading out to buy gifts for loved ones. I was missing my mother terribly, and the last thing I felt was happy. Although I’d always had trouble deciding what to buy for my mother, there were certain items I could always get her that I knew she’d like. And of course, in every store I went in that first year, there was something I started to pick up, thinking I’d get it for her. Then I’d remember, she isn’t here anymore, and it stayed on the shelf.
One evening when I was trying to shop, I overheard a lady in a gift shop talking to a friend on her cell phone about some of the Willow Tree angels she was thinking about buying. (I also collect them and had given several to my mother.) She’d made a comment to the store’s manager about how she could find the gifts she needed for her friends, but she just couldn’t get into Christmas this year. The Lord prompted me to speak up, and I said, “Neither can I.” She asked why, and I told her about my mom.
Then she told me her husband had died two months ago, about the same time as my mother, and how much she was missing him. We talked about how we each felt for several minutes, and in that time, I knew I was ministering to someone who needed comfort more than I did. She tearfully made a comment about coming in the store to look for angels, and I told her we’d both found one. Both of us cried and ended up hugging each other, like old friends. I guess the people in the store thought we were a bit crazy, but I really didn’t care.
We’d never seen each other before in our lives. Obviously we both needed to share our grief with someone we didn’t know, because Christmas is meant to be shared with loved ones more than any other holiday. Why I didn’t exchange information with her I don’t know. But I pray she has found her peace as well.
How do we make it through one of the most difficult holidays during our first year of grief? Unfortunately there are no easy answers, no right or wrong ways to survive the season. Even now, after nine years, when I stand in the kitchen making cookies, or planning Christmas dinner, or writing out a Christmas shopping list my mother’s name isn’t on anymore, or hearing “Little Drummer Boy” or “Silent Night”, it still brings back bittersweet memories, as well as a few tears.
May I never reach the point of not remembering.
And may I always find someone new to share a bit of Christmas hope and love with, just at the moment they need it the most.
Over the last month I’ve had three close friends lose their mothers. Two were expected, although it does not make the loss any less painful, but one was most definitely not expected. It was a total shock; unexpected, and without warning. And the lives of those left behind to mourn and grieve were forever and irreversibly changed.
Going on with everyday life after losing a loved one, parent, spouse, or even worse, a child, is one of the most difficult things to do. Reminders are everywhere, and those first days, weeks, months, are a constant reminder of what was, and what will never be again.
At this time of year, during the holiday season, it’s even worse.
That’s when holidays hurt. A lot.
We cannot help but remember back to the previous years, remember how we celebrated with our loved one, and in most cases not having any idea that it would be our last holiday with them.
That empty chair at the table is a painful reminder of what was lost. That missing face in family photos is very evident, a glaring hole in a canvas. Some families, at least that first year, set a place at the table for their loved one and put a picture of them there. Some will edit their holiday photos and insert their loved one’s picture in it somewhere.
For some, it helps. For others, it’s an even more painful reminder. Because their photos, along with our memories, are all that we have left of them. And in the first few weeks and months, those memories are almost as painful as the loss.
Fresh grief is the worst. And at the holiday season, it’s almost insurmountable.
If you haven’t experienced it, there is actually no way to really and truly understand the pain someone is feeling. It’s almost a physical ache, a knife in your stomach that you can’t pull out; a pain in your chest that overwhelms you.
Well-meaning friends try to make you feel better, but again, unless they’ve been through it, they honestly do not know the depth of your pain. All you can do is accept their condolences, and thank them for what they say, because they do mean well, and want to help. Yes, we know he or she is in a much better place, but right now, during this holiday season, we want them with us to share just one more day of memories!
To those of you who are wondering how to help your grieving friends at this time of year, I can offer several suggestions. Be sure to reach out to them, let them know you’re thinking about them. Offer to take them to lunch, or meet for a cup of coffee. If you haven’t been in their shoes, don’t be afraid to preface your conversation with something like, “I don’t know exactly how you’re feeling, and I can only imagine. If you want to talk, I’m here for you.” Remind them as well as show them you care. And make sure they’re not going to be alone, especially on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. Because those two days can seem to be two weeks long when you’re grieving.
The first holiday season is the roughest. I know. All too well.
When you’re grieving, holidays can really hurt.
But take heart…it does get easier. Time heals the emptiness and your pain will be eased. You will never forget them, but you will learn to manage your memories.
Be thankful you had them for the time you did. Be thankful you have your memories. Be thankful for the love you shared.
Hold the ones still with you close, and make as many memories as you can. Because you never know when you’ll need them.
When my friend’s child was killed in an auto accident?
When I miscarried my baby?
When my husband/wife was dying from cancer?
When my child was born with a life altering, debilitating illness?
When my friend was abducted and brutally murdered?
When my husband left me for another woman, leaving me totally broke and homeless?
When my sister had surgery and became a paraplegic as a result?
When my best friend’s grandchild died from SIDS?
These are all good questions. Some I’ve asked. Some were asked by my friends.
The answers? Those are not up to me to even begin to try and answer. Because I’m not God. Only He knows the answers.
But in our most troubled times, times of great turmoil, unimaginable sorrow and pain, all we can do is cry out to the Lord for answers.
And sometimes there are none. There’s only a deafening silence. Which makes us think He isn’t listening to us. That He doesn’t care. And we suddenly feel we have absolutely no one whatsoever to turn to. And we descend into the deepest void we’ve ever been in.
Because we KNOW we’ll never recover. There’s truly no way to recover.
The good news is…we do recover. Slowly. Sometimes extremely slow. Sometimes it’s so slow we don’t realize we’re recovering.
But, we still ask, “God, where were you? And why didn’t you intervene and stop this??”
And still we have no answers.
We won’t have them until the day we meet Him face to face.
But we do know, although there are times we find it very difficult to keep believing and remembering, that God loves us. All of us. But God is not a master puppeteer who controls us all from above. He doesn’t pull our strings and make us do His bidding. He doesn’t force us to do things. He allows us to make our own choices, and our own mistakes.
Sometimes the choices we make impact other people in ways that affect them horribly. And sometimes things just happen. And we never know why.
But remember that deep void you found yourself in after that tragedy? You weren’t alone. The Lord was with you, comforting you, loving you, holding you, collecting your tears. He knew your pain, and yes, He could have stopped it. But at what cost to so many others? This is the hardest question of them all. Is He supposed to pick and choose from all our prayers and pick the ones He wants to answer because He loves us more than our neighbors?
I think not.
God does not give us trouble. That’s not who He is.
Our troubles come from life. From the actions of others around us. The Lord even told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Notice how He didn’t say, “I will save you from all your troubles so you won’t have any, and your entire life will be easy.”
But He did say, “Come to me, all you who are tired and weary, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) That’s faith, and hope, and love. A promise to be held in heavenly arms that give us comfort when we need it the most. “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you, and you will be comforted.” (Isaiah 66:13) And He does. If we only let Him.
Where was God when all those bad things happened? Right there. Beside you. Carrying you. And holding you. Helping you through the pain and sorrow.
And one day, you will be equipped to help someone else survive a similar and sometimes tragic event in their life. Because you’ll know how God pulled you through with the help of others around you.
This post was written by a very dear friend of mine, Linda Salzman, in memory of her beloved granddaughter, who passed into the arms of Jesus on November 16, 2011. It is long, but it is from her heart, and I encourage every one of you to read it.
“In celebration of the life of Jazlyn Grace Smith.
We only had her for 3 short months, but she forever changed us. You will both laugh and cry as you read these words, and it will be a bit lengthy. But it has to be to tell her story and ours. Our prayer is that through your tears and your smiles, you will be blessed and encouraged with how God walks us through those things we think we can never endure.
Jazlyn Grace Smith…. Butterfly Girl… Jazzy Jazz… Our Princess with the crooked smile… Here we are marking the 5th anniversary of the day that will be forever etched in our hearts…. The day we had to say “See You Later” to our beautiful little baby girl.
The morning came with no warning. No chance to say good bye.
Life suddenly changed. For your mom, who thought she was going into your room to wake you up to start the day, and ended up doing CPR instead. For your dad, who received the phone call that literally made him feel like his heart stopped; this could not possibly be true! For your brother Josh who was awake and getting ready for school, and who still struggles with the helplessness and pain he was feeling,
…and for her little brother Jayden who was too young to understand everything that was happening.
For all your aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents…for all the loving friends on both sides…life changed. Not only did it change, but it seemed to stop.
Phones were ringing, and news that sent us into shock and disbelief were spoken.
How could this be true? God would never allow such a thing to happen.
It had to be a mistake and everything would be alright.
But it was not a mistake. And nothing was alright.
As I write this post, the song “God is a Good, Good Father” is playing and the tears are streaming from my eyes. I remember how God walked us through those dark days when I struggled with wondering if He really was “a good, good Father.”
Being a Pastor somehow made it harder. Because I was being asked questions I had no answers for. Those questions were coming from our family, and that unexplainable place of grief. Not only did I have no answers, but my heart felt cold towards God.
That day my mind shut off, and I couldn’t seem to get a straight thought on how to pack to leave for Florida to be with my daughter and her family.
When I spoke to my daughter Stephanie on her way to the hospital in the ambulance and heard the shock and pain in her voice, and heard the wail of the sirens over her tears, it broke my heart in two… I couldn’t fix this. Her sister Jennifer called me, and I could not understand her words through her sobs.
My husband and I were in total shock and disbelief.
I vaguely remember being on my knees and screaming and pounding the floor.
My son Shaun and his wife Kaitlin were trying to comfort me, while in shock themselves.
Jazlyn’s grandmother Penny had called, and her voice sounded hollow with grief. Jazlyn’s grandfather Dave and her Aunts Kelly and Krysta and their husbands were all in the same place we were. Our other grandchildren as well were in total shock and disbelief. How do you digest the news that this beautiful 3 month old sweet baby girl; the one we had all the plans of making such memories with; of watching grow up; was gone?
SIDS comes suddenly and without warning.
The days following that phone call are still a blur at times.
The trip to Florida and all the phone calls in between took forever. My husband and I flew down there on the first plane we could catch, and my son Shaun and his wife drove. Stephanie called to say that police cars were lining her street when the family got home from the hospital. They had to separate them and ask their questions.
And I was told the detectives were so kind to them. Protocol had to be observed to make certain the cause of death.
That was the longest trip of my life. It seemed to take days.
I was so thankful for her family that could be there with her and Michael from the beginning.
Walking in the door was both a relief and heartbreaking.
Finally, we were there.
But as Stephanie ran towards me, and I grabbed her, and we sobbed together, and her husband Michael came and put his arms around us, I saw the grief and the pain in their eyes…I felt so helpless and so broken.
All I could seem to pray was, “God help us get through this.” But my prayers felt empty to me.
At one point, I felt compelled to go into Jazzy’s room and sit on her floor. I walked in and shut her door behind me and just sat there. I smelled her sweet baby smell in that room. I looked at her bassinet and saw her stuffed animals and toys. I picked up her pink blanket that Stephanie let me keep, and I buried my face in it and I sobbed.
Those kind of tears go beyond any I had ever cried before.
I wanted to be strong for my daughter and her husband, but at that moment, sitting on Jazzy’s floor, with my face buried in her blanket, that is when it became real to me. The shock was wearing off. It was as if I had been given a sedative that was now wearing off, and in the place of shock and disbelief, came the deepest grief I have ever felt.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t pray. All I could do was sob from the deepest part of my being.
Part of my mind was trying to say “get up and go back out with everyone before you’re missed,” but I could not move. I’m not sure how long I sat there. I do remember walking into the kitchen and trying to hide, and all of a sudden, Stephanie and Michael were in there with me, holding me and we all cried together.
I truly thought my heart would break into a thousand pieces.
The days following were almost more challenging.
When we had left to join the family for Florida, I thought I would be the speaker at her service. They did not have a church home in Florida yet, even though they had been looking for a while.
God’s grace came in the form of the amazing people and leaders from Freedom Destiny Church. My daughter’s ultrasound tech was a member there, and when she heard the news, she rallied her church family. And they began to come around us all with such love! Food was brought every day for the next two weeks or more. They called, and they visited. These strangers to our family became family, and they still are today.
The next few weeks were filled with calling the medical examiner’s office many times as they would not release her body until the autopsy was completed.
Finally, one day I called them and for lack of better words, I had a breakdown session on the phone.
We were unable to plan her service, or even see her, until they released her. And I told their office they were keeping us in a type of excruciating limbo.
The next day she was released by the medical examiner, and we were finally able to go to the funeral home.
That was so very hard, and as we walked through the front door, an assistant greeted us and we asked to see Jazlyn. He was very kind and pointed to our left, and there she was in a tiny casket. Stephanie ran to the casket and buried her face into Jazlyn’s and sobbed over and over…”My baby…my baby…!” She looked like so beautiful, and it seemed she was just sleeping.
Michael was wonderful and tried to comfort Stephanie, but there was no way he could. He was so grieving himself, and I could see the look of helplessness on his face.
Jayden didn’t understand. He kept calling her name, and wanting to kiss her.
We all stood there around her casket. It was like experiencing those first hours all over again.
The only thing was, there was no shock now. We knew it was real.
As we left to go home, we all felt like we were somehow leaving her there. Alone.
Stephanie and Michael made the decision to have family pictures taken with her. Some people may not understand that, and it was hard to do, but now that we have those photos, we would not trade doing them for anything. Those are precious pictures, and they always will be.
Those next days were filled with how to possibly plan her service.
Freedom Destiny Church so surrounded our entire family and helped us navigate through the difficult planning and details that had to be made.
Stephanie had wanted to get something very nice and special to wear to her daughter’s funeral, which meant she had to go to the mall and pick something out.
As we walked towards the doors of the mall entrance she said to me, “I’m going to pass out. I can’t do this.” And I had to be firm with her and force her to keep going.
I knew on the day of Jazlyn’s service, it would be so important for her to look beautiful, and so we pushed ahead. Her sister wanted me to take Stephanie home, but I knew in my heart how important this was.
The first store we stopped in had exactly what she needed, and I know that was God.
As we were all in the dressing room helping her, she broke down and cried and the sounds that came out of her could be heard by everyone in the dressing room area. But we got through it, and finally left the mall.
The day of Jazlyn’s service came, and her parents dressed up and looked so wonderful; it may sound strange, but that somehow brought them a sense of comfort.
Her cousin Bri and her Uncle Robert and Aunt Jen had put together a beautiful video tribute to her. It was so very sweet and made us cry, but it also made us smile.
Memories were spoken and shared. Her Grandmother Penny wrote a special poem, and I shared some things that were on my heart.
The funeral home director said he had never seen such a sweet service for a baby that was so well done in all his years there. Freedom Destiny Church did a beautiful reception afterwards for her, and they were there at her service to speak and to love on all of us. What a tremendous blessing and comfort that was.
As the service concluded and we walked outside into the sunshine, the sight of the pall bearers carrying that tiny white casket to the graveside was so surreal. It felt like watching a movie that wasn’t really happening.
A few nights later we all went to the cemetery. It was Thanksgiving night, and after we ate dinner, or shall we say went through the motions of eating, we all knew we had to go to the cemetery. Our family knows that only her body was put in that grave, and she is with Jesus, but we were compelled to go. It brought us a sense of somehow being close to her. As the family gathered around her grave, I decided to take the smaller children over on the sidewalk to try and keep them a little occupied. And all of a sudden I looked up and saw the family gathered around the tiny grave with the lights from our cars shining on that gravesite. And as the car lights lit up the area where they were standing and shined on the spot she was buried, it was such a feeling of “this just can’t be true!” that flooded my heart.
It didn’t seem possible, and I asked God, “How did we ever get here?”
When I walked back over to them, Michael asked Jayden, who was still just a toddler, “Where is Sissy?”
Jayden looked straight up into the night sky that was filled with beautiful stars and pointed his finger towards Heaven. The look on his face was a look you have when you see someone you know, and I believe God let him see her.
That Sunday we went to church for the very first time since Jazlyn died, and I didn’t want to be there. I was struggling so much with my faith.
I felt cold inside, and I told God I didn’t want to be there. My emotions scared me. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and he said, “Linda, when praise becomes a sacrifice.” All of a sudden, I felt as though my body was turned to face to my left, and as that happened, I looked and saw my daughter Stephanie and my son in law Michael, holding hands, and their other hands were lifted straight up to God, and with tears streaming down their faces, they were praising Him.
I tapped Stephanie on the shoulder, and when she looked at me, it was a look filled with such pain and agony. And yet I saw a peace on her face. I told her I wanted to be like her when I grew up.
The following days found us all on autopilot and stumbling to find our way.
And yet, we prayed and we held onto God as best as we could.
When we had to leave to return home, it was so very hard. Saying good bye to Stephanie and Michael and the kids, and her sister Jennifer and her family, was emotionally almost impossible. Shaun and Kaitlin had had to leave before us to return to work, and that was so difficult for them as well.
Our family was drained in every way possible. We were broken. I would like to say that we were so filled with faith, but that would not be the truth. It shook us to our very core.
It was at our lowest point, after Jazzy’s funeral, and when things quiet down and the world keeps going on, and you have to go through the motions of life once again, that some amazing things began to happen.
We had just launched Lions Heart Ministries three days before Jazzy died, Stephanie and Jennifer came that day to surprise me. Little did we know how soon life would change.
That first Lions Heart meeting we had after returning home was bittersweet.
As I shared our story, which was becoming a testimony without my knowing it, many were being encouraged and blessed by hearing how God had kept us, and how He was healing our hearts in the midst of such pain. They were relating it in their own lives, and some that had lost children of their own were getting healed by hearing our story. They were relating in different ways to feelings of helplessness in the face of agonizing trials, and they were being released from the guilt of having felt like their faith was but a shred, and of being angry at God and not understanding “why?” We had so many people share with us about extreme things they had walked through, and how they, too, had struggled with their faith. They shared with us that they felt safe with us. And God was beginning the healing process in us.
About a month after we returned home, God gave me a vision of her. She was older, and she had flowing long blonde hair like her mother’s. She was running through a field of flowers, and her face was radiant.
A few days later, I told Stephanie about the vision, and she had been given the exact same one! [And I had it, too.] Then I read a post Shaun had written on Facebook about her, and it described the vision.
My granddaughter Kaitlin went to her Mother and said, “Mommy, if you look into the light, you can see Jazlyn. She is playing with her dolls.”
My grandson Jayden would just start laughing for no reason as though he were seeing someone.
My daughter Jennifer was having butterflies visit on a daily basis.
Stephanie and Michael told a story about a nurse in the ER that had taken Stephanie by the hand and led her over to the bed as they were working on Jazlyn; and put their two hands together.
Michael said he remembered walking over to the bed, but there was no nurse there. We know it was an Angel.
Butterflies would land on us and not move. That may not sound like such a big deal to some, but we knew it was God comforting us.
And more and more people were sharing how our story was such an encouragement to them to keep on going, no matter what they were going through.
Was it easy? No. The days were filled with memories, and tears still flowed for no reason at all, and very often.
Stephanie and Michael struggled so much with thoughts of… “What could I have done different that night…?” The truth is – nothing. There is nothing anyone could have done different.
Losing our precious Jazlyn caused us to begin to press into God.
You see, we know that one day we will spend eternity with our Butterfly Girl.
And we began more and more to share her story and the message of salvation.
Stephanie and Michael were blessed in the next few years with two more children. Jayce, who is such a sweet boy of almost four years old. And Journee Grace who has her big sister’s middle name. She is 19 months old and quite a little character.
Jazlyn has two more cousins added to the family now, Adelyn and Noah. Precious little ones and all her cousins are growing up so fast!
It is our hearts’ desire to start a SIDS foundation and help other families who will walk this way, not only as a result of SIDS, but in any area.
Yes, life has gone on. It must. But we were forever changed by our beautiful blue eyed Princess. We can laugh now with memories of her, but we still cry as well.
We wonder what she would have been like. There will always be an ache in our hearts and a missing piece.
But we will testify to the goodness of God! Because we would not have traded one moment of those 3 months we had with her for anything in the world!
She is playing at the feet of Jesus and waiting for us to one day join her.
Our family would like to thank all our friends who have walked with us on this journey! To thank you for your prayers and your love! To thank you for knowing you did not have to say a word, but just love us. Thank you Jaelyn Steverson for the Angel you are, and the love you have shown keeping her graveside watched over and full of flowers!
Thank you to all our extended family and to Freedom Destiny Church!
You were all love in action!
And thank you to Jesus! Our Heavenly Father.
In the times we could never understand, You carried us in Your arms. You knew where we were and what we were going through. You showed us so many signs along the road of Your never- ending love! Thank you Jesus that we are guaranteed to spend eternity together!
And I want to say “Thank You” to our family. We are not perfect, not even close, but I love all of you with all my heart.
Stephanie and Michael, I know Jazlyn is proud that you are her parents. God picked you both just for her. He gave you a special treasure, and you watched over her well!
Josh, you are the oldest, and memories are hard, but you were a great big brother!
There is so much more to her story, but that will be written later.
As this closes, I go back to the title. This is amazing grace. This is unfailing love…
We pray our story has encouraged you to keep walking through whatever storms that may come your way. Knowing that is not the end of your story, just like it isn’t the end of hers. For truly, we are here but for a short time; we are just passing through.
Heaven is our home but we are here to make a difference. Thank you Jazlyn Grace Smith for making a difference in all our lives.
Always and forever. To the moon and back…”
Blessings and prayers to this entire family! I love you all so much!
If we could only know for sure that final visits are really final visits, what would we do differently? What more would we say? How would we feel?
“I should’ve said this…..”
“I should’ve asked her more about my dad, about their life together before I was born, and how their lives changed after I was born, and how she really felt about finally being a mom.”
“I should’ve taken her a basket of flowers, or a tray of her favorite cookies.”
“I should’ve said I was sorry for what I said years ago that caused us not to speak for so long.”
“I should’ve been a better daughter/son…”
“I should’ve said ‘I love you’ one more time….”
For me, with my mother, I should’ve asked her how she was really feeling about what she could be facing. I wanted to know – but I really don’t think I could have handled it at the time. I thought it was a conversation that could have waited. I wanted it to be a conversation that could’ve waited. So we never had it.
Unfortunately we don’t usually know the exact day and time of that last, coherent visit. The last time we’ll be able to have a conversation with them. Only God truly knows, although we can certainly get a feeling in our spirit, that we know that we know. That we KNOW. In retrospect, it’s a good thing. Could we actually bear it at the time, knowing it was the last time we’d have a conversation with our loved ones? Sometimes we know. And sometimes we don’t.
Recently a good friend of ours lost her mother. Without any warning. She had their regular conversation with her mom on Tuesday night. On Thursday afternoon she received a call that her mother had been found dead. Fortunately their last words to each other with that last call had been “I love you.”
I was fortunate enough to have talked to my mother on the phone a few hours before she left us. I’d had a good conversation with her, and was quite hopeful that she was finally doing much better, and she was so looking forward to our visiting her the next day. My last words to her were “I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.” And two hours later she was gone.
Many people are fortunate enough to be with their loved ones when they leave and graduate to heaven. But so many more of us are not. The Lord has His reasons. Or perhaps our loved ones wanted it that way. Who are we to question, even though we do? Questioning doesn’t make us any less faithful. It doesn’t make us hurt any less. It just reminds us that we’re human.
And in our human-ness we can’t help but think of all those conversations we wish we’d had. We play them over in our minds and try to imagine what our loved ones would have said to us. We can almost hear their voices in our minds, answering our questions.
About a month ago a very close friend of mine lost her mother. Theirs had not always been the best of relationships, and she always told me she’d envied the relationship I’d had with my mother. Last week I received this letter from my friend in an email, and she has given me permission to share it to show that even a badly broken relationship can be healed, as long as both parties are willing to work towards it.
This is an excerpt from her story that has been included in my book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart,” due to be published by the end of November.
“Dear Children, I wanted to write a little bit about your grandmother who passed away.
As you know she was my true mother, and the mother of Ken, Craig, and Elaine. She was blessed with four children. She lost custody of my brothers and me when I was five years old, and Elaine had short terms in foster care.
Through the years, and with Grandpa’s multiple marriages and long term relationships, you met a few “mom’s” who were actually stepmothers. You called them “grandma.”
My real mother loved her children; however she had multiple emotional problems that made mothering too challenging and overwhelming for her. She suffered, among other things, from mental illness, narcolepsy, and manic depression which actually required shock therapy several times in her life.
Back in the 1950’s, mental illness was not fully understood, and most people were not equipped to deal with a young mother who was so depressed she was unable to properly care for her babies and young children. We went hungry; our diapers were often unchanged; and the house was usually completely unkempt or not cleaned.
Unfortunately my dad did not have the patience or understanding to help my mother or cope with her problems. She became addicted to prescription medications, specifically amphetamines and barbiturates. When our dog had puppies, they were named after the drugs. Isn’t it weird that I remember that?
My father was not easy to be married to; he had a very harsh side, and was cruel to my mother. He must have taken her to a doctor for her to have gotten those medications, and tried to get her help, but she needed much more than that.
My brother Ken, being the oldest, remembers the most of it, and the traumatic childhood experience left scars on all of us as well as a sense of fragmentation.
My parents divorced when I was about 5 years old, right after my kindergarten year. My dad was awarded custody of us. At first we were able to see my mother, but not very often. After one of our visits to see her, something bad must have transpired, because after that visit I did not see my mother for 9 years until I turned 15.
My mother did finally marry again to a nice man named Tom, and they had my sister Elaine.
Through either my dad’s own doing, or whether on advice from an attorney or psychiatrist, he stopped allowing visitations with my mother. To my knowledge this was not done through any legal channels or court order.
I sneaked around to try and communicate with her, and when I was in high school, I had her send her letters to a friend’s address.
Growing up, I never heard a good word ever spoken about my real mother. I grew up afraid I would be like this person who was spoken about so negatively. I tried to overcome it all and prove my stepmother wrong.
When I turned 18, I could openly begin communication and establish a relationship with my mother, and finally get to know my sister.
Many years went by where we only talked by phone or through letters, but not many personal visits, as I didn’t have finances for such travel. Though we didn’t see each other often, we became better and better acquainted; while we didn’t have the “normal” mother-daughter relationship, but we had a love for each other.
When my father died seven years ago, I had to sort through all of his papers. My dad had saved everything. Among those papers were letters from my mother to us; beautiful, eloquently written letters that were never given to us. If we had been given our letters, we would have known our mother loved us; that we weren’t abandoned, like we’d been told. I truly believe it would have made a big difference in our growing up to have had that security and knowledge. Why he kept them, I do not know.
There was even a letter from my mother’s mother to my father begging him to not take the children away from her. In that time period, that was how people handled these situations, and they believed it was best to sever all ties.
Yes, my mother was flawed, and did not have the easiest personality to live with. She could be difficult and self-centered; she certainly had had a hard life, and had to do many things to survive and sometimes made the wrong choices.
When Elaine called me and told me the medical team that had been caring for her had said nothing more could be done, and were recommending palliative care for her; I was compelled to go there to be with her. My mother and I had come a long way in building our relationship, and I wanted to say goodbye to her, and be there for Elaine, too. Your dad encouraged me to go. So I went. And I’m so glad I did.
Alone in my mom’s room holding vigil, I had a compelling moment; I needed to forgive my mother. I laid my hands on her forehead, and said, “Mother, I forgive you, and I love you.”
My mother passed away the next morning; I will always believe she was waiting for me, and waiting to hear those words.
I called Ken and let him know that our mother had passed away. Regardless of their broken relationship, I wanted him to know. The next day he called me and said, “I’m not a praying man, but I said a prayer for her that, “I hope she is in a better place, and I forgive her.”
The power of speaking those words of forgiveness cannot be adequately expressed with my words.
I am sorry you could not have known her as your grandmother, and become more acquainted. My mother always asked about all of you; she was interested in your lives’ and cared very much about you. All of your pictures were in her room. She was proud of each of you.
I fortunately learned to embrace the good things about my mother these last few years, and learned not to dwell on her shortcomings. After all, we all have them. I am so thankful I was able to do that and finally enjoy a good relationship with her in these last years. We had so many fun, memorable days together, and I wouldn’t have traded any of them.
My beautiful children, there is always something good, and very much to be thankful for.”
Nothing more needs to be said after this, except, “It’s never too late.” Thank you my dear friend, for writing this to your children, and thank you for sharing it so that perhaps someone else may be able to salvage such a relationship before it’s too late.
“Everyone hug your parents and tell them you love them. My heart was shattered into a million pieces tonight. Not sure how I’ll ever be whole again! I just want to wake up from this horrible nightmare.”
Words from another daughter who lost her mother totally unexpectedly. Without warning.
It’s never easy. Even when we’re expecting it, it’s terribly hard.
When it’s unexpected, it’s even harder. And when it’s your last surviving parent, that’s far worse. Because you’ve joined the adult orphan society, and you hadn’t even requested membership.
In the past eight months I’ve had two friends who lost their mothers unexpectedly. One actually found her mother dead when she went to pick her up for church. The other received the news just yesterday from one of her mom’s friends who’d found her at home on the floor, after not being able to reach her for a day or so.
The unexpected death of a parent, especially a mother, is traumatic. A thousand thoughts go thru your mind at the same time. What you should’ve done, how you should’ve been there and stopped it (which you couldn’t have), wondering how you’ll get thru the next hour, the next few days. The rest of your life….
You want to call her and talk to her, hear her voice again. You want to hug her again, and feel her hugging you back. And you want to wake up tomorrow morning and find out it was all a horrible dream. In fact, when you wake up the next morning, for just a few seconds you’ve forgotten, and everything’s fine.
Then you remember it isn’t fine. And won’t be again for quite a long time. The darkness comes over you, overwhelms you, and there’s no relief. You don’t know where to turn to make it better, because you can’t.
But you need your time to grieve. Time to be inconsolably sad. Time to take out all of the memories in your heart and your head and replay them. Because they’re suddenly all you have left of her. There’s an empty feeling of despair you can’t stop, and don’t think will ever go away.
But it will.
You will gradually, slowly, recover. Everyone recovers in their own time. In their own way. There’s no formula for it. There’s no way to stop the pain, because with loving someone that deeply, there comes that deep pain of loss.
We daughters experience it so strongly when our mothers leave us, whether expected or not. We were part of them, living inside of them, for nine months. And when they leave us, a part of us goes with them.
To my friend, I can only offer my heartfelt sorrow as I hear your sobs, your cries, your heartache. I can offer you a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to listen to your grief. I can offer my own stories of survival after that first devastating news sinks in.
I can offer my prayers and I can assure you that you will survive. Even though you don’t think you will right now.
“Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
But my friend, the night is long, and the morning seems to take forever to get here. The night in this case lasts far longer than the 8-10 hours we’re used to. It can last for months.
But when that morning finally starts to appear, with that first hint of pinkish light, you slowly begin to heal. Your tears have all been caught and saved, and the Lord begins to pour then back over you as a refreshing shower of his grace and love. A renewal you need so badly.
My friend, I can’t make it better, or easier. But I can assure you that one day you will once again be ok. It just doesn’t seem like it right now.
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. So much has happened since I got that phone call from my mother that Wednesday night ten years ago. Little did I know what that one phone call would mean; what events would be triggered. And how all our lives would be changing forever.
Sure, it was to be expected eventually, but to me eventually didn’t mean then. It meant a time somewhere in the future, or so I thought.
But the future comes at unexpected moments. Tomorrow is today’s future, just like today is yesterday’s future. And on it goes.
Sometimes it feels like just a few weeks ago. Sometimes I still feel like I can pick up the phone and call her. And sometimes I don’t think about it. That is, until I happen to see a photo that reminds me of that other part of our life, back in the past.
There will always be reminders, and moments I wish we could recapture. And I really wish I could tell Mom all about our lives now; the things she missed:
Our daughter Ashley’s college graduation.
The excitement of Ashley and Chris’ engagement, of planning their wedding and shopping for wedding gowns, and I believe Mom would have joined us on that shopping trip.
Sitting beside me, holding my hand, crying together, as Ben proudly walked our daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.
The excitement of Ashley and Chris announcing their pregnancy to us; with my first reaction being, of course, “I have to call my mother!” But there are no telephones in Heaven.
The fun and excitement of Ashley’s baby shower, and how proud my mother would have been to be the expectant great-grandmother!
Words cannot express how much I wish she could’ve shared the wonder and amazement as Ben and I saw our beautiful granddaughter for the first time, and how I briefly imagined I saw my own mother’s eyes looking back at me as I looked at baby Rachel for the first time.
And I so wish I could share my feelings with my mother about being a grandmother, because she always told me one day I’d understand.
We still ride through my hometown on our way to my favorite beach, but unfortunately we don’t go there nearly as often as we used to.
I still look at the house on the left on that road going into town, the house where I used to live, and wish it were still ours, even though I know we did the right thing by selling it. It doesn’t look the same, of course, and I’m sure it’s been remodeled on the inside as well. I prefer to keep my memories of it as it was. It wouldn’t be right to go through it now; it would be too painful.
One thing I don’t do very often is visit the gravesite. I don’t feel the urgency to do so. My memories live on in photographs and other rooms in my heart; the cemetery is not a place where our memories will ever live. It is not the place where my parents are now.
I also don’t regularly put flowers or wreaths on the grave anymore. That first year after we lost her, we did that regularly. And we’d talk to her, tell her how much we missed her. But it didn’t feel right. She wasn’t there to enjoy the flowers or hear us talk to her. We’d given her flowers for lots of occasions over the years, and she’d always told us flowers died, and not to waste our money on them. And trust me, I heard her in my mind telling me that each time I brought flowers to that grave!
We still honor her memory at Christmas by hanging her “Grandmom” stocking filled with the red silk roses she loved so much. This year there will be another stocking beside that one, one with the name “Rachel” on it, and my mother’s legacy will continue.
Yes, it’s been ten years. A long ten years. But I can honestly tell you, even though you may think you will never recover from your loved one’s death, you will. You will not forget them, and your heart will heal.