I’ve read so many articles written by beautiful hearts sharing their journeys, lessons, thoughts, and experiences along life’s path. This one touched me deeply I had to share.
Rest in peace, Kara. Thank you for sharing your beautiful heart with us.
Editor’s Note: On March 22nd, 2015, Kara Tippetts went home to be with Jesus after a long and difficult battle with cancer. While she was here, she touched so many lives, and helped people understand how you can find God, even in the midst of suffering, even in the midst of the mundane. Kara’s response to her terminal brain cancer was filled with grace, hope and peace. This devotional comes from her final book, And It Was Beautiful. We hope these words will speak to you in a special way today.
Life without a Bucket List
I can confidently say I don’t live with a long list of things I want to do, see or complete before I’m done in this place. I carried a dream for years of having a farm. I was in love with all things Wendell Berry. I could picture it, the life of routine created by the land and its rhythms.
But beyond that, I’ve never longed for having a list and checking things off. I’m happy with my old cars, my simple wardrobe, my lack of fancy things and vacations. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a good concert, but I also love an organic dance party in my kitchen. I love great food, but I also love a hot dog over the fire pit in my backyard. I love a hike in the mountains, but I also love a walk around the block with my people.
Last week, when I heard I may have another long road to travel on this journey, I turned to Jason and cried. I told him how day after day this place is losing its grip on me. Driving down the street, this place sometimes feels so [vulgar], so wanting my money without care for my heart.
Billboards blare at me what to buy, what to think, how to vote. But the tie that binds me here is relationships. Sickness makes those bonds more real, more important. It’s people who grip my heart.
Suffering has a way of exposing our theology, certainly our practical theology, where what we believe about God collides with where we live. My heart always hurts a little when someone hears my story and begins to question God’s goodness.
I have found that suffering makes my faith more childlike, more simple. Our ideas of God are not necessarily made bigger or more grandiose through suffering, but they are simplified as we wade through the unknown of what comes next.
Last week, in that unknown, I was smooching on [my son] Lake and the thought hit me that I won’t be around to help him navigate his first heartbreak. I was in a public place and I nearly lost my footing because of the fear that gripped me in that moment. I looked up and saw my growing girls and was almost suffocated by the thought of who will help them during the awkward years of puberty. Shouldn’t it be me? That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? Can’t I stay and be here for them when they need me?
The truth is none of us know the length of our lives. So we pray for daily bread and say thank you when it comes. For today I have a little boy who will cross the room to give me a hug. I have a baby girl who gives me 10 kisses when I ask for five. I have a preteen who still holds my hand in public, in front of her friends even. I have a second born who loves to tell me every tiny detail of her day. I have a guy who makes coffee just like I like it.
A bucket list? No, I don’t need one. I’m so rich. It’s relationships that matter. And for me, paying attention to the precious gift of today is the only thing on my list.
Dear Lord, thank You for the blessings that I have, the friends, family, relationships, even the material possessions I own. But Lord, please let my heart not rest in these. Let my heart not grow hard, or grow weary when You decide that something should be taken from me. May You forever be my ultimate rock and resting place. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
This is a wonderful guest blog, covering a very difficult topic. Please give it a read and a share! Thank you, the “Diva”
I find myself again writing the most difficult of posts. Three years ago it was about one of my high school students who chose to take her own life. This time tragedy struck in our church youth group as on Tuesday we lost a 16-year old girl to the most unlikely of things for someone so young – cardiac arrest.
Her name was Elizabeth and she was a sweet, sweet girl. She was so pleasant to be around. Smiles adorned her face at every turn. And such a committed follower of Jesus.
So young…so healthy…so just getting started on life.
And then she was gone in a heartbeat.
You can read the account as shared by her mother on her Facebook page. As a parent it will make you want to hold your kids tight and cherish the moment. I sure did when my wife and I returned from the hospital.
The toughest part about being with the family at the hospital and helping them work through the funeral arrangements this week was that there are no answers. There are no answers to the “Why did this happen?” question. There are no answers to the “What happened (physically)?” question. There are no answers really at all to how this happened to a perfectly healthy young girl.
And because there aren’t it intensifies the hurt.
Maybe those answers will come one day but right now they are missing. And it’s really just left our entire church and all who know the family in fog. An answer starts you on the path to some closure. The absence of one makes the event linger in your mind.
How do you live through a tragedy when there are no answers? I really don’t know. What I would have to offer as advice would be shallow and simply a guess. Only those who’ve dealt with that are capable of giving an accurate picture of what it’s like.
One thing I do know for sure though is that you need help. You need help from family. You need help from friends. You need help from professionals like pastors and counselors who can lend an ear and offer perspective.
And you need help from God who is the author of answers and the only place to turn when there are no answers forthcoming from human minds.
Sunday night, the day after Elizabeth’s funeral, we held youth group at my house. It was tough because one of our members was missing but she was still on everyone’s mind. So as 40 of us sat and talked around a small campfire, I asked the question, “What have you learned this week?”
“Time is short,” said one.
Another shared, “Nothing is guaranteed. We have to make the most of the time we’ve been given.”
And then this, “We need each other. It’s been nice to see everyone pull together to help people in pain.”
By the time we walked away from our campfire gathering, that seemed to be the overwhelming sense of what our youth group came to terms with. That when there are no answers or when you are just dealing with junk in your life, you have to reach out and hold on to those dearest to you, whomever that may be.
If you have a moment today, lift up a short prayer for Elizabeth’s family. Pray they will find some answers to their questions. And pray that God’s strength and compassion will follow them for many days to come.
Questions: Have you ever dealt with a tragedy where there were no answers? How did you get through it? What’s the best thing a friend or family member has done for you when you were hurting? Are you making the most of the life you’ve been given? If not, how could you turn that around?
This is a good article from Healgrief.org about handling your grief when everything is reminding you of your loved one. I thought it would be an especially good share during this holiday season. Peace to you, Patti
Coping with loss is never a simple process. The initial feelings of loss do lessen over time, but they can be instantly brought back up into your life at the most random times.
ANOTHER GUEST BLOG: There’s a bunch of great bloggers out there!!!
I received an email yesterday from a Henry Augustine via Linked In, inviting me to participate in his first “Prose Anthology Challenge” , which asked writers to write 500 words on Death and from there, the top submissions would be published in its first Kindle Anthology.
I’m not entirely sure how Henry got my name but I clicked on the link, just like I arbitrarily click on all links because I firmly believe that if God didn’t want us to receive spam and have our bank accounts hacked, he wouldn’t have created the Internet in the first place.
Anyway, I read some of the submissions and they were all pretty heavy. Writing about heavy topics is not my thing so I thought I would submit 500 words on the lighter side of Death, something that focused on the more whimsical or positive aspects of ceasing to exist like not having to fill out a FASFA application ever again or being removed from the Lands End catalog database once and for all.
Long story short, it was short story long and I blew past the 500 word mark thus throwing myself out of the running in Mr. Augustine’s Kindle death anthology. But Henry’s loss is also your loss because I am posting my short story entitled, “Death Comes to Hohokus, NJ” right here and if you leave, I’ll find out where you live and provide your address to the good people over at Land’s End.
One last thing. After you read it and even if you absolutely hated it, please press “like” and leave lots of positive, wildly exuberant comments about how great it was because I had to explain to my wife why I was writing this when I should have been working and she wasn’t buying it.
Here’s the story:
Death Comes to Hohokus, New Jersey
The doorbell rang and I heard my daughter Claire holler, “I’ll get it!” in that sweet, high pitched voice that made my dog Lester’s ears shoot straight up into the air as if he’d been poked with a fork. Claire’s very responsible for a three-year old. Loves to chip in, always asking my wife and me if she could make our bed while we were still in it.
I was in the den splayed out on the couch with a blanket pulled up to my chin.
There was more than eight inches of wet snow on the ground outside and still falling but inside a golf match was on and while I don’t play golf or like golf, I watch it religiously during the winter because winter in New Jersey is so miserably cold, grey and depressing, I take great comfort in knowing that somebody somewhere is enjoying 80 degrees of pure sunshine and lush greenery even if it’s not me.
I felt his presence before he entered the room, and when it’s your turn, trust me, you will too. Lester’s hackles were up but instead of growling he whimpered and disappeared behind one of the curtains.
Claire entered the den holding his hand. “Dad, your friend Denny is here. Came to say hi.”
“It’s Death, sweetie, not Denny,” Death said.
The whole nine yards: skeleton, black hooded cloak that went all the way to the floor, scythe clutched in one bony hand, floated, didn’t walk.
Claire furrowed her brow for an instant, and I knew she was making sure the name revision stuck. Claire has a habit of furrowing her brow when she’s trying to remember something. I watched her silently mouth the word “death”.
“Ok, bye, Death, bye Dad!” she said, sprinting out of the room.
I suddenly realized I was standing now but with no recollection of how I got there. The blanket was still wrapped around my legs which were shaking so hard I started to vibrate across the room until the coffee table stopped me.
“What is this? Is this some sort of a joke?” I asked, knowing full well this wasn’t a joke.
“Depends on your sense of humor. I hear some people think Gilbert Gottfried is a genius. Let’s keep it simple. I’m Death, your time is up and you are coming with me. Also, contrary to what you heard, I don’t play cards. Or board games.” He raised his hands to make air quotes. “The ‘engaging Death in games of chance and winning your soul back’ business? Sorry. Strictly Hollywood. Got it? Good. Let’s go.”
I fell back on the couch landing on the remote. The channel changed from golf to TCM. Citizen Kane was on. Death and I looked at the screen. Ironically enough, Orson Welles was on his deathbed. “Rosebud,” Orson Welles gasped.
“Citizen Kane!” Death said. He sat down next to me, suddenly engrossed. “Rosebud was his sled. Have you seen it?”
“No. Always meant to,” I said.
“Sorry for ruining the ending but where you’re going, it’s really more of a favor than a spoiler alert,” Death said.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I don’t even know what I’m dying from. Am I dying from something?
“That’s impossible! I got a clean bill of health from my cardiologist just last week. Do you have any idea how much I spend a year on fish oil? Are you sure you got the right guy?”
Death suddenly stood up, raising his scythe menacingly over his head and in an instant his eyes flashed from black to fiery red coals. Remember when you were a kid and you said or did that one thing that pushed your parents over the edge and you could actually see how someone who loved you unconditionally could also be capable of murdering you in cold blood? That’s how this felt when I crossed the line with Death. I pressed my back as deep as I could into the couch in a futile attempt to evade the heat emanating from his eye sockets as his stare bored into me.
“Do you dare mock me? I have the power to make you suffer great pain if that’s your preference.”
“No, that is definitely not my preference,” I said. “I’m sorry and I wasn’t mocking you. Could you just do me one small favor and show me the work order or whatever it is you people, or if it’s just you, you use to keep track of everything? Just do that and I’ll go with you peacefully, I swear.”
“A work order? You’d like to see some documentation, is that it?”
“Yes, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Death’s eyes returned to their original, and now surprisingly reassuring, black eternal void state. He laid his scythe across my coffee table, gently sliding the last glass of Glenfiddich I’d ever have out of its way. “You’re what we in the death collection business call ‘high maintenance’. Have you ever been called that before? High maintenance?”
I watched as Death reached deep inside his cloak and produced an iPhone 6. He opened an app with a tap of his bony finger.
“You have an iPhone?” I asked.
“Who do you think invents technology, Einstein? I’ll give you a hint. Same person that invented Einstein.”
Death clicked and swiped for several seconds while unconsciously singing the chorus to “Who Are You?” by The Who.
“Alright, Mr. Skeptic, here we go. You are Edward Gaines. Age 61. 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus, New Jersey. Ring a bell? Satisfied? Let’s go.”
Death snatched the scythe off the table and stood up, motioning me toward the door. “After you, Eddie,” he said.
I couldn’t believe it. “That’s not me,” I said. “You got the wrong guy! My name is Michael Carmody. I’m 42 years old, not 61 and this is 27 Canterbury Place! Not Court!”
“Impossible,” Death said.
“Claire!” I shouted. “Can you come here?”
I watched Death pull out his phone and begin retracing whatever iPhone steps he took to end up in my den in Hohokus, New Jersey. Claire trotted into the room and suddenly stopped short.
“Dad, the curtain’s shaking.”
“It’s Lester. Claire, tell Death what your full name is and our address.”
“Claire Augusta Carmody, I’m three and I live on 27 Canterbury Place, Hohokus, New Jersey. Wait. Did you ask me to say how old?”
“It’s fine. And what’s my name?”
“Michael Carmody,” she said. “Need me to vacuum anything?”
“No. We’re good,” I said, watching as she ran her finger across one of the windowsills checking for dust and being somewhat disappointed in not finding any before leaving the room.
Death held his phone in front of his face. The fiery red coal eyes were back. Suddenly, I could sense there was another presence in the room. Disembodied but palpable just the same.
“What can I help you with,” the voice asked. I recognized it. It was Siri! Even people in the afterlife use her, I thought to myself. No wonder Apple stock is up to $127 already after the split.
“Directions to 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus, New Jersey,” Death said.
“Sorry Death, I didn’t quite get that,” Siri said.
“I’m shocked,” Death muttered sarcastically. “Directions to 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus New Jersey.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t find 27 Canterbury Court, Hocus, New Jersey,” Siri said.
“Not Hocus, Hohokus! Hohokus,” Death screamed into his phone. He glared at me. “Why don’t you people have normal town names in this state like Sacramento or Buffalo?”
“Maybe you should direct your anger at Siri,” I said. “She’s the one that screwed up your directions and now my afternoon.”
Death removed the hood of his cloak and scratched the back of his head using the tip of his scythe. I had the feeling he was in uncharted territory.
I went back to the couch, got under the blanket and flipped the channel back to the golf match. Scottsdale, Arizona. Not a cloud in the sky. All the spectators in short pants. I was already feeling warmer. Death approached.
“Look, I’m really sorry. This was a whole lot easier when we just used index cards. But nowadays everything is iCloud this and iCloud that. Would you believe I got an app on here that tells me what time low tide is on the Styx? I know I put you through a terrible ordeal. Is there any way I can make it up to you?’
I reached for my Glenfiddich, drained the glass and calmly set it back on the table. I looked Death right in the eye. “I don’t know,” I said. “You seem pretty good with that scythe. How are you with a snow shovel?”
What to Send Instead of Flowers
When my dad died there were more flower arrangements at the funeral home than we could count. Though we were overwhelmed by the support of friends and family that those flowers represented, the tradition of sending flowers has always struck me as a bit strange. Someone has died, so their friends and family all give them something that will die too. Hmmm . . .
Don’t get me wrong, my family is Greek and Greeks love flowers at funerals — the more the better. So I know that sometimes flowers are the perfect gesture after a death. But with my personal aversion to giving flowers after a loss there are a few alternatives worth sharing for those looking for alternatives. This is just a start, so if you have other ideas of what to send instead of flowers please leave a comment. We want as comprehensive a list as possible.
Check for an “in lieu of flower”
Sometimes families have already told you what you can do instead! Check the obituary, funeral home website, or call the funeral home to ask if the family has offered an “in lieu of flowers” suggestion.
Though this post may not sound like it, I am actually a plant lover! A tree or shrub the family can plant in memory of their loved one is a nice lasting memorial. Consider whether the family has a space for a tree or shrub and pick one that you feel would make a nice memorial. There are many beautiful memorial stones you can find here on the With Sympathy Gifts website. Even if a tree may be too much, these garden stones are a nice gift on their own.
Photos the Family Doesn’t Have
Many times as a friend or extended family member you may have photos that the immediate family does not have. Consider putting together a memorial album or CD of photos the family doesn’t have of their loved one. As the weeks and months pass they will likely be glad to have as many pictures as possible.
A Self-Care Gift
One of the most difficult things for people when they are dealing with the death of a family member is taking care of themselves. Giving someone a gift such as a gift certificate for a massage, manicure, or even a private yoga class (some instructors will come to your home) is a nice gesture that may help them take time for themselves. A self-care basket could also be nice if you don’t think they will be up for going out (think nice pajamas, bath items, a candle, a magazine, dvd etc). Consider the person who has experienced the loss – if they love movies or baseball, tickets to a game or a movie gift card may be more appropriate.
A Dedication or Donation
Consider a dedication or donation you could make that will reflect the life of that person, or your relationship with them. The options for this are endless – if this is a friend from high school or college, consider a memorial donation to that institution. If the person was involved in a church or community organization call to see if a donation could be made or an item dedicated. If the individual had any interest, from sports to art to animals and anything in between, seek a non-profit that may be working in those areas and make a contribution in their memory. Most places will send an acknowledgement to the family that a donation was made in memory, so make sure to check and provide the family member’s address.
A Memorial Guestbook
This is not just any guestbook! The Guestbook Store sells a customized memorial guestbook where those who attend a memorial service can sign not just their name, but also share a memory of the person and a special message to the family. The service is often a blur for families, so having this book will allow guest to share memories and messages that the family will be able to look back on later. Click here to check out their memorial book!
If your co-worker has lost someone and you are considering an alternative to flowers, consider donating a day of leave. Most companies only offer a couple days of bereavement time and, if their loss was not immediate family, they may receive no leave time at all. Donating a day can mean the difference between someone having to return to work the day after a funeral versus having a day or two to rest before returning to work. Check with your HR department to see if your company allows this and what the process is.
Something For the Kids
Though one of the first questions people will ask after a loss is how the children who were affected are doing, children are rarely considered when thinking of things that can be given to a family. Children can often feel forgotten with all the attention around a death and funeral. Any small gift can remind them that you are thinking of them. Think of the age and interest of the children – a stuffed animal (to cuddle with for comfort), a journal (to express feelings), coloring books, activity books, movies, or video games (to occupy themselves when everyone else is busy) are all easy suggestions that will let a child know you haven’t forgotten them.
When a loved one is ill or dies housework (understandably) gets put on the back burner. This can continue for weeks or months as we grieve. Immediately following a loss friends and family are often stopping by the house and it can be a big source of stress that the house hasn’t been cleaned up. A gift certificate to a cleaning service (even better, with an offer to call and get it scheduled) can be a relief to the family. You could offer to clean their home, but keep in mind that many people are self-conscious about their mess and would rather have a stranger do this than a friend.
Lawn Care Service
Similar to the above suggestion, many times the person who has died was the person mowing the lawn and taking care of other outside needs. Even if this is not the case, taking care of those things can be an unnecessary stress on the family. A gift certificate to a lawn care service (even better, with an offer to call and get it scheduled) is a thoughtful and useful gesture.
Book of Letters
One gesture we have seen and found incredibly meaningful is organizing friends to compile a book of letters. This is common when there are young children, as friends can write letters to the children about their parent, grandparent, or other family member. But this doesn’t need to be limited to children. A book of letters to a parent about their adult child can be extremely meaningful, as there are often many things their child has done and lives they have touched that the parents are unaware of. This type of book is minimal in cost (all you need is a nice binder and possibly some page protectors, or a bound book that each person writes directly in) but it requires a lot of effort and coordination in contacting friends and gathering the letters. This is a gesture many families will appreciate for years to come.
Food is a tricky one, though it is a common gesture sent instead of flowers (or in addition to flowers!). This probably requires its own post, but for now I will just say be thoughtful about how, when, and what you bring if you decide on food. Right after a death families are often overwhelmed with food. In a few weeks after the death a gift of food will probably be much more appreciated than right away, when the family has more casseroles than they can shove in the freezer. A nice basket of non-perishable foods can be nice, especially snacks they can offer to people who stop by unexpectedly. A good standby if you really want to stick with food may be a gift card to a local restaurant or carry out. Another nice offer would be to grab their grocery list and go shopping for them.
Flowers or Plants
If you decide flowers are the right thing for you to send, you can make this more thoughtful than a standard arrangement. First, consider the person who died – is there a plant, flower, or color than reminds you of that person for any reason? If so, that may be a nice choice. If not, decide if you want to send flowers or a plant. The plant is something the family can keep, though not all families will want or appreciate that. Then consider if there is a flower you have found particularly comforting. When we lost my dad someone sent an arrangement of all white irises. It was so beautiful and, for whatever reason, I found it so comforting. Though I rarely send flowers now after a death, when I do think flowers are the best gesture I will send white irises because they brought comfort to me.
Buy your self a gift:
If you are looking for concrete, helpful ideas for being a good friend to a griever, don’t miss our ebook: Guide to Supporting a Griever (without sticking your foot in your mouth). Don’t worry, it is cheap and jam packed with helpful info (no angels, rainbows, inspirational quotes, or fluff — just helpful tips). You can find it here on amazon:
These are just a few ideas. If you are looking for ways to support people after a death, check out our post on Supporting a Friend After a Death. If you are worried about what to say to a friend, you can check out our list of What NOT to Say After a Death for some guidance. If you have no idea what to write on your sympathy card check out our post onHow to Write a Sympathy Card.
The post today was from What’s Your Grief…
Many of you probably have other suggestions to add to this list, please leave your suggestion in the comments below. Thank you, from Patti, the Diva of Death
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.