Sunday, May 3, 2009

Life After Death

May 1, 2009

Four months ago today I lost my mom.

Four months ago I didn’t know if I would survive a month without her. Four months ago my life was upside down. My greatest fan, my biggest cheerleader, my unending fountain of support was gone. Gone. How would I make it without her? Who would I call or run to when I needed to hear that I am beautiful, talented and able to do anything I set my mind to? Who would listen to me go on and on about the joys and burdens of raising two children, and not just any two children – her grandchildren, her pride and joy. How would I ever overcome this overwhelming and unbearable sense of lost that invaded my EVERY thought? How could I find the words to help ease my children’s pain when I didn’t know how to begin helping myself?

And here I am, four months later. I am strong(er). I am wise(er). I am healing.

Grief is a complex emotion and I don’t pretend to understand it. But, in four months, here’s what I’ve learned about it. First, we all grieve differently. Grief looks different for different people. Part of this might be because when someone dies, we miss and mourn the loss of our relationship with that being. Our loss is different than anyone else’s. Consequently, don’t expect anyone to know exactly how you feel. They won’t. But on the other hand, you can’t understand their loss either. Because of all this, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve – other than to not do it at all.

As part of the process, I’ve found it helpful to think about all the unthinkables. What will Christmas be like? How will I celebrate my birthday without the giver of my life alongside me? What about the kids’ graduations, their proms, their winning mile runs, their last-second shots, and oh, their weddings. So I consider all these moments and the millions more in which I will ache for her and give anything to share with her. I cry now for what I have lost in my future. It is helping me cope with those moments when they occur, like Matthew’s 11th birthday and Madison winning the mile at the 7th grade track meet. These are great moments. They were meant to be shared. I hate not getting to see her face in those moments, so full of joy and pride. Oh, I loved getting to be a part of providing her with some of the best moments of her life.

I know the best moments here on earth pale in comparison to the joy Mom experiences now. I wonder what her days are like, and like the Mercy Me song says, I can only imagine. I wonder if she dances for you Jesus or to her knees does she fall. Does she sing Halleluiah or is she able to sing at all? I can only imagine. I can only imagine.

What I don’t debate in my head is how glorious her life is in eternity. I am confident that it truly is more incredible than I can imagine. Some things in life are worth waiting for. Heaven must be one of those things.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9)

With this confidence, I am learning to truly rejoice in Mom being in Heaven and me being here. With God’s grace, I am realizing the depths of my love for my Mom allow me to celebrate for her life apart from me. When she was lying in that hospital bed – part of herself here, the other in eternity – I kissed and held her and told her to go. I told her I was strong. I told her I could make it and I told her our Lord would be there to welcome her with open arms and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It was hard to say, but I meant it. My beautiful mother fought for me her whole life. I needed her to quit fighting and fly to Jesus. And it is because of my love for her that I smile when I think about the beauty that surrounds her every single moment. No pain, no disappointment. Only joy… and that makes me celebrate for her.

There have been days during the last four months that the uncertainty of what life looks like without her paralyzed me in fear and filled me with anger. During those dark days, I had to force myself to focus on the things of which I was certain; there was no more sorrow, no more pain for Mom. Our Lord had taken her “home” to be with Him. And this same God – the Creator of the Universe and all that is in it – was going to see me through this.

So he has. “When I am weak, You are strong.” (2 Cor. 13:9) He has been faithful to not only help me survive this tragedy, but to emerge from it with a stronger faith and desire to honor Him – and my mother’s memory – in all that I do.

Last night, the Man of My Dreams and I had dinner at a restaurant on the river in Branson. As we sat snuggled in a booth, my attention kept shifting between the older couple beside us and the view of the river in front of us. (Well I didn’t want to stare.) This couple was likely in their 70’s and on the surface seemed very put-together. They were stylishly and carefully groomed, so much so they would have been perfect for an advertisement of what the ideal retired couple would look like. But as I watched them, very little seemed perfect about their interaction. Although the semi-circle booth was perfect for snuggling beside one another, he sat in the middle alone; she sat to the side. In silence they sipped their white zinfandel. From time to time, he would try to initiate conversation, but with little response. “How’s your salad?” “Fine.” “Would you like dessert?” “No, I’m full.” There was no eye contact and little emotion. No body language that said, I am glad to be sharing this dinner with you.

Now in all fairness, maybe they were just exhausted after a long day of sight-seeing or traveling. And I am sure that there are times that I am having dinner with my family or the Man of My Dreams when people look over and think to themselves that I should have been left at home. But in that very moment, I just wanted desperately to walk over and gently tell them that I am so excited that they have this beautiful view to share together. I wanted to remind them that today is a gift and that there are no guarantees for a tomorrow. I wanted to tell them that my step-father would give anything to have his wife at the table with him one more time. I wanted them to live understanding they are the lucky ones.

Thinking about my mom, I see something in the landscape outside that four months ago I wouldn’t have noticed. The cool water in the White River combined with the warm humid air produced an interesting fog on the water. For a bit, the fog would was so thick that we couldn’t see the rest of the landing just a block away. It was around dusk and the dense fog was a peculiar sight. Then before I knew it, the fog began to thin and shortly we could see the beauty of the landscape before us.

“That’s kind of how grief works,” I told the Man of My Dreams, “The emotions of grief come over so intensely that it’s difficult to find your way in the midst of it. You can’t control it, you didn’t ask for it – it’s just there. It’s awkward and inconvenient. All you can do is work through it and eventually something happens to the fog. It eventually begins to lift. As it does, you begin to see life ahead of you and begin to imagine that with God’s help joy might be possible again.”

And this makes me wonder what I’ll learn in the next four months. What else does grief have to teach me?

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7)


  1. Robin you are such an inspiration. I told our women's group in one of our meetings this spring how overwhelmed I was this year by the amount of love and appreciation I suddenly had for my mom. It hit me hard for some reason, and I hope that it is mostly because God wants me to treasure this time I get to have with her (and my grandma and aunts) now. I don't know when the time will come that I'll have to deal with the grief of life without them, but I appreciate (and have appreciated in the past 6 months) you sharing just how you are dealing with your pain. Your words stick with me and I just wanted to let you know they are treasured. You are always in my prayers.

  2. Wow. You are gifted at expressing what you feel.


  3. Jess,

    You are wise beyond your years. I honestly wasn't able to fully appreciate my mom until I became one, so you are ahead of the curve. I'm excited for you to enjoy this Mother's Day with this new appreciation for your mom. I love being connected with you, especially in prayer. But someday soon, we need to have coffee so I can tell you how much I personally appreciate your work on the Innocence project.
    Keeping the Faith with you!

  4. Thanks Mark! I could tell you how I feel about swimming too, but that's not really worth reading. :)

  5. I would love to have coffee and spend some time with you one day soon :) Maybe one day early this summer when all of the end-of-school madness ends! Hopefully I'll see you at church on Sunday's, I always look for the DFL girls before and after.

  6. Robin, have you read "A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis? I have it on loan to Andrea but it is a wonderful short reflection on his grief over losing his wife to cancer. I believe much of it would resonate with you. I miss you!