21 Days later

The following was taken from Elliot’s CaringBridge site. It was written by her daddy. I was going to edit it down as it is long, but there is not one part that I could remove. It is all so beautiful. Tears of joy and of sadness run down my face. I cannot help but be happy that her destiny is Jesus and yet my heart aches for those left behind. Her father’s words leave me encouraged and homesick for Heaven. Be inspired!

Twenty-One Days Later… Someone is Missing but NOT FAR AWAY        

By Edward M. Patterson (Written June 18, 2012)
Elliot died twenty-one days ago. ‘They say’ (whoever ‘they’ is) to keep writing, keep talking, keep processing. If Beverly and I were in a foxhole during a war, I would be writing an essay on a legal pad ‘how did we get here?’ and Beverly would be planning the practical steps to save us from harm. Our differing strengths, temperaments and personalities have complemented 42, soon to be in August 43, years of marriage.

These days we are a bit more cautious about presuming the next breath, and know the admonition in James 4: 13-15 to be ‘true truth.’ There are no guarantees we will make it to 43 years. Chris and Elliot only got 11 years of marriage together. Trying to keep perspective helps a bit. Some couples are engaged and one dies before the wedding. Or another couple marries, and one partner dies within two weeks, or six months, or three years. There are just no guarantees about anything. And the sooner we begin to live our lives like every day may be our last day, we will be wiser as we live ‘in the moment,’ not ‘in the past’ or ‘in the future.’

I have read a couple of short essays recently passed along to me on processing grief. …. not looking for any quick fix or any ten steps to healing. The only take away at this time is I am not crazy, and everyone grieves differently. Elliot’s death is still as raw and unbelievable as it was that Monday, May 28, packing up her hospital room where she spent the last ten days of her life, then leaving UAB Hospital & Women’s Pavilion, and driving back to her home on a stifling hot and humid Birmingham summer-like afternoon.

The only difference in then and now is  then I wore, probably unknown to me, an invisible  protective covering which must have been made of the same strong materials that jet airliner windows are constructed — covering me from head to toe, and  also covering Chris, Wyatt, Bradford, Beverly, Erin, Jay, Jim, Susan, and all Elliot’s extended family (and I am sure many friends)— for the next few days, to get through a week we never could imagine we would spend—one which included the gracious outpouring of support and love during visitation, the beautiful private graveside service on a refreshingly cool Thursday morning overlooking a hilly portion of Shelby County (Chris did extremely well in selecting the burial site – and even as I type this, it is surreal to even read the phrase ‘burial site’), the luncheon the gracious ladies at Brookwood Church provided for our family, the celebration service, the reception which followed, the yellow balloons into the sky, the packing up of flowers, photos and plants from the church, another visit to the cemetery on the home way, and then to a quiet house in Montgomery where Elliot and Erin spent much of their growing up years, where even as I write, her presence, like in her own beautiful home in Liberty Park, is literally everywhere.

Well, I am sorry to say the protective covering has melted. I can only speak for myself, but I can observe that Chris’s protective suit is gone, so has Beverly’s and so has others’. We talk. We function. We do what we have to do. But we are uncovered emotionally and almost every other way as well. To pretend otherwise and stuff it in the face of stoicism would not be good.

One surprise is the materials covering me were not as strong as I thought they might be, although I must have told at least 80% of the people with whom I talked during Wednesday night visitation on May 30 and the reception line following the service on May 31 “to pray for us, the hardest days are ahead.” On May 30 and 31, I could have never imagined exactly what that would be like. I suppose that is why families can make it through such a week – the numbness and shell-shock is just that, and one can smile and be gracious and sincere.

We were genuinely touched, and hundreds have ministered to us, but most of those we talked to were looking to us for cues as to how to act. Just as children often get their cues from adults as to how to act so do adults as they observe their friends and loved ones trying to cope with the life-changing, devastating and shocking experiences we have lived with since last September culminating much to our surprise in Elliot’s rather quick death.

Another way of expressing what has occurred is that in the past 21 days, the anesthesia has worn off after heart surgery, and now we are left with the pain and the healing of broken hearts. In time, scabs may form over the cuts, but the scars will remain.

Thankfully, in just the past few days I have been able to realize that even though the high-tech jet window covering is gone, our entire family has been for months prayed for and over and literally covered in prayer, and even tonight as I write, I sense deep in my spirit that we still are and, believe me, it is the only covering that will last as we continue down this road. It is not a man-made cover, but a supernatural cover furnished at great cost to us by the mercy and grace of God.

Erin stated it so well last week, “The reality is beginning to settle in that she is not coming back.” You see, two weeks ago, I honestly thought just maybe she was gone for the weekend and would return. The mind and heart play tricks on you in times of overwhelming sorrow.  But when I arrived in Birmingham to spend a few days with Beverly, Chris, Wyatt and Bradford last week, Elliot was not in the kitchen bustling around creatively coming up with a fabulous dinner for us, she did not greet me on the driveway with a hug. She was not even, as she had been several times before upon my arrival, in her bedroom or on the sofa in the den physically ‘weak and wounded, sick and sore” as the hymn writer states in the hymn, “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy”. In the hymn, that phrase is used to describe our spiritual state before we come to know Jesus as our Savior and Lord. She just was not there.

When Chris and the our grandchildren came to Montgomery for Father’s Day weekend, they spent their first night in our home last Friday night, and she was not here on Boxwood Drive either. Precious Wyatt correctly told us at bedtime, “someone is missing, and it is my mommy”.

We have learned much about life and death in a short time, yet more mysteries than ever remain about life and death than they did twenty-one days ago, and I rather think that more mysteries and questions will appear on my radar screen as the hours, days, and months unfold. I did not say doubts. I did say questions …. Real honest questions. There is a gap for most of us in knowing how to grieve, and we are barely beyond the kindergarten stage. 

As Wyatt graduated from kindergarten just days before his mother died (ironically, he started kindergarten about the time she received her first diagnosis) we, too, may or may not graduate from grief kindergarten in eight-plus months. I think we are all slow learners, not because we are not intelligent or grounded in faith-matters, but rather because we are both human and fragile. We may learn at different rates of speed as well. I know one thing. It cannot be hurried. Often we cannot seem to concentrate on the book, the lessons, or the materials because it takes all we can do to get up, get dressed, and take the carpool to ‘grief-kindergarten’ – to do what needs to be done, and just keep going.

We are learning to write lower case and upper case letters, spelled “Grieving 101”, and yet at most levels, I do not think there is a primer or a how to manual. There is a difference in moping around aimlessly, and grieving properly. I do know that honest grieving is very tiring and draining, but at some point, the results will be worth the effort, much like training for a race – another challenge – another hurdle.

I am learning much from the simple, honest, heart-felt gut wrenching, but beautiful questions from Wyatt, and Bradford and from our 3 ½ year old nephew, Elijah Brooks who loves “Aunt” so dearly. I have watched each individually, and then together, and have marveled at the simplicity and profundity and depth of their faith and trust at the same time.

On more than one occasion the Holy Spirit has nudged me, and said, “Ed, see there, watch Wyatt, Bradford, Elijah Brooks. That is why I tell you sophisticated adults that you have to become like little children to enter into my Kingdom. No room for your man-made philosophy, your daring assumptions in the face of all that is yours to observe in the world I have created, beginning with you–made in my very image. That is also why I said ‘blessed are the children, and forbid them not to come to me, for such is the kingdom of God.’”

I must tell you my respect and admiration for Chris knows no boundaries these days, as I do not believe I could have done what he is doing with such grace and strength, though brokenhearted, if Beverly had died when Elliot was 5 and Erin was 3, or 6 or 4, or at any age!

In less than three weeks, we will observe the one year anniversary of my mother’s death who died July 7, 2011 at 86 ½ after being on hospice care for a year, and impaired from numerous strokes since she was 80. Little could we have dreamed that two months after we buried her, Elliot would face a diagnosis that would take her life eight months later.

My mother was ready to die. In fact she longed for death after a while, but was totally happy to stay here on earth as long as God would keep her. Her loss is a loss of the past. During her talk to the Community Bible Study in March, Elliot clearly stated she had to get to a point where she was willing to live or die. But I tell you, she wanted to live. She longed to live to raise her children – to be with her family that she loved. Elliot’s death is a loss of the future.

I still wear the blue teal bracelet I put on for the first time last October following her second surgery, and it reads “Courage & Strength & Hope & Faith.” I have never observed a person exhibit such courage, strength, hope and faith like Elliot did these past nine months. People keep telling us about Elliot’s faith. Her faith was real. But, in adversity, she also matured in her faith. However, in addition to her faith, I think most about the immensely Large Courage she bore in every fiber of her being throughout this journey — even at the end. Such grace, such dignity, such courage. I have never witnessed such courage.

My mother suffered a lot, and always remained upbeat and hopeful, and strong. On more than one occasion in the last weeks of her life, Beverly and I remarked how much Elliot in her infirmity reminded us of my mother in hers – their kindness to the nurses and doctors, their smiles to everyone who came by no matter how bad they were feeling, their quiet ‘thank-you’ to those who cared for them. I am sure those who have been in harm’s way on the battlefield fighting for our country, have exhibited great courage as well. Courage can be applied to many fact scenarios, and I know of no greater battle than Elliot faced with this enemy – horrid, aggressive, rare cancer, and no more courageous solider.

Grief is a marathon, not a sprint. To work through it remains very difficult work!  I continue to wrestle, but gradually I am coming to realize in my heart again (not just my head) that God is with me in the struggle. Our modern life as a whole is not organized or structured in such a way that a large number of people will hang on with us as we move on through this process, but many will.

Two weeks ago I said I doubted Beverly and I would ever recover. I still believe that, but I do hope, in time, we will be able to embrace the change – and think of it somehow as ‘good’ although now we see “through a glass very darkly” on that subject. I do know in my head that Psalm 23:6 says that surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and as we look back over our lives we see that truth magnified in many ways, and at least in weak faith I must believe that God’s goodness and mercy will light our dark path forward into the many unknown highways and byways of life for as long as God grants us earthly life.  But the second part of that verse Elliot has already claimed for her own: “and I (she) shall dwell (is dwelling) in the house of the Lord forever.” I hold on in my head and am asking the Holy Spirit to gently drop it into my heart the beautiful prayer in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” For some reason, the following passage is easier to settle into my heart at the present time: And so we do not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) I cannot imagine those who grieve with ‘no hope’ beyond the grave.

But does any of this lessen the heartache, and questions, the searing pain and sense of loss, the sadness we feel and want to erase for Chris, and Wyatt and Bradford as well as for us, and Erin, and all our family? Not for a nanosecond – but somehow, someway, God is surely weaving a beautiful tapestry for each of us. Already he sees the design, the colors, the shape, the incredible beauty. For us, we see the backside of the tapestry – the knots, the loose strings, and the lack of design. The final design may only be revealed when we are reunited with Elliot in the presence of our heavenly Father.

We will forever talk about Elliot in the present. I hope you will help us keep her memory alive through the years. Talking about ‘her heavenly Father’ I had this impression all day Sunday as I moved, sometimes tearfully through the first Father’s Day without her, that I would be well served by celebrating daily “Heavenly Father’s Day”, for that is what she is doing as she is in His presence.

I found such joy in being with Erin, our precious second-born, and all our immediate family over the weekend – laughter and light-hearted fun entangled with an ever-present heaviness and reminder of the paradoxes and complexities in life. Children have an amazing capacity to keep us occupied with them and their needs – all good. And the sensitivity and thoughtfulness of so many of you to offer up your prayers for Chris and me as we moved through Father’s Day touched us. And to have Chris in our home 18 years to the weekend that he knocked on our front door, smartly dressed in white shirt and bow-tie, to take Elliot on a first date, was both a good and sad memory. But still it was a special time for us…and another one of those ‘thin places’ where somehow I sense God is as we need to see it, bridging the gap between the things that are seen which are temporal and the things which cannot be seen, which are eternal.

I am still offering up prayers and supplications to God with loud cries. I was recently drawn to a passage in Hebrews 5: 7 which I had never read, but have been meditating on it. Even Christ, during his lifetime here on earth (not just in the Garden of Gethsemane) did the same thing. The ESV Study Bible states it this way: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him, who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”  I continue to be stunned by the beauty and power of this passage. Jesus offered supplications and pleas to God with loud cries and was heard because of his reverence. My notes to this passage state that the word “supplication” indicates a “submissive request”, and the tenor of the passage is simply that in a broader period of time than just the week of His crucifixion, Jesus ‘in the days of His flesh’ prayed earthly prayers that were constantly heartfelt, earnest, and accompanied by tears. I know it is appropriate to continue to follow Jesus’ pattern of prayer and supplication without trying to ‘spiritualize death.’

There is a quotation from Dr. Peter Marshall, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate and senior pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. which will continue to help our family the remainder of our lives. I share it to encourage anyone who reads it to let its truth sink deep into your mind and heart: “We believe as Christians, that when our love ones die, they go to be with the Lord. The Bible teaches that the Lord is with us. Well, if they are with Him, and He is with us …..they cannot be very far away.”

~Ed Patterson

Related Posts about our Elliot:
When Cancer is no longer a Stranger
In the midst of the storm
A Father’s Love
When the monster returns, Thy will be done
A Tribute to Elliot
Saying Goodbye
Memorial Fund
Thank You~Gracias~Grazie~Danke~Arigato

(Click on photo for credit)

Single Mamas

When the thought came to me that I needed to write about this sensitive and often misunderstood topic, I dismissed it as something that someone else would do much better than I.

I wonder if God grows weary of me trying to talk Him out of things that He makes abundantly clear are part of His will for my life?

Reluctantly I sit down before you, feeling very inept in my attempts to speak about such a fragile thing. At the same time, my heart is heavy and I know that once I listen and follow through with what I feel I am being led to do, the burden will be lifted and hopefully someone will be encouraged.

I know that there are many fathers out there holding everything together with their kiddos. I’m not going to talk about them. Reason being, I’ve never been a single dad. I have, however, been a single mom. I can speak from experience and hopefully share strength and hope as well.

Recently there have been a slew of things flooding my mind, but few reach my heart. The other day I was talking with a friend who asked if I would be willing to meet with an acquaintance of hers who was going through a difficult time. Without thinking or praying about it, I quickly said, “Sure!” (side not: that’s never a wise thing for me to do. Answer quickly. It usually means that my motives are selfish.)

This beautiful, young woman and I met for coffee. As I listened to her story unfold I began realizing that I had completely abandoned a part of my life that was a significant part of who I am.

I watched her eyes fill with tears though she would not allow herself to cry. I listened, I watched and I remembered. Suddenly I was taken back to a time in my life that was more difficult than I even realized at the time.

Some people choose it. Others are left. I chose it.

This woman had chosen it as well. Without telling you details of her story, without needing to, I can tell you that she’s in for a difficult road in her immediate future.

This got me thinking…now that I’m happily married to someone I adore and I have a beautiful family, does that exempt me from walking beside someone who is in the midst of the wreckage?

No. If anything it equips me to provide encouragement and a safe place away from the attorneys and bill collectors, accusers and mockers. I know first hand that she is misunderstood, judged, ridiculed and rejected by former friends and family. I know that she is scared. Fearful of not being able to pay the bills, of ever getting sick, of losing her low income housing. There is so much fear and doubt and uncertainty.

Have you ever been in that place of not really knowing from day to day what your life will look like? Do you know any single moms? Many of them have residence in that place of relentless uncertainty.

With Father’s day upon us, please be mindful of your words and intentions when speaking. Especially to children. There are some moms out there who are making it happen in both roles. Please don’t make assumptions or judgements.

If you’re a parent, you know how difficult it is raising human beings that will hopefully be productive members of society. There are days when I wonder what I would do if I couldn’t say to Chris, “Tag, You’re it!” so that I can have a few moments of sanity.

Being a parent is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. We are pulled in so many directions. When you have more than one child it can be stressful even with two of you trying to make all of the school functions, sporting events, dinners around the table as a family and quality time investing in the relationship and future of your child(ren).

Imagine trying to do all of those things by yourself. Raising children alone can be one of the most isolating things out there. It’s difficult to explain, except to say that it’s not what you think…she’s not who you think she is…things are not as they appear to be.

May I encourage you to do something extraordinary? If you know a single mom and you want to help, offer to keep her kids (at no charge) while she runs errands or takes a shower and blow drys her hair or takes a walk. Send her a handwritten note of encouragement. Offer to take her grocery list, go shopping for her and deliver her groceries. Let her know by your actions that she’s not alone.

It’s not enough to say, “What can I do?”
There are so many things. It’s difficult to know where to start. The question will usually elicit one of two responses; “Oh, nothing, I’m fine.” or “Just pray.”
We must take the initiative.

I challenge you to make an effort this week to positively impact the life of a single mom in your community. And after you do, I want to know about it so that I can thank you.

Are you a single mom? What are your top three worries, struggles, concerns? What would be the biggest help to you from an outsider? Please leave a comment below or if you would rather remain anonymous, you can email me at the address found here.