(Guest Post) 3 Lessons I Learned from a Catheter

This post is my father, John Riley‘s, words. If you’ve heard him speak you will be able to hear him within these writings. I hope he will continue talking about the lessons he’s learning through his personal journey into grief that began in the Fall of 2015 after the sudden death of his brother, Buddy. As long as he keeps telling stories, I’ll keep typing. 

Our hope is that these raw renderings will provide some much-needed relief and hope to those who are new to pain and loss. The ones among us who suffer silently while wishing for the person who understands to share their experience so they can say, “Really? Me too!”

I would encourage you to listen to the newly added audio with dad reading the post. Hearing a story read by its author gives it the ability to come alive. It will also give you a glimpse into why he is such a gifted communicator.

CatheterWhen someone in a white lab coat with the letters M.D. on the end of their name that’s stitched on the pocket, starts talking about you and a catheter in the same sentence, it’s sobering.

Once you get to thinkin’ about the reality of the proposed solution for what you hope is a temporary problem, it can really getcha down.

So… you have conversations… with said catheter and you get real honest.
It may sound something like this, “You and I are not going to be friends but, we’ll put up with each other as long as we have to and then we’re through!”

For me, it was only a month.
For many, it can be the rest of their lives.

Now y’all, that’s serious.

I don’t mean this to be too light hearted. It’s just that, trying to learn from it was better than cryin’ and cussin’ and carryin’ on… I suppose.

So, here are three things I learned from my catheter.
Excuse me, THE catheter.
I never wanted to own the thing.

1.- Pain can have benefits… if you let it.

Well, shoot! It’s hard to say what the benefits are because I can’t really think of many, but mainly you appreciate times of no pain.

After two weeks when I was told by my doctor (who is absolutely fantastic), “Sorry, we have to wait another week and another test.” I was upset. I had to process it.
It was only then that I could be thankful for this thing, discomfort and all, making it possible for me to heal inside.

So, I was extremely grateful that I was improving and that the greater percentage of my body was pretty healthy.

I also found gratitude for whoever invented the catheter. (That sounds weirder than I thought it would.) But seriously, I got really thankful for all the lives this person saved, including mine. Without this dang catheter, I would have already exploded five times over! Now, that’s enough to make even me grateful.

2.- Compassion has been defined as entering into the sorrows of another person and thereby showing mercy. I think that’s the way it goes?

How could I possibly enter into someone’s sorrow when I had never had the same sorrow?

I have been through the deaths of… well… everybody in my family older than I am, but this was my first time with a catheter. Now I can really feel for someone who has to have this great invention for a day, or for life.

Also, it teaches me that even though I don’t know personally what someone else is going through, I can know that it’s hard… even though I’ve not experienced the same thing. I thought I understood what it meant to be empathetic, but I’m not sure I ever truly have… before this. I hope that I will never again be unconcerned about another person’s problem.

3.- Make adjustments

By this, I don’t just mean which leg to put the bag on… but everything… well almost everything, you’ve done for many years.

Here are just a few that I have learned… fast… ’cause I didn’t have a choice.

Sleeping – don’t move around much. Get accustomed to sleeping on your back and your side. It’s not bad… except for sometimes… when it is.

Shower – unplug, clean, replug, dry… always makes ya feel better.

Dress – got me a whole new set of underwear, relaxed and unrestricted.
I didn’t realize boxers could be so comfortable! Wear ’em all the time now.

I have some that look like shorts, but the other day at my little community bank I go to, my friend the loan officer told me he could tell they were underwear. Oh well…

Loose pants are my friend. Especially sweat pants. But on days when the temperature in Alabama is 85 degrees, it looks kinda weird. So… I just stayed at home a lot.

Walking – was sometimes pretty easy, annnnd sometimes not.
Most of the time it felt like I was walkin’ with my legs spread like I just got off a horse. Nobody seemed to really notice except for one friend who did say to me, “Why are you walkin’ so funny?!”
“It’s a long story!” I thought to myself. I have lots of conversations in my own head these days. Know what I mean?

Exercise – wasn’t on the agenda. Every day made me look forward to the time I could really start back exercising and made me feel a deep concern for those who never can.

So, the catheter has taught me to be open to learning new ways of doing things. As I get real close to being 70 years of age, it makes me realize I want to keep growing.

Considering these three things, I hadn’t really thought of it, but maybe the catheter was my friend? However, I’m not gonna have it framed and hang it on the wall. (Can you imagine?! Yuck!)

What are you going through that people can’t necessarily see, but is making a huge impact in your everyday? Has it taught you a kind of gratitude that you never knew you wanted to learn?

5 Things Not to Say When Talking With a Child About Death

How does one go about choosing an outfit to wear to the funeral of someone they love knowing that going forward it will be thought of as, “The outfit I wore to the funeral.”?

While staring blankly into my closet full of more than enough clothes to wear, a little voice from behind me said, ”Mommy, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to decide what to wear to the service for Uncle Buddy tomorrow.”
“Oh...” [long pause] “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes…right now, in this moment…I’m okay.” I replied.
“Alright. I’m going to play in the fort. Call me if you need me.” he said, skipping out of the room.

“Call him if I need him…” I said to myself smiling.
He’s 9 and I’m convinced he has a better grasp on everything than I do.

As I turn back to the plethora of clothing, the silence falls heavily.

I take some options from the hangers and fold them into my suitcase, careful to lay a few things out so that I can slip into them as quietly as possible after my 4:00 a.m. alarm alerts me to the beginning of this journey into grief.

Two days ago, after receiving the call that my uncle had laid his head back to rest, falling asleep one last time, it began a slew of conversations. The kind that take time and intentional thought. The ones that include long pauses and deep sighs. Are you familiar with these kinds of conversations?

I’m going to skip a ton of detail and get to the point as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we don’t understand why we are in certain seasons of life and why we are walking through things that seem far from what we had planned. And then one day, if we pay attention, we get a glimpse of the answer.

I have learned so much from the families who have welcomed me alongside them while they are experiencing loss. Being a witness to someone else’s pain is difficult to describe. To say that it puts things into perspective is much too basic. It has reshaped the way I see the world and now feel the reality that everyone lives and will one day die.

I am being taught how to navigate difficult conversations with my own children about death without being afraid. Out of all the many words and spoken thoughts we have shared, here are words and phrases I’ve learned not to use.

“He passed away.” Children are literal. We adults have a hard time saying the words, “He died.” We want to cushion the news. Don’t. This only confuses a child. When Jesus said that we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, I’m beginning to understand what he meant. Their eyes have not been clouded. They are still able to see things as they truly are.

“We lost him.” Again, children are literal and will question, “If we lost him, we will be able to find him.”

“He’s in a better place.” They will want to know why they can’t be there too if it’s a better place. And why would we be left behind instead of going with him?

“It’s okay.” It’s not okay. It’s sad and the grieving process may not have even begun due to the shock of losing someone suddenly. It will be okay, but for now, it’s sad and we should experience the sadness and grieve the loss. Remember that grief is unpredictable. It comes at the most inopportune times. Be prepared to react to things much differently for a time.

“We aren’t going to talk about it.” They want to talk about it. They want to share memories and tell stories. It is counterproductive not to let them express their emotions and thoughts. Of the many people I have talked with after the loss of someone close to them, the thing I hear repeatedly is, “I wish people weren’t afraid to talk about him. I want to keep his memory alive and the best way to do that is by sharing stories about him.” 

I don’t know this for sure, but maybe children intuitively know how to process grief much better than we adults do? I want to be open to change and continually learning. Who knew that some of my best teachers would be the smallest people in my home?Boys in sunlight

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day.
17 You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. 18 So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.

I’m sure you have many things to add to my five. What are they? Let’s ease each other’s burdens, even if only through the comments on this page. You never know how far your hope is reaching.

3 Reasons Why I Won’t Give Up

JCP-1119 (1 of 1) (1)There is a girl, who I love very much, on a path of self-destruction. I have been feeling, in the last few days that she may be successful in her attempts to end her own life.

It feels helpless.

She struggles with some of the same things I struggled with so if anyone should know that nothing can be done, it is I. But that doesn’t stop me from trying, does it? It’s our human nature to come to the rescue of the ones we love and fight for their existence when they no longer seem to care about existing.

I remember once describing my circumstances as feeling like a glass box, encompassing me. I was naked and everyone could see me, but no one could hear me…and I couldn’t hear them. Some of the onlookers were laughing while others were weeping. Some of the people closest to me were pounding on the glass, yelling at me. I couldn’t understand their words, but the emotion in their face communicated such pain.

I am no longer on the inside of the box. I now stand in the crowd, looking in at this beautiful woman, full of potential and light. She, like I, doesn’t see herself accurately. Her appearance, her worth, it’s all skewed. I say things from the outside, but she doesn’t hear me. Her mother, aunt, grandmother, grandfather and friends, weep at the thought of her life ending before it has really even begun. She doesn’t hear them either. She sees them, but their feelings can’t get through the glass she surrounds herself in.

She closes her eyes and is completely alone. In darkness…with only the noise of her own thoughts in her head. If only she would open her eyes, grab the closest thing and shatter the glass. Anyone of us would gladly do it for her, but the only thing that will break this glass is inside the box, with her.

She is teaching me that when we live for others or rely on others for our happiness or discontentment, our reasons for existing are always changing. So I’ve taken a long hard look at why I don’t give up on life when the feelings start telling me to.

Here’s why…

1. A better day always comes. Without fail! Life gets better. It’s just the way it works. Some days are going to suck. Nothing will go as planned. There is always a better day in the future. I know this to be true! I’ve seen it happen more than once in my life. It is guaranteed.

2. Life is incredibly short. It feels really long some days, but the truth is, we blink and our childhood is over, our early adulthood has been lived and we are looking back thinking what our parents always told us they thought, “Where has the time gone?” I want to look back and see a life well lived. In order to do that, I can’t be finished yet.

3. My life, my story, can be used to teach others about perseverance, courage, loving beyond my ability, dreaming BIG dreams and watching them come to fruition. It’s about raw recovery. My life is the epitome of amazing grace.

I know, with all of my heart and experience that the clock is ticking and time is running out. I know that she will die unless she decides to live. I know because there was a day when I was given a choice and I chose life.

Here is our last text exchange.
Text MessageIf you or someone you love is suffering, please don’t wait until it’s too late. There is hope and it starts with you.

  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
  • http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support
  • Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention 1-800-931-2237
  • Eating Disorders Center 1-888-236-1188
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 1-847-831-3438
  • Crisis Intervention 1-888-596-4447
  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or TTY 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
  • Red Nacional de Prevencion del Suicidio 1-888-628-9454
  • Veterans Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1

When This Isn’t “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you were drawn in by the title, either because you are feeling bombarded with all the “cheer” while not feeling the happiness that others expect you to feel during this time of year, or because you are curious as to why anyone would not see this as the best month of all 12.

No matter which position I have found you in, I’m asking that you relinquish all expectation of what this post is about and be present as your eyes scroll the words and your brain processes the thoughts.

It’s everywhere. The way we “should” be feeling. How we “should” be thinking. What we “should” be buying…

So what do we do when none of our feelings encompass all of the “should(s)” placed on us, and the last thing we feel is “cheerful“?

I have been given the gift of “burden bearing.” I haven’t always thought it a gift and at times tried to mask or ignore it all together. It has only been recently that I’m learning to embrace it and see it as a blessing rather than a curse.

The transformation started several years ago when Katie was 14 weeks pregnant with her 3rd child. Her baby was given the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13. On December 19, 2011, at 10:45 a.m., Hallie Lynn Green was born. Weighing in at 4 lbs.15 oz. and stretching 18.75 inches long.

On December 24, 2014, Hallie passed from her mama’s arms back into the arms of Jesus. Katie wrote on her blog that day, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be Hallie’s mother. Although losing you, Hallie, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I would carry you and love you all over again in a heartbeat. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.”

It is Hallie’s life and Katie’s willingness to learn how to walk in the dark that moved me from a place of empathy to action. In 2012 I began my journey, through my lens, into other people’s pain. That’s a strange way of wording it, I know, but it’s the only wording that makes sense to me.

I have been invited to document the sacred moments between life and death. There are days when I will experience the beauty of life and the gnawing sorrow of death, all within a matter of hours. I stand witness to a wide spectrum of emotions, at times, with people I’ve only just met.

The way to deal with painful emotions is not to get rid of them, it’s to sit with and in them, making the darkness conscious. Knowing that there will once again be light. Being able to experience emotion is key to paving a path to peace. To suppress it is toxic. The further we push it down, the more it festers until one day we can no longer bandage the gaping wound. Some cannot believe that the light will ever return. But it will. Healing is possible. I’ve watched it happen. However, to come to that place, one must be willing to wrestle the angel of darkness.

It is helpful to remember that grief is unpredictable. It shows up at the most inopportune times. It often comes without warning, when there are no Kleenex anywhere to be found and you didn’t apply waterproof mascara. It’s presence is often uncomfortable and frustrating. Even so, each time it appears there is something to be learned. Though the uninvited teacher, pain is not our enemy.

For those friends and family feeling helpless, may I offer some encouragement? There are 3 things you can do to help the one you love.
~ Be Present (Don’t avoid reaching out or taking something by and leaving it on their doorstep or in their mailbox)
~ Listen (I wish we could be more comfortable listening than speaking. It is a learned behavior. When wanting to make someone feel important, listen intently to them.)
~ Be okay with “uncomfortable silence.” (Silence is beautiful when we consciously befriend it.)

If you are currently learning to walk through the darkness, may I speak these truths into your heart?
~ You are not alone.
~ The Creator of the Universe knows you by name. He formed you, piece by piece and therefore sees you and hears your cries.
~ Jesus himself promises that those who mourn will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1-14)
~ You have permission to lower the bar.
If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, don’t go.
If you find your eyes welling with tears while walking down the grocery store isle, it’s okay to walk away from your cart and leave the store.

We must embrace the seasons of darkness just as we long for the seasons of light. To have one without the other leaves us lacking perspective and appreciation for either.


Was this post helpful? Do you have anything to add about seasons of grief? How can we pray for you? How have you been encouraged through pain? Feel free to leave a comment and we will respond.

If you’re in need of encouragement, click here for a fantastic message from Joel Thomas.
To hear the song inspired by Hallie’s life, written by Casey Darnell, click here

Twenty-four hours with Asher

Many of you have followed Asher’s story. In my writings I said that it was Lindsey’s story to tell and she would talk when she’s ready.

Well, she’s ready. It’s beautiful…full of hope…an example of courage in the midst of horrendous circumstances. I have not changed or added to any of Lindsey’s words. They are directly from her.

I know she would appreciate your comments and sharing with others who could be positively impacted by her story and Asher’s life.


“As Joy so beautifully and eloquently wrote, my son Asher Knox, has a story. Our family has a story because of this miracle baby. Anyone who met our sweet precious boy, has a story…like Joy does. It’s because most people can’t tell stories of angels because they never meet one. I grew one inside me for 35 weeks and 3 day.
Some outsiders may say Asher’s story is one of heartbreak, one of tragedy and that it has ended. I can see how that can be a thought as I would be lying if I said those thoughts never entered my mind. But when it comes down to the truth, Asher’s story is one of all-consuming love, a will to fight, and down right determination.
3F9B9571I will not go into the 9 months of details, but what I will share is that my husband and I found out when I was 15 weeks along , that Asher had a form of Skeletal Dysplasia—aka dwarfism. Since it was caught so early on, the many doctors I saw were confident that it was a lethal form…meaning IF Asher made it to term, he would not breathe and would die very shortly after birth. We were given the choice to terminate at that point, which is an awful place to be for anyone…PRO CHOICE or PRO LIFE. You are deciding the fate of your child to a certain degree at that stage.

I was never one of those people who voiced their opinion on PC vs PL as I figured I would never be in that position and I could see arguments for both sides. However, when it came down to it, we felt that if God didn’t want us to have Asher, then why allow us to conceive him? If he was not meant to be, God would end the pregnancy at some point but we could not bear the thought of stopping our child’s heart by choice. If he were to go, it would be when it was his time.
IMG_6172Fast forward to May 26, 2013 when I gave birth to the angel inside me. I had no expectations but hopes that I would be able to hold my son and have him look at me long enough to know I was his Momma. I got that moment. I got not only that one but 23 hours and 45 minutes of moments. Each of those seconds I spent with Asher were not filled with tears, but of hand holding, hair smelling, belly kissing, storytelling, and more cuddling and group praying than I can count. Because of Asher, my husband, Asher and I were able to feel more love from family, friends and strangers than I could EVER begin to imagine. We felt very blessed and still feel blessings entering our lives each and every day.
3F9B9263Yes, I said BLESSED. You may be thinking, “Why does this woman feel blessed if she carried her child to term, only to say goodbye less than a day later?” That’s just it. I had a day. Actually I had almost 36 weeks of enjoying ultrasound photos and kicks and somersaults. I got to watch my belly get bigger every week. I was able to be a MOTHER. How many people never get that opportunity? I truly believe there are many women out there that cannot get pregnant or carry their own child, and if given the choice, they would take 24 hours versus nothing.
3F9B0101To quote my favorite movie Steel Magnolias…..”I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” I have watched that movie easily 75 times in the past 20 years. How ironic that that quote would be something I would experience and believe myself when my son was created.

So what is life like now after Asher left to fly with the angels? It is tough, no ifs, and or buts about it. Actually tough is a kind way of putting it. Grief is a feeling that cannot be put into a definition properly. It consumes you at certain points. It hits you when you least expect it. Just when you think grief has left the building, it becomes the act on the main stage. I miss my buddy, every single second of every day.

Never would I have thought I would welcome the heartburn, the painful feeling of pressure from him pressing on my organs, the Gestational Diabetes and pricking my finger 4 times a day. That sounds like bliss because HE was with me, safe and sound.

I realize there will be no rocking to sleep, no report cards, no chances for me to leave notes in his Toy Story lunch box. My husband and I will miss out on teaching him to ride a bike and kiss booboo’s. No homecoming dances, no first haircut, no cliche Easter bunny and Santa Claus pictures. That’s the stuff that hurts the most~the things not only we, but Asher will miss out on.

I know I will see him again and that he is waiting patiently for us. This life is temporary and I am comforted knowing that at the end of the day, I have an angel baby that I will spend eternity with. I would never have that opportunity if we didn’t choose the road less traveled….carrying to term.

Again I say, I AM BLESSED. Everyone has darkness in their lives, but there is also light. You just have to look for it …or be open to it. My darkest days did not kill me. They may have knocked me down and I still have to take it one minute of every day at a time. But I choose to be happy. I choose to honor my beautiful son Asher by not seeing his life as a tragedy or one that has ended.

His story is just beginning. And so is mine.”

School Massacre: 20 Children, 6 Adults killed

connecticut-school-shooting-elite-daily-31God help us. Please…help us.
There have been lives lost. Among them, innocent children.
Instead of celebrating birth this season, mothers and fathers will be mourning the loss of their child. Instead of visiting the manager, they will bury their son or daughter.
We don’t pretend to understand.
I know that vengeance is yours and still my anger burns bitterly.
God, I don’t seek answers as much as I would ask you to come quickly and save us from the atrocities of which we are capable.
We are not a people on our knees, but instead on our pedestal. It is such a long way to fall.
May you fill our hearts and our minds.
Clear away the wreckage we create.
Make us a people who love our neighbor as ourselves.
Give us faith in the midst of adversity.
Teach us how to pray, Lord.
The pain is too deep.
The wound too fresh. It gapes open, hemorrhaging.
Voices fall silent as words are not enough and at the same time, too much.
Father, for those who are mourning the loss of their loved one tonight, please comfort them. Envelope them in your peace that passes all understanding. Quiet their restless and broken heart. May your whispers of truth be a salve for their soul.
God, we need you.
Hear my cry for mercy.
Be present.
Be here.
Be stability when there is quicksand.
Jesus taught us to pray saying, “Our Father…”
We are your children and therefore come to you now, as a child to a parent, longing for reassurance and hope.
Be near to us.
Our hearts are broken for the innocence lost.
Tonight we hold our babies closer. We thank God for giving us another chance, another day, another moment with our children.

image taken from google

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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)