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A Bitter Cold Day in January

Kissing Noah Goodbye, Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS photographer.

It was sunny and gorgeous, like most days in Colorado, but it was January and a bitter cold front had brought in single digit temps overnight. Forecasters promised warmer days, but we wouldn’t see them for a while. The day had finally come for us to leave Children’s Hospital of Denver, a place our family had called home for an inordinate amount of time.

Months earlier when our son Noah was only 7 weeks old, we took him to an outpatient Neurology appointment, one that ended up turning into a 5.5 month hospital stay. Because we had been there so long, we accumulated some extra things, including gifts and well wishes from family, friends, and even strangers around the world.

My husband took a few bags out to the parking garage and the plan was for me to meet him out front after the car warmed up. An Arizona girl, I truly believe winter should be a destination, not a required season.

I bundled our son in a beautiful fisherman’s knit onesie and matching hat, and tiny soft blue Ugg’s sent from Australia, and then wrapped him in several blankets…my attempt to somehow stave off the cold. My husband is from South Dakota where it’s too cold to steal cars in the winter, so he came back up to the room to help with any loose items, leaving the car idling at the hospital entryway. The staff, nurses, and doctors on duty gave us final hugs as we made our way down the hall, grateful, yet wondering how we could finally be headed home.

I didn’t bother putting our then 7 month old son in his car seat as we headed across town. No. I held him tighter to my heart than a seatbelt ever could. We lived less than 5 miles from the hospital, and only had one stop before we got home…I knew nothing could hurt him.

We parked our car at the mortuary and made our way into the quiet lobby. A woman who knew we were coming met us there to receive Noah’s lifeless body. As we handed Noah over to her, my husband and I both collapsed in heaps on the ugly floral couches, grateful to the cushions for collecting tears and softening our guttural cries. We were going home, but Noah would not be coming with us.

To say I’m unconventional is an understatement. I’ve never been a fan of brands, labels, being boxed in, or being told what to do or how to do it. When our son was hospitalized for 5.5 months, I had to learn to live outside the box of traditional parenting. And when he died and the hospital told me his body would be put into the morgue and then transported to the crematorium by the mortuary’s staff, I said, “Ummm, no. My kids isn’t going to spend any time in a morgue. We’ll drop him off. Thanks.”

As you might imagine, no one had ever told the hospital such a thing. I mean, who walks out of a hospital with their dead person?

*This is a segment for a piece I’m submitting to a storytelling platform. I wanted to share it here with you first, because you’ve always been LOVE and SUPPORT like no others and putting this stuff out there gets scarier as I get closer to book proposal stage.

On Death and Living: A Series, Part 2

Two things about death that, I believe conjures, festers, fosters, and instigates fear, are the HOW and WHEN…sometimes to the extent of paralysis when it comes to LIVING.

If we have a foundational understanding that every single person on this earth is born and dies, then the question of WHO is already established: Everyone…WE will all die

So, I guess that also answers the WHAT question…

WHERE also has relevance, but the HOW and WHEN are where we can get really stuck, especially as it pertains to faith and perspective, and it’s what I want to hash out here a bit.

“She was too young…he had so much going for him…the other person was drunk…it happened in battle…they were in an accident…he was stillborn…she took her own life…it happened in a shooting…it was a hate crime…he had a disease…there were complications…she was old…”

We live and die surrounded by circumstance. Depending on where we are born and to whom we are born, our lives look differently. Nationality, race, affluence, power, culture, disease, religion, poverty, acceptance, love, neglect, genetics, charity, generosity…so many things influence our lives, especially the way we think and filter the day-to-day, our interactions with God, self, and others. These circumstances can also influence the way we die, unfortunately. As a stereotype, especially in the First World, a pain-free life and death, preferably in our sleep and around the age of 90, with plenty of money to leave to the next generation, is the ideal or dream, almost to the point of entitlement…as if we actually know what is best, almost as if we believe we are invincible…as if we can stave off anything, namely, death and dying, because we have certain inalienable rights?

This is really hard to swallow…the part where we aren’t in control of everything.

The book of Job is quite telling when it comes to the battle over our lives. The ugly depths to which the Enemy will go to deter our eyes, hearts, faith, trust, perspective, and relationship with a good, loving God, further festering the doubt planted in the Garden, is quite obscene, really. In the Garden the Enemy tempted us to question whether God was telling us the truth about dying at all. In Job, the Devil approaches God about mankind, launching first an attack on Job’s (or our) possessions or the things we think we own or can control, and the second part of the attack in the form of trying to steal Job’s health. Some might wonder if God was playing roulette with Job and his life, but I wonder if rather God had an eternal perspective, saw a bigger picture, knew something the Devil, and Job, didn’t, and so wasn’t swayed by the Devil’s tactics…kind of like where it says, “For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross…”

When Noah was in the hospital I had some serious heart-to-heart conversations with God. To state it mildly, I was totally disenchanted with our circumstances. My theology was rocked since I had faith as big as a mustard seed, even bigger, yet our son was sick, dying in a hospital, and God wasn’t answering my prayers the way I had worded them. Perhaps He wasn’t catching my drift?

Perhaps I wasn’t catching His?

And after I shouted to God, “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE TO LOSE A SON?!” a quiet came over me I had never known. I sat on the floor of the hallway of Children’s Hospital and suddenly realized, God did, indeed, know what it felt like…and my perspective began to shift:

  • What if God’s Word is true and my theology is off?
  • What if He does know the number of our days, and Noah’s days are shorter than what I want?
  • What if He is still good even in the midst of our pain?
  • What if “death” isn’t what I think it is and being in God’s presence really is just that amazing?
  • What if following and trusting God means giving up my entitled mentality?

Please hear me on this: Even though God’s perspective on death is likely different from ours, the pain of losing someone we love still hurts like a mother. Jesus even bawled His head off when He heard the news of His friend, Lazarus’ death. Loss hurts. Period. But this post is to start talking about the HOW and WHEN.

A few days before my Mom died she called me close to tell me something. She wanted to be sure I heard her clearly, “Boo Boo, it’s not cancer, it’s not chemo, it’s not the Devil…it’s not the food I’ve eaten or radiation…God, and God alone, decides WHEN we die…because if it’s any of those other things, then the emphasis or focus is on it.” (emphasis my own on “when”…)

Years before she reminded me of this, as I finally sat still on that hospital floor, I knew this was true…this topic of WHEN, and even the HOW. Watching my strong Mom’s body weaken under the effects of a disease rocked my heart, for sure, as did watching Noah quickly ail, but all the more reinforced in my heart that Jesus’ emphasis on living and loving well TODAY is what we’ve been called to and all the fear, worry, and attempts to ward off death would only steal time from life and living.

 

Lots more to come…

 

On Death and Living: A Series, Part 1

This will be the first of many posts on death and dying, fear, life, and living. I’m not even sure where to begin, so I’ve prayed a bit and will just start typing, I guess. I also will be welcoming some guest posts via interviews and podcasts on here, so stay tuned, and also, keep in mind, the views expressed here, as far as my personal posts, are my own, may not line up with what you’ve been taught or currently believe about death, dying, fear, life, or living, but are mine and THAT’S OKAY…AND YOU ARE OKAY TO WRESTLE WITH THESE TOPICS YOUR WAY…and THAT’S OKAY. My intention in opening this topic and even answering questions from others is not to pretend to be a death authority, but hopefully to bring to light the lies and beauty that surround the topic, one the world has tried for years to avoid, escape, and keep at bay. I’ll use sentiments like “I believe” or “I think” or “from my experience” quite a bit, so keep this in mind as you read and process, recalling this is simply my perspective and lessons from my journey.

I’ve had the privilege to be with a handful of people while they passed away, or shortly thereafter, before their spirits left their bodies, and after their last breaths and final heart beats. I say “privilege” because being with someone when they die is truly a sacred, holy moment…I’ve honestly never known more of God’s peace than witnessing that moment and I’d encourage anyone and everyone to sit with a dying person rather than try to avoid it, if you ever have the chance…not only for them, but for you, too.

I feared and obsessed about death quite a bit as a kid, into adolescence, until I went to my grandpa’s funeral. From 3rd grade on, without fail, until my junior year of high school, a friend or classmate or family member, died. I remember thinking that since I couldn’t imagine myself at an older age, like, for instance, in elementary school I couldn’t see myself as a kid in junior high, in high school I couldn’t conceive life in college, so I figured that meant I was going to die…and so on, these thoughts came and went throughout my younger years. I even envisioned my parents crying because I died. It was jacked up, for sure, and fueled by fear and ignorance of the unknown. Looking back, I know it’s because I never processed any of the deaths of my friends until I was a junior in high school and my grandpa died. I was FREAKED out to go see him in a coffin. Let me back up to say, I’m sure none of you did this, but when babysitters were over or when I’d go to slumber parties, let’s just say we snuck horror movies, so my imagination with death, the dead, and the boogie man were all intermingled and Hollywood-ized, so, of course, fear and extreme feelings were coupled with dying.

When my Dad stood beside me, looking on at his own father’s body laid to rest in the coffin that day, a sense of peace washed over me, I know no other way to describe it. I know without a doubt it was God’s presence showing me what happens when life and living and laughter and vibrancy and personality are no longer dwelling in arms, legs, and a familiar smile. The heart stops, but almost 30 years later my grandpa’s voice can still be heard in my heart when I sing, “How Great Thou Art” or hear Flight of the Bumblebee on a violin or think about chemistry and his contributions to science or enjoy boat rides or cherries jubilee. He took none of that with him, but left all that he contributed in life with us, the good and the bad…we all do. I looked at my grandpa’s body, then turned to my dad and said, “Huh. That’s not grandpa. That’s just his body.” And for the first time, as far as it had to do with death, I was okay.

Would I miss my grandpa? Of course. But the fear lessened its grip.

And FEAR is really the big four letter word, here. DEATH has five letters and DIE has three, but FEAR steals life from today, destroys future hope, and robs our energy, love, and vitality for living…and when we spend all our time fearing what is inevitable for every. single. human. ever. I suggest there is a lot of LIVING we’ll miss.

I believe FEAR is one of the underlying things that has to be discussed and exposed when it comes to the topic of death because FEAR of death and dying, sickness, pain, ailing, aging, loneliness, longing, doesn’t make death go away…FEAR paralyzes us by planting seeds of doubt, namely and especially, doubt that God is in love with us because we experience death and pain and separation at all.

LOVE and LIFE are inseparable from the topic of DEATH, too, so must be discussed in depth in order to be FREE to LIVE.

More to come…