For some people, the holidays are not characterized by the idyllic peace and joy of a Currier and Ives Christmas card or a Hallmark movie. For those who are struggling with grief, this time of year can be anything but jolly.
Sometimes, you just don’t have any idea what other people are going through.
I recently received a couple of Facebook messages about my book, Living With a Broken Heart, that blew me away. Perry and Shirley Elkins are dear friends with whom Susan and I worshiped at the College Street Church of Christ years ago.
Tuesday, April 10, 1979. Euless, Texas. John’s Dad drops him off at school, then drives to a remote location … and shoots himself.
Webster defines “serendipity” as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for”. I like to think of serendipity simply as “an unexpected blessing”.
I lost my daughter Ashley to cancer in 2001. She was fourteen years old. I have learned many things about loss and grief in the eleven years since her death. One of those unexpected lessons is that there is blessing in loss.
TRUST IN GOD
Ashley turned fourteen in April 2001. She had spent the previous four years of her life battling cancer and all the demons that come with it, including the cruel side effects of the very medicines and treatments that were designed to save her life. Even three years after her final chemotherapy treatment, there were still some very frustrating long-term side effects that she had to deal with every day.
Through it all, she seldom complained. She had developed a courage that would serve any warrior well; a determination that would see the fiercest athlete through the most difficult challenge; and an indomitable spirit that exemplified the motto, “Never give up”.
Because of these qualities, and because of the thousands of people who came to follow Ashley’s story through my Internet and e-mail updates, Ashley became an inspiration to people all over the world. People found the courage to face their own life struggles because of the inspiration they gained from Ashley’s story.
About four months after Ashley died, Susan and Justin and I took a trip from our home in Texas to visit some friends in Tennessee and then spend a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains. Driving late at night, somewhere between Memphis and Nashville, the idea for a song began growing in my head. It was a tribute to the remarkable life of my Ashley, her profound impact on our lives as her family, and the deep emptiness left in our hearts by her death. But even amidst the palpable sadness of our grief, I found my thoughts, and the emerging song, focusing on the hope that is inherent in my faith — the promise that, one day, we will see her and hold her once again.
The more we drove, the more the song grew and began to organize itself into verses and a chorus. I asked Susan to find some paper and a pen and start writing down the words so that I wouldn’t forget them. I drove and Susan wrote, and by the time we reached Nashville, “Until Then” was a song.
It’s hard to believe it has been eight years: November 24, 2001. Sometimes it seems as though it was only yesterday that you left us, Ashley. Then there are moments when it seems that a lifetime has passed since that awful day.
I still miss you like crazy. We’re doing OK, though. You taught us to cherish every day. Most days we remember to do that. You taught us to live life to the fullest, to squeeze every drop of adventure out of every day that God gives us. You showed us that the real beauty of life is living with a complete trust in God. It’s funny how I’ve been a minister most of my adult life, but you figured that out so much better and lived it so much more completely than I ever have.