An unexpected police car and two uniformed military men. Frantic, crushing, catastrophic phone calls to siblings in other states. Standing on the tarmac in the summer heat with sweaty palms, shaky knees, and churning stomachs as the plane unloaded. Curious faces of travelers awaiting their flight pressed against the airport windows. A church packed with pew upon pew of military men and women dressed in blues. Tear stained faces standing over a flag-covered wooden box. The piercing sound of a 21-gun salute and the saddening melody of trumpets as taps are played. A cemetery filled with perfectly arranged rows of white headstones. A van with exactly one empty seat.
This can’t be real. This isn’t actually happening. For far too long these moments forever etched into my memory replayed over and over again. With a second death soon to follow, I pushed the reality of those few weeks as far beneath the surface as I could. The simple task of waking and breathing was about as much as I could bear to handle. Even today, it’s easiest not to let my mind wander back.
Death was never invited into my life—nothing I ever wanted or asked to be a part of. Only that’s the thing—it comes knocking at the door when you very least expect it. What I never intended to become part of my story, has. The thought of how people dealt with loss, became my earth-shattering daily reality.
As the two-year anniversary of Drew’s death rolled around this last week, I found myself surprisingly okay. Was this because my stubborn suppression of the tears all day, or perhaps because I’ve refused to process it? If I’m being honest, two years later it still often feels like he’s been on a trip and just not been home in a while. It remains easier to try not to think about the reality of it all, but after being at a loss for words last week I’m going to attempt share some important things I’ve learned. The idea of this post has been rolling around in my head for a couple of months, and as last week passed, I thought I was in the clear about writing on it. But the Lord placed it on my heart again today, and so here we are. No, I don’t know everything, and yes, I definitely still have bad days, but I’m hoping I can share some insight into my personal experience with life after loss–not for my benefit, but to maybe help someone else in their struggle. Because hey–I get it, and sometimes you just need to hear that. We’re in this together, friend.
1. Permission Is Required
This is one idea that has always stuck in my head since I first read about it. A reminder I often pull out. My very intelligent friend, Levi Lusko, wrote about it in his first book. It’s the knowledge that God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. Yes, he can allow them to happen, but only after a consultation with the devil– who is ultimately responsible for evil. I love the way he says it,
“..there will come a day when the devil will regret ever asking God’s permission to give you your trials, because you will end up twice as blessed as you started out…He has the devil’s credit card on file and is more than able to make him pay for the damage he does.”
God only allows it if he knows he can make something good and beautiful come of it. Let nothing be wasted. He doesn’t just say ‘Hey this is gonna hurt really bad and I’m sorry but I just have to do it.’ No, he allows it to happen with a much bigger plan in mind. Fulling knowing that the devil won’t win this one. So use your trial to shine a light into the darkness. Hold tight, we may not always see all the beauty on this side of eternity. It won’t feel like your trial is a blessing right away or maybe ever—grieving is normal and must be done first, but dig hard and look for the ways it might be used as a blessing. This leads me to my next thought..
2. Hurting With Hope Still Hurts
Just because you’re a Christian and you believe in heaven and eternal life, doesn’t mean your trial won’t feel completely crushing and overwhelming. It doesn’t mean you won’t be angry, question God’s plans, or break down and cry. Those things are normal. The reality will sting and burn like nothing you’ve ever experienced, but it doesn’t mean that God isn’t good. He is. Even in the worst of your storms in this life. This was hard for me to grasp at first. How can God allow bad things to happen? (Go back to point one, Natalie..) It’s not easy and it won’t be but God wants to walk alongside you through it. On the days you can’t breathe, or so much as glance at a picture of your loved one, God knows that, sees that, and most importantly loves you through that. Hold onto that hope. Hope has a rope anchoring us to heaven, and I like to think of that rope as Jesus. Don’t. Let. Go.
3. The Worst Day Of Your Life Was The Best Day Of Theirs
Change your perspective. It has really helped me to think about it like this. The worst day of my life was LITERALLY the best day of Drew’s life. He was welcomed into heaven to forever experience the freedom of God’s glory and grace in his presence. (Guys, I literally finished typing that sentence and the lightbulb in the lamp next to me burnt out at the exact same time. If that’s not a sign confirming the previous statement, then I don’t know what is.)
I’ll forget what his voice sounded like, what that last hug in the driveway felt like.
He’ll never graduate college.
He’ll never get married.
He’ll never be in my wedding.
He’ll never meet his future nieces or nephews.
It’s so incredibly easy to get tangled up and trapped in these thoughts. However, when I shift my perspective and my focus, it’s so relieving. The best day of his entire life has already happened. I should rejoice and be glad in that. When I thought about writing this post, I went back and read through the journal I kept the first few months after. One thing I wrote, I wanted to share, “It seems strange, but I’ve never been so unafraid of death in my life. I’ve never wanted heaven more. Unfortunately, it took a really personal loss to make me realize how much we’re made to long for heaven. How this earth is just our temporary home away from home. If you’re a believer, then there is no fear in death!! We’re designed to be temporary residents here and forever residents of heaven. What a powerful, freeing truth.
4. You Don’t Have To ‘Feel Better’ After 5 Years
I think as a society we put such a pressure on ourselves and other people that they should “move on” or “feel better” after a certain amount of time. The lie that time heals consumes us. I don’t believe that time heals. Jesus heals. Hurting with hope still hurts. In 10 years, it may still hurt just as bad, but knowledge of the hope we have in Christ takes some of that sting away. You don’t have to feel guilty when you have a bad day, or a really good day for that matter. You’re human. You have feelings. Ride them out as they come and give yourself some grace as they do. You’re not perfect and no one expects you to be. Disconnect with friends and your phone for a day and process your feelings if you need to. It’s okay. Try to find ways to see the blessings that have come from your trial. It’s not an easy fight, but definitely one worth fighting. Each day that passes is one more closer to seeing your loved one again. Let your pain be a passport to take you places you could never have gone before. Reach out to someone you know is struggling with loss. After all, you’ve been there. Let them see your life as a light shining for God’s kingdom. Shine bright, my friend.
Well, if you’ve stuck with me this far, props to you. It’s been a long one. Have I picked off the majority of my nail polish while writing this with a racing heart and sweaty palms? Yes. It’s vulnerable, honest, and not fun to talk about, but I think sometimes it’s necessary. I hope this post will become less about me and what’s become my story, and more about Jesus and his goodness even in your hardest trials, whatever that may look like for you. I pray it will bless someone. You. Your friend. A stranger you know is struggling with loss. Maybe you haven’t experienced loss, but know someone who has. Reach out to them today. Send them a text, see how they’re doing. Let them know you’re thinking of them. They’ll appreciate it even if it seems out of the blue—trust me!
Thanks so much for reading along, friends
Don’t let this heartbreak destroy you. Let this breaking actually be the making of you. Let God use it in good ways to make you stronger and take you further.
-Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited