I didn’t know Brenda very well. I saw her only three times
in my life, twice at church and once at her father’s funeral. But if you ask me
how I can speak with authority on this, I have an easy answer. She was LOVED by
so many people that I love.
It took quite a while for the cancer to take her body. It never beat her spirit. She fought a hard fight, and she did it her own way.
She was a warrior.
When you’re a kid and you have the whole world in front of
you, death seems so impossible! If it’s even a thought in our minds, it’s
fleeting. And even then, it’s about something besides US, like maybe a frog that
that got run over and fried on the pavement. Never a human, never ourselves. We’re
damn near invincible, or at least that’s what our hearts would have us believe.
I can imagine Brenda skipping down the sidewalk, blowing
bubbles with gum that cost a nickel at the little mom and pop store up the road.
Cancer never entered her mind. She believed in love, life, laughter, and
possibilities. The very idea that she would one day leave her own children
motherless wasn’t even a tiny consideration.
Yet now there is this gaping hole where Brenda used to be.
Even though she was equipped with guts and strength and
FAITH so strong, there finally came a moment when she didn’t have enough of
herself left to stand and fight the war that was waged against her body. She
accepted the freedom that eternity offered. Her heart was right. Her mind was
good. It was her body that failed her.
Even though everyone fought to keep her here, when it got
closer to the end and pain wracked her small, exhausted body, her family prayed
she’d just let go and stop the fight. She wasn’t going to win it. There was
obviously a plan bigger than ours. A kingdom stood ready. Her king was waiting
Sometimes it’s hard to see the value in the glass you’re
In fact, it would make more sense to hurl it to the floor
and watch it shatter. To rail at God and ask Him, “Why?” This was no ordinary
life you took this time, God! This one was full of hope, promise, and joy. She
was a MOTHER, a DAUGHTER, a SISTER! She TRUSTED you! Her whole FAMILY believes
I hear the faint sound of wind blowing. Beyond that, there’s
And Jesus walked on water.
He healed the sick, made the blind see, and turned water
into wine. Yet Brenda slipped away from here.
People do, you know.
And I know that even though the world is a lesser place, Brenda is free.
And if she ever skipped, she’s skipping now. If she blew
bubbles, she’s blowing the biggest one ever! I also know she could probably
catch that frog that’s hopping by if she wanted to. She’s safe now. It doesn’t
hurt. CANCER didn’t win.
I just don’t know how to say all that to the ones I love, who loved her so much. They will grieve—pain is part of life in this broken world. It’s all just temporary.
Death will come for us too—then life and eternity!
I can hear my own footsteps as I walk through my silent
house. I think about life, cancer, and death. My heart hurts, and there’s a
lump in my throat. All the words I could say keep running through my head.
The last time I felt like this, I thought I was dead.
Today the world became a lesser place, and there was nothing
we could do to stop it.
The day I chose to live was easily the worst day of my life. I guess it happens like that sometimes. Finding my son dead was a horrific experience that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Mr. Main (my husband) says that people don’t even like to hear or talk about losing a child, because they’re afraid if they do then it might happen to them as well. As if talking about it is inviting the devil in! So I don’t say much about that part of my grief. I keep the horror to myself most of the time.
Most things that happen in this world have a definable
reason. Maybe the only thing that we can never get a full understanding of is
death. One thing you do grasp rather quickly is the absolute FINALITY of it.
And it’s that knowledge which forces you to confront your own mortality, whether
you’re prepared for it or not. Then, at some point in the consideration of
death and all that it means, you realize something that you may have never
thought of before. You, as an individual who lives and breathes on this earth, have
control of your own life. You can choose whether you can live with the loss or
die yourself, alleviating all of your mortal suffering.
Losing Mikey was a deal breaker for me. I was finished. I looked
at the world and what it held for me. I looked at my life as it was and knew
beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was not willing to be on this earth anymore.
I had spent most of my life grieving anyway, and I was sad before that, as if
somewhere in my innermost being I knew what was coming.
My entire childhood was spent longing for an elusive place that
I called “Happiness.” I knew I couldn’t find it and thought somehow that if I did,
all things would be made right. I wrote songs and poems from a very young age about
death and suicide, even though I wasn’t consciously contemplating either one. It
was a part of me from the beginning, this grief that I carried in my heart,
like a foreshadowing of things to come.
So, when tragedy after tragedy struck, I wasn’t even surprised.
It was as if I expected it. Like that was my life, and I better learn how to
live with it. And I did okay with it, to a point. I won’t pretend that at any
time I came to an understanding of death or even life. I didn’t know why I
always seemed to be a target. I thought I must be receiving punishment from God
for my sins or someone else’s.
The human mind is incapable of providing a rationale for
death. It just is. We are broken people living in a broken world where we have
no control of things as small as the actions of others or as big as death. We
are only humans after all. We were forced out of the garden so that we could
not eat from the tree of life, even though we could finally understand the existence
of evil and how it seeks to destroy both the guilty and the innocent. How
So, I looked at my future, and I could not accept what I was
seeing. Life without my son was incomprehensible to me. I had already buried so
many people—2 babies, my father, my precious aunt. How much could a heart take
before it shattered completely, and for that matter, how much could a mind take
before it did the same? Now God was asking this of me, to live my entire life
without my child, and I said, “No.”
I woke up from a necessary drug-induced sleep and said the
words aloud—to myself more than anyone else. Just to have them out there. Whether
I said it to state my intention or my certainty, I don’t know. I just said it. “I
don’t want to be here anymore.” And I knew I had made the decision to end my
life. To not face the future without my son. It was over, and I was okay with
that. I didn’t have to deal with death or life anymore. I was done.
But I didn’t consider the other people in the room. Of course,
I didn’t! I was alone, locked inside myself with my pain and the loss that I
knew there was no escaping. When I said the words, I wasn’t talking to anyone
but myself. And maybe God.
But Nic heard me. Nic was my first son to take a breath as a
living person in this world. I had a son before him, but he died before he was
born. And when Mikey was 8 years old, I buried my second son, Samuel. Now three
sons were gone, and Nic was in the room with me when I realized that I had
reached the point of no return. So was my daughter, Tiffany. And my best
And when I said, “I don’t want to be here anymore,” without
hesitation, Nic said, “You go, I go.” Silence roared in my ears and all other noise
stopped at that moment. I was in shock. There was nothing else in my life but
that statement, and the realization that he meant every word of it.
Then Tiff said, “You go, I go,” and Martha said, “You go, I
And I became angrier than I had ever been in my life. Angrier
than the angry of losing my babies, and my father. Angrier than I was at God
for taking them. Angry, because in that moment, everything changed. I was ready
to die. I had no desire to stay.
But I had no choice. Not then, not now, not ever. And it
hurts, but not near as much as it did that day, the worst day of my life.
That day, I chose to live.
It would be a long, long time before I chose to have a life.
That day I was only capable of making one choice.
There is only one thing that trumps grief. Only one thing
that’s bigger than the worst loss. One thing that is undeniably monumentally ENOUGH,
even in the face of the most insurmountable tragedy ever to befall a Mama—the loss
of her child. That one thing is LOVE.
The day I chose to live, I chose their lives over my own.
Knowing that I would never smile again until I drew my last breath on earth,
the time God set aside for me to die, I CHOSE LOVE. To choose love, I was
forced to choose life. I chose to keep my remaining two babies alive on this
earth for as long as it was humanly possible for me to do so. My selfishness was
not bigger than my love for my two children and my friend. I was forced to make
the choice to stay on this earth for them.
Regrets? NO. Not even one. Amazingly, life went on, and I did smile again. And I learned that even though happiness is temporary, joy is eternal. I learned to walk this road that God placed me on one step at a time.
Now, I look at the faces of those I love more than my own life and more than my own death, and I know I made the right choice.
And now my family has grown much larger than the three people it had suddenly become! There have been more losses, but also more births. It has also grown in other natural ways, by adding children and adults through marriage and through deep and abiding friendship.
No one can replace Mikey, nor anyone else who is lost to me,
but no one needs to. Mikey had his own space in my heart, and it’s still
occupied. He didn’t leave me forever. I will touch his face again.
But here on earth, I get to watch my grandbabies laugh and
play. I get to teach them about life, and sadly, about death. Sometimes it’s a
bittersweet joy and sometimes it’s a full-on beautiful, boundless joy that
doesn’t exist because of my decision but despite my having to make it. And I enjoy
more fully the moments that I have with all the ones I love, and those who love
me back—especially the ones who love me enough to be willing to sacrifice their
own lives if I cannot be in them.
When I wake now, sometimes I can’t help but to think about
what I would have missed if I did not choose to live. When I look at my life,
it is full of joy—and sadness too. One does not exist without the other. You
can’t truly know the joy of life without experiencing the pain of death.
I don’t know what my childhood would have been like if I had
known joy instead of the darkness of sorrow and depression. If I pass down anything
to my children, I hope it’s not the despair that I was born with. I hope it will
be a legacy of life. I hope I will have taught them to love as fully and deeply
as possible for every single moment that God allows us. I pray that they will
know always that He has a plan that ultimately leads to infinite joy. There’s no
time to be searching for a place called “Happiness.” Life is way too short for
Happiness is a lie anyway. In this world, it’s fleeting and superficial.
Joy, however, can be had now (even amid grief) and experienced eternally. If
you are going to strive for anything, strive to find joy. If you are going to
choose anything worthwhile, let it be life.
As for me, I am forever grateful for the lessons
learned and blessings received because of the day I chose to live.
My first introduction to death was at the tender age of 18. This was before I knew the first thing about living, so I sure didn’t know how to process the fact that people could just stop doing it. Especially important people, like my Daddy.
He was bigger than life to me, and his life seemed way more important to me than mine. I threw myself face down on the floor and began my first attempt to barter with God. Apparently, God wasn’t interested in reversing the process and taking me in Daddy’s place because I’m still here, and writing about it after all these years.
God has a way of giving us just what we need to survive at the time, and sometimes scarcely more than that. Somehow, I managed to get up off the floor and scrape together just enough of whatever it is that it takes to survive.
I had to make a lot of hard decisions that I wasn’t ready for back then. It was like going from zero to sixty—I grew up fast. I didn’t have much choice.
The tragedies in my life have continued. I have not only buried my father; I have also buried three sons. Two of them were infants, one was almost 17 years old.
I am forever changed. Some days I find the courage to talk about it and some days I don’t. It would be easy to wallow on the hard days, but today I choose to honor life by talking about what grief has taught me, in the hopes that it will help someone else when they go through the darkness.
PEOPLE ARE MORE
IMPORTANT THAN THINGS.
This seems like a no-brainer. I can’t elaborate too much on the
obvious, but if I have learned anything it’s to put the people you love and
your relationships above material possessions and the pursuit of them. The
Bible, in Mark 8:36, asks, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole
world and forfeit his soul?”
Don’t sell out your family for money or recognition. Don’t trade your time with them for anything that seems glittery and beautiful. You can’t get the moments that you lost back again. You can’t even get the moments that you spent back again, but at least you have the memories of those. Let your memories be full of laughter and joy when you can, but also go through the hard stuff with the ones you love. The darkest night spent with someone you care for is better than the brightest morning alone with your things.
2. WE ARE NOT IMMORTAL.
Surprise! Life here on this earth does not last forever. We die. Our forever is not going to be spent here in these bodies, doing this stuff. There’s really no need to save the best for last! Don’t keep your ideas to yourself. Use them! Get out your best dishes, wear your best clothes. Have dessert first if you feel like it (I don’t recommend this all the time though. It’s not that great for your waistline).
3. TAKE YOUR MOMENTS WHEN YOU CAN GET THEM.
Embrace the precious times of your life. You don’t know what the
future holds! The Bible talks about this too (a very wise book), when it says
in James 4:13 “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such
and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ yet you do
not know what tomorrow will bring.”
Love on your family. Stare at your children. Watch them breathe. Take a moment to revel in their smiles. Say all those words you’ve been holding back. Just in case this is all you will ever have; make it the best moment it can possibly be!
4. IT’S OKAY TO LIVE AGAIN.
You are not betraying anyone by going on with your life. Continuing to breathe is not a curse, and you have no reason to feel guilty for it. God has appointed each of us a time to be born and a time to die (Yep, that’s from the Bible too).
If you are reading this, it wasn’t your time to die. It’s hard and it hurts and it’s unfair and all of that. But it’s the truth. Oh, and you aren’t God. It wasn’t your choice. You can let go of that now.
Keep breathing. Keep going. Keep trying. Make it a great life! Do you know what the absolute best thing is that you can do for the ones who have stopped living? For you to keep on living, and to lead a victorious life.
5. LAUGHTER REALLY IS GOOD FOR HEALING.
Don’t feel guilty for finding enjoyment in your life. Let the joy come back. It doesn’t mean there isn’t still heartbreak. It doesn’t mean you have forgotten. Joy and pain can inhabit the same house. Let them.
6. GOD KNOWS YOU’RE MAD AT HIM.
He can take it. This is His world. Nothing happens without His knowledge and permission.
It’s a hard pill to swallow. Everyone dies–also hard to get down, especially when that someone is your child or parent, spouse or sibling. Or grandparent.
You are insignificant to God because He allowed it to happen to you. It also is not a small thing that He gave His Son to die, knowing that He would ultimately beat death. I mean, that was the point.
He kicked death’s ass so I could see my kids again someday. Yeah, I was mad at Him for a long time. Sometimes I still am. Then, I remember the cross, and I get through. I know where my hope is.
7. WE AREN’T MEANT TO DO THIS ALONE.
Don’t isolate and expect to get through it all on your own. There’s no need in it. If you don’t have friends or family who will walk through your grief with you, find a recovery group.
There are moments when you need to shout, cry, fall apart, and vent. You might just want to share some funny old memories. Maybe you don’t know what to do with your anger and unforgiveness. That’s what these groups are for. People are better than things and substances for helping you to get through. They need you too.
8. LIFE IS A MIRACLE.
Do you know why you are still here? Neither do I. It’s a miracle. Treat each breath as the gift that it is. Embrace the fact that you are alive and go dance in the rain.
9. ALL WE LEAVE BEHIND IS WHAT WE GIVE TO OTHERS.
No accomplishment, no amount of money, no possession will matter after you are gone. When people think of you, let it be because they remember what an impact for good you made on their lives.
Stand up for what is right. Fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. Love everyone the same. Don’t discriminate because of color, social status, or wealth. Give everything you can give to other people. You can’t take one thing with you where you’re going anyway (no matter which direction that is).
10. IT’S OKAY TO CRY.
You can grieve for as long as you need to grieve. I believe that there are some losses that you will always grieve for on this earth. The loss of a child is one of those. If you need to cry, don’t let anyone tell you that you should be “over it.” Your grief is your grief. Feel it and live your life anyway.
11. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SPEND YOUR LIFE TRYING TO MAKE THEIRS MEAN SOMETHING.
Their life was not in vain, and neither was their death. It has already taught you so much! You have precious memories to hold forever. Their lives already had meaning, and they always will.
Don’t spend your whole life setting up foundations in their name, donating to causes in their name, furiously trying to immortalize them. Let them rest in peace.
You don’t have to make their life mean something. The best thing that you can do to honor them is to make your own life mean something! Work on that. Take responsibility for you. Get better so you can help other people.
12. THE NEXT “YOU” WILL BE DIFFERENT.
This journey that you are walking through grief will change you. That’s okay. You might think that you were meant to be that other person who was never touched by loss.
Things would have turned out another way. Perhaps you can make a case for that, but I doubt it. Life, death, and God did not steal anything from you. Remember that everyone’s time is appointed to them! That means that you are meant to be the person touched by loss. The question is “why”?
Use the things you have learned to help other people. Sure, you are different, but you’re not lesser than. You have a world of experience now that was very hard-earned. Don’t let it go to waste. Use it for good. When the opportunity comes, take it.
Bonus: SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO SWIM THROUGH THE RIVER
There are times in your life when you need medication to get you through the hard stuff. There’s no shame in taking it when you do. Other times we try to self-medicate by using all kinds of things–alcohol, narcotics, sex, food, distractions–just about anything you can think of that we believe will take our minds off the hurt.
They all work for a little while. The problem is, when you step back from all you have done to numb the pain or forget the hurt, it’s still there. Not only do you find the loss and grief is still right where you left it, but you have often piled a load of guilt and remorse on top of it through behaviors and addictions that you wish you could change.
It’s hard to turn your life around when you find yourself in a situation like that, but it can be done. You have to make the decision to embrace the joy and faith that are still in your life and turn around and swim through the river. Sometimes that’s the only way to survive, and then you can turn around and help others across too.
These are some of the surprising things that grief will teach you that you actually need to know. Somewhere down the road, you will have the chance to share them with someone else in a way that helps their heart. Doing it will help your own.
RIP Samuel Allen Dowden, born dead, July 17th, 1998
Here’s a link to this post in Medium if you’d like to pop over and see it! There are lots of other things to read from other writers as well that I think you would enjoy and benefit from: