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:
Sometimes we’d rather believe the worst possible lie than face the truth.
The thing about the world is, you can’t change it. No matter how much you want to. It doesn’t matter how much you wish it were different—or easier—or less frightening and ugly. You just can’t change it. It’s like an out of control freight train on a track that heads straight to hell.
To love, to live, to forget, to pretend, to dream, and to die—human beings have so damned much capacity, even in a world that we can’t do anything about.
Sometimes I wonder if we actually have the capacity to draw the line between what is real and what never was—to distinguish between real life and fantasy or even dreams as we hold on for dear life, speeding through space, darkness, and time.
Do we ever really know what reality we’re living, or what even constitutes reality?
What is it about the truth that makes us lie so desperately to ourselves?
What keeps us yearning and trying so hard to reach for something more than the actuality that we face?
Why do we constantly strive to get to a place—any place—that is different than the one we are currently in?
I have a lot of questions like these, and by rights, I
should have. I can’t think of too many people who should ask them more than I
should. Because I’m dead. Lifeless.
All this time—all this time! I believed that I existed! That
I woke up unprovoked one morning and found your cold and stiff body. As
horrifying as that was, I could make some sick and twisted sense from it.
The very idea that you had left me had my mind reeling in shock—oh, but hadn’t you prepped me for this very moment by asking me in advance to forgive you? “Will you forgive me, Mother?” you said. “Will you ever forgive me?” And in my innocence, I answered you with a mother’s true love and said, “You’re my child, I’ll forgive you anything!”
I, in my small mindedness, had the audacity (or you could
even say, the CAPACITY) to believe that was true! That I would forgive you for
anything! I wasn’t thinking about the comment you had made earlier in the week,
when you said that you’d often thought about sneaking into my room at night to kill
me. I knew you were just talking—of course you were! You’d never do such a
thing. But you did, didn’t you, Son?
Never would I have believed that you would follow through on your casually spoken words! No one could have ever made me believe that you would be a threat to me! I brought you into this world—I did! As your mother, I loved you so much more than anyone else (past or present) that you might purposely or accidentally encounter. I’m your Mama—you didn’t mean it! You could not have, because that would mean that you were someone that I didn’t know—had never known—and that just is not possible. You’re my baby. I love you more than my own life.
I wish that clarity could have come in some other less
unforgiving way, that on the day that I was destined to find the truth there
would be a laughing acceptance and the flippant toss of the head and “I knew it
all along,” spilling out of my mouth.
Oh, if only I wasn’t standing here invisible, looking at
you, and what you have become in this world and screaming, “NO, NO, NO, NO!!”
This is my BABY!! It cannot be the way it is and yet—my mind knows now, and I
do not have the ability to make it any other way. You have done what you threatened
to do—in fact—you reached that goal long ago. I thought I found you dead,
instead they found me.
How can the dead refuse to be dead and even insist that
there is life and recovery and all the things that most human beings strive for
after a loss so complete? How did I get to this place where I thought that the
worst that could happen had already done so? Capacity. I lost the capacity to snatch
the truth out of the swirling particles of reality and fear in front of me. When
you are dead, you cannot know the truth.
Proof of Life
What about those babies that I love so well? They scream my
name and run into my arms when they see me! They grab my leg when I try to walk
and say, “I don’t ever want to let you go!”
None of this seems odd to me. I have been there! I have! I
have lived! You did not kill me! You could not have! You are my Son! I cried
for you, for years on end—how can the dead just not stay dead and slip into the
infinity that we claimed would be consumed with our love for each other?
Even more—how can I not now find that my greatest wish has come true—that YOU are alive?? Because if I am the one who died—then YOU LIVE!! You live! My baby lives! I know this must be true in the same moment that I realize that I am not alive, and do not live, and indeed, have not for many years.
Can the dead be crazy like the living? Does the mind just
continue to fabricate an existence to protect us from the things we cannot
face? But—maybe I am wrong! I must have found some OTHER way to die—some accident
that no one saw coming and never thought to warn me about—That has to be true.
I could NOT have died BY YOUR HAND! Not the hand of my Son—the hand that was
once so tiny and fragile and the only thing of you that I could hold when you
first made your entrance into this world.
The truth is such an elusive (and in some cases, abusive)
creature. We can tell ourselves anything—we all have the capacity to believe
our own lies and act on them. Somehow though, if our foundation is steady, we
make our way back to the truth eventually. Whether we like it or not.
I did, indeed, die by your hand. I died a million times
inside, remembering what you said, and knowing you could never take it back. I
died when I found you asleep forever, lying as if you might get up any minute
and argue with me about who was going to cook supper or wash dishes.
I died as they tore your body away from your Mama’s hands
and loaded you up to take you away from me forever. I died with the flood of
memories which took me back to every single thing that I had ever done to hurt
your heart—each time I yelled at you—when I snatched your cap off your head
because it annoyed me—when I gave it back to you because it annoyed someone
You Killed Me
I died when I realized that I could never make it right. I
died when I remembered telling you that I would forgive you anything and realizing
that it was not true. I died a million times and in a million ways and it was
by your hand—because it was your hand that held the pills. Your hand that
lifted them to your mouth to swallow them. YOU killed ME in that moment, more
effectively than if you had actually snuck in my room and cut my throat.
I have so many memories of you, my son. So that one
statement that you made to me in that one moment shouldn’t weigh so heavily on
my heart—and if you were here now, laughing with me over something silly that
you said almost 13 years ago—it wouldn’t be significant at all.
Instead, you are not here, and I am alone in my room, my pen
moving across this page so fast that I can barely read the words while my mind
tries to make up ANY scenario that keeps you breathing on this earth—EVEN IF IT
MEANS THAT I AM NOT.
The Capacity to Love
Because Mikey—I love you. Whether you are dead or I am dead,
that does not change. I love you even though you killed me by killing yourself.
Even though it wasn’t an intentional act
on your part, it forever changed things. Still, it did not even remotely touch
the fact that I LOVE YOU. I loved you then, I love you now, and I will love you
forever. God gave us the capacity to do ONE thing eternally—to LOVE.
He also gave us the capacity to forgive, and I forgive you—on
most days. I forgive you for killing us both that day, and for not killing us
both that day. Regardless, I know that God has resurrected us both, but not in
the same way. You are in your place that God had ready for you, but I am here
in this one—struggling to overcome and live a life of purpose. You left this
world, Son, but not in vain. Because God always has a plan. He alone has the
capacity to turn destruction into beauty.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound–that saved a wretch like me…
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.” John Newton
If you’d like to see this story on Medium, go here!
“I guess I finally decided to tell my story to somebody who would write it down pretty much like I said it. Before I get too deep in it though, I better set the record straight, in case it comes out somehow and you catch on to me.
really from around here, at least not before about twenty years ago, and how I
got here was from a job I took to take care of my babies. I used to move around
a lot because that’s just what I learned to do. You chase the money when you
can’t do anything else, and you have three little kids looking at you for food
and clothes and toilet paper, and other stuff that they need and you’re the
only one they can really count on to get it for them.
It Don’t Matter How Smart You Are if You Ain’t Got a Pot to Piss In
I always tried to better myself, just about every way I could, but nothing I ever did seemed to amount to much in the end. I got myself a college degree, and I ain’t gonna lie, I don’t have to talk like this. I just do it because it’s easier to dumb myself down than to take the trouble I get into for acting like I’ve got sense sometimes. It’s different around here. It was a pretty big culture shock when I hit this part of the state, and I’m not sure why I didn’t just turn around and run. Well, that’s a lie right there. I am sure, and it’s because it don’t matter how smart you think you are if you ain’t got a pot to piss in.
So anyway, I
have a story to tell, and I ain’t gonna tell it all. I’m just going over the
part that I think might do some good to help somebody else that might get in
the same predicament that I got myself into. Maybe they can find the courage to
get out before it’s too late. I guess I waited too late, but I didn’t know it,
and I pretty much went back for seconds. That’s the part that doesn’t make sense
unless you know the whole story. I’m gonna try to tell just enough to make you
I got down here around ’98, and it wasn’t long before I met a man. To say that I was always “meeting a man” would be putting it mildly. I swear, there’s one around every corner when you decide that you can live your life without one in it, and I have come to that conclusion many times. Unfortunately, they always seem to be around the corner I’m rounding, and I run smack into them and fall head over heels in love every time.
To clarify that point, I don’t usually fall in love with the man, just in love with the idea of being in love with the man. This time was different though. I had never met anyone like Johnny before. He said I was his “meant to be” and I believed him. Of course, I did. I was a single mother with three little kids and I was looking for salvation. Not the kind that God gives you—I had that already—but something a little more down to earth and touchable. We got married pretty quick, and I thanked God for him every time I thought about it.
He Could Pick a Deer Off at Just About Any Distance
Johnny was a
strong, working man, and I thought that he was everything that I had ever
wanted. When he wasn’t working, he would grab me and the kids and we’d go
fishing, or he would hunt with his buddies. Most of the time he had a whole
pack of boys following him around, trying to learn everything he knew about
huntin’ and fishin’. Everybody said he was the best shot around, and he wasn’t
too worried about killing the deer legally, just mowing them down every chance
he got. He could pick ‘em off running through the woods at just about any distance
and he’d do it driving down the road or walking—didn’t matter to him.
It wasn’t that bad of a deal. He made you think that it was the law that was wrong, not him. He didn’t do it for selfish reasons like filling our freezer, don’t think that. Maybe it was just for the joy of killing or maybe for the joy of giving the meat to people who needed it, I ain’t quite sure. We never really had any extra fish or deer meat because he gave every bit of it away so he could go again. That’s just the man he was, and everybody loved him. Mostly me. I don’t think I could’ve loved him more if I tried. And he loved me too. He said all he needed in life was ‘you, the kids, a smoke, and a Coke.’ That’s a pretty simple life right there. It would have been enough for us.
Johnny didn’t believe in drugs or drinking. Well, he would drink, but only once a year. He’d go to the bar and get drunk on New Year’s Eve, and I would drive him home. He would do ridiculously funny things like put his toe prints on the windshield in the morning dew as the car warmed up and say, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t,’ or sing the National Anthem in Donald Duck’s voice, or something equally crazy but normal for Johnny. Then, the next day he would get up like always and go build a fence, or help somebody wrap their pipes, or fish, hunt, or something. He never just laid up with a hangover. That just wasn’t the kind of man he was.
Then Johnny Got Hurt
He was on the
job and working just like he always did. He worked hard enough for two men, and
one time he actually did do the job of two men. Bob was an old guy who needed to retire but
couldn’t afford to, and he couldn’t breathe very well, so my Johnny would finish
his work and then do Bob’s work too. It wouldn’t have been that unusual except
that my husband was the foreman of the job. He could have sent Bob home at any
time, or even had someone else do the extra work. That just wasn’t him though. He
was always doing for other people.
sure Bob was retired or dead by the time all this took place. If I remember the
story right, a machine should have been doing the job that the hands were
doing, but the bosses couldn’t wait, and they were told to go ahead and do it themselves.
Somehow, they were supposed to pick up sledgehammers and knock some pieces in
the track—I guess I forgot to mention that he worked for the railroad.
Johnny had always told me, ‘If you get hurt on the railroad, you just as well better pretend you didn’t, because they’ll fire you so they don’t have to pay you.’ The railroad was always bearing the brunt of lawsuits filed from people getting run over by trains and maintenance of way hands who weren’t looking when they stepped off backwards onto the tracks and a train was coming, and other reasons like that. Instead of waiting around for you to decide to milk the situation for all you could get, they would just go ahead and fire you on the spot. You were gonna sue them anyway, so it didn’t really matter. At least that’s what I understood their position to be.
It was for
that reason that he waited a day before he told them that he was hurt. Well,
just like he always said, they fired him. He had worked there for 12 years, and
they just up and fired him like he didn’t even matter. Didn’t even give him a
chance to get better, not that he could have. They said that it was because he
didn’t tell them right away that he was hurt.
We knew they’d
have fired him either way. Turns out “hurt” didn’t really cover it. Johnny
broke his back. In the process of many X-Rays and MRI’s, we found out that the
reason his back ended up broke and nobody else got hurt is because he had degenerative
back disease. He was out of the game for good. Not just that game, but also the
hunting and fishing one. Truth be told, he was out of the game of life for good
too. We just didn’t know it for another ten years.
The Switch Got Flipped
When a man has everything that he loves taken away from him, or at least everything that he feels like makes him a man, it changes something inside of him. He lost his identity somehow–all the things that made him who he was to himself. That little switch that was flipped might have a lot to do with why everything else happened the way that it did. But whatever way you look at it, it wasn’t Johnny’s fault.
lawyers got involved, like they’ll do. The railroad’s doctors and Johnny’s
doctors. The railroad’s lawyers and Johnny’s lawyers. They all had different
opinions on whose fault the accident was, and what should be done about it. During
all of this, I kept on working and taking care of my babies. Johnny got money advances
from the lawyers and pain pills from the doctors. I tried my best to hold our
lives together. I wasn’t doing a very good job.
addicted. Like I said, it wasn’t his fault. When they send you to pain management,
they don’t try to “manage” your pain. They give you a huge bottle of opiates,
synthetic ones mostly, and a date to come back. After a while the vultures
start circling the parking lot. As soon as Johnny would come out of his pain
management appointment, someone would meet him in the parking lot to buy some
of his pills. Then he’d be short what he needed, and he’d do the same to
someone else. I guess he was dealing drugs, if you want to look at it like
that. I felt like I just turned my head and let it happen. I tried to stop it,
but what could I do? I couldn’t put my own husband in jail, and he never seemed
to hear anything I said to him anymore. It became a vicious cycle that there
was seemingly no escape from.
Pain Meds–the Beginning of the End
was. Somebody told Johnny of an easier way to manage his pain, or his
addiction, or something. I guess that was the beginning of the end. Pretty soon
he was taking pain pills, drinking, smoking marijuana, and doing meth. I knew
about all of it but the meth. You couldn’t have convinced me of that to save my
life. Or anybody else’s. Also, no one tried. I never had any idea that my
husband was addicted to meth. It never crossed my mind. I still don’t know if
he smoked it, ate it, shot it, drank it, or what. I never saw him do it one
time and wouldn’t even know it if it jumped up and bit me in the butt.
I could tell
you about the part where my youngest son got ahold of some morphine that had to
have come from Johnny, either directly or indirectly, if I had the guts to do
it right now. It’s a whole other story for a whole other day. I will give you
the short version. He didn’t make it, and I lost my mind. I have to live my
entire life without him now, knowing that I didn’t save him from a ship that I
didn’t know was sinking. Because I was just working and paying bills and taking
care of my kids I thought. I was just surviving and hanging in there and waiting
for a better day. And a better day was not coming. And it is never coming now.
Did I blame
Johnny for my baby dying? Of course, I did. He was only 16 years old. And
Johnny had been the love of my life, and I couldn’t make it work in my head. I
could say a million things to him and about him, but I couldn’t make any of it
work. I didn’t know that Johnny was already dead himself. Or if he wasn’t, that
was the last thing that he needed to send him over the edge. When the boy died,
Johnny died too. He just didn’t know it. Hell, none of us knew it.
Johnny Wasn’t Johnny Anymore
I bet a lot
of people don’t even believe that you can’t tell when someone who is addicted
to meth checks out on you, and someone else takes their place. Johnny wasn’t Johnny
anymore. He was already dead and gone. Pretty much a zombie to tell the truth. He
didn’t get buried for another ten years, but he never showed up again. There was
an imposter inhabiting his body after that. He fooled a lot of people. I can’t
believe that one of them was me.
get through the death. I guess I should say that I couldn’t get through it. Truth
be told, Johnny wasn’t really feeling anything. That body learned to fake everything
that Johnny used to be. It would laugh, or cry, be happy or sad—pretty much
anything you would expect from a real person, but it wasn’t one. I know that
now, but I sure didn’t know it then.
We split up—divorced—went
our separate ways. I struggled to get over the loss and the betrayal. I didn’t
want to live most of the time. But I had the other two kids, and they were young
adults by then, and putting pressure on me to live my life again. They didn’t
know Johnny was dead already, what with him walking around and all. They
harbored hopes that we would get back together and that things would be the way
they were before. Everybody loved Johnny.
You Can’t Give Me Back My Son
I moved on with life and relationships and reasoned out my forgiveness of Johnny. I didn’t know the truth of how it had all happened. I didn’t know really if he had been responsible. Perhaps I had misjudged him. Perhaps it wasn’t his fault. To this day, I still don’t know the truth. The source of the morphine is still a mystery to me, one that I will never solve. I don’t need to solve it anymore though. I have released that need to God. “Why” is not a question that I need an answer to, and neither is “how.” It doesn’t even matter. My child is dead, and no amount of forgiveness or unforgiveness can bring him back.
After a few
years of separation, my heart softened toward Johnny again. I remembered how I
had loved him, and how my kids still did. He told me about the meth, that he
had been addicted. I was shocked—it was unbelievable to me that he could be
doing all that right in front of me and I wasn’t even smart enough to know it.
See, I told you that my college degree was pretty much useless. Well, if that’s
not what I said, I meant to. I was blind where he was concerned.
MaybeI Saw What I Wanted to See
I believed him when he said that all the drug use was over. He told me, ‘I can’t imagine how bad I made you feel,’ and I just knew he had changed. Johnny cared about my feelings—he wanted me back! I moved back in with him, once I shook off the guilt. It took a while to get past the idea that I was somehow betraying my son by going back. I still don’t know if I did or if I didn’t. The truth is in the ground with Johnny, and it’s best that it stays there. I’m finally getting better myself. It has been almost 13 years.
about what it took for me to leave the second time. There wasn’t much doubt
after I had been there a little while that something was still very wrong. Johnny
would sleep for days at a time and then he would stay up for days at a time. He
would take things apart that he couldn’t hope to put back together because there
were so many pieces. Trash would pile up around him as he sat in his chair. He
stopped taking baths, and brushing his teeth.
I tried to
save him. Even after everything. In a way, I think that’s why I was there. Maybe
I knew all along that he wasn’t better. Maybe I knew that he was still on
drugs, even though I didn’t know it was meth. I think I must have had some kind
of inflated opinion of myself, or of what love can do.
Love is Not Always Enough
I’m here to
tell you that it isn’t enough, no matter what you think. Love can’t beat
addiction. Love can’t go down into hell and pull somebody out who doesn’t want
to come. You think you can be a savior to someone you love who is an addict, but
you can’t. You aren’t enough and you never will be. If they don’t want to be
saved, nobody can save them, and God won’t do it either. He already sent His only
Son to do the job. If Jesus ain’t enough, you sure aren’t. The only thing that
happens when you go down to hell to get somebody out who doesn’t want to come is
that you stand the chance of dying there too. I’m sorry to have to be the one
to tell you.
cleaned up his house and made it beautiful, because I thought that stuff like
that mattered. I told him when to bathe and brush his teeth. I became his wife
again. I took care of his bills, and other things that needed tending too, and
I was glad to do it. I don’t regret going back out there, even though it turned
out badly. I needed to do it. I needed to know that Johnny was gone, so I could
let his memory rest in peace in my own heart. Everyone said how glad they were that I was back.
Everyone was glad but me.
hard with my own feelings. My anxiety was out of control, and I had PTSD from
finding my baby dead. I had taken to cutting myself to get some kind of relief
from the hurts inside of me. I was angry and hurt and drinking all the time to
try to make myself feel better. I’m just telling you all of this so you know
that I’m not trying to make myself out to be a saint who always had it all
together. I sure didn’t. I was barely hanging on to life, and I don’t think I
was sane all the time. Still, you do the best you can do with the hand that you’re
dealt. If I could have thrown those cards back in God’s face, you can believe
me when I tell you that I would have. That ain’t the way things go sometimes
though. Sometimes you gotta stand up, whether you want to or not, and when you’re
the least able. And you do it for the same reason that you try to go down into
hell and rescue someone.
But Sometimes It Is
one motivation that’s powerful enough to make you forget your own pain and
heartbreak to the point where you will do as much as you can to spare somebody
else from the same. That motivation is love. Don’t forget that. There might be
a day when you need to call it to mind.
never laid a hand on me before—hardly ever even got angry with me. Now the guy
who pretended to be Johnny was violent and angry. He was paranoid and
suspicious and controlling. I didn’t know that Johnny, but I couldn’t allow him
to control me. He shoved me, threatened me, and pushed me out the door. He told
me to leave, but when I would try to go, he would beg me to stay. I cried every
day, but I stayed.
I would think
about how good he could shoot. There was never a deer that I could remember seeing
that Johnny didn’t gun down as it ran through the woods, and it didn’t matter
how far away the deer was. He didn’t need to look in his scope to shoot it
either. He would just look down the length of the side of it and use that as a
guide as he lined the gun up in motion. It was an amazing thing to see—not so
amazing to imagine yourself on the other end of it if he went crazy and you
tried to run.
I guess the
catalyst for leaving came when my little grandbaby came over to see me, and he
scared her by yelling. I thought about how much I used to love him. And I
thought about what it had cost me. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what the
truth is when it comes down to it. It only matters what happens. And what happened
is, I lost my son. I wasn’t going to lose anybody else. I wasn’t going to let
my daughter lose her little girl. I was going to protect my family with my life—the
way I would have done back then if I had known I needed to. So, I thought about
how much I used to love Johnny. And then I thought about how much I loved my
precious grandbaby. There was no comparison. There wasn’t even a choice to be
Whose Fault is it, Really?
There’s a lot more to the story, and maybe one day I will let somebody write that part down too. But for now, I told what I needed to tell. There ain’t nothing good that’s ever gonna come from meth. The doctors that hand out those prescriptions for bottles of pills are finally getting regulated, but it’s not enough. I can look at some of my own relatives and know that they aren’t doing enough to staunch the flow yet. The blood of addiction is directly on their hands, theirs and the big pharmaceutical companies that make a profit off the misery they deal to hundreds of thousands of victims who just want some relief from the pain.
It didn’t have to end the way it did. Johnny didn’t have to die of a meth overdose. He didn’t have to die an addict. He wasn’t that guy. He didn’t believe in taking drugs and he only drank once a year. He was a hard-working and hard-playing man who loved to hunt and fish, and he loved me and the kids, a smoke and a Coke. And by God, we loved him too. And now you know the price we paid for it, and the one we didn’t.”
I think that the easiest day to lose hope is Monday. When
the week starts, it should be full of great possibilities, but the reality is
that Monday is the day the cold hard truth usually slaps us in the face. It’s
the day we are forced to stop pretending that everything is great. We often need
to go back to work and leave our dreams behind again. It gets hard.
It isn’t just work though. The whole world will come against
you sooner or later. Maybe it will set up a pattern all your life. Things and
people that you count on will be snatched away from you. Just when you feel the
most secure, something will happen that will set your world on tilt.
Quitting On Tuesday
Maybe it’s Tuesday that makes you want to quit on yourself
the most. The struggle to get through Monday has taken its toll, and you just
don’t have anything left. Hard things happen, and you don’t feel like you are
equipped to deal with them anymore, if you ever were.
At first, when the hard things happen, you may want to give
up on God. It’s easy to throw the blame on the Almighty. He is ultimately in
charge. But, when you think about it, you realize that God hasn’t failed you in
any way. You may begin to ask yourself if you have failed God.
Being Angry With God
It’s hard to always stay positive in a negative world. I get that. I really do. I’ve had my share (and more) of tragic circumstances. I have not handled much of it very well. I did not turn to God in my pain and loss like I should have. I turned away and blamed Him instead. At least I did for a while.
It was when I was the angriest at Him that I realized that I still believed in Him. Of course, believing isn’t enough. I also had to get to a place where I remembered that He was good and that He loved me. I had to realize that He still had a plan for my life, even though my own plans had crashed and burned. Coming to that point was the hardest after I buried my 16-year-old son. This kind of loss makes you question all that you have ever believed.
During my trek through the chaos and confusion of the worst
of my grief, I learned to see the world in a different way. What was ordinary
to me before became extreme. Casual beauty became exquisite when I realized how
temporary it all is. I learned to focus on the smiles of my children and to
take in every breath that they breathe. I learned that the imperfections that I
once saw as flaws are what makes something beautiful and unique. The world irrevocably
changed for me, but it wasn’t all good.
What Our Children Face
I looked at our world and what we have made of it. Sin and
ugliness have run rampant through our societies. The children that we bring
into the world are forced to grow up in fear of what tomorrow will bring. If
they are living unaware of the potential danger of the future, then they are
ill-equipped to face it. On the other hand, to tell them what it may be like is
a betrayal of their innocence. How do we know what to do? How do we tell them
that the walls protecting them are made of glass?
The problems we face seem to be insurmountable at times. Human
trafficking, the threat of war, and the divisiveness of our country due to
political affiliation, religion, race, and economics to name a few. We get
mixed messages from the media and don’t fully understand what the truth is and
how to teach it to our children. Like my Mama always said, “Babies don’t come
with blueprints stamped on their butts.” Do we protect them with the truth, or
protect them from the truth? I don’t know.
Who Failed Who?
All I know is that God didn’t fail us. That leaves the obvious
answer. If He didn’t fail us…. We failed Him. With that realization,
hopelessness can start to creep up on you.
Depression. Anxiety. Feelings of worthlessness and fear. The
idea that you can never get it right because you never have before. The overwhelming
sensation that you are about to drown in your sorrow, anger, and helplessness.
I’ve been there more than once. If you have ever felt like
that, you aren’t alone. Don’t give up on yourself.
A Life of Abundance
Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came so that we would have abundant
life. An abundant life is a life full of meaning and joy. That is the kind of
life that God intends for you to have. He didn’t say that you can only have
this kind of life if you deserve it and never do anything wrong. He didn’t say
that you’ve got to operate in a realm above the human realm to create and
achieve this life for yourself. He simply said that He came so that you could
Your abundance is found in God through Jesus Christ. No
matter what the world throws at you. No matter what Monday brings. It doesn’t
even matter if you need to leave your own dreams behind. Whatever heartbreak
you have faced has not changed the truth. Grief and loss can’t take away what Jesus
came to give you. Your abundant life is in Him. Not in yourself! Not in your
circumstances. Not in your loved ones, your dreams, your hopes. Abundant life
is also not lost in the outcome of a failed plan or dream. What an eye-opening
thing to finally learn!
The Freedom to Keep Trying
This doesn’t mean that you should quit trying to achieve anything on your own. It means just the opposite! Now you are free to pursue your hopes and dreams without the fear of failure because your worthiness and your abundance was never meant to be found in any of your personal accomplishments anyway. You are free to love with all your heart because death can’t steal your hope! You can dance in the rain because no storm can wash away the sacrifice already made for you.
Take your focus off yourself. That’s not what your life is
supposed to be about. All you could ever hope to be can be found in your
relationship with God. Yes, I said it. It’s not about you. You may be
dangerously close to quitting on yourself. Don’t do that. The problem is relational.
Pursue a relationship with God if you want to add meaning to your life.
Matthew 6:33 says to “Seek
first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be
added to you.” If our focus is on Him, where it should be, and off ourselves,
our lives will be full, and everything will fall into place just the way it’s
supposed to. If our focus is on ourselves, we will always experience chaos and
a feeling of off-centeredness because we were created for Him and by Him, and
not to be self-serving.
I believe that this is the truth that we should teach our
children. If we want to equip them to be warriors in whatever battle comes
their way, we must first introduce them to the source of their hope and life.
We need to teach them as we learn ourselves that our identity should be first
understood as a “child of God.” Whatever is next is not only secondary, but it’s
Here’s what I believe to be the truth: the things you do for
yourself on this earth are going to die with you anyway. The only things that
you leave behind are what you do for other people.
Knowing that my abundance is in Him is just the catalyst that I need to keep going, to keep plugging away and staying in the race even when it feels like I’m defeated. I can never be defeated if I’m running the right race—the one for His kingdom and in His design. It’s easy to fall back into the temptation of seeking to define my worth by earthly standards and how I feel, but the actual cold reality is none of that matters. The only thing that matters is that I keep my eyes on the prize.
So much pressure. This world comes full of it. Pressure to conform, pressure to excel, pressure to be different. Trying to wade through all of that can be overwhelming to say the least, especially when your life seems to depend on it.
At least your financial life.
What I’ve learned since I started writing is that I don’t really care if it brings me money. Well, let me clarify that! Making money is great, and I’m not going to ever turn it down. But it’s not the be all and end all of this writing thing.
I write because it’s in me to write. Does that make sense? I was born to write–to dig down deep and get my feelings on paper. For years I thought that my ability was a gift that I was supposed to hoard for myself. I didn’t realize that the only real way to keep something is to give it away. Then I thought–well, I’m too old to start now!
You Probably Don’t know Everything You Need to Know
It’s a learning process. And at my age I should know everything already (right?), but for 30 years I’ve just been sitting on all these words. I never made a real effort to share them with anyone else. My story needed to be shared. My words may help someone else through the darkness, or encourage someone who struggles.
Now I don’t expect that I will normally dump my business on you this way, but I decided to go ahead and let you know that technology also sometimes mystifies me. Maybe that’s an age thing? I think sometimes that my four year old grandbaby can do more with it than I can. There’s always more to learn!
The Best Rewards are Not FINANCIAL
Having the wrong motivation was frustrating the creative process until I realized I wasn’t writing for money, but for the pure joy of giving something of myself for the benefit of others. It seems crazy, but it’s the absolute truth. I don’t write for financial gain. I write to share hope, insight, humor, and joy with others.
So, tonight I’m making changes and eating dark chocolate. I’m finding peace and comfort in helping other people. Money will never satisfy the need I have to make a difference. Here’s what else I’ve learned as I’ve been digging through this process:
It’s NOT About AGE
It doesn’t matter how old you are. If God’s given you a vision for your life AND the ability to pursue that vision, you don’t have the right to throw it in His face and say, “I’m afraid, so I’m just going to bury this over here until You come back.”
We aren’t “fine” accepting a mediocre life just because it’s easier than stepping out of our comfort zone! We aren’t “okay” if we’re making excuses or creating chaos to avoid taking charge of the situations we find ourselves miserable in. It isn’t our best life if it’s one someone else has created for us!
Your SHIP Hasn’t SAILED!
At my age, it would be easy (and expected) for me to say, “Oh well, I could’ve been more,” or “I could’ve…but that ship has sailed now!” Well, it HASN’T sailed for me! I still have dreams, and I believe I can make those dreams come true.
Are you going to let fear stop you? In the words of a person who I once knew, “YOU CAN’T BE SCARED ALL YOUR LIFE!” The only way to know if you can do something is to try!
It’s YOUR life and YOUR dream!
I don’t have to be stuck in someone else’s definition of what my life should be! I know what God has put on MY heart, and that is to pursue a ME that is better than the ME I used to be, so that’s what I am going to do.
My dream doesn’t diminish anyone else. In fact, the Bible says that no one lights a lamp to place it under a basket, but puts it on a stand so that it lights up the whole house (Matthew 5:15). The thing that light diminishes is darkness.
Some People Won’t Approve
If you’re doing what God has called you to do, it may scare some people. The closer you get to achieving your goals, the more they may think you don’t need them anymore. The ones closest to you may realize that in order to remain a part of your life, they’ll have to step up their own game!
If you’re being discouraged, consider that maybe the one who’s being negative has accepted the lies society and culture have thrown at them since they were old enough to catch! Remember that you can’t control other people. All you can do is work on you!
It’s Not Too Late
It isn’t your job to try to convince anybody to get on board with your dreams and plans. NEWSFLASH! They don’t have to! You just use what God has given to you to do what He wants you to do. Live the life you were intended to live. If you’ve forgotten your vision, or if you’ve buried your dreams, go buy yourself a shovel and start digging. It’s not too late.