…Unpack your bag that came home with us after you passed away at the hospital.? It’s sitting in my bedroom with your clothes and things that you used. It’s just like we used to keep it packed for those emergency trips to Riley when you would spike a fever. I just can’t bring myself to move it and put the things inside “away.”
…Dump the trash that’s in the trash can in your room? I mean, there’s dirty Kleenexes in there and crumpled up post it notes, etc….Things that contain your DNA. I just can’t get rid of it.
…Remove your clothes from yours and Libby’s closet? They’re still there. I mean, she could use the space. She doesn’t seem to mind sharing with you still. Sometimes we borrow things for the day, just like we would if you were here. It helps us feel your presence wrapped around us a bit I guess.
…Throw away your popsicles and sherbet that’s in the freezer? I mean it’s just taking up space, but they’re yours. I’m sure they’re freezer burnt by now. I still look at them every time I get in there. It’s so strange not needing to buy your favorite snacks. I’m so thankful that you enjoyed eating up until the very end.
…Unpack your school backpack? We even kept it packed when you were going through treatment. Everything you’d need if you were just a normal sophomore in high school is in there. Your planner, your notebooks, your favorite pencils. You were such a good student. You became such a planner.
…Throw out your make-up, hair-brush, deodorant, etc?…All of it touched you and you chose. You were so particular about your beauty products. Never wanting to over-do it. You were just a natural beauty. Again, more of your DNA. How can I toss it?
… To stop looking at your phone every night? I’m so thankful to have your pictures, videos, even thoughts about things right there in my hand, but I wonder sometimes, does it increase my sadness when I go there? Sometimes I just need to hear you say “I love you Mom.” So, I watch and I listen, sometimes with my eyes closed and the tears just begin to flow.
Sometimes it feels like you left us just yesterday. Sometimes it feels like it’s been an eternity all ready. Every day we finish here is another day closer to being with you.
Do I keep these traces of you because I can’t accept that you’re gone and not coming back? Do I keep them because it would hurt too much to just throw away what’s left of these pieces of your life? Am I holding myself back from healing by holding on to these things? I don’t know.
Before Sarah was diagnosed with cancer, we had prayed for plenty of people that had been diagnosed with cancer. As I think back about the people in our life that cancer has taken, it is heart wrenching. I remember growing up and feeling like cancer was a death sentence. There are certainly survivors of cancer and for that I am thankful. It’s a battle that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I know families that are in the middle of the battle right now and for those- I continue to pray. Once cancer has entered your comfort zone, you realize how invasive and all too common it really is.
The fact that Sarah could go from a seemingly healthy normal kid having some minor pain in her arm to dying from cancer in 10 months, is still so hard to believe. She seemed so vibrant and strong, even as her cancer progressed. She had so much life left in her.
“But God”…you see, that’s a popular saying these days in Christian dialogue. But God…what did He do? She’s gone. There was no miracle. It sure feels like she was a victim of Cancer. She’s no longer here with us. Oh, how we prayed. All over the literal world people were praying for our girl. Praying for a miracle. God didn’t answer our prayers. How do we reconcile this disappointment with our faith?
As we were immersed deeper into the battle, rest assured we clung deeper to the promise that God is good and that He is and was very capable of ridding her body of the cancer. We researched miracles-the miracles in scripture and the miracles that are still happening today around the world. Trust me, they do still happen. It strengthened our faith and gave us so much hope. Logically, we could see how it could all play out. Sarah was made to minister. She loved talking to people about Jesus and if God chose to heal her on earth, she would gladly devote the rest of her life to spreading her testimony and the gospel to whomever would listen. She firmly believed that He was going to heal her. Her faith was big.
As her cancer progressed, we tried to prepare ourselves with the reality that she may die, but we also held on to the possibility that anything could happen. After all, nothing is impossible with God. Preparing her for the possibility that she may be leaving us, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. It felt like I was crushing her faith, but I didn’t want her to miss her opportunity to say her good-bye’s. It was unthinkable to accept that in 15 short years, she had accomplished everything on earth that God had planned for her to do here.
As I have grieved, I have talked to God very honestly about my disappointment. I still believe with all of my heart that He is good and that His will towards us is good. He loves us and wants what’s best for us. How do I reconcile that with the disappointment that I feel? One of the most profound statements that I heard during our journey through all of this was by Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel. In regards to healing disappointments, he said “If we want the peace that surpasses all understanding, then we need to give up our right to understand.” Hard to accept, but true. Even Jesus prayed and asked for some other way other than the crucifixion. Even his request wasn’t answered. Death was the only way for Him to accomplish resurrection. It was the will of the Father. In coming to terms with His will for Sarah, He’s reminded me that my plans for Sarah’s life aren’t as good as His plans. Ouch. What He has planned for her in heaven is so much bigger and greater than any ministry here on earth. My feelings should never determine what is true about God. Just because I feel disappointed does NOT mean that God is a disappointing God. What was true about Him before cancer, is still true after cancer.
To be honest, I’m still struggling with singing the words “you have never failed me yet.” But God…what is He doing? He’s being ever so patient with me as I question Him and realize that what I’m really saying is that He failed to do what I wanted Him to do. He’s been so close, while I grieve. He is sustaining us through the unthinkable. He hates cancer even more than I do. He didn’t create it and one day it will get what it deserves. Until then, He will make new and beautiful things out of the dust of this broken earth here and He’s already made Sarah new in heaven. She still has lots to accomplish for Him and is ministering in ways that I can’t even understand. He doesn’t want me to stop asking for miracles and bringing my request to Him. He doesn’t want me to distance myself from Him in my disappointment. I’m convinced that staying in His presence is the best way for me to heal and actually even stay close to Sarah’s spirit. She is certainly in His presence too. I know that He used Sarah’s life to deepen the faith of many and in a lot of ways, her work here on earth continues. As I wrestle with the “why,” I know that I may never get all my answers and I’m ok with that right now. His peace replaces my need to understand and that in itself is definitely a miracle.
LPW…Wednesday was difficult. I was paying attention to what was happening in D.C., but that isn’t why. I wasn’t surprised by the direction that D.C. went though. I guess I’m a bit numb to so much of that. No, the difficult part for me was that I began trying to remember some of the good things that happened in the hours before Sarah left us and I realized that I was starting to forget…and it upset me. Now I know in the past I have shared how my brain wouldn’t let me forget the traumatic things that happened right before she died and I would love to forget those things. However, there were some really beautiful things that happened as well and I don’t want lose those. You see, as weird as this will sound to some of you, when you spend time with a person who is dying, some really extraordinary things sometimes happen. Especially, when that person is a believer.
A few years ago, I arrived just moments after my Mamaw passed away and heard the stories. Just two weeks later, I was with my Papaw when he passed away. It truly was beautiful watching their faith become sight. My Papaw had Alzheimer’s. He hadn’t been himself in a very long time. Seeing the look on his face as he looked past me and my Aunt into eternity, it changed me. There was such peace and recognition, like we hadn’t seen in a long time. Now the stories of my Mamaw passing and in the hours before she passed, were unique for sure. She was actually talking out loud quite a bit. She talked to family that was beside her but, she also was arguing with Jesus about going in a way that only she could! You see, she had an amazing relationship with Jesus. He was her Lord and Savior and she never got tired of talking about Him and all the ways He blessed her, but leaving her family was hard. They must have worked out the details though, because she gave up and went. My family surrounded her and they said when she died they got goosebumps because they could feel another’s presence enter and leave the room. She had a touch lamp on her bedside table. It went out. No one touched it. Gives me the chills just thinking about it.
In the days and hours leading up to Sarah’s passing, there were things so special that I feel I just need to write them down. So, bear with me as I journal this and continue to process all that we witnessed. First of all, I never want to forget Sarah’s absolute trust in God’s plan and timing for her life here and in eternity. She knew that Jesus could heal her on earth, or heaven, and once she understood that Jesus could help those of us left behind heal from her leaving us, she was ok with going. She was especially ok with it, if it led others to faith in Jesus. She never stopped giving Him the credit for the strength that she had and the joy that just oozed out of her. After her lung drain failed, she started to have more hospital staff come visit. We knew they were all trying to say their good-byes. They would often tell her how amazing she was but, she was always quick to smile and say, “Thank you, but it’s not me. It’s Jesus in me.” We knew she was popular with the staff, but they really went out of their way to let us know how much they cared and how special they felt that she was. The darker things got, the brighter she shined. She resolved to worship and sing with every last breath, as long as she was awake and even as she slept, the worship music never was to be turned off on her phone. It was always close by her. We were blessed to have James, our worship pastor, allowed to come and sing worship songs together the day before she passed. She loved every second of it.
Speaking of sleeping…during the last week or so, I pulled the hospital couch over and slept as close to her as I could, if I was able to sleep. Her sleep was restless and when she did, she’d dream. She started talking in her sleep a lot. I would listen to her talk in her sleep to her friends, to Libby, to her family, to who knows… So many people were on her mind. About a week before she passed, she woke up in the middle of the night and told me that she had been dreaming about Grandpa Barney. Grandpa went to heaven in July. In her dream, the family was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Brookville, like a holiday. She told me everyone was talking and no one noticed that Grandpa was going up the stairs by himself, except for her. She was worried about him on the stairs. So, she was calling out to him and started following him up the stairs and down a very long hall that suddenly didn’t look like Grandma’s house any longer. She said he went through a door and she started to follow, but stopped because there were no walls or windows in the room—just stars. After she told me all of this, I was just stunned. I knew that it was a prophetic dream. I told her not to follow Grandpa up the stairs again, if he came to her in a dream. I wasn’t ready for her to go with him.
Some nights she would wake and ask for her bible. Sometimes she would ask me to read it to her. Sometimes, she just wanted to hold it. As they sedated her, she continued to dream “out loud” if you will. She talked in her sleep about Instagram and I could completely hear her trying to inspire others to be careful what they subscribed too. You see, she had learned to fill her news feed with things that fed her spirit and heart, instead of things that caused her to compare herself to others. She really felt burdened for teens that struggle with that. Having cancer and losing her hair brought out a confidence in her and taught her so much about where true beauty comes from.
Once, in her sleep, I heard her discussing things that you would hear at one of her FFA meetings. She loved being a part of all the amazing things that her club had to offer. She had so many ideas for the reporter position and being elected an officer meant so much to her.
The more her lungs filled with fluid, obviously the harder it became to breathe and talk, but she would wake some and continued to call out to me. She continued to sing when she recognized the song being played. She recognized everyone that came to her, when she was awake, and always stayed like herself. The closer she got to passing though, the harder it was to breathe and the more she was sedated. Her dreams became more vision like and I really believe that she was in the “in-between.” Being half-awake she would attempt to talk to us about the things she was seeing. Once, she said “Uh-oh Mom… Dad’s getting ready to post the video!” I quickly moved to her bedside and asked her “what video?” Her answer was…”The one with the glow-sticks. It’s a social media challenge thing.” We all kind of giggled as we thought about the reality of that ever happening. Chad knows nothing about social media challenges and would be the last one to post any sort of video. That’s actually how the glow-stick challenge that the FFA club sponsored at her Celebration of Life came to be. As we reflected on how she was like a light in the dark, we were reminded of her glow-stick vision. It seemed like a perfect fit…Sometimes we need to break before we shine.
One of the last visions she seemed to have that she was able to communicate to us was about peacocks. She suddenly spoke to us and said “Mom, do you see it?” I responded, “See what, baby?” She said, ”The peacocks…” and then mumbled some other things that I couldn’t understand. However, she quickly said “Libby was there, she saw it too.” A few days later, as I was processing her saying that at that time, it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t Libby that she was seeing, but one of her siblings that looks like Libby. How I wish I could have understood everything she was trying to tell me that she was seeing. I know she was experiencing vivid colors and beautiful things. I’m not sure if Grandpa came to show her the way home, or who guided her, but she went very peacefully considering how hard it was to breathe. All of a sudden, she opened her eyes to focus on something and she just stopped. The struggle was just over. We cried and begged for her spirit to come back to her body, but we also knew that it was selfish to ask her spirit to come back to a broken body. We knew she was in the presence of Jesus and she was worshiping Him. As we spent our last moments with her body and preparing for them to take her away, I swear she was glowing. I’ve seen a few people in the moments after they have passed and and none of them have had a brilliance about them like she had. She was absolutely stunningly beautiful. Through the tears and the heartbreak, it felt as if we were looking at a sleeping angel.
So that’s the story of her final days and hours. I’ve not mentioned everything because I just can’t. I don’t share this to find more sympathy. I simply felt led to journal and share the things that we witnessed before my brain forgets all the details. I’m still processing being here without her and I still have a long way to go before my broken heart is healed. I feel so blessed that I got to care for her and watch her grow into such a beautiful soul in the 15 years that He shared her with us. She’s still inspiring so many.