July 1st is a difficult day. It was on this day four years ago that I lost one of my closest friends. And so I think about Laurie’s death every year on this day. I had grown up with her in the same neighborhood and so we were childhood friends. We had been friends for over 50 years. And then on July 1, 2013, she suddenly died. I wrote about her death and the pain of losing her here.
I visit her grave and I’ll admit, the visits are becoming more infrequent as the years pass.
I hate going to that cemetery.
I see her name on the headstone and I still can’t believe it. Something feels so wrong when I’m standing there looking down at her grave. She shouldn’t be in a casket buried under the ground. Death came too soon and I didn’t get to tell her goodbye. She should be with her husband and her sons and her friends who loved her. Her death was so unexpected and so tragic. I bought an angel for her grave soon after she died. It was a cherub-like angel and my husband glued it to a square patio stone to make it sturdier so that it wouldn’t fall over. Then he put a clear coat sealant on it to make it more weather-proof. I think she would have loved that little angel. I think she would like the purple flowers my sister puts on her grave every spring and the poinsettias we put on her grave every Christmas. But each time I visit, I can see that angel statue aging before my eyes. It’s faded and dirty now and recently it was found lying on the ground and had to be re-glued to the stone base we had so painstakingly affixed it to. So going to the cemetery makes me sad, angry and depressed. I’m reminded of how it poured torrential rain at her funeral and how there was a multitude of colorful umbrellas standing around the tent. How the roaring of the rain pounding on top of the umbrellas drowned out everything the pastor was saying and how the only thing we could occasionally hear was sobs from her family who were under that tent. I’m reminded of how I sobbed on the way to her funeral visitation, still not having fully accepted her death. How I was terrified to go up to her casket and how shocking it was to see her laying there gray and lifeless. She didn’t look anything like the friend I knew. The cemetery is a confirmation that she’s really gone and that the years are passing. It’s a confirmation that she’s not coming back. But most of all, if I am to be completely honest here, it makes me want to shake my fist at God. And I HATE feeling like that. So I’m avoiding going to the cemetery more and more. I hate admitting that after 4 years that maybe I’m still a little angry at God. It’s not easy for me to admit those feelings or to admit that I’ve questioned my faith. I’ve never lost my faith, but I’ve sure asked some hard questions. I think God’s okay with those questions though. In fact, I think he welcomes my questions.
Laurie lived with and was raised by her grandmother after being abandoned by her mother when she was a baby. She never knew her father. For all of her life, Laurie took care of children. Not just her own, but she directed a daycare center. She loved children. For as long as I knew her, she always adored children and she was good with them. Children loved her too. She didn’t have an easy life growing up, but she had a strong faith. She read her bible and she loved the Lord. She was in church every Sunday morning and every Sunday night and every Wednesday night where she loved to sing His praises. She taught Sunday school. She helped at Room in the Inn and other ministries. When her grandmother (Nanny as we called her) aged and was infirmed by various cancers and other medical issues over the years, Laurie took care of her and watched out for her. In the years after Nanny passed away, she began taking care of her in-laws who she loved dearly. She was a devoted wife and mother to two sons when she died, her youngest son still in high school. She has a grandson now but she never got to meet him.
Lately, I’ve been listening to a series of sermons on the Gospel of John. In a recent sermon I listened to, the pastor talked a lot about stepping into the light of Christ. He said the message at the end of John chapter 8 is “Now that you’ve stepped into the light of Christ, make sure you stay there.” He explains the Biblical word for that is abide and that we need to abide in the light of Christ.
The pastor talks about how sometimes we make the decision to follow Jesus but then life blindsides us with an unexpected event. That event might be a cancer diagnosis, a spousal affair, divorce, a prodigal child, or the death of someone near and dear to you. It’s some event that causes pain or suffering or personal loss.
How are we supposed to abide in the light of Christ when the unexpected occurs in our world?
The year my friend died was a hard year. In January of that year, a rather large and scary sinkhole suddenly opened up in our backyard. It’s one of the most stressful things my husband and I have ever had to deal with. Suddenly, the comfort, safety, and security we had always felt in our home was threatened. All I’ll say about sinkholes, is hope and pray you never have one on your property. A month after the sinkhole, there was some family drama. It was very stressful and it fractured our family to the point that we haven’t recovered and I’m not sure we ever will. While I’m not at all trying to be dramatic by saying this, it caused stress, anxiety, and worry like I’ve never experienced before. And then the evening of July 1st, around 10:30 pm, a good friend called me as I was happily tapping away on my computer. She asked me if I was sitting down. And then she told me that our friend Laurie had been killed early that afternoon in a tragic one-car accident. That night I was in such total denial when I heard about it and even the next morning, that I really believed it wasn’t true. I was denying that it had happened. It just couldn’t be true. I had convinced myself that it was all going to be some embarrassing case of mistaken identity. I tried calling her home phone number, convinced that she was going to answer the phone and then laugh when she heard the story. Her home phone had been disconnected which I found odd. Since it was late, I decided not to try her cell phone, until the following morning.
But early the next morning, her husband called me and I knew when I saw his number on my caller ID, that it was all true. He told me that Laurie had gone to work for a few hours the morning of July 1st. After she left work, she had stopped off at the grocery store for a few items and was on her way home, when she ran off the road and hit a tree. She had been driving on a little narrow curvy road. She just ran head-on into a big tree that was right beside the road. There was no sign of braking and no witnesses. Two women who came upon the scene almost immediately after she had hit the tree, reported that Laurie was conscious and talking and had been able to give them her husband and both her sons’ names and numbers. She coded at the scene and was taken to a local hospital where she coded again, and was then life-flighted to Vanderbilt ER. She coded a third time in the life-flight helicopter and died. She was diabetic and the medical professionals who worked on her told her husband that her blood sugar was over 800. Some people have suggested that maybe she lapsed into a diabetic coma and hit the tree. But that doesn’t make sense to me since she was alert and talking to the two ladies who stopped to help. Her husband confirmed that she had taken her diabetes meds that morning. Even her own doctor said it is not uncommon for blood sugars to go up that high in a trauma situation, when there’s tremendous stress to the body and they’re doing CPR and pumping fluids and dextrose and all kinds of drugs into your body. In the four years since she wrecked, I’ve probably asked myself why she hit that tree a thousand times. It was a wooded area. Did a deer run out in front of her causing her to swerve? DID she have some sort of medical issue? Did something cause her to take her eyes off the road for just a split second? She had not been on her cell phone because it was in her purse in the backseat of her car. She told the first responders that too. But was she maybe reaching behind her for her purse or phone when the wreck happened? It was a clear, dry, sunny day and there was no rain the day she crashed.
As hard as it was for me to do, I read her entire autopsy report, word for word from beginning to end. The medically trained side of me wanted to read it. The friend side of me didn’t want to read it. The autopsy didn’t give any answers as to WHY she might have hit the tree. It provided answers to the trauma she received and what had taken her life but I wanted and needed to know WHY she hit that tree. And you know what? I learned you can make yourself sick by asking a question over and over that you will never, in this life, have an answer to. And I won’t have an answer to that question as long as I’m on this earth. I’m convinced of that. Maybe I’ll find my answer in the next life, but then maybe it just won’t even matter then.
About 6 weeks after Laurie died, my 19 1/2-year-old cat, Bigfoot, developed bone cancer in his lower jaw. I had to say goodbye to him. Though I didn’t think my grief could get any harder, boy was I wrong. I wrote about his loss here. The loss of my beloved cat turned my world completely upside down. I was barely functioning. I had terrible guilt feelings because it dawned on me, that I was grieving my cat harder than I was grieving my friend. I was starting to feel like life was just one big loss after another. Some days, I just really wanted to crawl into my bed, pull the covers up and never wake up again. I eventually admitted I was stuck in my grief and I needed help, so I went to a Social Worker for grief counseling.
When my friend died, I asked myself the same question that the pastor posed in the series on the Gospel of John.
How DO we make sense of life when the unexpected happens? How do we protect ourselves and “stay” in the light of Christ when tragedy threatens to shove us out?
Because difficulties will come to us all. That’s a given. The bible says we will all have trials and tribulations during our life. None of us are exempt. When there is pain, suffering or tragedy, it’s our human nature to want to ask God WHY? I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve asked God why Laurie hit that tree and why she had to die? She was only 54. I also wondered aloud that if God was so powerful, then why didn’t He do something to stop the whole tragic thing? Why did she have to die when she was doing God’s work and when her children still needed her? Why didn’t I get to say goodbye to her? This was a real struggle for me in the days and months after her death. I felt all of the unexpected events and losses I had experienced in 2013 were shoving me out of the light.
Coming soon (God willing): Part 2 of Abiding in the Light.