“What do you mean there is no hope?”
I can still see Chris’ reaction as he came around the corner after the doctor gave us the update on Andrew’s status. Across his chest, in Blaine Bengal colors, I read the word STRENGTH. It was a shirt Andrew had made for the high school hockey guys he trained for in the off-season lifting program. He put it on before we drove the 6 excruciating hours from the Twin Cities to the Chicago hospital where a machine was keeping Andrew alive. “It is only a matter of time before he passes away,” the rounding doctor explained.
Hours later, I watched as my husband carried his (only) brother’s bag of stuff out of the hospital. Tears streamed down my face as I watched this strong man’s shoulder carry the weight of the pain that his brother took his own life. And was gone. The bag he carried was packed 24 hours earlier, as Andrew anticipated a fun weekend away with friends. The bag he grabbed before he left those friends in the early hours of January 20th, desperate to get home.
Andrew’s death was a little over 3 months ago, and yesterday would have been his 33rd birthday. On May 7th, 1985, my in-laws welcomed the most beautiful baby boy into the world and his life was filled with many unforgettable memories. Most of which included his shy grin, big brown eyes, and an immeasurable amount of energy, which included an excitement for life and others…always up for fun. No matter Andrew’s age, he was a kid at heart. Never in our minds would we ever have believed he would end his life. That is what makes things so hard to process and understand. I’ve cried so many tears for my in-laws and husband, no one should ever have to say goodbye like this.
For those of you that are therapists (or anyone that believes they would make a good one), you’ll recognize the stage of grief I am in. The past couple weeks I’ve cried more tears than the 2 days we were at the hospital. Partly because we were numb, processing this tragic event, along with the feelings of shock and confusion. Not only are we navigating life without him, we are dealing with the trauma of the last moments in the hospital.
A few weeks ago, it was National Siblings Day, and as I flipped through old pictures of my siblings in our matching Columbia jackets and 80s perm, I had to pause and think of Chris as he no longer has a (living) sibling to call, text, hug, or banter back and forth with. If you have a sibling, tell them TODAY, that you love them and what it is that you love most about them. Tell them you need them in your life. Please, do it. They need to hear it. You will not regret it.
Also, we’ve come to know in this type of death that there are people that mean well, but just should stop talking.
“Clearly, you had to have known.” The lady said to Chris at the visitation.
No, no, no. Please don’t say that.
We didn’t know he was battling something so painful that he would take his own life. As I shared in the brokenness blog post, he was making some decisions about what car to buy, job opportunities, and purchasing a home. There weren’t any signs to us he would take his own life. But seriously, why would anyone think that would be something to say to the grieving family? Please, just say the same thing the others in line said to my heartbroken husband, “I am so sorry for this pain you are experiencing.” Give a hug and then continue to pray for us.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had numerous times when I have asked myself how I missed something like this. Along with a good amount of guilt. Certainly, wasn’t hoping to have it compounded with a statement like that.
What I have come to realize in this life I’ve lived thus far, is that STRENGTH has a new meaning for me. So often when we hear the word, we think of the physical. If it’s a physical workout resulting in a stronger, healthier body and with being a college athlete, my body has experienced plenty of painful practices and workouts. But my mental toughness has been challenged by the antonym of the word strength, vulnerability. Because when I’m completely honest with myself and others, I must admit that things are not always what they seem. That takes strength…and a great amount of courage.
In my opinion, strength comes in how you respond to the pain, pressure, or difficult situations we have encountered on this climb. But how often do we just want the view of the mountaintop, yet not willing to take each step to get there? Growth is happening. Trusting is hard work and grief can be painful. But the growth results in STRENGTH in a variety of ways…some easy to measure and some unquantifiable.
But how often we pray for the easy life…
STRENGTH is asking for help.
Which might mean being vulnerable. Admitting we are hurting, battling, and broken.
Since Andrew’s death, I have had a few people reach out to me that they were encouraged by us sharing the pain we have experienced as it’s led them to confessing the battle they are fighting. They have asked for help, sharing their darkest secrets…found professional help because they do not want to cause their family this pain. Just yesterday, I could barely see the screen through my tears as I read of a friend learning of Andrew’s story and how she responded by getting some help. That takes STRENGTH. Her life, her family, and her story have been changed.
This is real life and I always go back and forth about how much to share about our lives. I’ve never wanted the focus to be on us…but from the very beginning about the work that God is doing in our hearts and how He can be glorified. The Liar tells me not to share, or puts doubt in my mind often. But hearing how Andrew’s life and death can further God’s kingdom, I will continue to share what is on my heart. “Just give them Jesus.”
“What do you mean there is no hope?”
Someone shared with us that they accepted Jesus as their Savior at the invitation at Andrew’s funeral. This person now has eternal life in Christ. This is no longer the end. Andrew had his first birthday in Heaven yesterday. Can you imagine the celly he had after he scored his first goal on Jesus at Kingdom Arena?
Hope, healing, and new life.
What I know is that the events in my life have caused me to understand the lack of my own strength. I must surrender it to experience true growth and strength. Lives have been changed because of this act of courage.
Thank you for praying for us. Many say that they can not imagine the pain we are experiencing.
God knows our pain and hears our cries. He is the only source of our STRENGTH. He is the only reason we have HOPE.
If you need help, please reach out. You are loved and your life matters. God has been faithful, He will be again.