It’s been 4 years. Actually it was 4 years on October 20th, but you will understand my hesitation to post this when you recognize the topic. You see, I’m the optimist, positive thinker, peacemaker, encourager, and smile starter. I hide from attention and shy away from sentimentality but this story is both of those and therein lies the reason I pulled the plug on this post – until today.
It was during a Tuesday night meeting of our Ladies’ Bible Study that I received the call from my daughter’s roommate. She was in hysterics making it nearly impossible to decipher her broken sentences, but I finally understood it. “Tammie died. Jane, I found her in bed when she didn’t answer her phone. Tammie died. Jane I don’t know what to do. She’s gone.” In that instant I felt like every bit of air had been sucked from my lungs. How could this be true? Tammie was coming home for a visit in 4 weeks. But this is where plans changed course. I knew where I expected to be at Thanksgiving. I had ideas for what we would all do to enjoy time with the family – another family photo because the current one was outdated. But in one moment, I felt my plans melt away with the reality that my first born daughter, at age 38, was never going to come home again.
If you ever receive devastating news, the place to be is with sisters studying the Word of God together. I don’t remember how I finally got the words out, “My daughter died” but it was like the whisper from someone standing behind me, not the voice of me. Instantly angels in the room surrounded me. It was more like descending on me and covering every empty emotion and soothing every hurt. These beautiful women were the first of many to comfort our family. God sends comforters to come alongside us when our hearts are shattered beyond healing. Isaiah 49:13 says in part “The Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on this afflicted one”.
In difficult situations, especially in death, even the best of friends search for the right thing to say, the proper sentiments to express. Words escape us and we wonder why our vocabulary has disappeared when we need it most. I learned through this experience that there is no right or wrong way to convey concern. When your heart is bursting with genuine compassion, your voice will speak peace to hearts of the hurting. Sometimes I wonder if Luke 10:5-6 was written for times like this when we want to say everything with the proper attitude and speak from the heart when our words fail. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.”
It took some days for Tammie’s death to be real to me. I remember thinking of the times when she called on the phone just to talk. Her first words would be Hi mom, I just wanted to hear your voice today. Tammie was politically knowledgeable and often called when she heard something on the radio that she thought I would want to know. To me, politics is like the plague. Tammie could rattle of sports teams and player statistics when I am barely able to match team logo to team jersey. Tammie and I have very different interests and our minds were certainly wired in opposite patterns. I’ve spent many hours asking God to please tell Tammie I’m sorry I didn’t listen better when she called me. I have begged God to tell her I didn’t mean it when I argued with her when we didn’t agree on things that now have no significance.
Sometimes she would call to tell me about something funny that happened, other times she wanted to pour out her heart because she was so sad at how her life wasn’t turning out like she hoped. She asked me so many times to pray for her to find a husband and be able to have a family. I didn’t know then why God didn’t give her the desires of her heart. I just know that in God’s plan He knew that at age 21 Tammie would have a spinal tumor, at age 25 she would develop MS, and at age 38 her body would shut down and it would be time for her to go to live in heaven. James 1:17 says Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
In the past four years I haven’t talked about what it meant to lose a daughter. Almost two years ago, I came close to losing my second daughter to a freak stroke. She also was 38 at the time. God spared her life. If you’re reading this and wondering why I chose to write about this now, it is only because I know that someone has lost a loved one or is in the process of coming to terms with loss. There is no instant healing from loss and there is no magic formula for dealing with the traumas we encounter in this life.
Those of you who know me will recognize my motto: Treat yourself to joy every day! It isn’t easy, but it’s what God desires of us. If JOY were an acronym it would stand for Jesus Others You Psalm 5:11 says “Let all who run to you for protection always sing joyful songs. Provide shelter for those who truly love you and let them rejoice.” Life is a contact sport. Put on the protection of the God who wrote those words for us. I leave you with this:
Cherish your moments. Pay attention when you are the audience. Forgive – whatever it was, it’s not worth it – just forgive. Hug often – even when you have no words. Call – just to tell them you want to hear their voice. Always say ‘I love you”.