First, from Craig Smith, a colleague and former supervisor, who may not even remember the exchange. When his father passed away many years ago and I was dumbstruck for words to comfort, I stupidly said to him: “I can’t even imagine losing my dad. How do you deal with it?” He shrugged matter-of-factly: “You just do.” Those may not seem like profound words, but through his delivery of them and the kind of person he is, they were. They helped me through the loss of my dad a few years later, and they have continued to help me. I decided even before losing Angi that you can deal with adversities well, or you can deal with things poorly — and it’s usually easier for your family and those you love if you deal with them well.
Second, from Mike Cope, a former minister at our church home in Abilene, who wrote “Megan’s Secrets” about the challenges faced by his indomitable young daughter and losing her at a tender age. Among those words were the advice to accept with grace the words and actions that others offer intending to comfort and encourage you when you are grieving … but only sting and hurt instead. You take them in with the spirit in which they are given, not necessarily the content of them. That is true grace. I’ve come to think of his advice as a corollary to the Golden Rule: “Receive from others as you would have them receive from you.”
Third, from Amy Ray, Angi’s chemo nurse who (in a very brief span of time) became a dear friend. As Angi lost more of her faculties, she could no longer speak but could still understand what was spoken to her; even smile when her cousin Roger said funny things to her. It was at this time, when Angi had been off chemo and in hospice care at home for almost a week, that Amy called me to ask about her. “Keith,” she said when I told her, “Have you given her permission to die?” I immediately (and thoughtlessly) answered, “Yes, of course!” but as we talked, I began to understand that Amy meant that I needed to tell Angi that. So as Carol, Roger’s wife, sat holding her hand, I went in to Angi’s little bedroom-made-hospital-chamber and told her.
“Sweetheart, this is going to be really hard for me to say. But these last few weeks while you’ve slept at night, you’ve been talking in your sleep, and the only word you’ve said has been ‘Huh-uh.’ I’ve wondered if you’ve been telling the Lord you’re not ready to go yet. I just want you to know that if He comes for you again, you don’t have to say ‘huh-uh’ anymore. You go with Him. You leave this suffering behind.
“You’ve made everything so easy for us. We’ve sold this house; it closes tomorrow! We’ve bought another one that will be perfect for us. You’ve done everything anyone could do to bless our lives more than anyone could have asked. I’ve talked to Matt and he understands how much you’re hurting, and that you may not be with us by the time he can get here, and he’s alright with that.”
About that time, Carol motioned our daughter Laura in and she sat on the bedside by her mom. “And this one is stronger than she has ever been! You’ve raised her strong and smart, and she can handle anything. So we all want you to know that if the Lord comes for you, and you have anything to say about it, you go home with Him. We’ll be alright. We will miss you like everything. But we’ll be alright.”
Angi had a restless night, beset by pain, and about 4:30 I gave her a couple of soda straw-fulls of water — all she could still swallow — and that seemed to calm her so she could sleep.
Sometime between then and 7:00 when I awakened next to her in the recliner, she went home.
There are words of wisdom that change your life. Some of them are in poetry, some hidden like treasure in scripture, and some come from the lips of those who love you.
But the words of wisdom that I borrow most often came from my friends (you know who you are) who learned that their second child, still in the womb, would only survive at best a few minutes into this world. That is exactly what came to pass. The minister of their small home church conveyed their words to him, at their request, during the memorial service for their little son:
“We don’t know why God took our sweet baby home so soon. We don’t know why these things have to happen. But we also don’t know why He has blessed us with each other, with a wonderful marriage, with a beautiful little daughter, and with a loving family and friends.”
As I mourn Angi, these words of wisdom put life in perspective for me.
And I will always be grateful to God for the people who were willing to let Him speak through them to me.