It’s been 8 years, but I think you will understand my hesitation to tell this story when you recognize the topic. You see, I’m the optimist, positive thinker, peacemaker, encourager, and eternal cheerleader. I prefer to work back stage, not on the stage, and I run from things labeled ‘sentimentality’, but this story violates both. 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 I had ideas for what we would all do to enjoy time with the family – another family photo because the current one was outdated.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. This caught me by surprise, but nothing catches God by surprise.
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 searches 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 weeks for Tammie’s death to be real to me. I rehearsed over and over the times he 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 off sports teams and player statistics when I am barely able to match team logo to team jersey. With polarized interests, our minds were obviously wired in opposite patterns. Sometimes we argued. It makes my heart hurt every time I recall some of the silly things that caused conflict. They didn’t matter. I’ve had many conversations with God asking, no begging Him, “Please tell Tammie I’m sorry I didn’t listen better when she called me. God please tell her I didn’t mean the arguments I had with her when we didn’t agree on things that now have no significance.”
You know those quotes people post all the time about NO REGRETS? Well, I have plenty of them. But I’m working on having fewer of them by following hard after God; wanting Him, not things.
Sometimes Tammie called 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. 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 my definition of good, this is not good. But God is good and does good. He knew Tammie would have a higher quality of life in heaven. Her perfect gift is from above because now her life is perfect.
In the past eight years I haven’t talked about what it meant to lose a daughter. If you’re reading this and wonder 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. I don’t know why God chooses to take people we love from us. I know that God is a good God and He doesn’t make mistakes. Isaiah 55:9 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Those of you who know me will recognize my mottos: Mind your moments because they become your memories. Always look for the joy. Be thankful. It isn’t easy, but it’s what God desires of us. If JOY were an acronym it would stand for Jesus Others You
I leave you with this: Cherish your moments. Be present right where you are now. Pay attention when you are the audience. Forgive – whatever it was, it’s destroying your happy ending and 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”. Be careful with your moments because they become your memories. If you think about it, this is one way to prevent past regret. Be careful with your conversations and interactions before they happen.
1 Peter 1:6-9 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.