As soon as I entered the emergency room doors, the nurses scurried around the desk to stop me from going forward towards the drawn curtains.
“Ma’am, why don’t you let me take him. Her body is there behind the curtain.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement.
“I know” I said. “It’s okay-He knows about death and has seen bodies before." I assured her through my tears. Puzzled, they backed away and I went forward.
In our circle of church community growing up, it was not uncommon for us to attend the open casket viewings of those who had passed, and we had been taught that our bodies are not meant to be feared, as they are empty shells that no longer hold our souls which have gone to be with the Lord. It was, perhaps, unusual, but it served me well. It’s comforting to know that truly, our loved ones are not here. They are there. Far better off in Heaven where they experience no more suffering.
And so the tradition continued with my own children. I felt no qualms about bringing Oliver into the room where my cousin lay. Only hours before she left for her true home.
Erika was the closest thing to a sister that I ever had.
Despite a significant age gap, our mothers are sisters and so we spent many happy days together. As I grew into adulthood, Erika and I shared a love for fast cars, movies, concerts, Dodger games, and big family gatherings. She was my Lakers cohort and we went to many games together. We traveled together, went to church together, and she was growing in her love for the Lord in those last months before her diagnosis. She stood by my side as my bridesmaid when I married Guy. When she found out I was pregnant with Oliver, my first son, she rejoiced like it was her own. When he was born, she was one of the first ones there to hold him and often came over just to cuddle him. To us, she was more like his Aunt than his cousin.
And then one day, she told me the news over the phone.
It was stage 4.
The lump in her armpit had bothered her for a long time, she said. It hurt. But she waited to see the doctor.
Within a couple of months she had surgery and treatments to aggressively attack the cancer.
And then suddenly, just after her birthday, the chemotherapy took a toll and we lost her.
I had been chasing Oliver at the park with my Mom when her cell phone rang. It was my Uncle. My mom shrieked and yelled to me that Erika was dead. We were so totally taken off guard and in shock that we walked around dazed and crying. Nearby mothers with children came over to try and calm us, ask if they could help us.
Though we probably should not have, we got in the car and drove to the hospital.
With each mile, the truth sunk in to our hearts like a grenade, shattering us. In times of grief, it’s hard to imagine that life will ever get better. Normal. And I believe that it does change forever-the missing becomes part of you.
For me, I have learned that a broken heart is not something that has to be fixed. It can be an alter of worship, instead.
Oswald Chambers puts it so beautifully in his book, My Utmost For His Highest:
Know ye not that . . ye are not your own? —1 Corinthians 6:19
"There is no such thing as a private life – “a world within the world” – for a man or woman who is brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ’s sufferings. God breaks up the private life of His saints, and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on the one hand and for Himself on the other. No human being can stand that unless he is identified with Jesus Christ. We are not sanctified for ourselves, we are called into the fellowship of the Gospel, and things happen which have nothing to do with us, God is getting us into fellowship with Himself. Let Him have His way, if you do not, instead of being of the slightest use to God in His Redemptive work in the world, you will be a hindrance and a clog.
The first thing God does with us is to get us based on rugged Reality until we do not care what becomes of us individually as long as He gets His way for the purpose of His Redemption. Why shouldn’t we go through heartbreaks? Through those doorways God is opening up ways of fellowship with His Son. Most of us fall and collapse at the first grip of pain; we sit down on the threshold of God’s purpose and die away of self-pity, and all so called Christian sympathy will aid us to our death bed. But God will not. He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son, and says – “Enter into fellowship with Me; arise and shine.” If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart."
We may never know the “Why?” behind losing Erika. But we know the character of God and we believe in His goodness that stretches towards a bigger picture that we cannot always see.
As we head into the Breast Cancer Awareness month of October, the reminders of our loss are all around me. The grief never disappears but it does not defeat. And though my heart may be fragmented still, it does not swell with questions. I have peace knowing that God had a purpose in our pain and we will join Erika again one day. We can arise from the ashes and shine, knowing that God is working all things for good and holding tightly to a faith that does not lose hope. And even while my heart hurts there is yet room for thankfulness.
If this post blessed you, please SHARE it with others! I love to hear your comments!!
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. Psalm 115:1
Follow me on Facebook for more inspiration and discussion! Find me on Twitter: Amber Lia and Instagram: MotherOfKnights. Start pinning on Pinterest as well! View an Exciting Reality Show Life By Design, A TV Project with Lisa Leonard, Holley Gerth, and Dee Kasberger!