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After Fear, Peace
- November 13, 2016
- Jessie Tucker Mitchell
My sister passed away two months ago, and I have learned that there is truth behind the saying, “Grief comes in waves.” I will find myself coasting through a couple of weeks thinking I have moved on and my heart has healed, then something will remind me of Christie – seeing a picture of sunflowers in my toddler’s book, hearing a popular 1980s song on the radio, even glancing in a mirror and thinking I see her face, when it’s my own. And then I feel as if my breath has been knocked out of me, and I have to look away or even close my eyes and bow my head because the grief I feel is unbearable.
Losing my sister, who was only 38, has made me think much more about mortality than most people in their mid-30s probably do. I wake up some nights gasping for breath, having struggled to escape a nightmare in which I am seconds away from dying. I question every food I put into my body, wondering if a slice of pepperoni pizza will really lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, or if my one sweet indulgence – ice cream – is going to give me cancer. I look at my four children and feel terrified at the thought that I will not be around to see them grow up, that I will die and they will forget me. Sometimes I think about how my daughter will leave for college in less than six years, and then my sons will follow, and how it’s simply the passage of days and weeks and months that lead to these monumental events, and I realize that it’s these same days and weeks and months that eventually lead to old age, and I am struck at how life passes so quickly. As a Christian, the thought never scared me before, but now it leaves me almost paralyzed with fear. And through it all, I have started to wonder, After we die, will we really see the people we love again?
These thoughts are depressing, I know – and very normal for someone who has suffered loss. And I should clarify that most of the time, I feel lighthearted and joyful. Pushing the baby in the stroller on a crisp, cold November morning; seeing my twelve year old daughter read picture books to her little brother; eating that ice cream even though it’s loaded with sugar … life has its many moments of sheer happiness. And I feel a similar happiness when I remember carefree moments with my sister: how we would ride our Big Wheels all around our neighbors’ yard because we loved the curved driveway and many sidewalks, how we walked barefoot through the apple orchard in summer despite the bees, how on Christmas morning she always would hand me my presents before opening her own. She was my first teacher, instructing me on how to color in the lines, how to build sand castles, how to fold a sheet of construction paper in half to make the perfect Mother’s Day card.
But as I said, sometimes in my sad moments, even though I am a Christian and I believe that saved people go to heaven, I wonder where my sister really is now. I know I should believe in heaven with complete, unwavering faith, but I think I simply want to see her again so badly that I’m afraid I never will. Feeling desperate, I have turned to what other people have written about life after death – and what I have found are answers to my questions, and a reassurance that we can know heaven does exist. After all, Jesus spoke of heaven and promised to go there and prepare a place for us. The Apostle John stated that anyone who believes in Christ will not perish but have everlasting life. The Apostle Paul looked forward to being with the Thessalonians in heaven, and it never occurred to him that he would not know them there. Author Randy Alcorn wrote that in heaven, “Relationships among God’s people will resume in ways even better than what we’ve known here. Once the curse is lifted and death is forever reversed, we may live out many of the ‘could have beens’ taken from us on the old earth.” What more proof do I need that my sister is in heaven and I will see her again?
Further reading has helped me see that this whole issue goes much deeper. Editor Veronica Neffinger wrote, “The truth about heaven should also inspire in God’s children a longing for it. We have likely felt this longing at times when we realize even on the best days, even with all the wealth, all the success, all the blessings we can achieve and be bestowed with in this life on Earth, there is a part of us that yearns for something still more fulfilling. C. S. Lewis once said that ‘If we find in ourselves a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.’”
I have read this quote from C.S. Lewis in the past, but it never held much meaning for me until now. All the times I feel sadness over my sister’s death, it is not only because she is no longer with me here on earth and I miss her; it’s also because I do not belong here on earth either, and deep down I long to return to the place to which I belong. The fear I feel about my own death is normal, but even a fear this immense dwindles to nothing when I consider that – as the article says – even on my best days, even when I’m at my happiest, a part of me yearns for something more. I think that’s why the lyrics of Squire Parsons’ song “Sweet Beulah Land” touch me so deeply:
I’m kind of homesick for a country
To which I’ve never been before;
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
And time won’t matter anymore.
Beulah Land, I’m longing for you,
And someday on thee I’ll stand;
There my home will be eternal.
Beulah Land, Sweet Beulah Land.
I know I will continue to work through the grief of losing my sister because my earthly mind must process this grief. I know that it is normal to go through a stage of fearing death and questioning life after this one. Yet I also know that Truth wins in the end: I will join my sister in a place where all of my questions will be answered. I will find myself in the home to which I belong. I will look back at my time here on earth and see that I never needed to feel any fear at all.