My dear friend Ellis lost his beloved wife Colleen on October 4. She lost her battle with ALS in the early morning hours, with Ellis sleeping beside her hospice bed. She went quietly–much the way she lived her life–with a determination not to be defined by disease but by where she was going.
Home. To heaven. To be with Jesus and her sweet daughter Heather who arrived at heaven’s gates before her, twenty-five years ago.
I can’t imagine the depth of loss Ellis is experiencing. His only child and his wife. Grief multiplied and ongoing. Pain that deserves time and attention.
We were friends with Ellis and Colleen when they lost their daughter so many years ago. Devastating to them and those around them. They grieved together yet very different.
There’s no formula or right way to grieve. It’s how God leads our hearts so we may deal with loss in a way that suits our souls. There is no end point. A softening of the hard edges of pain. A tenderness derived from beautiful memories. But uninvited, it never truly leaves. It ages with us and reminds us that death is as much a part of life as birth, loss is as powerful as gain.
Within less than a year after their daughter’s death, Colleen and I were part of a mom’s group headed overseas to minister to moms on the mission field. Colleen’s wounds were raw, and as she shared her loss, how it colored the rest of life, she ministered to women who’d lost loved ones without recognition. Who’d grieved without anyone’s understanding.
Colleen loved others in her grief.
Ellis has done so as well. Where his wife pulled back somewhat from the larger picture of our organization, he embraced the opportunity to be with those he worked with. Spending time with Colleen in their shared pain; sharing life with others, and enjoying the children and grandchildren of others.
A gift not given him. Yet never has there been resentment; only rejoicing.
Both have had an incredible impact on others with their journeys. In a culture that doesn’t easily deal with grief, they’ve been a reminder that we each need permission to deal with our pain as it comes. It can’t be approached with a strategic mindset. It can only be embraced with a heart of remembered and ongoing love.
Ellis now lives in that space where his life hasn’t gone as planned. Where his loss appears greater than what he has left. This was nothing he expected; nothing he asked for.
He walks through this with the God who gave His only Son for humanity who didn’t acknowledge the gift. The God who understands grief and loss, who loves without question those who seek Him and lay their hurts and losses in His lap.
People may see God as a crutch. Someone believers lean on because they’re weak and can’t cope.
Life is heavy, hard, messy. Apart from the promise of heaven, found only in a relationship with Jesus, I don’t know how people deal with such pain and disappointment.
Ellis has the assurance of one day being reunited with his wife and daughter. The quiet joy amidst the turbulence of sadness.
What assurance do you have for what’s next?