Death, Grief and Legacy

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It’s been a season of loss. There have been tears shed as well as laughter over shared memories of the past. I tend to keep my emotions to close to me and try to only release them when I am alone or with my husband. Given all that’s transpired, I haven’t done a great job at concealing anything. A part of me knows that showing emotion and not attempting to be stoic around others isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Almost two weeks ago, on a Wednesday night, I completely fell apart. Let me back up just a little. Back in November, we lost my MIL to cancer. My husband and children still struggle with her loss, especially my daughter. At the end of January, I lost a sweet friend to brain cancer. Just shy of 2 weeks after that I walked into my office and learned a friend from church lost her husband. I had only met the husband a couple of times, but hurt for her and her children. Then I lost my beloved college president and my high school choral director within a week of each other. It was on that Wednesday that I learned about my choral director.

I thought I was doing ok. I made it through work. Went home and came back to church, even though I seriously contemplated staying home. I attended my ladies Bible study that night and headed to choir. I was holding back the emotion pretty well, until we started singing. You see I love music and it speaks to the very depths of my soul. There are times when the Lord uses the music more than the sermon to speak to me. (My senior pastor is really a great preacher and I love his solid, exegetical preaching). We rehearsed the first song and I was great. A couple lines into the second song, I was attempting to blink back the tears. By the end of that song, I couldn’t read the music in my hands. Since I was sitting on the back row, I couldn’t just slide out. What did I do? I pulled my hair down over my glasses and didn’t make eye contact with anyone. As soon as rehearsal was over and our worship pastor prayed, I bolted.

I was hoping to make it back to the safety of my van before anyone realized that I was crying. That didn’t happen. I reached the back door at the same time as a friend. She looked at me and hugged me, which only made the tears flow harder. In between the tears I shared what had happened. She hugged me tighter, told me she would be praying for me and we walked to the parking lot together. Later, I would receive a text message and a FB message from a couple other ladies who saw the tears. I won’t lie, I was angry with myself and frustrated that these 3 ladies saw it. On the other hand, it was a great reminder that I go to an amazing church and have been blessed with some incredible friends. Church “should” be the one place we can fall apart. Right? I feel like being on staff I should be able to hide the bad and pretend that all is well, even when it isn’t. If someone on church staff is falling apart, then it must mean that we struggle with our faith and in life, so wouldn’t that set a terrible example for everyone else? I get how stupid that sounds. We are not immune from life’s curveballs or fastballs. We struggle like everyone else. Tears will fall and we have people who love us and will come alongside us, IF we allow them. That is a whole other blog post for me. Death and grief suck.

The other thing death does is cause us to look at the life of those who have passed and our own lives. There are beautiful things we see and there are some not so pretty things we see. I honestly didn’t have the best relationship with my MIL, but I have watched how her death has impacted my husband and children. My husband no longer has any living parents. We lost his father when I was half way through my pregnancy with our middle child. My husband has made the statement several times “I feel like an orphan.” I can’t imagine how that must feel. I have watched my children grieve their grandmother. It’s been a struggle for them to understand why she no longer comes to the house, why no cookies appeared at Christmas and why they can’t just pick up the phone and call heaven. I’ve struggled with how could I have attempted to have made things better with her. There is frustration, sadness and regret all balled up into her death.

My sweet friend Lea Anne was an avid runner. I loved the race pictures she posted, especially when her family was involved. She and I had several conversations about running a race together. This would have meant that one of us would have had to travel. We talked about how once she defeated cancer I would make the trek to Arkansas and run a race in celebration of her defeating that nasty disease. Neither race ever happened. I regret not making the time do what we talked about. My heart aches for her husband and 4 children. Cancer stole a young, active wife and mother. She loved her husband, children and life and now she’s gone. Every mile I run this year is in her memory. It won’t bring her back to her family and friends, but it’s a way to honor her memory.

I don’t even know where to begin with Dr. Potts. You see he wasn’t a typical college president. Judson is not your typical college. There are things about my college experience that would be seen the same as most every other college experience. Then, because of the uniqueness of Judson, it was extremely different. We are small school. Between December, April and June graduates, there were only 40 in my graduating class. Judson is a family and Dr. Potts was the head of that family. Dr. Potts may have technically only had 2 biological daughters, but he treated every girl who walked through the gates of Judson like a daughter.

Dr. Potts knew every student by name. He knew our majors and what extra curricular activities we participated in on campus. He knew our family members by name. He could call them by name even if we weren’t with him. Dr. Potts chose to eat in the dining hall with the students. When we were out walking on campus, it wasn’t unusual for him to jump in and walk with us. He truly had an open door policy. You see he wasn’t some illusive figure head at Judson, he was a part of everything on campus. Dr. Potts loved the Lord and loved to find ways for Judson Girls to serve the community of Marion. We weren’t some small private college who stayed within our gates. Dr. Potts made it a point to connect students and the community.

I counted it a privilege to return to Judson to be a part of the Judson Singers Alumni Choir and sing for Dr. Potts’ memorial service. As I sat there it was surreal to sit and listen to people referring to him in past tense. Honestly, I spent the entire weekend waiting for him to appear and his office doors to open. I sat and listened as people talked about the man, husband and father he was. There were some stories I heard that I had heard a hundred times. There were other stories, I had never heard before. I look at the legacy he left and what he instilled in all of his Judson Girls and I know lives are going to be forever impacted because he lived out what he believed.

The Wednesday of the week I headed to Judson, I received word my high school choral director passed away. Carroll High School and the city of Ozark lost a great man and a talented musician. There were three men who instilled a love of music into my life at a young age and Mr. Shirley was one of them. I had the privilege of being a part of Choral Club and musical theater productions under his choral direction. I won’t admit how long I have been out of high school, but I have loved seeing posts and pictures on social media of him leading the next generation. He was actively involved in the spring production when he became sick. Knowing what I know about him, I hate these students missed out on his leadership the weekend of the actual production. His death leaves a huge hole in the music back home. Mr. Shirley also left behind a wife, children and grandchildren. I can’t even begin to guess at how many students  walked through the doors of the choral room and the stage and we all feel his loss as well.

Yes, we grieve and cry. The only encouragement I find in all of this is that we can grieve with hope. You see, these wonderful people had a relationship with the Lord and they are now sitting at His feet. Because many of us share their faith, we know we will one day be reconnected with them. The reunion will be one of great joy. We will all be healthy, whole and will forever worship the Lord side by side. If you have never asked Christ to be your Lord and Savior, I am more than happy to walk through it with you. My former pastor, Bro. Jerry, used to say frequently from the pulpit “There is nothing so certain as death and nothing so uncertain as the time.” He is absolutely correct. I am grateful for my relationship with the Lord and pray those around me who don’t know Him as their personal Lord and Savior will come to a saving relationship with Him.

Please let the people in your family and inner circles know how much you love them. Tell them frequently because you never know when it will be their time or your time to go. My prayer other than people coming to Christ is that the people around us would be loved well.

If you have made it this far, thank you. If there is ever anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to ask! You are loved!

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