Thanksgiving 2003, my life was about to change in a significant way and I was not prepared for it.
Let me rewind to 2001. I was in my first year at The University of Western Ontario. My maternal grandmother who I was very close to was feeling the effects of her battle with cancer (she had both lung and stomach cancer). I was set to return home the afternoon of December 11th, 2001 following my last exam. Seeing her was what motivated me and I was counting down the days till I returned home to be with her. The Friday before my exam (December 7th), I got a message from my cousin that my grandmother was in the hospital. I didn’t hear anything after that. I was frazzled but nevertheless pushed forward to make it to my “finish line” (a.k.a. my last exam). Exam day arrived and following my exam, I awaited anxiously for my parents to arrive to pick me up. They arrived and just as we were about to get into the car, my dad pulled me aside and said, “Joann, Pau-Pau (grandmother) died yesterday.” The next moment is still so vivid in my mind. On the front steps of Delaware Hall, I let out a scream in between tears saying, “No……..” As my fellow classmates were returning home for Christmas break, I was heading home to prepare for the funeral of this woman who I cherished but would never see physically again. I was devastated.
At her funeral, my Uncle Robert came from Malaysia. He ended up staying in Canada. In early 2002, just a few short months following his mother’s funeral, he was diagnosed with cancer. And on November 13th 2002 (11 months after his mother passed away), he took his last breath. Once again, my family was preparing for another funeral before Christmas.
Fall of 2003 marked the beginning of an exciting year. I was entering my third year of university living in a house with wonderful friends and everything was looking great. And then I came home for Thanksgiving only to have my world rocked. We received a call that my paternal grandmother was in the hospital and not doing well. That weekend I also found out that the brother of a close friend of mine had passed away. I returned to school in a state of shock and despair. My parents were at the airport waiting on standby for a flight to Singapore and we had no clue if they would make it back in time to see her. My brother was living in Syracuse at that time and with all of us distances a part, I felt alone. Though there were people around me, I felt an indescribable loneliness that made everyday feel like a mountain to climb (and I had very little strength). Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I got a call. My grandmother had breathed her last breath.
What happened next is something that I wasn’t prepared for. The minute I heard that my grandmother passed away, I was immediately transported to 2 years earlier on the steps of Delaware Hall. What I thought I had overcome, I had merely numbed and now I was facing the reality of grief. I was not only mourning the loss of this recent loss but of the two previous ones too. At the suggestion of one of my roommates and dear friends, I saw a counsellor for a while. It gave me a space to let go and to be heard. Somedays were better than others. I kept a journal during this time and looking back now, I am so glad I did. What became apparent was how God was using this time of trial to remind me of His ever present love and to prepare my heart for what was to come. Despite this low point, third year of university ended up being my favourite!
Fast forward to 2007-two years after graduation. I returned home in 2005 to help take care of my aunt (who had lost her sight, was losing her hearing, had breast cancer, and a mentality of a child). I had originally wanted to work for a bit to save up and travel but I could never bring myself to leave longer than a week because I was scared of getting a call about my aunt. In early 2007, my aunt’s condition was worsening and I made a promise to myself and God that if she was alive come July, I would not travel but if she was not, I would not let anything or anyone stop me. On August 4th, 2007 exactly one month before my 25th birthday, my hero and earth angel took her last breath. I was completely devastated but completely at peace knowing that she was in heaven. [FYI-I kept my promise, booked my tickets a couple of weeks after she passed, and traveled solo for two months around Europe between September-November of 2007. I will save those stories for another post:)]
Just recently, I was reading a passage in the Bible and a phrase jumped out at me:
“I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”-Hebrews 13:5
As I reflect back to the “loss” in my life, I recognize the gifts that were in disguise. When you come face-to-face with death several times, you either continue to fear it or you confront it. I encourage each one of you to confront it because it is in the moment when we face the prospect and eventuality of death, that we awaken to the beauty and blessings of life. It is far from easy but it is completely and utterly worth it. When we no longer fear death, we give ourselves permission to embrace life and all that it brings with it. We recognize that the devil offers us the illusions of certainty (controlling your destiny, job security, etc) but the truth is, if you want certainty, there is only ONE thing that is 100% certain in this life. It is this: if you are breathing at this very moment, there will come a point when you and I will take our last breath. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just a consequence of life. YOU matter. TODAY matters.
Here is my invite to you: Embrace each day. Seek out the beauty and blessings that are all around you and within you. If you love someone, tell them. Know that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Today is it. Today is the day you’ve been waiting for. The GIFT is always in the PRESENT.
As for God, He always keeps His promises.
FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
“Dying is an inevitable consequence of life; living is man’s privilege.”-unknown