Reflections on the Death of a Parent (May-Jun 2008)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jason Steckel
May – June, 2008

It was nine years ago today. There are those pivotal moments in your life that you never forget. Weddings. Births. Deaths.

April 16, 1999, was the day of the phone call that would reverberate through the rest of my life. My dad had called earlier in the evening and I could hear it in his voice. Something bad had happened. I returned the call expecting to hear that my aunt who had been sick for some time had passed away.

Instead, I heard the words that I will never forget. “Your mom has gone to be with God.”

A host of emotions rushed through me at that moment. Disbelief. Anger. Sadness. I just started saying, “No…no….no.”

Instantly my world had been turned upside down. The woman who brought me into the world was gone.

The next couple of hours were filled with crying, packing, and dealing with a feeling of numbness. I didn’t want to believe it was true.

Michelle and I were in Arkansas at the time, so we had to arrange plane tickets to fly back to Ohio. It was already after 10:00pm by the time we found out about my mom, but within minutes friends of ours were at our home. One couple even spent the entire night with us and helped us get to the airport.

Then there was the plane flight home the next morning. It was during that time that God began to speak grace and mercy into this moment of grief. There was one passage that I continued to read over and over. Paul’s words began to bring a sense of peace.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

In the days, weeks, and even years following, this verse continued to bring healing to a wound that may heal but will always leave a scar.
I still remember arriving in Ohio and the long drive from the airport to my house. I remember walking in the door and seeing my dad for the first time.

One of the strongest memories of coming home was the walk down to where my mom died. Her fatal car accident occurred less than half a mile from the home where I grew up and my dad still lives. After spending a little time with family, I walked out the door to walk down to the place where my mom took her last breath.

It was a short walk that seemed to last forever. But eventually I arrived at the intersection and knelt down and had a heart-to-heart with God. I asked those questions we all ask in times like this. Why, God? Why my mom? Why now?

It was in the midst of mourning the loss of my mother that our nation suffered a tragedy of its own. On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, the day of my mom’s visitation, two teenage boys committed the Columbine massacre. While I was dealing with my own grief, I was reminded that we live in world where death is inevitable and sometimes tragic.
One of the bright lights in the midst of the darkness was realizing what kind of impact my mom had made on those around her. I remember my mom as a fairly reserved person who was usually either at work or at home. But that day I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came and shared how my mom had touched them. It was such an inspiration and I was reminded that you don’t have to be loud or the center of attention to make a difference.

Then there was the funeral. Somehow I was able to read the brief poem I had written for my mom in the days between her death and the funeral. As I look back it all seems so clear, but at the same time it was a blur. I remember a quiet moment where I was alone standing over my mom’s casket. I recall sitting down next to my cousin – who considered my mom his second mother – and comforting him in his grief.

I realized we all deal with grief in our own unique way. At times I would mourn. At other times I would switch into comforter mode. There were other times I just sat and tried to absorb what was going on around me. Even days after my life was forever changed, I was still looking for a sense of normalcy.

In the days and weeks following my mom’s death and funeral, I can’t count the number of times I wanted to pick up the phone and call my mom. When I would experience milestones, I would remember my mom was gone.

Several months after I lost my mom, I graduated from Harding. It was on that day, July 31, 1999, that Michelle’s mom lost her battle with cancer. Of course, this day resurfaced my pain. Together, Michelle and I once again dealt with the lost of a mom. Within a few months, we had both lost the most important woman in our lives. It was a time that stretched our trust in God and reaffirmed His love for us and our love for each other.

It was less than a year and a half later, Matthew came into the world. Again, we were reminded of the hole in our families. I wished that my mom was there to share in this special moment. As a new life began, I was reminded of a life that ended too soon.

In the years since, I have often had moments where I wanted to talk to my mom. Whether it was seeking advice, wanting to share a special moment, or simply the desire to say hi, there are times when I just wish my mom was still here. But again, I am reminded that we live in a broken world where death is inevitable and no one is immune from pain and suffering.

If there is anything I have learned over the last nine years it is that God can help us work through our pain, but He cannot remove the scars that pain and suffering bring to our lives. I was reminded of that this morning when I attended the funeral of a twenty-four-year-old woman who died during childbirth. As I sat in a church this morning with a community that mourned with a widower, his newborn daughter, and their families, my pain surfaced yet again. But it was in that moment that God’s word of comfort was brought to mind by the Holy Spirit.

As I had nine years ago, I opened my Bible to 2 Corinthians 1. It was in those words that God once again reminded me that the will of God is not what happens to me; it’s how I react to what happens to me. Sadness is an emotion we all experience at various times in life. We can choose to allow grief to control us or we can allow God to heal us by using us to bring healing to others. When we are willing to allow God to use us to serve others, He can also redeem even the darkest of situations.New Wineskins

Jason SteckelJason Steckel is the Minister for Families and Youth at Rochester Church of Christ in Rochester, Michigan. He says: “There are few things I love to see more than the lives of teenagers transformed by the power of God. One of the most exciting aspects of my ministry at Rochester is the emphasis on the entire family, not just teenagers. For many students, a parent’s faith is the single greatest influence with regards to spiritual development. Combine that with parenting a 21st century teenager and you can understand the importance of ministering to parents as well as students.”

In 1999, he received a Bachelor of Theology degree from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Prior to becoming disciple of Jesus, he had received a Bachelor of Science in Management from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

He and his wife Michelle have been married since 1997, the same year they decided to enter full-time ministry. His blog can be found at [jasonsteckel.net] (If you can’t read the letters on his T-shirt in the photo, they spell: “These ARE my church clothes.”)

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1581 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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