On August 24th, 2017, at 4:20 pm, my sister, Pat, took her last breath in my arms. It was truly the hardest, yet the sweetest thing I have ever done. And even in her dying, she made me chuckle. My red-headed, left-handed, fun-loving, pot-smoking sister, breathed her last at 4:20. Of course she did!
If you have ever experienced hospice in the home of a loved one you know the depth and range of emotions that collide in your being when they finally pass on. You are consumed from your head to your toes with heartbreak but relief, anger but peace, sadness but joy. The vivid memories of that time spent with your special person and all the family and friends that come to pay their last respects will never leave you.
We are in the book of Job in the DailyAudioBible app. Brian Hardin is the narrator and teacher, and the author of a book entitled, THE GOD OF YOUR STORY, which is the commentary that goes along with his one year journey through the Bible. How fitting, that in the August 24th entry, Brian’s words echoed a day in the life of my sister, when I watched her crying out to God, “Why me? Why did you do this to me?”
In Brian’s introduction to the book of Job on page 234, he explains, “Job poetically deals with the problem of evil and human suffering, crying out the question Why me? and then wrestling and groping for an answer.” The commentary on pages 237 and 238 of the book, dated August 24th, took my breath away, and brought me back to that day my sister spewed those exact words to the heavens.
Why Must it Hurt So Bad?
The summer of 2017 was one of painful lessons for me. I lost three people that I cared about deeply. My sister was the last, and needless to say, the most devastating. It’s fascinating how God prepared me to cope with her death. The intensity of each loss grew exponentially. He nudged me forward, showing me glimpses of deep pain and then pulling me back, then pushing a little further with the next one, and pulling back again. And finally to the one that sent me over the edge. But He grew my faith so that by the time it happened, I was able to break my fall and bounce back.
Do you wonder why life lessons have to hurt so much? What is that about? When life is good and flowing gently along we get complacent, satiated, and we think we don’t need God. Then there’s a bump in the road, or maybe we hit a brick wall, (or drop a motorcycle trailer on ourselves and break our back!) Then we realize we can’t do it alone.
Or we’re too proud and we don’t.
My heart breaks for people that really believe they don’t need God, that they can do it all themselves. I used to be that stoic person, until the day I broke my back. I guess I just answered my own question. That’s why it has to hurt so bad, literally. We are so prideful and stubborn. I cannot fathom how I would have survived the summer of 2017 without the love, protection, guidance, and sweet consolation of my Abba.
It started in June, when I lost Carol, an older lady in my Bible study at New Day Christian Church. She lived alone and I became her gopher when her caregiver abruptly moved out of state. After work on Tuesdays I would stop at the store to pick up her meds, her Outshine frozen fruit bars and Harbo gummy bears, and we would visit for an hour or two. She cherished our Tuesdays and the growth of our friendship, as did I.
Carol was outspoken and eccentric, and her intense intellect made her seem arrogant, but she really wasn’t. She came from a family of highly intelligent and accomplished women, so yes, she would correct you and educate you, and she was innocently proud of her knowledge, but not at all arrogant. I loved her eccentricity and her shocking bad-girl story. She loved that I rode a motorcycle and she could share her badness with me without being judged.
Carol was not only brilliant but a talented artist as well. She gave me the sweetest gifts. One is a water color of snowdrops framed in distressed wood with the word “Relax” across the top. I’m looking at it right now and it makes me smile. Her beloved ship’s bell hangs in my oak tree. The clanging of that bell when the winds are high always conjures up her face in my mind’s eye. I still miss her and our Tuesdays together, but I’m grateful she’s not alone and hurting.
When her health was rapidly failing we talked about how she should consider assisted living. Like all of us proud women, she dreaded the thought. After she was found almost dead one morning by her visiting occupational therapist she reluctantly succumbed, and then died a couple of months later in the ER, on June 13th, 2017.
Her death was so very sad, but not devastating to me. Besides, she knew Jesus, so I will see her again.
Two weeks later my hubby’s dad suddenly ended up with hospice at home. He was eighty-seven, with rapidly declining health that year. We were headed north that week anyway, but left a couple of days early in light of the sudden change in his condition, praise God. We drove straight through except for a nap in the rest area in South Carolina. The night we arrived, at 11:30 pm, he sat straight up in bed and said, “I’m so happy you two are here.” We were happy he was still lucid. We got to spend that whole night next to his bed, talking to him, arguing with him because he kept wanting to get up and walk around. He was rapidly nearing the end.
I had never been involved in home hospice before. I stayed in the kitchen mostly after that first night, prepping food and keeping the coffee and wine flowing while family and friends streamed in and out. I had a bad feeling God was preparing me for what was to come with my sister. She wasn’t well when we left, and getting worse the whole time we were gone.
When Sal’s last sibling made it to his bedside on our third day there, and his youngest son asked him if he really knew Jesus, he finally rested and never woke again. He passed in the wee hours of Monday, July 3rd, 2017.
Sal’s death was painful. We both wished we’d spent more time. But he knew Jesus. We will see him again.
Pat had been in and out of the ER four times in June, with complications of COPD and pneumonia, so they said. It was really hard for me to leave to go north. Our other sister hated that I had to go but she understood. We both had a bad feeling. Pat’s oncologist was out of town visiting colleges with her daughter, so she never got to see the xrays or scans that were done in June until her return mid-July.
Pat leveled off the first half of July, though. It was as if she was giving me time to deal with Sal’s death and funeral. Shortly after we arrived back in Florida she went downhill again. She landed back in the ER unable to breathe and hooked up to a bi-pap this time. Once her oxygen levels were up they did more tests, then it was hospice at home because this new cancer in her lungs was spreading like wildfire and there was nothing more they could do for her. She winced when the doctor said those words. It killed me to see her reaction. She still wasn’t ready to go. I thought putting my dogs down was tough. Oh man.
She fought so hard, so many times, starting with lung cancer in 2002. Again in ’04 — and again in ’06, the year my daughter started college in Florida. In 2007, with another failed marriage under my belt, I left Massachusetts to be Pat’s roommate. She loved that. We were party buddies and partners in crime when I was a teenager. It didn’t matter that she was eleven years older than I because, like me, she never really grew up. Yes, she’s the big sister that corrupted me. She married when I was ten so her home was my safe place to be bad. In her defense, I was a hellion by nature so it would have happened anyway. She just hastened the process.
When her scan was clear the summer of ’08 she was so excited to break that two year cancer cycle! “Yay!” she said. “Now I can fix my back!” She had horrible sciatic pain and could hardly walk sometimes. But the slip-up during the laminectomy in December of ’08 left her with permanent drop-foot, and that broke her spirit. Finally, no new cancer, but then she couldn’t walk without a walker and a brace on her leg.
Why, God? Why?
A year of seeking second opinions and researching how to regenerate nerves consumed us all. The other doctors all said it was just a fluke, that the surgeon did nothing wrong, that they couldn’t fix it. No, she had no legal recourse. As if that would have made it all better anyway…
We figured out how she could still drive her car with her braced right foot, using her left foot for the brake. She made the best of it all, of course. In July of ’09 I had a stupid accident in her backyard with my bike trailer and ended up in the arms of Jesus because of it. My jackhammer. Rick Warren mentions this tool that God uses to get the attention of hard-headed people like the girls in my family.
After my outpatient back surgery I started attending the Christian church around the corner from our house. By Christmas Pat started coming with me because she noticed a change in me and wanted what I had. I am forever grateful He orchestrated that whole thing, because she even got baptized after I did in 2010. Praise God for that!! He really does cause everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. Romans 8:28 NLT
Our lives were not horrible. I was happily single and serving at church, sworn off of men, working and taking care of what I had to take care of. She was doing Bible studies with me sometimes, if she felt up to it. The hassle of the walker and not being able to garden like she used to got her down quite often. She would become easily disgruntled because of her limitations, and because she felt like a burden to me. We women in my family are all so very independent. You can imagine how it soured her, can’t you?
Then the cancer came back again. Another battle ensued and she got through that one, too. Surgery, radiation, and chemo. In my whole life I’d never known a person that fought as hard as she did. She was so brave. And for the most part, she took it all really well, like it was par for HER course…until this one day. I really couldn’t tell you what year it was. Maybe 2012? It doesn’t matter. I just know I felt like she hadn’t learned much in our Bible studies and it frustrated me.
I stood at the kitchen sink, watching her in the pool, the only place she could stand without help. She raised up her arms and her contorted face to the heavens and sobbed, “Why me? Why did you do this to me?”
It killed me to hear her say that, to see that look on her face and know she felt like she was being punished. I wept. I wanted to tell her He didn’t do this to her but I bit my tongue because I wondered myself. I had no words. There are times when words don’t work at all, anyway. They only make it worse. Prayer and lamenting and tears are what work. God feels and sees it all.
Did you know He wants us to complain to Him? He can take it. He’s a big God.
“Job’s frustration was borne out of the fact that he and his friends all believed…God was good and just…and that he had done nothing unholy before God to incur His wrath-—which was what he assumed was happening.“Brian Hardin THE GOD OF YOUR STORY p 238 August 24th commentary on Job 12:1 through 15:35
Just like my sister assumed she was being unjustly punished, so did Job. This guy was known as a blameless man before God. So, why him?
We do that, don’t we? We assume God has hurled bolts of lightening at us to strike us down and make us suffer every time there’s a bump in the road, large or small.
Why the Suffering?
Pat suffered a lot. She was the only one of the three of us girls that wanted children and she couldn’t have them. She endured so many injuries and cancers and stupid accidents, time after time, and never stopped fighting. Never mind nine lives, she had about thirteen! Falling off the barn roof into the cowpile. A lightening strike in the Kodak parking lot. Hitting a parked car while chomping into a cheeseburger and breaking her neck, and it didn’t paralyze her! A motorcycle crash. It goes on and on.
The last years of her life she spent time really getting to know and love God and finding peace with her situation, most of the time. When she couldn’t sleep at night she would sit out by the pool and read her Bible, the book of Psalms, and smoke her cigarettes. Like my mom she never really gave them up. Her excuse was that she couldn’t do anything else she enjoyed anymore.
I still struggle with the fact that I remarried and moved out of her house three years before she died. She was all alone and she hated it. Still can’t forgive myself for that. Not asking for pity, either, just being real. It bugs me. She wouldn’t have lived any longer if I hadn’t moved out. I just hate that she was alone and became reclusive, and I couldn’t pull her out of that pit.
She was so happy her last week, because we were with her every minute of every day. She looked at me one of those days and said, “I love that my family is here all the time now. Why couldn’t it always be this way?” Ugh. I had to walk outside and cry for a while with that one. Just like now, sitting here writing this.
And then came the final blow that took her from us on that 24th day of August, at 4:20 in the afternoon, of course. Hah. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at the time. I texted my daughter right away, ‘she just took her last breath. I just want you to note the time.’
We cried and laughed through our tears. She was so good at making us laugh.
But she knew Jesus, so I know she’s up there making Him laugh, too, and I will see her again.
When my mom was diagnosed in 1987 and I paid a surprise visit to spend her last Christmas with her she was so delighted. I can see her sitting at the bar with Aunt Marge at the Elks Club, where my husband and I just had dinner tonight. The picture in my mind is still so vivid I can even smell the cigarette smoke and the whiskey on her breath.
She smiled so wide, hugged me so hard, and said in my ear, “Why is this happening to me?”
All I can do is sit here and shake my head and cry. Because I sure can’t explain why bad things happen to good people, and why we feel like we’re being punished when they do. What I can explain is that God IS good, and true, and faithful to hold us up through it all, even when we don’t trust that He will. He never turns His back on us. We turn our backs on Him.
Can you trust Him? Instead of hating Him, blaming Him, and cursing Him? Or feeling like you’re being punished? Can you still worship Him like Job did?
If you have never read the story of Job please do it. It will blow your mind, honestly. Lots of people have no clue how it all started. The whole thing happens because of a conversation between God and Satan. I couldn’t even believe it the first time I read it! I could picture George Burns with a stogie in his mouth… CLICK HERE TO READ IT NOW.
If you have a study Bible, this is one book in the Old Testament that truly deserves your time and energy. So many people feel like the Old Testament is irrelevant to our lives today. Nothing is further from the truth. It is sooo rich with history and AH-HAH! moments. You will understand the New Testament so much better when you get a grip of the culture, the stories, and the prophecy that you see being fulfilled when Jesus comes.
And please, take advantage of this amazing resource called GOTQUESTIONS.ORG. As good or better than a study Bible, this website is my go-to for any question I have ever had since I started reading the Bible. Just click that title above ☝ to access the website. Below are the first two paragraphs you will see when you just type in “Job” in the search bar. Click here or the live link at the end to access the entire article.
The life of Job demonstrates that humans are often unaware of the many ways God is at work in the life of each believer. Job’s life is also one that prompts the common question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It is the age-old question, and difficult to answer, but believers know that God is always in control, and, no matter what happens, there are no coincidences—nothing happens by chance. Job was a believer; he knew that God was on the throne and in total control, though he had no way of knowing why so many terrible tragedies were occurring in his life.
Job was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). He had ten children and was a man of great wealth. The Bible tells us that one day Satan presented himself before God and God asked Satan what he thought of Job. Satan accused Job of honoring God only because God had blessed him. So, God allowed Satan to take away Job’s wealth and his children. Later, God allowed Satan to afflict Job physically. Job grieved deeply but did not charge God with wrongdoing (Job 1:22; 42:7–8).https://www.gotquestions.org/life-Job.html
Tell me you don’t want to know the rest of the story…
If you don’t you must be numb! Just kidding. 🙃
Spoiler alert: God speaks to Job in chapters thirty-eight through forty-one. It’s very cool how the whole story ends. Because Job never doubted God, and revered and worshiped God, even in the midst of his worst nightmare. Talk about painful life lessons!
This week of August is always tough on me. Not just because I miss her, but like I said, I still beat myself up for getting married and moving out. I was there many days after work, but she didn’t have a roommate anymore, and she floundered. I got busy being a newlywed and starting my life over again. And Pat…she was just busy figuring out how to die. And worship God in the suffering, just like Job did.
Read the story. Now is the time to figure out what you will do when you have your own Job chapter.
PEACE IN CHRIST