On the snowy night of December 30, 2012, I was reflecting on the past year in my journal. I have journaled regularly since 1990, when I lived in the bush in West Africa and had little else to occupy myself during the silent nights in my mud brick house. I wrestled for a while as to whom I was addressing my journal, but eventually I realized I was sharing my thoughts and fears with God. So, I have written thousands of “Dear Lord” entries over the years.

Curled up in front of the fire after the kids were asleep, I listed some personal accomplishments. I gave thanks for my daughter, Izzy, 15, and my son, Mack, two weeks shy of his 9th birthday. We had sent out his bowling party birthday invitations earlier that day. I gave thanks for my husband, Christian, and our marriage of 20 years. “I still like him.” I was pleased that I had shed 20 pounds slowly, painstakingly, over the year.

As I final thought, I wrote: “Any long-term career changes won’t happen right now because I just can’t stand to be away from my babies. I want to be present for them while they are here with us.”

Mack died 24 hours later.

It still takes my breath away.

In the months after Mack’s sudden death from sepsis, I read every book on grief and mourning I could find. I discovered many helpful online resources, attended counseling sessions, healing services, and connected with other bereaved parents. Now, almost two years on, I am finding my way along this new path. But, the most dynamic terrain has been the journey into my own soul.

There is a well-known invitation from Jesus to prayer found in Matthew 7:7 (KJV):

Ask, and it shall be given unto you; Seek, and ye shall find; Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

The same sentiment is echoed in great poetry and ancient seekers, this reflection from the Sufi mystic Rumi (1207-1273):

What you seek is seeking you.

And, another from the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941):

In desperate hope I go and search for her in all the corners of my house. I find her not. My house is small and what once has gone from it can never be regained. But infinite is thy mansion, my Lord, and seeking her I have come to thy door.

I have not been knocking. I have been banging. Loudly. Selfishly, I came to the door looking for Mack. I know with certainty that he is there in Heaven with Jesus, the Lord, and all of our loved ones.

Each morning, I come to my desk and knock. My monitor is surrounded with photos of Mack, Izzy, and Christian. It is stacked with books, coffee-stained papers and sticky notes of authors, quotes I continue to collect and notes from friends. I have found that I am not alone. Not only is there an army of the bereaved amongst us willing to share their stories, but the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us are alive and well upon another shore, and in a greater light.

Mack’s early, sudden death will never be right, and my hurt is deep and real. But, it was not our choice. What is our choice and within our control is how we will respond. That response happens each day, sometimes each moment.

I open my journal again. But, now I address it to “Dear Lord, Dear Mackie,” because I know in my soul that Mack is there with the Lord and in time I will be there, too.

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Elizabeth Brady

Elizabeth's son Mack died suddenly on New Year's Eve 2012. Elizabeth teaches at Penn State and her essays on learning to live with loss can also be read on The Compassionate Friends (TCF), Modern Loss, MackBrady.com. She has participated on the panel "A Flower Picked Too Soon" at several national TCF conferences. Elizabeth served on the content advisory board for the Public Television documentary "Speaking Grief" that seeks to help us all get better at grief. (speakinggrief.org)

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