Grief is a funny thing. I've never lost anyone this close to me, this unexpectedly.
In fact, I have never dealt with a loss like this my 34 years of life.
These last couple weeks have been intense- I am sure some of you can relate.
SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG...
For the last month and a half, but specifically the last two weeks, I have had this emotional feeling that something is very, very wrong. And I can’t shake it. You know, the feeling in the pit in your stomach? When there is a national crisis, or you've done something wrong, or you are worried about a friend? For the last two weeks- that feeling is constantly there. It’s interesting to try to manage life with that feeling. The feeling that something is very, very, wrong.
LIFE DIDN'T STOP
Speaking of managing life, it seems weird to me, for so many people, life is just proceeding as normal. My cousin Judy, who has had too much experience in grief, warned me about this a few weeks ago, when Paul’s illness seemed to be taking a turn for the worse. She told me that life just keeps moving for other people. It’s almost like you anticipate the whole world is going to stop, but it doesn't (nor should it). And that’s weird. It’s weird that every single person on the planet wasn't profoundly rocked by Paul’s passing. It’s made it a little hard. For the past two weeks I have intentionally kind of laid low. I plan on laying low the rest of this week as well. I know at a certain point I need to enter back into life moving on, but it doesn't seem right yet? Does that make sense?
BUT IT'S PAUL
The reality is hard too.
It's my best friend. It's Paul.
This picture right here.
|Photo by Jason Pohlmeier|
It’s profound right?
It’s Paul’s brothers and his spiritual brothers, lowering his beautiful casket (made by Annie's brothers) into the ground. I shared it on social media right after I saw it because it’s so beautiful. A couple of days ago, the ‘Franciscan University Official Facebook Page’ shared it as well. They said it celebrated the meaning of “household” (think Fraternities/Sororities and then add lots of Jesus). When I saw it, on the FUS page, I could barely handle it. Because it’s a picture of PAUL being lowered to the ground, you know? My friend Paul. And it is sheer insanity, that my friend Paul is being remembered by our university, because 2 months ago, my friend Paul (as far as I knew) was just fine. How intense is that? I can’t wrap my head around it.
THIS CAN'T BE REAL LIFE
And then, the other night, I figured out why I keep using words like, ‘weird’ and ‘surreal’ and ‘bizarre’ to describe my friend leaving so early and so quickly. It helped frame things for me. But, I’ll admit, it kind of left me at a loss. You see, prior to our spontaneous hospital trip, I had not seen Paul in 1.5 years. The last time I saw his family, our family had taken our big ‘Dave Ramsey’ trip to scream ‘WE’RE DEBT FREE’ on the radio. Paul/Annie and the kids met us at the Financial Peace University. The plan was we would go to the farm and spend the night after. But, as these things go, I was 7 months pregnant, in the summer, after travel and frankly, I was so sick. I decided we should just head back to Michigan rather than stay another night (how much of a bummer is that decision in retrospect?). We called them and they were crazy understanding, so we headed back home.
The thing is, in the last 5 years especially, we’d only see each other once a year if we were lucky. Marriage, babies and living in different states kept us from seeing each other more than that. An occasional text message/facebook message back and forth between Annie and I was the way we expressed our relationship. Paul’s family and my family didn't see each other regularly, or even contact each other as a norm. It didn't make us less close- it’s just the nature of living across the US of A.
I share this because I finally realized why this is all so weird. It was very possible for me to go days without thinking about Ann or Paul. I never had to think about them too much, because I knew eventually we’d see them again. And, when we did, it would be like no time had passed. But then, on that terrible December day, when we found out about the extent of Paul’s cancer, it’s like everything shifted. For the past month I have slept with my cell phone by my side, anxious for any type of update, praying at all hours of the night. And now that Paul has gone to be with Jesus, I can almost think about nothing else. I can’t stop thinking about how I will never see him here on earth, how quickly this all happened, and how it doesn't even seem real. I wake up in the morning thinking about Paul and Annie (and the kids), I cry throughout the day, I go to bed checking social media/email/etc… to see pictures of my friend, stories about their family, anything to make me feel connected
And it’s hard. Because I can’t believe all that has transpired, and I can’t believe I won’t be able to do what I always just took for granted… seeing my friend and his family whenever I wanted. Whenever we planned. It’s just unbelievable to me. Like it is for so many of you.
But there has also been such beauty.
I have received so many messages from friends and family, even strangers. Messages saying they are praying for Paul, that the witness of Paul’s fight brought them back to the faith. People who haven’t prayed in months, or years, inspired by the love of Paul and Ann, turning their lives back to God.
I have heard countless stories of people choosing to live differently because they want to be more like Paul. They want to be remembered as being a person like Paul. #livelikepaul is a hashtag, but it’s also becoming kind of a movement. I’d love to say I was putting it in practice more- but I will say I am trying. And my husband Aaron, who is naturally more selfless than me, is using #livelikepaul to encourage me when I get selfish. #livelikepaul is changing lives. My ministry partner is going to use it as a basis for a workshop this weekend. Isn’t that awesome?
And then, there is the financial support of Annie and the kids. Paul tried to get life insurance, but for reasons not really in his total control, he couldn't make it happen. Good people have put their heads together and come up with a great idea to help financially support Paul’s family. I know so many of you have helped with the gofundme site, and the youcaring site, and the registry. My gosh, a friend of mine who had never met Paul provided a meal for the workers on the house- it moved me to tears!
The generosity of so many of you has been amazing, but I've got to ask for your help once more.
Go check out the website LOVELIKEPAUL.COM (see what they did there) and prayerfully consider if this is an endeavor you can help with.
I know money is tight for a lot of us, and I know budgeting can be difficult, but I love that this site gave us options. Aaron and I will be giving a monthly donation to the Coakley family, as they begin to relearn life without Paul’s physical presence. I know it is entirely too much to ask, but would some of you consider doing it with me? I really believe we have a primary responsibility as Christians to help each other. Watching Annie and the kids be taken care of these last few weeks has truly restored some of my faith in humanity. But more than that, I am excited to do something I know Paul would want from me (and others) to make sure his family is taken care of.
Grief is an ugly beast I have never met so intimately. I asked my husband the other night, ‘when is this feeling going to go away?’ and he didn’t have an answer. But working together, with maybe some of your help, can at least help us to begin to reignite some of the light that was lost on January 20th.
|Photo by Janell Brake Miank of one of the very last times I looked at my friend's face|
Thanks for reading… consider sharing the link on your facebook wall so that we can get Annie’s financial needs met, while she continues to meet God with her broken heart.