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From Grief to Gratitude: The Three Longest Years
by Jan Hughes
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It has been three years since you went to Heaven. Despite my faith in God, the love I have received, and my training as a counselor, this has been the three longest years of my life. As I remember that day, there is much for which I am thankful.

I thank God that Union Hospital kept you alive long enough. Long enough for me to recall to you everything you have done for me. To tell you all you have meant to me. To apologize and ask forgiveness for the many times I disappointed you. Even though you could not speak, could not move, and could not respond, that was a gift and a privilege. I thank God that Aunt Nedra and Uncle Ed put their lives on hold, took care of me, and joined with me in releasing you from this life to enter eternity with Jesus. I thank God for the tenderness and dignity with which the nurse shaved your face for the last time. I thank God that Uncle Ed had just days before risked alienating you to lead you to salvation. That you loved Uncle Ed enough to listen. That you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. I thank God for the miracle of your final moment in this life. With monitors clicking and the rhythm of the air being pumped into your lungs, when your brain waves had stopped after days of deterioration, and with Uncle Ed gripping my hand, it happened. The answer to prayer. The evidence that indeed you were aware. That you heard me when I told you I would be okay. That you could let go because my new family would take care of me. You raised up, looked into my eyes, and your pupils focused once again, and your mouth formed your last word ...”Goodbye.” And then, with your head in my hand, you went to Heaven.

I was full of joy for you. And then the pain began. The pain of losing the only person that I knew loved me without conditions. Without reservations. Without strings attached. I did not know I could miss someone so much. That my heart could ache so deeply and yet I did not die. That I could go on. Time seemed to both stop and stretch onward unmercifully. For a long time, the grief was constant. But I had to live. There was Mama to take care of, and clients to help. And God’s purpose for me. And my promise to you.

The pain of missing you has not stopped. But God has used it for His good purposes. He has let me see the significance of a daddy’s love. Because you loved me so completely, I was able to let God love me completely. He has given me the strength to turn the pain into a passion for helping others dissolve the barriers that come between them. To really understand the experience of losing a loved one. To help people bear their sorrows and grow from them. To help them forgive. To show mercy. And grace. He has allowed me to see the impact of your life and convey to others the significance of their words and how they treat others. He has shown me that life is not about what we have, or what we achieve, but about loving. Like God loves us. That real love leads to a sense of security. That God made us to need Him and need each other. That life is not about getting but about giving. That it is important to pay attention to the interlude. To appreciate each person, each opportunity, each moment as a gift from God. To not put off an apology. Or forgiveness. To do what we can for Him, out of gratitude, because Jesus died for each of us, so we can spend forever with Him and all who accept Him.

The grief still comes in waves, and the tears will not stop sometimes. But after the tears comes the joy of remembering. There is no way to adequately show my gratitude to Jesus for saving you. To Uncle Ed for bringing you to Him. To all who have loved me through the past three years. It is through remembering with gratitude that healing comes. It is through carrying on the legacy of love that life gains greater purpose. As I wave to you this morning, and gaze up toward Heaven through the Texas pines, I miss you. Terribly. But I have joy. And I am grateful. And I’m okay. I am Daddy’s girl.

2 Corinthians 1:4, NLT: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

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Member Comments
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Julia May 21 Apr 2008
Jan, This was so touching,it brought tears to my eyes. The best articles are true ones, written from the deep recesses of our hearts and this is a great one. You showed us your pain as well as your joy. I was also a Daddy's girl and I relate very well to the comfort you receive in knowing your Daddy is in heaven now. I lost my Dad many years ago and I still miss him. He never got to see his grandchildren but I know one day I will see him again. I know he is in no more pain and he's walking with Jesus. What better comfort could there be in our time of loss? Again, this is a wonderful article. May God bless you. In His love, Julia


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