On December 6, 2009, my precious daughter, Mandy, at the age of 23, died in her sleep of unknown causes. It’s been over three years now, and as I visit the cemetery, to decorate for every season, or visit her “just because,” I kneel down and read the words on both the front and the back of her beautiful stone. The front is inscribed with her name, along with the names of her parents and four older brothers as well as the dates that we were so fortunate to have her in our lives.
The verse on the bottom is, “Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10. I gently kiss her picture engraved on the stone, next to the engraved butterfly. As I kiss her, I whisper the words that I always said to her, “I love you more than life, Mandy,” and read aloud the poem, “I’m Free,” which is inscribed on the back of the stone. My routine is to walk just a few steps over to the stone that sits next to hers, bearing the names of both my parents. I remind them to hug my dear Mandy since I no longer have that joy and privilege. The constant flow of tears and frantic disbelief still continues as I gaze at their stones. My knees feel weak, and my body shakes, as the reality sweeps over my total being, my existence. Like a vise tightening around my heart, I find it difficult to breathe. The reality: that my daughter’s cute body is under the ground. I no longer can touch or talk to her, or hear her own special giggle. I still find myself talking to her often, but she does not respond. As I rub my hand over the blades of grass above her grave, I force my thoughts to what I know to be true, deep within me: She is no longer here but in heaven. She is experiencing only glory. Each visit to the cemetery, I find myself roaming around to other gravesites. Gravesites of young and old. In some strange way, it is beneficial for my sanity to realize that everybody there has a story. Thinking I am not alone takes a bit of the edge off.
As I wander through the cemetery, I end up at another story of my own. Another familiar grave, that of my grandson, who was born prematurely and lived for only minutes. My story continues as I am reminded of two other grave sites in another state: my brother and nephew, killed in a plane crash. I wrestle with the intensity of anger, welling up from the depths of my very soul, wanting to lash out at this cruel world, grasping the thought What kind of a God do we have that He would punish my family so harshly—what could be His purpose? And then I think about Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The days I miss my daughter the most, I train my thoughts to focus on four things:
My daughter is happy: My target in life from the day they laid my three-month-old adopted daughter from Korea in my arms at the airport was to make her happy. Although I have four sons, whom I love dearly, the mother-daughter bond was a huge part of my identity. But as it says in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “No heart has perceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” My daughter is happy!
My daughter is safe: The last three years of her life on earth, she had left our small community to live in a bigger city close to two of her four brothers. She had attended college and was working as a phlebotomist at the blood center. I reminded her of the dangers in the big city constantly, and I worried, and I prayed for her safety. My daughter is safe!
My daughter is not lonely: I am the lonely one left behind. She has her grandparents, uncle, cousin, and nephew to keep her company. She had a wonderful “welcoming committee” when she entered heaven. Another Korean classmate and friend left before her, and now their friendship continues in Heaven. My daughter is in the arms of Jesus. My daughter is not lonely!
I will see her again: She will be the first one running up to the gates of Heaven to greet me when I leave this life to my eternal home. Her silky long black hair blowing in the breeze, and her smooth brown skin and perfectly arranged freckles will once again put me in awe. As she approaches me with outstretched arms, I will hear her giggle, and I will hold her tightly. In the presence of God, my life, my heart will be whole. I will see her again!
Today I continue the “journey,” at times still falling to my knees with tears as the pain overpowers me, and the void can’t seem to be filled with my other blessings. At times, anger still consumes my total being, and I know the “whys” will never be answered. I watch as “life goes on” for others, but as joys enter my life, there is always that sharp edge of pain haunting my inner self. My spirit strengthens with the reminder of God’s abiding love for me, depending only on His grace to bring me through another day—sometimes another hour. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Like my own shadow, the stages of grief will follow me the rest of my life. Some days are better than others. The stages of denial, anger, and guilt come at different intensities, and at different times. I pray each day that family, friends, and the people I love will have patience. They can’t travel this journey for or with me. I will travel this journey with God, with their support, and continued prayers.
I have only memories, but Mandy’s spirit still abides in my heart and life. I ride by the church where there is a special dwarf Korean lilac tree planted in her memory. I roam through my home looking at prints on my wall and arrangements in her honor. As I walk through my flower garden, I pause in stillness where I have placed butterfly displays, reminding me that she is a beautiful angel dancing in heaven. Through The Compassionate Friends support group, the butterfly has brought a new meaning for me, representing “the free spirit of a child.” It is in this group I find others traveling on my journey.
I will keep her memory alive through the book God guided me to write. The title, Bright Hope, is the meaning of Mandy’s Korean name. The book has given hope and knowledge to the readers and in some ways has nourished my own soul. The readers who have lost children share my journey in search for God’s grace. The profit from the book is going into an adoption fund. Reaching out and encouraging others is what Mandy represented on this earth. In my mind I can hear her sweet voice saying, “Live, love, laugh, Mom! Continue our purpose in life on earth. Reach out! Until we meet again.”
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