Ten Years … What I’ve Learned

John Robert in Claire on a ride in Dollywood

May 21 is just a date. I’m sure many things happened on this day but only one thing surfaces in my own mind and heart. It’s the day that John Robert Dobbs died.  It’s been ten years and that’s still hard to write. Before that terrible day I regarded grief from a distance. As a minister, I officiated at funerals. I was sincere in my condolences but truthfully I had no idea what the person mourning in front of me was going through. That kind of empathy is not something you can learn in school or from a book.

With some caution I’d like to share some things I’ve learned from ten years of being acquainted with grief. Maybe this post will help someone in a particularly needful time. I use the world “help” loosely, of course.

I’ve learned that grief is a real thing. It hurts physically. I thought the term ‘heavy heart’ was just a metaphor. It leaves us exhausted. It makes sleeping through the night difficult. It causes us to have difficulty concentrating. People sometimes lose their jobs because they can’t function in the same capacity. Sometimes people stop eating, sometimes they can’t stop eating.  Grief is a real experience.

I’ve learned that grief is not a temporary experience. It may vary in intensity. It seems unbearable at first. It eases up at times. It comes back unpredictably. I suppose as long as I love John Robert I will always live with a subtext of grief in my life. Because I know bereaved parents who are much farther away from their loss, I know that grief is not going to go away. I’ve often said that grief was like a stranger who moved into our hearts and just won’t leave.

I’ve learned that the first two years were the hardest. I’m reflecting on my own experience, not telling you what yours will be. Grief in the first two years was intensely and jaggedly painful, disorienting, debilitating. If it remained at that level I doubt I would still be alive. It will always hurt. It will not always hurt like this. I learned that from those who walked before me.

John Robert on a snowy day at Tulsa Workshop.

I’ve learned that there is healing and strength to be found alongside fellow strugglers. My involvement with GriefShare and Compassionate Friends became lifelines for me. Mike and Mignon Riley took us to lunch with their old friends French and Marilyn Smith. I sat at a table and looked another father in the eye as he told me he knew how I felt because his son died too. When I attended their meeting I could sense the pain in that room but I knew that everyone there was walking through the same fire I was. That’s why I still attend those meetings. I also learned a lot from GriefShare and Royce and Carol Ogle. Leading GriefShare seasons has given me an opportunity to give hope. I would not be where I am now without those who were willing to walk with me in support groups. There is healing in helping.

I’ve learned that grief is both a unique and a common experience. It is unique in that every person grieves in their own way. They had a unique relationship with the one who died. Even within families, there are different experiences, remembrances, feelings … your grief is your own. So I do not speak for Maggy, Nicole, Claire, or any other family member or friend. But the truth is that grief is also pretty common. When I started reading books about grief I realized that many of them said the same things, even if they used different words. Ultimately, how many different ways is there to say, “this hurts like hell“? Still, each book and article I read affirmed my own feelings and I didn’t regret reading them.

I’ve learned that guilt is not a grieving parent’s friend. Every bereaved parent I’ve known has that one question that hangs on longer than the rest. What if? I wish I could tell you that the answer to that question will relieve all your anxiety about the death of your loved one. But it won’t. Even if you knew all the answers to all the What If questions the fact would still remain that they are gone. It is natural for a grieving parent to feel guilt, after all, it is our job to protect and raise our children safely. We’re not supposed to out-live our children. But we have a reality to face and nothing is going to change that reality. So let guilt go, there are so many other things to which you can give your attention.

I’ve learned that grief impacts faith in a dramatic way. There is much to say on this, but, grief can either drive us to God or away from God and the choice is yours. For me, I began reading my Bible in a different light, realizing that the first family in the Bible was led by bereaved parents. I’m moved by the grief stories of the Bible. Job at the loss of his children, the heartbreak of David and Bathsheba in the loss of their baby, the surprised widow of Nain who received her son back (but ultimately he died once again at some point), and when Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus – all of these tell us that loss is a part of the faith story. I do believe John Robert is more alive now than he ever was on earth. Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the empty tomb I have sure hope that this life is not all there is. I don’t know how I could face this loss otherwise. I know others struggle with that, and I acknowledge you in that struggle.

There is more to learn on the grief journey but this is growing much too long. My prayer for you, if you are a newly bereaved parent who is reading this, is that you will know that there are brighter days ahead. They might be far off in the distance. But you are not walking alone. our Gentle Shepherd knows how to walk with us through the darkest of valleys.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

If you’ve read this far and you are one of those precious friends who has walked with us through this ordeal for a decade now … thank you.  We probably didn’t acknowledge every act of kindness from the visits to the funeral to the food to the calls to the cards … everyone did everything they knew how. But there was still that empty chair at the table. We just had to learn how to live with that. We had no choice. We did, however, have support. So thank you. Truly.

Because of you, Out Here Hope Remains. JED

Some Grief Resources on the internet

Surrendering to Hope book

 

A New Book About Grief

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to write some reflections about a decade in the grief journey. I realize that many people are much farther along the path and have much more to offer. I also realize that there are many many books and blogs on the grief journey that are available and I doubt my thoughts are unique or more valuable than others. But I’m not alone in that.

Early in my grief journey, several friends gave me books. I understand that – it’s hard to know what to say and a book is at least an expression of the offer of hope and healing. As I read through grief literature I was very blessed by the things written from the perspective of broken hearts. But I also noticed two things. First, these books were repetitive. The principles of surviving grief are not really all that diverse – but they are helpful. A second thing I noticed is that most of these books were written out of personal loss  – a shared experience that gave each one a bit of a unique character, even if the principles were similar. So, I consider it a good thing to do to read a book or two about grief if you are suffering a loss. 

And there’s a new one you should include in your readings. Gary Roe’s Comfort for Grieving Hearts has potential to be a standard among writings about grief. The format is quite unique. The chapters are short and readable – very important for the grieving heart that cannot pay attention long. Each chapter begins with a thought from the perspective of a grieving person, followed by a discussion about the subjects the grieving person has raised. Each chapter ends with a grief affirmation, and they are listed at the end of the book.  Interspersed throughout are journaling prompts, and they are prompts that really get your mind thinking about an aspect of grief. 

Grief is a dynamic process. It’s always moving. It’s highly individual, defies prediction, and refuses to be boxed in. It’s all a bit mysterious. It’s a matter of the heart. – Gary Roe

At the end of the book, Gary Roe shares his experiences with grief. I think he saves it for the end because the focus of the book is not his individual experience.  The focus is on the unique experience each of us has had with loss. Although Mr. Roe is a Christian, this is not a book filled with Scripture references and overt references to Christianity… however, a Christian spirit pervades this book. You can confidently give it to a friend who may not be a Christian, but who might be open to discussing that idea later down the line. 

Grief is necessary. It is a natural and normal response to a loss. It is nature’s way of healing a shattered soul. We live in a new world now, without the physical presence of someone special. Their absence hovers over us and colors everything. Recovery, whatever that means for each of us, takes time. – Gary Roe

You can find out more about Gary Roe at his website (HERE). You can find him on Facebook , Twitter , and other social media.  Currently this book is listed on Amazon for a very low price, but that could change. Check it out HERE

 

Surrendering to Hope

 

UPDATE: WINNER of the free copy of Surrendering to Hope is John Acuff from Tennessee! I’ll get a copy of the book out to you asap. I hope you enjoy it!

This week I’m going to give away a copy of the new book Surrendering to Hope. Read to the end of this post to find out how to enter.

I wrote a chapter in the new book Surrendering to Hope, but you should buy a copy anyway. It is filled with a dozen stories of exceptional people who have faced some of the most difficult struggles of life and found hope in Christ beyond their pain. It would be a great read for someone who is hurting, for a small group or Bible class, or to keep on hand when someone you know is struggling.  I’m indebted to John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine for inviting me into the project. Several of the authors spoke recently at Pepperdine University and you can check HERE to find out how to access some of those talks. OK, commercial is over!

Ten Years

As I write this it is May 6th. At our church it was Graduation Sunday. I rejoice without reservation for our Christian graduates and the joy of beginning a new season of life.

I’ve only been to one graduation in the past ten years, and that was when my granddaughter received her diploma. So proud of her.

Still, graduation time always reminds me that my son John Robert did not wear his cap and gown and walk the stage. He died two days before he was to graduate. And on the 21st of May, this year, we remember that it has now been ten years since his life ended. 

Over the next few weeks I hope to share some reflections about a decade into the grief journey. I don’t promise that these reflections will be unique nor life-changing, just real. No effort is being made to be maudlin nor to garner sympathy, it’s just that when we share our experiences it helps others who are going through the same thing. And it helps me to share too. 

Giveaway

So, yeah, I’m giving away a copy of Surrendering to Hope. How do you enter? It’s so easy. I’m just asking two things of you. First, would you share the link to this post somewhere in social media? I don’t even care where and I’m not going to check. If you’ll lie about that, you have other issues I can’t help you with! Second, leave a comment below (I’ll select a winner from the comments). As comment fodder why not tell us what state you’re posting from? That’s just a suggestion. The book is not available in Kindle format yet, so I can only send you a paperback. If you win I’ll contact you about your mailing information.

Thanks for reading … and for reading Surrendering to Hope. Put it on your Goodreads “want to read” list today!

JED

 

 

 

He Would Have Been 28

John Robert and Claire

Today is John Robert’s birthday. Our family remembers him every day, but especially on this day. Each one in our family has distinct memories and relationships with him. I remember not only John Robert but also the impact his death had on his sister, niece and nephew, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends… all of us.

He would have been 28 years old. Still, I can only see him as 18. Occasionally I drift into a daydream of wondering what he would be doing today but I do not really indulge this for long. The truth is whatever I can imagine falls far short of the eternal life he now experiences. 

However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen,  what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” –  the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.  – 1 Corinthians 2:9-10

I’ve looked back at some of the posts I’ve written on this date across the past years. I’ll link a few at the end of this post. Just as there are no new pictures to share, no new events to tell about, and no new updates to his life story … I have no new reflections. Just three words. We miss him. Beyond that, only faith and love have kept us moving on after this loss. 

And this is what he promised us—eternal life. – 1 John 2:25

Living in the promise of God among the people of God has been our strength. 

A few links from past birthdays:

A post from 2008.

A post from 2009.

A post from 2013.

A post from 2014.

John Robert’s friend A. J. Olivares wrote THIS Facebook remembrance on John Robert’s birthday in 2008, the year he died. I thought it was beautiful.

Thanks for reading. JD

Nine Years Later

Everyone has defining moments in their life. Sometimes they are wonderful. What day did you get married? What was your first car? Sometimes they are marked by disaster. Where were you when Kennedy was shot? Where were you when Katrina hit? Sometimes they are marked by loss. When did your son die? That’s our defining moment. Everything is before or after that date. This day.

From the beginning I knew that grief was an unwelcome guest that moved into my heart and would never leave. The loss of John Robert is the subtext of my life. His face flashes before me at the most unexpected times. A memory will arise out of my mind that catches me by surprise. A moment of tears. A moment of laughter. Grief reminds me frequently. I’m still here.

Out at Gulf Coast Bible Camp

The loss of a child is not only a defining moment in one’s own life, but it becomes a kind of life preserver on the waters next to newly bereaved parents who are drowning in their sorrows. Many times people have referred strangers to me to just talk about grief. The loss of a child is the only connecting factor, and the only important one.  All I can really do is sit in the ashes with them and listen and say ‘I know‘ and ‘It won’t always hurt like this‘ and ‘It is ok to cry as much as you want‘… repeating words that were said to me in the early part of our journey. As I see it, if I cannot shed a little light for someone just starting down this dark path, then my experience would be for nothing. John Robert loved his friends and he would do anything for them. I’d like for that spirit to live on as I try to bless others who are thrown into the Great Sadness.

Since this is the ninth anniversary (that word sounds too nice) of his death, I wanted to gather the posts I wrote before. Starting with the one on the day he died. I can’t imagine how I pulled it together long enough to compose that, except that I have found writing to be cathartic … healing. I guess I didn’t write a post about his death in 2013 and 2016. The 2016 post is a reflection of going to the first graduation since John Robert died just a few days before his own.

John Robert Dobbs October 23, 1989 – May 21, 2008

Through It All (2009)

Reflections of a Bereaved Parent (2010)

The End of Our World? (2011)

4 (2012)

Six Years (2014)

Seven (2015)

Graduation and Grief (2016)

HERE is a page of grief resources I update occasionally. Feel free to share it with anyone suffering through a loss.

And as I have shared so many times, HERE is a page where I attempted to tell in a brief way John Robert’s story.

As always, thank you for reading.  And for so many expressions of support, love and prayer. We will always believe that we are where we are at this point because of the prayers of godly people. You are appreciated. JD

Goodbye Jackson

A week ago all was normal in our household. Then one morning Jackson the dog didn’t want to get out of his kennel. This is very unusual because the morning routine begins by going outside, coming in for the morning snacks, then going back out again. It’s been this way for a long time. But not that day. Eventually he came out and wandered around outside. He came in and laid in his bed – without a snack. I figured something was wrong and maybe he just needed some time to let it pass.

Throughout the day Jackson was more lethargic than usual, never eating. So the next morning when he wouldn’t come out of his kennel I took him to the vet. He has been there for a few days now. He’s not going to come home.

We had theories at first about what he might have eaten outside that caused the issues he was facing. He did eat a lot of buds and leaves off of a hibiscus bush. Was that the culprit? I theorized he may have eaten off of the oleander in the back yard, but the vet said it would have likely killed him quickly – and the bitter taste does not encourage eating. So I don’t think that was it. Significant liver damage is the ultimate reason. The cause? I don’t know. Maybe it’s been coming for a while and just now showed up … or the hibiscus was the last straw. It doesn’t matter. Our hearts are broken to say goodbye to our furry friend.

You can read about the day we suddenly and without preparation decided we wanted to bring him home HERE. That was in March of 2009. Kind of unusual, the way we came across him. He won us over quickly. Here’s a picture of Maggy and Jackson before we got back in the car with him.

I don’t think I ever told anyone this. And if it’s too weird for you, I understand. We found Jackson on March 21, 2009. On May 21, 2009 we were mourning the loss of our son one year ago that day. I know perhaps it’s not theologically sound, but I have always believed that maybe John Robert asked the Lord to lead us to such a puppy as Jackson. It was all so sudden and unexpected … but I do think one of Jackson’s purposes in life was to bring some comfort and healing to our broken hearts. From day one he was so mild mannered, loving, and sweet natured. Whenever we reached to pet him, he always winced down, as if someone had hurt him in the past. Maybe we were a comfort and healing to his broken heart as well.

Today it’s our tears that fall. He has been at the vet’s now for three days on an IV drip with no real improvement and some signs that his liver is not functioning. When we arrived at the vet this afternoon, his breathing was ragged and the fluid in his system causing each labored breath to rattle. To keep him alive would be to prolong his suffering and actually let him live long enough to increase it. We won’t do that to our sweet puppy. For eight years he has trusted us to take care of him and we have done pretty well. We will fulfill our duty to him and send him into the next world. Yes, I do believe that God gave us pets to enjoy in this world, so why not the next?.

I have shared that graphic with others who have lost their pets, so I suppose it is fitting to share it here for us. We are grateful (and amazed) at so many people who were praying for Jackson, and thus for us. Thank you.

We have developed patterns of life that relate to Jackson being in our house. We come by the house a few times each day to let him out.  We board him when we go on trips. We have a schedule of feeding him. At night when it’s time to go to bed it is my duty to get him to come and get in his kennel. For the past few months he hasn’t wanted to get out of his bed in the den to come…I’ve had to pick him up and get him out of the bed. I have though he was just wanting me to pet him a little before heading to bed, but now I wonder if this illness wasn’t coming on. We’ll never know. But usually he’ll follow me down the hall and get in his kennel for the night. He’ll use his nose and paws to arrange the blanket the way he wants it to be (come to think of it, he hasn’t done that as much lately either).  And tomorrow we’ll start over. Except not this time.

This afternoon with the compassionate help of his veterinarian (who is as pained as we are I think)… we will send him to sleep for one last time in this life. It will be painless and he won’t be hungry or hurting any longer (he hasn’t eaten in four days).  I trust the Lord that He knows what to do with these ones we love so much.

Rest well, Jackson. You came along at just the right time in our life to bring us comfort and unconditional love. May you receive the same.

Thanks for reading, JD.