God sends His personal touch for our personal grief.
by Donna M. Abbruscato
I can’t breathe. Heaviness in my heart gripped me so tight, tears welled up at the edge of my eyes, daring me to blink so they could be released. Just a few days before, we celebrated a family member’s birthday at an Italian restaurant — a night filled with the melodies of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and the aroma of Italian food.
As all of us gathered, we joked and laughed and had a wonderful time. To any stranger, we appeared to have no problems. And that evening I wanted to believe that as well.
My feelings were bittersweet about the moment: a joyous celebration for another year together, yet sorrow for the two chairs that were not around our table.
This event took place around the one-year mark of when our family lost our sweet dad to lung cancer and our youngest brother, Nick, to an untimely death just a few months before Dad’s death.
Before my Dad was diagnosed in May, we knew something was wrong with his health, triggering many doctor appointments for a correct evaluation. As I read CAT scans, researched the medical lingo, and tried to learn as much as I could to help Dad, I reached out to Nick via text messages. He lived right next door and was helping with Dad’s care.
But after a day had gone by, I hadn’t heard from Nick. It wasn’t unusual for him to delay in responding, due to his demanding work schedule. On my drive to work the next day, I left him a voice message to check in with me.
Cloud of anxiety
As I sat at my desk later that morning, a cloud of anxiety came over me, like a storm rushes in over the sea just before a hurricane. I reached out to my youngest sister via email to see if she had heard from Nick. No, she hadn’t.
I started praying for peace and clarity while internalizing my concern. At lunchtime I went home, delivered my dad his lunch, and decided to do a wellness check on Nick.
I went to Nick’s garage and opened the door. To my surprise, his car was still there. Fear and panic struck me, and my hands started shaking uncontrollably.
I quickly dialed 911 and shared my concern. Walking through the garage with the operator still on the other end, I opened the kitchen door and screamed for Nick numerous times. No response.
I gripped my phone so tightly, I could feel the heat of the battery generating in my hand. My steps slowing and my voice trembling, I made my way toward the bedroom. By then I was hysterical with my heart pounding. My mind raced into the darkest place.
At that moment, I heard a voice within me: “Stop. You will not be able to ‘unsee’ what you may see.” The first responders arrived, one through the garage and one at the front door. As the person opened the bedroom door, I saw Nick’s lifeless foot tucked in a blanket.
The next thing I knew, I was back outside on the driveway, gasping for air while screaming and crying in agony to God: “Why did You leave this breath in my lungs?” I wanted the air to stop so the pain of this reality would end quickly.
I later discovered that my youngest brother had burdens of his own that were too heavy for him to carry. He thought death was the only way out, so he took his life the day before.
This tragedy proved too much for me. I was already drained by the fear of the unknown about my dad’s health. I limped on the inside while projecting the warrior caretaker on the outside.
In the midst of this horrible episode, I saw God’s hand. A lunch provided by a co-worker before I found Nick was from God; it was the only thing I ate that day. It reminded me of what God told the prophet Elijah: “You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kings 17:4).
The prompting to stop was God’s protection as well; Nick ended his life with a bullet.
When I was out of my mind on the driveway, I saw a silhouette of a person making their way through the emergency vehicles, sunlight beaming behind her. She looked like an angel. She grabbed me and held me so tight that I knew God had seen me and heard my cries, just as He heard the cries of His people suffering in Egypt (Exodus 3:7).
Absorbing the shock
As the realization of Nick’s suicide hit me deeper, I thought about my sweet dad, paralyzed by my screams. He wouldn’t be able to bring himself to face the reality of such a grim discovery — his youngest son, his best friend, snared in such a lie of hopelessness. Gone.
Like a lost, bewildered child, I asked the first responders, “Who’s going to tell my dad?” Each one looked at me with pity, but gave no reply. Then one gently answered, “The one closest to your dad should let him know.”
Breaking the news
With God’s strength, I went into my dad’s house and told him the horrible news. I hugged him tight, and we wailed from the depths of our soul.
In the days following that horrific nightmare, I awakened from my broken sleep and struggled to know what to do next. Just taking a step to start my day was the biggest challenge. I had to learn that when nothing felt normal, I needed to do what came naturally.
In this chapter of my journey, I have learned to seek out the truths of God’s Word to keep my focus on Jesus’ love for me. Otherwise, the circumstance our family endured would have consumed me in the depths of darkness.
Several months after Nick’s suicide, my dad succumbed to death. My steps of faith carried me through the hardest time of my life. A verse from Psalms gave me special comfort; I still carry it on a note card: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (91:2).
The waves of emotions were over my head, but God’s grace and mercy protected me from drowning in sorrow and fear.
Hoping in God
I have good days and bad days in my grief. Sometimes the waves are one hundred feet high; sometimes they just splash at my ankles. But I know that God still sees and hears what I’m going through.
Only God knows how many more celebrations we will have together as family and friends this side of heaven. One day I will stand before God and will see how all the pieces fit. In the meantime, I will hope in Him.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.
Resources about grief
Lose, Love, Live: The Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change by Dan Moseley
You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times by Max Lucado
Beauty Marks: Healing Your Wounded Heart by Linda Barrick
About the Author