Posted by: alegra22 | July 29, 2011

strength in the shadow

Dear John,


I can’t discuss my journey of faith without touching upon
your death. Somewhere in the story, I pause and say, “I was down in the desert
and I attempted my first prayer. It was to meet someone who embodied what it
meant to live in relationship with God, not just intellectually, but really
walked it.”



It wasn’t long after my time in the desert that you were
diagnosed with leukemia.



The night we sat in your living room discussing the future
and the past, you shared with me the story of how you’d come to know God. When
I tell people about this part, I don’t get into the details even though they
make fantastic tales, I say, “God came to him directly and that’s how John
continued in his faith. He demanded proof and God gave it to him.” You answered
some of my most challenging questions and you did it with a hint of mischief in
your eyes.



Last night my mind flooded with memories as I thought about
the anniversary of your death. Huddled beneath the warm blankets, my youngest
was kneading his feet into my back and my husband was a dark mountain of
snoring security surrounding us. The tears were unexpected as I remembered
caring for your children so that your wife could be with you in the hospital. I
tell people that this was my first taste of motherhood – I was thrown into it
with four children who were trying to be brave as their entire world slid away
beneath their feet toward an unknown edge.



I fell in love with your children. Each one of them changed
me in some way. In particular, I remember Jonah because I wanted to have a son
like him one day. Jonah had been such a serious, determined little man, locking
doors behind us as we moved from house to house, watching everything that went
on around him as if he believed that at the ripe age of six, he’d have to take
matters into his own hands and protect us all. I remember praying for you with
your daughter over a campfire at the edge of the river. I remember holding her
hand as we sat at the edge of the bed, talking about the reality of what she
was facing.


I remember you sitting on the edge of the hospital bed,
right after they’d destroyed your immune system in preparation for the new bone
marrow. You had been harassing the nurses, skate boarding the gurney up and
down the floor, keeping everyone laughing. At night you cuddled with your wife
and worshipped. You looked at me and said, “All that stuff you think you need
to get done? It never gets done. It isn’t important. There’s always something



That sort of thing sounds different coming from a man
balanced between this life and the next. I made myself a promise that I would
speak to others as if I were viewing my life from the other side. I would say
the things that needed to be said. I’m still learning about letting go of all
that stuff that is never done.



The memories never move in a logical order, they are filled
with tastes and smells and landscapes and spoken words. The pies and licorice
we ate as comfort food while in the hospital. The thin mats we slept on next to
strangers in dark corners of the hospital. The way our voices filled the room
as we prayed over you day after day. The grey backdrop of San Francisco, the
city I was born in.



Most of all, I remember the night you gave us your last
breath. We stood around you, your family and friends, each one of us had our
hand somewhere on the edge of your body. In my unspoken prayers, in a quiet
whisper, I said, “It’s okay. Go in peace.” You had battled so hard and it was
clear that your body was done with its time on this planet.



You stopped breathing for a few moments and then you took
one more breath. Later, the doctor would say that this last breath had been a
miracle, it had been your final attempt to say, “I love you.”



In your last exhale, you blessed us with your spirit of



I am forever changed by that sacred night I spent sleeping
in the hospital room with your body. We had sent the family home, your brother
and I, but we remained. We held vigil. In the morning, I placed my hands on
your feet, your chest, I could feel the vacancy. You were gone.



Recently I was back in California and I had lunch with your
mother. We discussed my three children, my life now, and she said to me that
when she looks back on all that has happened, she recognized the shift that
occurred in me around your death.


Somewhere in those blurred days of prayer, laughter,
exhaustion, fear, and grief, I stepped off the edge of searching for the God I
had encountered in the moist earth and lilac scent of my childhood to
understanding that there was no search, only a stilling, a receiving, a



There have been many moments and there will be many more,
when I hear the song of your worship in those last days of your life, and I am
reminded that there is nothing to fear in living or dying. There is only a
chance to love and let go.



Until we meet again.


God Bless you John.



  1. Beautiful, very well done,I loved the part about the last breath, exactly how God wants us to feel and hear in those first and last breaths of our life is his love. Thank you fo putting into words the connection of life, death and love with God’s spirit

    • Thank you Michelle

  2. Thank you E for preserving our/your journey in such a pure authentic expression…. words fail me as my tears speak clearly of that time… spirit, heart, love, courage… yeah courage. Your recollection IS what I feel in my body/memory. Namaste’

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