A model in ‘finishing well’

My dear friends marked their daughter’s 44th birthday on Saturday, the way they’ve faced it for nearly 20 years — with sweet memories, thoughts of what might have been, a desire to share special moments with her and a deep slice of grief permanently attached to their hearts.

I met this inspiring couple about a year after their daughter’s car accident and formed an instant bond that has only grown stronger through the years.

In February of this year I met a new friend — Janice Pitchford, of Abbeville — who was marking her daughter’s 44th birthday that month in a similar manner.

It was the 30th time for Janice but I found it interesting that the two daughters’ birth years were the same — only two years after my own. And the more I learn about both young women, the more I feel certain the three of us would have found many common bonds if we had had the chance to know each other.

Janice shared about her daughter Dawn’s battle with cancer in 1987 and how she entered her “eternal rest” seven months after her 14th birthday. Journaling the details of that devastating time (January through October 1987) became a therapeutic exercise for Janice, and now she hopes the rawness of those captured moments helps others who are fighting similar battles.

In 2015 Janice pulled her journal entries together, added a section about how their family survived losing Dawn and published a book — “Finishing Well: My Daughter’s Journey Home.”

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Dawn’s sweet spirit, compassionate heart and fierce determination come alive through the pages of Janice’s storytelling. Dawn definitely had an extra dose of grace, perspective and maturity, similar to what I observed in my niece Belle, who fought a five-and-a-half-year battle with cancer starting at age 2.

So much of Dawn’s story reminded me of Belle’s journey and how it impacted her parents and siblings. I connected quickly to Dawn’s Aunt Sherry and saw the familiar faces of an entire community of extended family, friends, church family, doctors, nurses, teachers and so many more as Janice walks us through each step.

The details related to the medical procedures and pain Dawn endured help fully tell the story. The transparency Janice offers in the struggles she faced as mother and primary caregiver keep the story real and relatable.

Janice’s writing style is clean and easy to read but you will need tissue within reach. She also does a good job with the pace. While the book can be read relatively quickly, it took me several months to finish because of the emotional connection to the topic. Janice’s ability to bring the reader into the hospital room alongside the medical staff is definitely what you want in an author — and the reason I could only read for a while before having to step away from it. The experiences Dawn and Janice faced are extremely real for the reader.

Each chapter left me inspired and hopeful despite the sadness of knowing the end of the story.

“As a family we have faced some difficult and painful days,” Janice writes in the epilogue, “but I have to say that through it all we have become stronger and we have grown in ways that I could have never imagined.

“I find that as a Christian, I now see death not as a defeat but a victory,” she continues. “We were dealt a devastating blow by Dawn’s death but our choice was to cherish the memories and reach out to help others through that suffering. In Isaiah 58:10 it says, ‘If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness and your darkness shall be as the noonday.’ I believe without a doubt that the way through our personal darkness is found by reaching out to others.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Healing a hurting heart

By Jennifer Davis Rash
Executive Editor, The Alabama Baptist

How can it be that my heart hurts so much? I do care for all of them deeply, but the pain that exists is theirs, not mine. Still I hurt as if it were my own.

Call after call, email after email, personal story after personal story and all in just a few months time — so many close friends and family members feeling such intense levels of loss.

One dear friend buried her 21-year-old son just days after another friend buried her 14-year-old daughter. Another has been told that it’s only a matter of time for her 2-year-old. Yet another fears this could be her child’s fate also.

One lost her husband because he doesn’t want to be married any longer; another is losing his wife for the same reason. One lost his wife to Alzheimer’s; another is losing his to cancer.

Two families are losing their adult children — one a young man, the other a young woman — to lifestyles that mock their family’s Christian faith and value system. One mother lost her teenage son to stubbornness and rebellion. Another family is working through lost trust and forgiveness.

Three young women feel the loss of not yet finding their life mate.

A handful of others lost income and struggle to pay the bills; another lost a large amount in a business investment.

The situations are all different, but they all revolve around pain, loss and a broken heart.

I know I can really never know the extent of the pain because it is their pain, but I do know that I have hurt for them at such an intense level. In every case, I’ve wanted to rush to them and take the pain away, do anything I could to heal their heart. But I know I can’t do that. Only God can care for them at that level. It is their pain to bear, and they have to decide to set their face toward the wind and push through the hurt, even with the multitude of layers and setbacks, in order to find healing.

And while it has been an honor for me to be part of the prayer and emotional support for each of them, it also has taken me on a journey of personal pain as I moved from care and concern to grieving in a sort of vicarious way I’ve never really experienced before. I took on each situation as if it was my own, and in doing so, I’ve uncovered a few areas of personal pain I really didn’t want to face. Doing this has taken a lot out of me emotionally, but the result is proving to be positive growth in me spiritually.

My time with the Lord has been so much more enriched and intense as I’ve pleaded on their behalf as well as my own. My spirit has been truly broken as I’ve wept for them and gained an increased sensitivity to the hurts of others. The Book of Psalms has come to life for me like never before, and the words of songs have ministered to me like only a few other times in my life.

The pain is deep and real; the temptation is to hide and avoid it. I’m learning a lot about just how much one’s heart can hurt and how much one can draw closer to Jesus through the pain. I also know I’m not alone. So many of us mask deep hurts every day as we weave through the many activities of life.

Share your stories and how a psalm or a song ministered to you during your time of need by emailing me at jrash@thealabamabaptist.org. I would love to share your stories as well as the specific Scriptures and words of songs in an upcoming Rashional Extras.