We just passed the 6 year anniversary of your death. I guess it was the evening of January 4, 2004 (that is what the medical examiner said), but Kristie (your sister, not my wife) thinks it is January 5 because that morning her back door blew open. Remember, she had Drew that night. She says you came to see him one last time. I told her that was dumb, but she really holds on to that. Anyway, who cares, right?
We all really miss you. There is a certain amount of darkness that follows us everywhere we go. I suppose that this “cloud” (isn’t that what you always called it?) will be with us until Christ. I have a hard time as I often wonder if I am wallowing in self-pity because of what you did and because of mom. It was just such a short period of time to have lost you both. But I really can feel sorry for myself. It’s funny because the week after you died (or maybe it was the weekend before), Chuck preached on Joshua. It was when Joshua was taking over for Moses after Moses had died. God told Joshua (to paraphrase), “Moses my servant is dead, now you must lead my people.” You know how Chuck is. Very straight forward, matter of fact, with that deep low voice? He said, “Let me be frank. Some of you are wallowing in pity over someone who has died. MOVE ON! They are dead, you are not! I don’t mean to be insensitive, but some of you need to get on with God’s mission.” It was something like that. I really needed to hear it, but so often I cannot get over it. I have learned to live with it, but none of us can get over it.
Angie, I don’t really know where you are. I think you are with the Lord. I hope that you are with the Lord. But you remember all those times before you died that you asked me about whether or not there really was a God. Remember driving back from Oklahoma City and we went through the five options? 1) Nothing created everything. 2) Chance created everything. 3) Everything came from nothing. 4) Everything is eternal. 5) An eternal God created everything. (That actually made it into my Trinitarianism course!) Just the very fact that I had to try to persuade you that God existed scared me. You used to call me in the early nineties when you could not sleep and ask me the same thing. You were mad at him for not answering your prayers about your sleeplessness. That was the first time I felt like a pastor, since you called me to ask me about it. Anyway, you seemed so full of doubt and unbelief before you died. Remember when you were upstairs at our house crying and angry that God would not take away your depression? You used me as your “God punching bag” (remember, I would always say to you and mom, “Just because I am in ministry, does not mean that I am your punching bag for God”). You said that you did not even believe in him any more. For the last month, you went really cold toward everything. That is why I don’t like to ask where you are. I do, however, tell everyone that you died with Chuck’s Day by Day book in front of you. I think you are with him.
There is just so much to say…
(BTW: I was encouraged to write this “grief letter” to you and share it. So that is what I am doing.)
I do want to say thank you for all your encouragement that you gave to me through seminary and my early years at Stonebriar. I do believe that you are a big part of why I am doing what I am doing. Remember when I first started teaching at the Center for Biblical Studies at Dallas Seminary? You would come to the class (it was Romans) and critique me in the parking lot after class. You did so good in your critique. You would say (without me even asking), “Here is what I like about your teaching…” I think you said I was very authoritative, that people seemed to be engaged, and that it seemed that I knew what I was talking about. But then you would say, “Here is where you can improve…” Lots of that. Remember when you said that I just stared at people after they asked a question with a blank look on my face? You said that they seemed to feel really stupid and that I needed to try to encourage the students more or they would not feel free to ask questions. You helped me out so much. I don’t have anyone like that any more. You came to my Romans class all three times I taught it. You did the same thing when I was teaching at Stonebriar. Thank you.
But your death has really served as a catalyst for me and my passion for theology. I know that sounds odd. It is odd, especially after all my teaching, you were still questioning God and took your own life!! Well, it has helped in other ways. Most importantly, through the tragedy that it has brought upon us, I have come to realize that we are not sheltered from the most terrible of pain. No one is. I don’t know how to explain it. Remember I was a fitness trainer for so long. You know how I prepared people physically, and in many ways what I did was to prevent heart problems, diabetes, and other sicknesses? I feel as if theology creates a foundation, a sort of preventative measure for life’s sicknesses. I guess what I am saying is that every time I teach and preach, my heart is yearning for the stability that real belief provides. I don’t know what I would have done the last few years after all the stuff with you and mom if I did not really believe in Christ. And you know what? I do. While my faith has been experientially molded, it has not weakened in the slightest. I remember preaching at your funeral (thanks a lot by the way for making me do that…no brother should have to do that) and saying that your tragic death did not change the reality of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection. No matter what it looks like, God still loves us and things are going to get better. Death, sickness, pain, depression, and that stupid “cloud” will be no more.
It has taken me all day to write this. I just had lunch with Lindsey and Kristie (your sister, not my wife). We go to the Bagel Shop (Wayne’s Bagel Café—it is really great) almost every Friday. We used to take mom, but we can hardly move her any more (another story). I told them about this letter. They said that they could never do this. I have not cried about you in so long (except in my dreams—isn’t that weird?). I told them that right when I started to write this, I started to cry. I mean, it was the first paragraph! Oh well, anyway, we talk about you every Friday. Usually we jest about the whole situation. I think it makes us feel better. We say things like, “If that dead sister of yours was here, she would…” Or, “If only your stupid sister had not blown her head off.” Oh, don’t act surprised. You would be right there with us. Lindsey and Kristie did not want to hear to much about the letter, although I am sure that they will read it. We have grown very close since you left. That has been good. Lindsey and Kristie are my best friends. Really! Can you believe that?
We have not seen Drew since you died. I am so sorry. There is nothing we can do. David won’t let us see him. We have not even heard from David or Drew in five years. I do pray for him though. I can’t imagine what he looks like. He has to be so big. As big as Kylee.
I don’t really want to talk to you about mom. Her situation is even harder than yours. And Dad…Another time.
Well, I don’t know if you will ever see this letter. Maybe Jesus will read it to you. I don’t know. My theology of the intermediate state is rather limited. God did not tell us much about it. But I hope he does read this to you. He’ll most certianly be able to correct the grammar! Tell him I said hi. Although I just talked to him.
We all love you and miss you so much. Nothing ever has or ever could replace you. We don’t forget and we cannot forget like you said we would.
See you soon,
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]