Many of you have heard that my 28-year-old brother David passed away on May 31 due to complications following open heart surgery. It was completely unexpected and incredibly shocking and tragic. I still can’t even believe that I am typing these words. I still can’t believe that he’s not here.
I hope to write so much more in the coming months about Dave’s life. I want to share so many things that Dave taught me. I want to brag on him and let everyone know how he was the best brother.
But every time I sit down at my laptop, I just cry. The ache of missing him is so deep.
But today, I believe God prompted me to share one of the lessons that I’m learning as I grieve….
Recently, I blurted out to my mom and my sisters and sister-in-law, “I want a shirt that says on the front, ‘I’m not okay.’ And on the back, I want it to say, ‘I’m still mad.’”
Feeling anger is part of grieving. For me, I get sudden urges to just scream or beat my fists against the ground or a wall. I usually hold that in, but the anger that Dave isn’t here rises in me every day.
As a family, we’re still trying to eat meals together often. We talk about David, about our memories of him, about everything we love about him. We talk about heaven. We know now in an even deeper way that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We talk about God. We know God is good, God is loving, and God has a plan for redeeming all things. All of our hope is in Jesus. We don’t know why this has happened, but we still love Jesus with everything we have.
But I still feel like I want to wear a t-shirt that says:
“I’m not okay.”
“I’m still mad.”
I can still play with my nieces and nephews. I can still baby-talk to my dog. I can still celebrate Gabby’s birthday, and I can still chat with Anna about the things going on in her life. I can still have joy in the middle of my sorrow, but if I’m honest, I just want to tell people:
“I’m not okay.”
“I’m still mad.”
In July I had 6 of my nieces and nephews have a sleepover at my house. Ever since I built my house, having a cousin sleepover at my house has been a summer tradition that my nephews always remind me of. This summer the youngest who came was Jozi. Jozi is 6 years old, and she stayed up late watching movies with the rest of her cousins.
But the next day, the late night had an effect on her. I was with Jozi and the other kids in my parents’ pool swimming. I was remembering all the times Dave swam with us in the pool. The kids were running and jumping into the pool, and it made me remember Dave as a 10-year-old, running and jumping into the pool like that with our cousins Josh and Philip.
Then I thought of the last few summers when we’d be in the pool with the kids, and Dave would come walking out of the sunroom with his swim towel. The kids would cheer because they were excited that Uncle Dave had come outside to play with them. I can see the way he walked on the deck and the way he would start joking with the kids. As an adult, he would still often jump into the pool—preferring to do a cannonball instead of just walking down the steps. He knew he would make the biggest splash, and he wanted to make an entrance. I think too that when he saw his older sisters trying to float on rafts, he loved that his big splash would get them wet and disturb their peace. I can still see his grin as he came up out of the water and the twinkle in his eyes as he looked at us, knowing he had gotten us all wet. He loved for us to yell, “Daaaave!” in the way we always did when he did something mischievous.
My 3-year-old niece Bailey wanted me to throw her in the air and then splash in the water, and it struck me that if Dave were here, I would have said to Bailey, “Go ask Uncle Dave. He’s stronger than me.” And Dave would have puffed his chest, probably would have started talking in a silly, deep, Schwarzenegger-type voice saying that he was so strong and would throw her up so high. The kids would just giggle and giggle at their Uncle Dave.
I remembered last year in the pool, Dave played the basketball game of horse with Gabby and me. If he air-balled it, he would play it off, and Gabby would laugh at him. He was commentating on each of our shots because he always gave good commentary on any game he played. :)
Then Jozi started crying because the bigger kids were playing a game in the pool, and she wasn’t a good enough swimmer yet to keep up with it. I knew she was crying because she was so tired from our sleepover the night before. Jozi wanted me to hold her, so I held her as she cried, and then I gave in and started crying too. I missed Dave so much, and it hurt so bad to think of having days like this without him.
It hurts so bad to think of doing anything without him. How is this even real?
As I said before, usually at some point each day, I feel the urge to scream and beat my fists against something. I have cried to God many times that I don’t understand why this happened, but my anger is not towards God. My hope is in God. I know God’s heart is good, I know He is a loving Father, I know Dave is in the presence of God now.
To be honest, I’m not really sure who or what I am angry at. I am just angry that my brother is no longer here with us on earth. I am angry that there is so much brokenness in the world.
A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law Stephanie sent us the link to a song in our family group text. The song was “Alive” by Kim Walker-Smith. One day I was driving in my car, and I began crying, telling God for the thousandth time that I would have gladly died in my brother’s place. I would have done anything, including giving my own life, for Dave to not have passed away. I turned on the song “Alive," and I played that song about 5 times in a row, turning the volume all the way up. I sang as loudly as I could. As I sang, I felt the Holy Spirit encourage me to let those yells from my anger and grief out. I could shout with this song because it declares Jesus’ victory over death.
Because Jesus is alive, my brother is alive in Christ in heaven.
In the chorus and bridge, it says,
We will make him known,
Jesus is alive,
We will shout it out,
Jesus is alive,
It may get loud,
The grave is empty now.
I felt the Holy Spirit say to me that I can use my anger to fearlessly stand against Satan’s schemes. I can use my anger to be bold in carrying the kingdom of heaven to others. God reminded me again that I am a citizen of heaven. My brother is a citizen in heaven and is already living in heaven. I am a citizen of heaven, but I’m still living on earth.
I’ll have more to say tomorrow.
*If you'd like to listen to the song I referenced, here is the link:
"Alive" by Kim Walker Smith
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.