Psalm 23:6 says, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
My brother passed away in the middle of the night from complications from the open-heart surgery he had two weeks prior. The surgeon had said everything went smoothly. I sat in the family waiting room and heard for myself the surgeon say those words. I walked with Dave around the unit at the hospital while he was recovering. I had snapped a photo of David and Stephanie in his hospital room. He had gone home from the hospital because they said he was recovering well.
I took guacamole to him and Stephanie in their apartment. I hugged him and kissed his cheek when I walked into his apartment with the guacamole. In the last several years I had often made guacamole for Dave and me to eat while we were on the Daniel fast, so I remembered that he liked it. We chatted for awhile that day, and then I hugged him and kissed his cheek when I left.
I didn’t know that was going to be my last time to see David on earth.
No one expected this.
I got the news at about 3:30am. Our family gathered together at that hour. It still feels too private and personal to share the emotions of those moments. I can’t really describe it. It was so unreal. I was in so much shock—I kept shaking my head and couldn’t stop thinking, “Dang it,” and “What the heck? He was just right here.” Nothing made sense. Seeing my parents’ devastation broke my heart even more. I know every parent loves their child, but I knew how immensely my parents love my brother. He was their baby and their only son. They delighted in him so much. They laughed so hard at every joke he made. No one could make my dad laugh quite like my brother could.
Later that morning, we all went to my parents’ house. Family members and close friends began coming to our house to grieve with us. My dad didn’t bother to shave the stubble on his face, and my mom didn’t care to wash her hair or put on make up. Every time another aunt or uncle or cousin or close friend came over, my parents would weep again as they gave each person a hug. It was so unreal, and it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. My brother was so young. Everyone loved him so much.
I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. I tried to lie down for a little bit, but then decided to go back to my house to shower and change my clothes.
As I drove the two miles to my house, I remember thinking, “My family will be sad for the rest of our lives.” There seemed to be no other option.
I turned on a worship album from Bethel Music while I got ready. My brother loved the music from Bethel. I changed into a t-shirt that David had bought for me a few years ago. As the music played, the song “Faithful to the End” came on. It wasn’t a song that I was familiar with, but at the end of the song, the bridge included a reference to Psalm 23:6. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Just hours after my brother’s death, the song from my phone’s speaker came to me,
“Surely Your goodness and mercy,
It will follow me,
It will follow me,
Yeah, surely Your goodness and mercy,
It will follow me,
Yeah, surely Your goodness and mercy,
Oh follow me.”
When I heard those lyrics, I knew God was using that song to remind me that He was still going to show His goodness to my family. I was struck how the Bible verse includes the phrase “all the days of my life.” It felt like the days of my life when David was with us could only be good. How could the days that David was no longer with us be okay? Yet the verse says, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.”
In the midst of all the weeping on that day, that is the one thing that I remember the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart.
Running after Me
Later that evening my sister Shari finally made it in town after flying in from Missouri. She had endured airport lines and the delayed flight to finally make it to us. Mom and Dad held her as she broke down in their arms. Dad motioned for Sara, Rachel, and me to join in the hug as we wept together. My parents were pulling all their children close in their sorrow, and as I joined the hug, I looked over my shoulder because my heart knew I had one more sibling who was supposed to be in this hug. I was looking for David, and I didn’t even realize it. It was one moment of many that I knew he was supposed to be here for this, but he’s no longer with us. But we called for David’s wife Stephanie to join us in this embrace. We all sobbed together as our hearts yearned for David. David’s mother, David’s father, David’s sisters, David’s wife, hearts breaking together.
Later I told my mom, “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad if we all didn’t love each other so much.” But we do love each other so much, and it does hurt so bad.
Over the next few days, the Holy Spirit continued to remind me of the truth in Psalm 23:6. As I was trying to fall asleep at night, I listened to a song called “Surround (Fight My Battles)” by Upperroom. I had probably listened to this song almost a thousand times in the past year, singing along with it as I did dishes, folded laundry, or drove in my car, praying about the specific challenges I had been facing at the time. But on this day, I realized it also quoted Psalm 23:6. The second verse of the song is…
“In the valley, I know that You’re with me,
And surely Your goodness and Your mercy follow me,
So my weapons are praise and thanksgiving,
This is how I fight my battles.”
I knew that God was showing me this verse again. I knew that He wanted to assure me that He was still good even in our loss and pain. He wanted me to see that His goodness was going to follow our family all the days of our lives. During those days, I didn’t want to talk about anything fun or anything good happening in people’s lives because I was so engrossed in my grief. So I probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear this from other people at the time. But I did want to hear it from God.
As we prepared for David’s celebration of life service, my dad shared the options of worship songs with Stephanie and the rest of us that the worship team could sing for David’s service. One of the songs was “Goodness of God” by Bethel Music. I didn’t remember hearing this song before, but in the bridge it shares a beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 23:6:
“Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me,
Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”
I knew this was the third time in 3 days that God was speaking this verse over me.
At the beginning of David’s celebration of life service, we stood to worship together. As the gathering of friends and family sang praises to God together, I felt God’s presence with us. I know thousands of people had been praying for God to comfort my family in the past few days, and in those moments, I felt the Holy Spirit give me a glimpse of heaven. A glimpse of God’s presence, a glimpse of God’s goodness, a glimpse of the reality that my brother is currently worshiping God in heaven, a glimpse that God has been good to my brother because he is with Jesus in heaven now free from all pain on earth.
As we sang, I lifted my hands in worship. I remember I lifted them as high as I could, even standing on my tip toes at one point, because I couldn’t get my arms high enough. I wanted to give God praise for being so good to give us eternal life.
When we walked out after the service that evening, the sunset was spectacular—perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen in person. Everyone believed that God gave us that sunset to know He is with us.
I don’t know how to describe my grief. I wake up each day, and before getting out of bed, I ask Jesus to tell Dave that I love him and miss him.
Whenever I sit by his grave and pray, these days I usually just pray, “God, I don’t understand.”
Some days I still want to scream, “God, don’t You know that I had to watch my little brother be buried in the ground??!!! He was doing so much good with his life! We needed him here! He and Stephanie wanted to have children, and he would have been the best dad! I wanted to be an aunt to his children, and I wanted him to continue to be an uncle to mine. Jesus, I don’t understand.”
Often during each day, something will remind me of my brother, and I will put my hand on my heart, sigh, and whisper his name, “Dave.”
I still don’t know how he isn’t here with us anymore.
A few months ago, I heard the author Lysa TerKeurst say that in the midst of suffering, she reminds herself of these three truths:
That’s all I can say for now.
I’ll share more tomorrow.
*If you'd like to view my brother's Celebration of Life service, you can view the video here.
**If you’d like to listen to the songs I referenced or the podcast with Lysa TerKeurst I referenced, here are the links:
"Faithful to the End" by Bethel Music
"Surrounded (Fight My Battles)" by Upperroom
"Goodness of God" by Bethel Music
"Episode 126: Lysa TerKeurst" on the That Sounds Fun podcast with Annie F. Downs
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.