Surviving a Death
The following is an excerpt from the book I wrote after the death of my only son, "The King's Lion ... Bound for Home!" Please share with those who it will help after a death, especially a child.
We Hug, We Cry, and We Say Good-bye
Before I begin to write this chapter, I will make a bold warning … this sad dark chapter is very different than the rest of this book!
Up to this point I have had a creative wealth of fun describing T. J.’s joyful, animated existence and glorious, inspirational times which he spent here on this earth. I tell readers about his brief life within the gratifying framework of the silly-hearted stories, and heartwarming moments that I, as his father and his friend, recall from his blessed and miraculously cheery life.
This unwelcomed chapter will touch that intensely sobering, dark part of his story, his sudden tragic death, and how that unwelcomed event has impacted me and continues to taunt and torment me as well. I genuinely wanted to skip over or just ignore this gloomy final part of his earthbound journey. I feel that I have honestly told this part of his life’s story too many hundreds if not thousands of times. Additionally, I had determined that to provide details surrounding his tragic death as a teenager, may not fit very well into this tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted book of warm, familial reflections.
My wife Carrie was adamant that I needed to tell readers about his death because it is a real part of his life, his story, and God’s plan for his ongoing legacy as well. Therefore, if this awkward, misfit chapter takes you off guard or slightly appalls you, then please blame that on her. Just kidding.
I will, however, go to a dark, gruesome, unhealthy place inside, which I only tap into on rare occasions. This is genuinely unlike me, or my glass-half-full style of character to dwell for too long in this morbid place, or speak at length in this chilling regard very often. As I mentioned in my prelude to this book, writing T. J.’s story has been a great source of personal therapy, and therefore, getting out and releasing some of the deep clutter of blistering, branded scars, intense grief, and lingering hurts that are bottled up underneath the surface, will help with my continued ongoing healing. Going to that dark sobering place and working through the intense pain is like finally taking a breath deeply into my lungs of fresh, pure, cleansing air. I can finally breathe freely again, and smell the sweet aroma of the pure-white, silky essence of a loving God.
I hope that witnessing my attempts at working through the bitter struggles helps you as well. But for those individuals who do not embrace death, or have never lost a close friend or a loved one, then this gruesome chapter may be too far over the socially-accepted lines of discussing death and its lingering impacts upon us. I meander into a dark world that few comprehend or desire to understand. I am not positive that I honestly understand it either. Working through the painful, scattered emotions after the death of a loved one, is like trying to ride an unbroken stallion bareback, while simultaneously attempting to herd allusive demons or corral spooky ghosts that haunt us from a world which we do not genuinely dwell in or comprehend. I do know, however, that I need to get some of this out to continue growing and striving forward and stretching my faith and reaching higher. So thanks for momentarily indulging me in this heavy-hearted endeavor.
About two months before T. J. died; we were doing our occasional summertime ritual of sitting on our back patio porch swing and puffing on a cheap cigar while watching the blazing sun go down like a fire ball and lighting up the brilliant evening sky. T. J. had been asking a lengthy series of questions about heaven, what it looks like, where it is located, what people do there, and will it eventually get boring seeing as that we will be there for all of eternity. He asked about people who have died, could they see us now, and we talked for a long time about these supernatural wonders which await us. I wondered why he was so curious and therefore I asked, “Teej, why are you suddenly interested in heaven and all of these heavenly things?”
He hesitated, and I started seeing tears beginning to roll down the side of his cheek.
He asked, “Dad what would you do if I died?”
I knew I needed to answer his sobering query. I explained how completely and thoroughly crushed and totally devastated that I would be, and how all of the life and the air would suddenly feel sucked out of me. I explained how difficult this life would become without him to look forward to, and our times together, or simply watching him grow, and then moving on with his life. I told him how immensely sad and heavy life would instantly become, and how each and every day I would miss him and cry and severely struggle to move forward through the intense grief.
Now he was really starting to weep.
“T. J. what’s wrong?” I was now concerned.
After another long pause, he finally blurted out, “Dad I’m going to die! I am not making this up, God told me that I am going to die soon, dad, I’m going to die!”
Wow! I was not prepared for this. I explained to him that we all feel that way at times, but I stated that I was certain that everything would be okay.
It was as if he completely ignored what I was saying. He went on to tell me that he was worried about how we as his family would do without him. He worried about his friends and told me that he absolutely did not want me or his family and everyone else to be sad for him. He told me that his death meant that many people would get saved. He explained that he did not completely understand it, but that it would all make sense to me one day soon. He told me that his greatest heart’s desire was to serve the God that he loved, and that this was just a part of that faithful service, as hard as that may seem. He begged me to please not be angry or mad at God, and instead to rejoice for him in that he will be in heaven. He additionally asked me to make a celebration from his life, and to be happy for him in that he was selected by God to serve Him in this way.
I was stunned! His lengthy speech was spiritually mature, fiery, and passionate, almost like he had been coached on what to say to me to speak to that Christ-centered fatherly part of me, and connect to the living Spirit of God deep inside my soul. I still could not accept what I was hearing. I told T. J. in a stern fatherly voice that I did not think that God spoke to us in that way. I was becoming distraught, severely unsettled, and even a little agitated. I was now done talking and wanted to abruptly dismiss myself from this strange, eerie, disconcerting conversation.
We hugged as we still wept, and then we went to bed.
Around two months later on a gorgeous summery September evening. T. J. was headed to a Sunday evening church youth meeting with his girlfriend Lydia and his best friend Roy, who was also Lydia’s older brother. They were in a large jeep and on back country roads. The weather was warm and it was sunny and clear. The young couple who had been dating since last spring was sitting in the back seats and they were softly teasing Roy who was driving about a girl whom he would see at the youth meeting once they had arrived at the church. Roy realized that he had slightly crossed the center line, and then quickly corrected his steering, in his haste he mildly overcorrected and then left the road into a ditch.
The jeep struck a tree …
Carrie and I had decided to ride our bicycles downtown because it was such a sunny, warm, beautiful evening. Carrie skidded to an abrupt stop; she had a horrified look on her face. I asked what was wrong. She yelled back at me with tears running down her face, “I just got a text message giving us sincere condolences on losing our son who died in a car accident earlier this afternoon!”
“What! What do you mean died? We just saw him! He is at youth group!” I cried out in desperation.
“Call his girlfriend! I will call him and we will clear this up! This must be a mistake Carrie! It has to be a mistake!” I said in a hopeful, quivering voice.
Everyone we called had their phones turned off! This is a bad sign! Carrie broke down, “I think he is dead! Trent, I think T. J. is dead!”
We determined to quickly get back home and then get into our car and head for the youth meeting where the kids were headed earlier in the day figuring that if they were in an accident somewhere along the route we would surely be able to find them. We made a breathless sprint home on our bicycles, not slowing for anything. Once arriving home, we grabbed our daughter, and sped off in our car.
I remember how my guts sank into the floor when we saw red flashing lights up ahead. A police officer was redirecting traffic after barricading the blocked off road which the kids would have taken, heading toward the church. When I pulled up to the officer, with a huge lump in my throat which was nearly choking me, I explained that we believed that our son was in this auto accident and we needed to get to him immediately. I am thankful that he did not hesitate to allow us entry; I think he sensed my desperation and that I may not stop for too long before darting around the barrier and back onto the road to go locate my son whom I sensed was in life-threatening peril. The officer quickly moved the barricade, and then motioned us around.
I heard the engine screaming as I punched the accelerator to the floor; about half a mile ahead I could see scores of emergency vehicles in a cluster. I headed for the area just to the rear of the last flashing lights, and skidded to an abrupt halt. I threw the car in park while simultaneously leaping from the vehicle which was jolting to a stop. I made a beeline sprint for the mangled wreckage that I could see, the whole time screaming, “T. J., T. J. dad is here! Answer me T. J.! Where are you? Dad is here!”
A half dozen or more police officers and emergency personnel rushed at me, but like a Heisman Trophy winning running back I slipped and darted around a few of them and continued my sprint toward the wreckage. Finally they corralled me, and I screamed in my struggle to free myself, “My son is in there, and I need to see him now!” In my adrenaline pumped up state, I was dragging six officers with me toward the mangled wreckage.
One of them screamed in my ear, “Sir, who are you, and why are you here?”
“My son T. J. was in this accident and I need to see him now!” I demanded.
“I need you to stop struggling and show me your I.D.!” they had gained leverage and better footing and he was now in control.
I stopped struggling and stepped back. As I showed my I.D. they could see that my hand was quivering and shaking uncontrollably. He took my license, his face became stern, and yet, full of compassion, “Mr. Bolesky, I am sad to report that your son was in this accident, and he did not survive!”
My knees instantly buckled, I fell to the ground, and I began beating the pavement with my fist. “No God! Please God no! Not T. J., you cannot take T. J.! No God! Please … NO!”
Just the night before T. J. had surprised his mother and me after we had come home from a week’s vacation. He had hidden himself on the stairway and then came bounding out to welcome us home and surprised us since he instead was scheduled to be up north with his grand folks. He and I hugged for longer in that one moment than any other hug we had ever previously shared together in our lives. It was like our spirits within already knew that this would be the last and final hug, at least for now. This last long hug will have to hold us over, until we reunite once again in glory.
But as for now, no more hugs, no more pranks, or silly surprises … our sweet, smiley, joking baby boy is gone, gone for good.
I suppose that I could tell you about the numerous amazing and unbelievable things that we have experienced in the wake of his passing, but that is not the direction that I promised myself earlier. I now need to deal with the bitter, grief-stricken parts of the best friend and the father which he left behind. It is time to finally be honest and real about the bitter scars that are torturing my bruised and battered soul.
You may want to stop reading here, or flip to the next chapter. Either way, I tried to warn you and give you this last out.
Pure pain in its rarest form is associated with death. The intense pain that is attached to death is connected to evil. Evil in its most refined, purified state, takes human life without regard or remorse. Add to this the unnatural sequence of death, which rips a child away from its parent’s nurturing arms before the slow, natural unfolding of time, and you can literally stare into Hell’s flaming furry, and know exactly what that is like.
The death of a loved one, especially a young child, has the potential to connect you to an ugly mass of powerful, dark, sinister, and evil emotions. This can overwhelm you and overtake your life, rendering you useless and feeling helpless. In having lost a child, I can attest to this fact.
There is a deep dark well of intense emotions, buried way down underneath the more simplistic and obvious scars and suffering that smolders and occasionally bubbles up from down below, for a variety of random reasons, and from a multitude of triggers. Sometimes the triggers are recognizable and you can manage them, but most times they are not recognized or even noticed and they unfortunately begin to control us in ways that we do not truly see, fully appreciate, or even understand. This is when life gets dangerous, when we think that we are doing just fine, slowly healing, and in control, yet the intense fires burn and smolder way down below the surface. Evil whispers attempt to keep the submarined aches and pains hidden in the vast ocean of dark depths within the shadowy caves and crevices of our psyche, and the bitter, black cracks of our broken and wounded hearts.
I guess I need to state at this point, that I honestly believe that I have handled our son’s tragic death as well as many or even most who have struggled through the loss of a child. But I have also witnessed and met many unfortunate people who have suffered greatly in the loss of a child. I have seen the torturing, lingering effects of these foreign, powerful emotions when they are not always recognized, dealt with appropriately, and with the utmost respect that they demand and deserve.
We should reverently fear God, and offer Him our respect. Similarly, we had better humbly respect the incredible, gripping powers of these intense heavy chains of evil which are keeping us in bondage, shackled up inside, and negatively affecting our lives in dramatic ways as well. We do not necessarily need to fear evil, but we must absolutely respect it and recognize its captivating power, and its unwavering presence that is delivered to us through the immeasurable pains forever engrained deeply within us. If we do not, then this evil could control us from that deep, dark place inside, even against our own better knowledge, or in spite of our own wills, and subtly sabotage our mature, spiritual desires.
Those who have become intimately connected to death through the loss of a loved one know exactly what I am talking about. It is that intense, purified, immensely powerful evil that has touched each minute part of our weak, fleshly fibers, down to our very core. The cryptic evil has manipulated, twisted, and distorted the bright variety of colors in our life, and instead, sinisterly colored us and tainted us in dark, gray, spooky shadows. Death has directly and inappropriately, touched the frail human essence of who we truly are as mere flesh and blood. It has criminally broken into our home of peace and comfort, as an unwelcomed intruder, and forthrightly invaded the safe dwelling places where we live in this temporary, painful, earthly life. The evil rudely brings us to a somber place in our feeble human standing. We sadly find ourselves attempting to survive somewhere just barely above the dirt and dust of the ground. A place where we were created and have come from, and to where we will soon return in those dirt-covered graves, who we now realize are the true masters over our physical bodies. Death surrounds us and continually reminds us, that this sullen world we live in is not our permanent home, but instead, it is just a temporary dwelling place.
Death and its associated pain command the militant, ominous, demonic voice within to firmly direct us into falsely believing that this hollow world now holds nothing for us, and that our meager, pitiful life has been ungraciously and thoroughly sucked dry. The heavy burden makes our back and muscles literally ache. We become sluggish for our dry, brittle bones feel weak and cracked. Death’s dreary voice unfortunately allows us to believe that we are now rendered useless, and convinces us that even God Himself is distant and not concerned for us, and that He instead is done with us.
We feel totally and firmly connected to a new blandness, where food has no taste, water has no purpose, and even the air we breathe is just a ridiculous waste of time for sustaining us in this painful, cruel world, and thereby, magnifying and glorifying the stark evil which is its master. This hideous voice tries to teach us to hate life itself and anything that sustains us in our earthly form. This gruesome voice taunts us, whispering about delays to the inevitable vast wonders that we confidently hold onto in our constant stream of thoughts surrounding our future heavenly afterlife, and mansions in glory which await our inevitable arrival.
Death has now lost its fearsome sting, but in that same bold thought, we suddenly believe as well, that death would become a welcomed better option for us compared to the bitter daily struggle to survive through our grinding pain and ongoing grief. That is partly why we cannot dwell in this dark place for too long or go there too often. It has the ever-impending potential to ruin us, making us crash and burn, and destroying anything good that may come from our lives and our ongoing ministries. Devouring our pristine reputations, and spitting on our golden legacies, are the ultimate goals of these evil satanic influences, so we must be alert.
We must deal with the immense pain of the earthly deaths which impact us in small chunks and bite-sized morsels that we can more easily digest, and then deal with appropriately. Allowing sufficient time between these rare visits to these dark places which have indelibly branded our lives with the scars of death is necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think that we should attempt to bury our emotions. Instead, we must utilize a more balanced and wise approach. One which includes planned and thought out times, where we deal with the pain and grief in a more tolerable way. We need to seek out and to be wisely instructed by those who have been through a death, and then handled these raw, biting emotions while maintaining a good witness. We can then know, and be encouraged that we absolutely need to go there into that dark, tormented place inside. But yet, at the same time recognizing that we cannot camp out there as some struggling souls have done, and then unfortunately have allowed it to wither away at the whole of their person, and their waning spirit within.
Death and its best friend pain, delightfully serve up for us a one-course meal, and play for us a one-note tune, on a one-stringed guitar. That tasteless, barely tolerable one-course meal is called extreme hopelessness. And that ominous one-note tune, plucked out on that pitiful one-string guitar is called The Death March, which eerily reminds us that each day that we survive, we are just one day closer to the last beat of our burdened and busted hearts. Therefore, we cannot make this one meal of hopelessness the only meal that we choose to eat, because we are what we eat. And we cannot listen daily to that one ominous note and that only morbid song called Death, for it will be that same music which emanates from us in the melody of our demeanor, and the song of our lives.
If there is any good news in this, it is that these powerful, painful emotions have two opposite sides. They are connected to evil no doubt, but on the flipside our crushing pain is connected to a Comforter, and we are firmly and forever held in the precious hands of a loving God. The Psalms tells us that our compassionate God is intimately close to the broken and contrite-hearted saints. So in one respect, when we face death, we are never more closely touched, transformed, and confronted by evil, face-to-face, and eyeball to eyeball. On the other hand, we have never been so tenderly loved, and gently nestled, closely to our Father God. I think that I can use an analogy here of the strange and mysterious way that our intense, shocking pain in witnessing death is simultaneously both the worst crippling horror, and the most awesome motivating benefit to ever come our way.
What is the most painful thing you have ever physically experienced? Passing a kidney stone, child birth, a broken bone, frostbite, a car accident, or any other injury to your fleshly body?
One of the most painful things that I have ever done to my body was to swim in chilling waters that were just barely over the freezing mark. It was like simultaneously being callously stuck through the flesh by sharp pins and piercing needles ten thousand times over. However, after the initial jolting shock wore off, and even though the overwhelming pain was still intense, I began to recognize the odd excitement of conquering the pain. There was an extreme thrill in living in the midst of the stabbing pain and still running and diving into waves of frigid waters that could have knocked me completely off my course. I screamed at the top of my lungs and howled and laughed in the fearsome face of the brutal pain. It instantly ignited a new fiery surge of pure adrenaline. I understood the supreme blessing of the painful, life-threatening challenge, and the incredible, unmistakable victory in overcoming the torturous grief with flying colors.
Isn’t it the same with child birth?
The intense pain, followed by immense joy. A new surge of overwhelming love and emotions, and a heightened, focused energy with extreme motivations surrounding the vitality of life itself. Can’t this also be true that this is the proper pathway toward conquering and actually growing in our faith through all of our temporary trials and painful sufferings? In the midst of our mountain of tangible sufferings, don’t we oddly feel a calming, supernatural element of that God-sent peace that surpasses our own understanding, or our own personal abilities to simply just cope on our own meager strength alone?
Our overwhelming pain and burdening heartache, mysteriously and supernaturally connects us to the closest places nearest the heartbeat of our loving God, or at least it has that definite potential.
I would dare to suggest the point, that until you have had a time of overflowing brokenness where you have suffered immensely in the painful loss of a close loved one, then you still have yet to fully and thoroughly connect to a powerfully emotional God, and become totally changed by his tender love. You have yet to genuinely feel His deeper, hidden emotions that are well beyond the surface of our easy, comfortable, and familiar faith. Emotions that are truly and firmly connected to that crushing pain in a mysterious way, which then allows for His gentle, whispered voice to speak to the secret inward parts of your wounded and wanting soul.
Pain hurts us. Pain helps us. Pain connects us to our comforting, caring God in a deeper way … if we allow it to.
When you have experienced the darkest side of life’s mysteries through such intense suffering, grief, and pain, then you can finally begin to truly and fully appreciate the power of living in the blinding light of God’s overwhelming love.
As much as His heart breaks for you, His heart also aches for you, even all the more so. And the closeness that you may experience when your pain causes you to rely more intimately on Him alone for your daily strength and reassuring comforts, guiding you through each new inspired step that you take in His service.
Many times He sends us that love in the form of His saints who surround us, connect with us, and comfort us with their divine prayers and angelic qualities.
As a part of our healing … He sends us angels!