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Three Days Later

No words can adequately describe the pain and agony of losing a child. Imagine hearing a gut-wrenching, blood-curdling scream combined with agonizing wailing as it echos through a cavern. Perhaps that would be about as close as I can get to describing what it’s like. Sounds a little like Hell doesn’t it? Everything else fades away because all you can do is grab hold of the open wound in your soul, attempt to breathe and stare into the distance. The words people are speaking are lips moving. You receive hugs and can barely return them.

It was in this frame of mind that a young person broke through to me. Our house was filled with people. Family had begun to arrive from the Midwest, friends from the community, but  mostly it was young people. Our daughter, who was 16 at the time, was surrounded by friends who had come to cheer her up. And our son, who had died only days earlier had friends who needed to be near each other and us despite having left for college only six weeks earlier.

One young female in particular came up to me with a clear mission to tell me something. I looked up into her face and thought, how can she look light-hearted? That expression she wore caught my attention and I was able to focus better. She proceeded to say that her mother had a dream with Jacob and he had a message for me. Her words yanked me into an even greater state of focus. She went on to say, “Jacob said, ‘Tell my mom I’m okay, and I’m learning a new dance and I’m dancing with Jesus!'”

While that was a wonderful, uplifting and encouraging word that any parent in my shoes would love to hear, it has far greater meaning and impact than it might seem. Here is why:

The day before Jacob died, his classmate, AJ Donohue, passed away from cancer. I was standing next to Jacob as he read the text message letting him know. He was devastated. My husband and I sat down with him right away to pray for AJ and his family and to talk with Jacob about death and Heaven. At one point, I broke down in tears and said, “How does a mother let’s go of her child? How does she let go of her precious son?” I apologized to Jacob for my emotional display and he responded with a gentle, “It’s okay, Mom.”

Jacob had already left for college weeks earlier, but he was home for the weekend to visit with family and friends, enjoy the high school football game against the cross town rival and watch the Georgia Bulldogs play on TV with his friends. While he was home that weekend, he shared with me that he and his friends had found a place near his college campus where they could hang out and enjoy some dancing. In fact, he had gotten video from the dance floor and he proudly showed it to me. I have to admit to being a bit surprised that my son was excited about a place with dancing. That just didn’t seem like his thing, but he insisted it was lots of fun. He went on to show me the video from the dance floor three times that weekend. Clearly, he loved hanging out and dancing!

When you consider what Jacob’s message included, it not only was comforting, it was personal! Jacob knew I could not fathom the loss of a child (what mother could?) but we had literally just talked of it the day before he died. He knew I’d need to KNOW he was okay (even though I already believed he was). Then, to mention he was DANCING with Jesus after all his fuss over finding the place to dance on campus and surprising me with his joy for that new activity, I was certain the message delivered was no generic message at all. God somehow made a way for me to be reassured deep in my heart that Jacob was safely with Him and already having a blast.

I’d like to tell you a powerful personal message delivered via a classmate of Jacob’s pulled me out of my shock and numbness, but of course it didn’t. The pain of such a loss can not be soothed over so quickly. Even though it was a gracious, loving act of God to comfort me in such a profound way, He knew it wasn’t enough. He had more in store. Much more.

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Today is January 14, 2019. It has been roughly 8 years, 4 months since I last made a post here. Why the long pause? I could never explain it well enough for anyone to really understand, but I’m here today because I was nudged or perhaps shoved a bit by God to share what He has done and maybe even what He has not done. My focus and purpose, however, is to really bring forward the crazy, unfathomable, ridiculous ways God has blessed me in the midst of deep emotional pain.

The reminder to tell these stories came on November 17, 2018:

After getting home from a day in NYC, I felt wiped out. Naps are very uncommon for me, despite nearly two years of battling ovarian cancer, but I agreed to go lie down for awhile given how exhausted I was. We had an event to attend that night in Pawling, NY, so a nap might give me a chance to feel more refreshed.

Much to my surprise, a few minutes after lying down, my mind began to race. In fact, I thought how odd it was that I had just felt so tired but now felt as though I was on a caffeine buzz. Interestingly, my mind was not simply racing with my own thoughts of the day or the evening event to come. Passages of Scripture and images or visions from a time long past flashed through my mind. God was reminding me of the countless ways He had been good to me in the past. The overriding theme, however, of this brain buzz was the fact that this current cancer battle I am in involving some very stubborn tumors in my liver is not one of flesh and blood alone. This battle is also going on in the spiritual realm. As it says in Scripture, our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Jesus also speaks of “stubborn” situations that cannot be resolved except by prayer and fasting. As I mentioned earlier, God reminded me of the numerous ways he had blessed me in some of the darkest days of my life. The richest of these blessings came shortly after our son Jacob died in a car accident.

About a week ago, I attempted to visit the memorial website I created years ago to honor Jacob and soothe my own soul. The url I had typed a thousand times before brought me to a completely unrelated page. Then I visited the main page of the main website that allowed me to create my personal memorial website for Jacob. I was relieved to see the main website was still there. Upon doing a search for Jacob’s memorial, it stated that page did not exist. When I did a Google search using Jacob’s name, nothing about the website came up as it always had in the past. I was heartbroken. Were all of the stories, the images, the videos and recordings of his voice really gone? The website had changed ownership nearly 10 years ago and it had been impossible to add new material since that time. Then the site crashed repeatedly. The reality that Jacob’s memorial site was actually gone was hard to accept, so I returned to the main website once again. This time, I did a different kind of search. There it was! His website popped up on my screen once again. Thank God!

I decided in that moment to screen shot the entire first section of his website and record some of the voice messages onto my phone. Just in case this happened again and there was no hope of retrieval, I wanted to at least have a way to access all the stories. These were the stories of God’s amazing grace and goodness.

My recent relocating of Jacob’s website entered my buzzed brain during my supposed “nap” on Saturday. I sensed God saying, “You need to keep telling the stories. You need to encourage others with them, just as you did all those years ago. Don’t forget what I have done for you in the past. I am continuing to do good things for you, but you must continue to share the stories.”

That is what I am doing now. I am going to start sharing these remarkable stories again, but here at my blog rather than through the memorial website alone. God is good. Even when all else seems to be spinning out of control, even when prayers seem to go unheard, even when test results say one thing, God is saying ‘I am good, I am doing a good thing here, and I love you’.” Today, I am choosing to continue to trust and believe. Praise God!

It is September

It is September, and I must remember to breathe.  Approaching anniversaries of the loss of a loved one can be difficult, even several years later.  It will be four years for us, and it’s still odd how dread and sadness can creep in and begin to take over.  The flip of the calendar to THAT month sends shock waves through the body and soul.  The flashbacks begin.  The smell of the air is familiar and a reminder of the agony endured years earlier.  Yes, I must remember to breathe deeply and keep my eyes fixed on things above, things that will help me to remember we will be together again one day.  And it will be far better than anything we shared here.  I love you Jacob, and I miss you!

This has been a hard month for us.  This is the month Jacob would have graduated from college.  Of course, that’s assuming he would have completed everything required in the traditional four years of college, but knowing Jacob, he would have made sure it only took four years.

This has actually been a hard day.  It was exactly four years ago today that Jacob graduated from high school with all his dreams for life ahead of him.  Four months later, he died in a car accident.

It has been 3 years, 8 months since Jacob died.

Why would something like a college graduation be so hard for us to face when Jacob never even came close to achieving that goal?  After all, he died only 5 1/2 weeks into his freshman year of college.  It’s hard because his college graduation was a major life milestone we fully expected to mark with Jacob that we will never get to experience.  At least not during this lifetime on this side of Heaven.  But the families of his surviving friends and classmates are able to joyfully celebrate as they always expected.

We’ve received college graduation announcements in the mail.  Jacob’s friends have posted things on facebook about their own graduations.  And they should!  This is an exciting time of life for them.  But it is a painful time for those of us who never got to see our own children celebrate that achievement.

Michael is one of Jacob’s good middle/high school friends, who attended the same university as him.  Tragically, Michael died in a car accident only one semester shy of graduation.  His parents didn’t get to see him walk across the stage to receive his college diploma either.  However, the university awarded Michael’s parents his dual major diploma on graduation night because Michael had earned enough college credits to receive both degrees.  I know it was very difficult and confusing for them to be there when Michael wasn’t there as they had always imagined he would be one day.  Tears of sadness and pain had replaced what they thought would be tears of pride and joy.

Zack is another classmate of Jacob’s who went to the same university.  Zack died about two months into what would have been his sophomore year at the university.  His parents never got to experience the joy of watching him graduate from college either.  That makes a total of three students from Jacob’s high school graduating class of 2006 that never made it to their college graduation at the University of Georgia.  A total of eight young people from that high school class  of approximately 350 students have now died.  The most recent occurred this spring.  When will it stop?

Later this week, Michael and I will be having dinner with some friends who lost their daughter in a car accident only 6 1/2 months after Jacob died.  She was only 14 at the time of her accident.  The night of our dinner with them is the night their daughter would have been graduating from high school.  They are choosing to do what we did on a day that holds so much pain and heartache for them.  Keep busy.  Get distracted by other activities.  Don’t sit at home completely absorbed in thoughts about what should have been.  These days can be like a living hell,  yet the rest of the world pretty much goes on unaware.

Life as normal.  Life as it should be.  I miss the simplicity of that.

Graduation is only the beginning.  There will be careers that get started, weddings that take place, and babies being born.  Those are all things we looked forward to celebrating with Jacob.  Several of my friends who have lost a child in their teen years have said that they either could not attend the weddings of their child’s friends or they cried their eyes out when they did attend.  That leaves me asking the difficult question, “Do I really want to attend such events?”  I certainly don’t want to offend anyone by NOT attending, but I also do not want to ruin their joyful occasion with my tears of pain and sadness.   After all, the events are not about me; they are about the person who is graduating, getting married or having a baby.

I miss the simplicity of life as it used to be.  I miss my son.

For Mother’s Day, my niece sent me an adorable key chain with a turtle on it. She knew how Jacob loved turtles, especially when he was younger.  His passion for turtles was known by many in our community, especially the year he won his school’s oratorical contest after giving a speech on sea turtles.  In fact, Bob Schieffer, the CBS Chief Washington News Correspondent and moderator of “Face the Nation,” spoke at that event back in the spring of 1999 and Jacob’s speech was the only one he mentioned in his closing remarks.  He said something along the lines of, “If only we all could have the kind of passion that young man has for sea turtles…”  Mr. Schieffer and his wife had (and maybe still have) a vacation home on nearby Sea Island which was part of why we had the honor of hearing him speak at the event.

One year, while he was in elementary school, we bought him a huge stuffed animal at SeaWorld.  It was a loggerhead sea turtle that Jacob affectionately named Logger.  He literally used Logger as his pillow until the day he died.  He didn’t take it off to college with him, but it was still on his bed at home, so his last night on this earth, he slept with his head on that “pillow.”

Jacob's Logger

The emotional attachment to Logger had ended years earlier for Jacob, but it was so comfortable for him that he just kept using it.  The funny thing is his sister Raleigh took Logger to college with her.  Logger had a strong connection to Jacob for her so he was given a special spot on her bed all year long and is now back home for the summer along with Raleigh.

When my niece sent the key chain with the turtle, she included a note that said, “A special gift from me to you! Happy Mother’s Day with love always from your beloved son, Jacob J Nyenhuis.” I thought that was very thoughtful. Before I opened the package, my niece sent me a text message sayinig there was a story that went with this gift. After I opened it, I figured the story was that she decided to send me a gift on behalf of Jacob as a sweet way to bless me and remember him.

Last Friday, my niece and I talked for the first time since Mother’s Day. She told me the REAL story. Here it is:

She was sleeping and had a dream. Her dog named Angel was in the dream. Angel was able to speak, but the voice was clearly Jacob’s. According to my niece, there was no confusing that voice at all. Jacob said, “You know that turtle key chain you bought when you were in Lake Geneva? I want you to give that to my mom for Mother’s Day so that she will know that I am with her on that day. I want you to include a note with it and this is what I want it to say, ‘A special gift from me to you! Happy Mother’s Day with love from your beloved son, Jacob J Nyenhuis.'”

My niece wanted to argue with him about it because she really loved the keychain, but she knew Jacob wanted her to give it to me as a gift. My niece woke up crying and sitting straight up in bed. She’s never had a dream like that in her life. She’s 31 years old. The first thing she did once she had a chance to wake up and gather her thoughts was run and grab a pen and paper to write down what Jacob told her to put in the note.

As my mind began to comprehend what my niece just told me, one amazing revelation after another unfolded.  It was as though pieces of a mysterious puzzle were being put together.  There are so many amazing facets to this story, but it would be too confusing to explain them all.

Here’s just one: During Jacob’s junior year of high school I began writing a book that I confidently believe God wanted me to write. The story is about a girl and her golden retriever named Angel. (To be honest, I’m not even sure if my niece had her dog Angel at the time I began writing the story in the fall of 2004, but I certainly didn’t get the story idea or the name from her dog.)  In the story, Angel is able to speak to the girl because she is a real angel from Heaven in the form of a dog that delivers messages from Heaven.

Jacob loved that I was writing this story. He would even ask me about it now and then.  He knew what the story was about, but I never let him read it.  When his senior year began, I had already written over 100 pages, but I decided to set the book aside.  I didn’t want to get wrapped up in my writing during Jacob’s last year at home. My desire was to focus on him, and he knew that because I told him.  After he left for college, I brought the story out again but hadn’t yet begun writing when Jacob’s accident happened.

Ten days after the accident, God began pouring into me more ideas for the story.  He clearly told me the story needed to change. The girl in the story (Katie) has an older brother named Matthew.   I sensed God saying that Katie’s brother now needed to die in the story and that God would comfort her in part through Angel. Many more details were given to me but I had no way to write them down they were coming so fast.  Even so, I still remember many of them to this day.

When I sat back and thought more about it, I became disgusted and upset with myself for thinking that God was talking to me about my book. After all, my son had just died. Why the heck was I focused on my book?

The shame I felt for focusing on my book in those first days after the accident has kept me from writing even one word of the story since Jacob’s death.  Today, however, I am wondering if God and Jacob were giving me a hint through a dream and a very personal Mother’s Day gift to begin writing the story again.  I’m going to be praying about this to see what direction to take.  The timing sure doesn’t seem the best, but that doesn’t matter when God is in charge.  In the meantime, I’m savoring the sweet gift from my son in Heaven.

Ever since Jacob’s death in September 2006, it has been hard to face Mother’s Day.  At the same time, I have a strange sense of nervous anticipation each year as this holiday approaches.  If you have read the post before this one about my first Mother’s Day without Jacob, you already know that something incredible happened that day.

As each new Mother’s Day approaches, I can’t help but wonder how I might experience Jacob in some way, if at all.  I don’t wait for a supernatural display like the one I received that first Mother’s Day, but I look for small signs.  I don’t EXPECT God to allow these things to happen, but I am hopeful He will.

Last year on Mother’s Day, I felt a deep stirring in my soul several times throughout the church service.  Jacob felt very near.  I was moved to tears.  Those tears are not typical tears.  They come when I experience what I refer to as a “Holy Spirit cry.”  The Spirit touches me deep inside and brings forth these tears.  It doesn’t happen often, so I know the difference.  I still remember having one of these during a church service in September 2005.  I had been experiencing the same thing the day before as I was gardening.  I couldn’t explain the reason behind the tears.  Looking back, I wonder if the Spirit was preparing me for what would take place on a Sunday in September one year later.  Jacob died on Sunday, September 24, 2006.

Another moment Jacob felt near last year on Mother’s Day was when a picture in our living room fell to the ground.  Our golden retriever ran over and began sniffing all around the area where the picture had fallen.  She is typically very timid when it comes to loud noises, but not that time.   In fact, she seemed excited with what she was picking up through her acute senses.

The picture that had fallen was of the sunrise that washed over our island the morning of Jacob’s memorial service.  Jacob’s uncle took the picture, had it framed and gave it to us as a gift.  We love the picture, but we especially love what he had printed around the picture:  “God is real… Heaven is real…  Jacob is Alive!”  And that’s the picture that fell to the ground on Mother’s Day.  That picture had never fallen prior to that, and it hasn’t fallen since.  I have a feeling someone wanted us to remember the truth behind those words.

It feels awkward to sit at my computer and begin writing a post for this blog.  It has been months since my last post.  There are multiple reasons for that – some good, some bad.  I’m just thankful to be sitting here today and typing.

For those of us mothers who have lost a child, we recently experienced another Mother’s Day, or perhaps our first Mother’s Day, without our child.  It’s a tough holiday to mark because the one who helped define us as a mother is no longer here in the flesh.  What we wouldn’t give to hear that child say, “I love you, Mom!” just one more time.  What we wouldn’t give to get another hug, another kiss, another card with a few thoughtful words of appreciation for who we are as mothers.

I will never forget my first Mother’s Day without Jacob.  My husband, Michael, was proactive and contacted several people asking them to remember me on that day.  Dozens of emails filled my inbox, and each one mentioned Jacob and Raleigh (our daughter).  They didn’t address me only as Raleigh’s mom, but Jacob’s mom too.  In fact, some even addressed their emails to “Jacob’s Mom.”  That reference wasn’t meant to exclude Raleigh, but they realized how important it was for me to know I was still very much Jacob’s mom and always would be.  The love and prayers of many people carried me through one of the most difficult days of that first year.

There is another reason I will never forget that first Mother’s Day after Jacob died. Jacob came to visit me.  Now I know some of you are thinking I’ve lost my mind or that I temporarily lost my mind back on that painful and grief-filled first Mother’s Day, but that’s not true.  I was very much of sound body and mind.  So was my husband.  So was our dog.  All three of us experienced Jacob’s presence in profound ways at the same time, in the same room.

It was the early morning hours shortly before dawn.  I woke up and realized it was still dark out, so I shut my eyes.  As I lay there with eyes closed, a scene began playing out in my mind.  I was viewing the scene as if I was standing on the opposite side of the bed and I could see that I was in bed, but Jacob was standing next to my side of the bed.  He bent down to kiss me.  As he did that, I immediately was back in my body and felt him kiss me.  Then, I could “hear” his thoughts and he could hear mine.  We both expressed a desire to be together on that Mother’s Day.  I sensed Jacob’s love for me in a wonderful way.  Then the scene ended.

When I realized what had just happened, I smiled and thanked God for such a precious vision on Mother’s Day.  Feeling such a closeness to Jacob was a sweet gift, and I was praising God for it.  A minute or two later, I felt Michael get up and let the dog out.  Since I sleep with earplugs, I could not hear when she got up and scratched at the door to go out, so it was part of our routine that Michael would usually let the dog out in the early morning hours and come back to bed.  I fell asleep again before he came back to bed that Mother’s Day morning.

Later that morning after Michael and I woke up for good, Michael said, “I think Jacob was here to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.”  I was shocked to hear him say that and immediately asked him why.  He went on to explain what he had experienced early that morning before it was light out.  He said even though it was dark, our dog, Nikki, had been jumping up and down on my side of the bed.  It was just like the sound she made when she greeted us each time we came home.  Nikki’s nails clicking on the wood floor was what woke him up.  Normally he would wake up to the sound of her nails clicking on the wood floor as she walked over to the bedroom door to go out, but this was different.  He could tell she was jumping up and down.

Michael sat up to attempt to see Nikki jumping around and was overcome by a strong sense of Jacob’s presence in the room.  In fact, it was so profound that Michael began talking quietly to Jacob, telling him, “I love you, Jacob!” over and over.  Jacob’s presence wasn’t frightening or upsetting for Michael.  In fact, it was comforting and peaceful.  That was in stark contrast to another experience he had.  Shortly after Jacob died, Michael woke up to a strong presence in the room, but that presence was frightening and threatening.  He spoke out loud then as well, but it was a prayer for God to remove the presence from the room.

Nikki eventually calmed down and curled up in her bed once again.  Michael knew something had caused Nikki to get up out of bed and jump around like that.  The fact that she only jumped around on my side of the bed suggested that the “something” must have been right beside me since there wasn’t much room between the bed and the wall.  Having experienced a strong sense of Jacob’s presence at that same time, Michael figured the “something” that had excited Nikki was Jacob, and maybe Jacob had come to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day  A couple of minutes later, Nikki got up out of her bed again.  That time she went straight to the door to go out, so he got up and took her outside.

My vision of Jacob standing next to my bed kissing me and letting me know he wanted to be with me, Nikki’s crazy jumping around in the dark on my side of the bed and Michael’s strong sense of Jacob’s presence being in the bedroom were all occurring simultaneously.

Was it just our grief-induced imaginations?  Maybe.  But how peculiar that we would be experiencing those things at the same time.  Stranger yet is the fact that the dog was responding to something as well.  Make of it what you will, but we believe it was real and God allowed Jacob to visit me in a unique way to give me hope and comfort and to remind me that our relationship continues even after death.