Dead for One Hour

Yesterday I received a most fascinating message from my friend Norma Blank, from Pennsylvania, after she read that I had died:

“O my word friend…the post that someone put on ur wall made me go absolutely crazy…Like u passed away….I’m just so relieved that u r still here!! What In the world…”

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About an hour earlier, another friend, who lost her daughter in March, had posted a note to my wall in memory of her daughter, and Norma saw it. Not knowing my family, she had no idea that the woman posting it was not my mother, or that the note was not intended as written to me.  What my friend saw, looked like this:

A note to my daughter

I close my eyes as I wipe a tear.
I just keep wishing you were still here.
I will hold all the memories deep in my heart.
Through these memories we will never part.

I close my eyes as I wipe a tear.
I just keep wishing this pain would disappear.
I didn’t get the chance to say my last good-bye.
I just didn’t think you could ever die.

I close my eyes as I wipe a tear.
All of your love I will always hold near.
In my heart and my mind I will never be alone.
When my time comes……
I will meet you in heaven!
(Unknown)

To be perfectly honest, I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to die, and watch people as they react to it. And I’ve even wondered if the spirits of the dead are aware of our goings on, as we try to reconcile our loss with all the other facts that play in. If the person has been ill for a long time, we are relieved that their suffering is over. If they died in a crash, instantly, we are thankful they did not suffer long, and yet the horror of it torments us. If they are elderly and all their friends have passed on, they may have longed for the day, and we are glad for them. But regardless the dynamics of the story, and ‘how’ or ‘why’ of death, we are left with grief and loss, and need to somehow reconcile that with every other aspect of these dynamics.

Do the spirits of the dead see this? Hear this? Who knows for certain. But it is a curious thought that has entered my mind, on occasion, since childhood. Having contemplated this in the past made it that much more intriguing to experience it in real life.

I read Norma’s message again, and that is when it struck me. She actually thought I was dead! I wonder how long she thought it… What did she feel… think… do?  I wrote her and asked her…

“Is it okay that I’ve had a good laugh about this? Too funny! Now I know what it feels like in real life, to have someone’s heart sink when you die. Sorry that I find that funny. I have to ask… how long did you think I was dead?  (and how did you figure out I’m still alive?)”

She wrote back: I thot u were dead for like an hr….so in the middle of not knowing I decided to wash my car and I was like goin in circles literally and wondering how in the world this all happened so fast ..and ur poor kids ..and husband ..and the funeral will prob b on Sunday and I’m just wondering why I was so crazy with it all!” Her next message was, “And then !!! U posted something!!!!’ and u were alive!!!!!!!”

I could see it all playing out in my imagination. The need to do something, to be busy, as the adrenaline of the shock runs its course. It’s distressing, that kind of thing. If not quite funny under the circumstances.

I responded with: “LOL!!!!! I’m so sorry for your loss! Your grief… whatever! But that just kills me laughing!”

I gave Tim a play by play, as I read the messages, and his very calm response was, “Maybe she could come any way, and wash our car for the funeral”.

Norma agreed. “Lol!! Yes I’m a pro car washer by now!! Went in like 35644749 circles today!!! It’s clean!!”

Then a few minutes later she wrote, “Hav I told u how glad I am that u r alive? Well I am.  so after I finally realized that u were still alive and kickn I pumped up my bike tires and went cruzin’ down the road for another hr! Not goin in circles lol! Just cruzin’ and feeling so relieved.” 

“That was a great way to celebrate,”  I wrote back,”I dream of owning a bike, one day, but as I get older, I dream less of it  So…. if ever I do slip into heaven… Go on a bike ride for me to celebrate my life.”

“awww yea”, Norma wrote back, “I’ll make a Tshirt just for u…cruzin’ for Trudy! Or make a shirt for when I go see Gods not dead….God’s not dead and neither is Trudy!! Lol'”

Now that I know what it’s like to die, and be missed and have my life grieved and celebrated by a friend, I can lay that question to rest. However, the mystery of what lies beyond that moment of exhaling here for the last time, and breathing eternal life for the first time, is left to my imagination, and I will have to wait for it.

I think of heaven often, these days…

This world is tired. The darkness that hovers all around has exhausted it. It groans, and I groan with it. I’m tired. My spirit is not at home here…. Never really was… Never really will be… Even as a child, before anyone taught me, I longed for another world and knew I was not made for this place…  And, even if I live to be 100–God helps us all if I do–that truth remains. This isn’t my home.

Don’t get me wrong. I love life. I love my family, my friends and I love what I do. And there is still so much I want to accomplish. I want to publish my first book, and a second, and a third and a fourth,… And maybe more. I want to travel to numerous countries to speak, not the least of which are plans-in-the-making for New Zealand and Australia. But the unrest, the tragedies all around, and the ‘dark side’ of my work with ongoing sexual abuse in Christian cultures… These are in desperate need of redemption.

While I wait, I will celebrate the life of One man who died for me… A God-man, who allowed Himself to be cast into the grave and hades, for my sin. Like my friend Norma, His friends rejoiced–and we still rejoice with them–because His soul was not left in hades, nor was His body left to decay in the grave. (Acts 2:31) After three days, He rose to life again to be my eternal hope.

Because of what He has done for me, I have no fear of death. What’s more, because of Him, I am offered full life, abundant life, while I here. So, because of Him, I will give the best that I have, and all that I am, to Him and His cause, and live life to the fullest, while I am here.

 

© Trudy Metzger

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“Your Father Died an Hour Ago”

As a young teen, and pre-teen, living under the iron fist rule of my father, in a house filled with hate, violence and death threats, I used to imagine what it would be like to not have parents. What if they died, and left us to be orphans? My older sister, Anna, would be quite capable of running the household. She had practically done it by age eight or nine. My other sisters would help, and my older brothers would manage the property. We’d be okay.

My parents usually did the grocery shopping together, for two reasons. One, because mom couldn’t drive, and the other because dad had to control the grocery money. During the worst times, I watched them drive out the lane together, and prayed a guilty prayer. I’d request a two things of Almighty God, one of which was not noble.

“Dear Heavenly Father…” I would begin, like any other prayer, and then continue with a deep, desperate plea, begging him to make my parents ‘Christian’, to be sure they both accepted Jesus. And then my prayer would wander into survival, and trying to feel noble, for my intent, I would suggest that maybe they could hit a bridge or run over a cliff and both go to heaven. In essence, I felt as if I was asking God for a mercy killing.

It was traumatizing to live a life of constant fear. And the worry that one or both of my parents might die and go to hell for what they did, added pressure and trauma of another sort. I had no confidence, if they apologized, that things would ever change. We had gone full cycle too many times for me to have any faith in that bringing about any kind of lasting change. My prayer was the only way I knew to take care of it, once and for all.

There was one other option that several siblings and I had discussed, that we felt might be effective. But the risk, should we get caught conniving such a thing, was too big. It could potentially cost us our lives.

My father had an ungodly fear of ghosts, in the sense of ‘divine messengers’. And his ‘reverence’ for God presented itself more as debilitating fear.

One evening I, and my three siblings next older than me, started scheming of a way to use this to bring dad to full repentance and transformation. We would need one of mom’s galvanized steel tubs, some rope and a large white bed sheet. One of us would have to be the ghost, and sit in tub. We would attach ropes to the handles of the tub, and gentle lower the volunteer ‘ghost’ from Wil’s window, which was situated directly above mom and dad’s bedroom window.

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The ghost would rap on their bedroom window, swaying gently back and forth, and begin to call dad, in German, by first name, in an eerie, ghost-like voice. We would then tell him to be afraid, very afraid, for the sins he had committed, and to repent and treat his family well, or certain doom would be his. We practised what that should sound like, and laughed until we almost wet ourselves, as we imagined how he would dive out of bed and onto his knees.

By the time we had created the scene, we had released the stress and tension, and never quite had the courage to follow through, which disappointed me terribly. I was ready to try anything to inspire change.

After I moved out at age fifteen, and for many years after that, I tried to imagine how I would respond at news of dad’s death. Would I be relieved that the demons of fearing for my life would finally be silenced? Would I be sad, because there was a side of dad that was fun? And even if we disagreed on just about everything from religion to politics, and everything in between, I enjoyed some of our discussions. We definitely disagreed on prophesy, revelations and end times, something that devastated him, as though he had failed me personally. Would I miss those times? Or would the relief override all of that?

In dad’s last years, as illness slowly killed his body, literally, my terror of him disappeared. At family gatherings, until that time, if he left the table for anything at all, my mind immediately created a scene of him returning with a gun and opening fire. Not once in his healthy years did we get together, without that fear being very present for me.

But as his health declined, and his brute strength gave way to feeble bones, and weak muscles, that fear left. I no longer saw a vile, evil man, but a man destroyed by his own sin. During his extended hospital stays I tried to go visit him several times a week, even though I was pregnant and it was a ninety minute drive both ways.

When it was just the two of us in that room, talking heart to heart, I got to know my dad. He had told me bits of his story ten years earlier, when he was arrested and placed in a locked down psyche ward for uttering death threats. But that was different. In the hospital, in his old age, I heard his heart. His fears. His grief.

We talked a bit about what life had been, at home, when I was younger. He looked at me then, with tears in his eyes, and asked me to forgive him for all the evil things he had done against me.

“I forgave you a long time ago, Dad,” I said. “It’s what set me free from that stuff.” We talked a while longer, and then I left for home.

How times had changed. God answered the prayer to bring dad to repentance for the evil things he had done, but sparing his life.

***

On February 21, 2003, a beautiful, spring-like day, I was busy washing windows when the call came.

For all that I had imagined, in days gone by, of what I would think or feel, nothing could have prepared me for that moment.

“Your father passed away an hour ago… It was sudden… We think it was a heart attack…”

There was no undoing it. No bringing him back to life to talk about all that had been. No saying, “I love you”, one more time. I had started when he was in the psyche ward, to hug him and say those words. He never knew what to do with it, or how to receive it, and he could never really respond, but that was okay with me. It wasn’t about comfort, it was about overcoming and breaking generational chains.

For several nights after his death I had brutal nightmares, and then they stopped. Nightmares that had haunted me all my life, of fighting to survive against gunshots or knives, stopped. And they have happened but once or twice since. They were over.

But the ‘relief’ never came. The moment of ‘thank God the terror is over forever’, never hit. Only a sad awareness that many years were stolen by sin, and the overruling joy that dad saw it in time, and asked me to forgive him.

Ten years ago today, I lost my father. If I could sit down with him for one more cup of piping hot coffee–so fiercely hot that it has to be poured into a saucer to drink it–there is much I would say that I never had the courage to say then. I would ask more about what happened to his heart, in all that chaos. I would try harder to help him know himself, and find deeper healing. And I’d do it sooner.

In spite of moments, like today, where I remember with an element of grief, I don’t waste time with regrets, rather I try to learn from the past….

canstockphoto12188171I encourage you, parents… Call your children. Get together with them to talk heart to heart. Tell them you’re proud of them. Tell them you love them. And, by all means, take ownership and tell them you’re sorry. That conversation is the key to freedom for you and your children. I can’t promise that it won’t get worse before it gets better. But it’s the risk you have to take, even if you don’t see the reward for many years. Or ever.

And children… Forgive your parents. They are the product of what life did to them, of their own suffering. If you don’t forgive, you will become like them. You will fight it with all that you are, but you will look in the mirror one day and see your dad, or your mom.

Forgiveness is the key that opens a new door, to a new future, a new life. It opens the door for your children to forgive you one day, when you sin against them.

Today that door stands before you. Will you take the key you hold in your hand, and use it?

Photo Credits

The song I have chosen today, is a secular one with a powerful message. It has been my theme song, in my relationship with my father, since his passing. I think I listen to it every year, and thank God that dad and I had that conversation in the living years. I apologize if it offends anyone that I, in ministry, would post a secular song, but I unapologetically leave you the message it holds:

Living Years, Mike & The Mechanics

“RIP, Dad. In spite of all things, I have always loved. you. I always will.”

© Trudy Metzger

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The Last Farewell: A Heart Held in God’s Hand

I tiptoed through the funeral parlour, across the room to where my father rested. It was just Dad and I, one last time. I had come alone, when I knew no one else would be there. I needed it. Our most meaningful times the last few years had been with just the two of us.

There were so many things we had talked about. Things that would have never been spoken in a group. Heart things. Painful things. Raw. Honest. Beautiful. Forgiving. Redeeming.

The emotion inside of me needed one on one grieving to be released.

The night after Dad’s death had been hell. I can’t explain it. It just was. I could pretend it never happened. But it did. And it felt as if every demon that had ever tormented him had been sent to haunt me. Never was a night more filled with dark nightmares and trauma, than what I lived through that night. I constantly awakened, trembling, only to find it wasn’t real. Each time I could only whisper a prayer of protection, and make a declaration that I was unwilling to surrender to that darkness, whatever it was.

Dad’s life, apart from abuse with his family, had other sketchy realities woven through it. Some that we would never know about. Some we would hear of in the form of rumours. The latter, intertwined with a strange bled of fiction, made up my nightmares.

I don’t remember the next day, Saturday February 22, at all. I don’t know what I did that day. Or where I was. It is a blank spot in my memory.

But on Sunday, February 23, as I stood before him at the funeral parlour, I was at peace. The haunting was past. Over. In that moment with Dad, I knew one Truth more powerful than any past, any nightmare, any rumour–whether true or false. And that truth is Jesus.

My heart ached, and tears fell in a steady stream. I couldn’t speak, other than to whisper the name of Jesus, and say ‘thank you’, over and over.

It’s all that counted, in that moment, and I knew it was all that mattered for eternity. I embraced it, but my confidence would be tested, three years and nine months later, to the day. On November 21, 2006, I would be admitted to the hospital, in my own battle against death. And in the fight for my own life, the Truth would be my sustaining force.

I tiptoed back, the way I had come, and left the funeral parlour. I was at peace, ready for the demands of the next several days.

The previous day had been my brother’s birthday. The day following was our oldest son’s birthday. In the middle of grieving death, we celebrated life. Could it be more ironic, than to die the day before your son’s birthday and be buried the day after your grandson’s?

We laid my father to rest, on February 25, 2003. A crowd of people gathered around the grave. It’s a blur in my memory. Traditionally the Old Colony Mennonite church has open casket, right up to that final moment, when the body is lowered into the grave.

The family files past, for one final goodbye. I don’t remember the order, or if all of us filed by. I just know that I found myself kneeling down beside my father, in tears. Snowflakes fell lightly on his face. He looked cold. I placed my right hand on his heart.

The heart of an infant, once untouched by life and sin. A heart too soon broken by life. A heart blackened by sin. A heart that had grieved the loss of family relationships because of that sin. A heart with secrets, hidden from most, but trusted to a few. A heart that had searched desperately for peace with Almighty God. I heart reconciled, through faith in Jesus. A heart now still. Silent. Held in God’s hands.

I paused for a moment. Then rose to my feet and returned to my husband’s side. Tim put his arm around me. Held me as I wept. He understood, like no one else in the world, my journey. I had invited him into my heart, holding nothing back of the pain, the grief and the shame of those early years.

Tim had watched as I reconciled with my father. He was the one who got the call from the hospital, after the most powerful heart to heart with Dad. I had cried, “Honey, miracles still happen. I can’t believe what just happened.”

I felt safe in his arms. Loved. Healed. We turned and retraced our steps. My feet hurt from the cold. I needed warmth. People.

Back at the church I reconnected with cousins, from whom I had been estranged for many years. Doors opened that had long been closed. And in my heart, compassion stirred for my people. My culture. A silent vow was broken.

It is appropriate that through my father’s death and funeral, my heart softened, eventually creating a desire to bring healing back into my culture. A dream God has brought to life in various ways. And when I think on that, I am honoured to be a survivor–or overcomer, as I prefer–of a painful past. God truly has redeemed all things. He has made all things beautiful in His time.

© Trudy Metzger

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The Last Farewell: A Shocking Call

It is not possible to prepare yourself for that phone call. It doesn’t matter how hard you try mentally, emotionally, spiritually… When it comes, it shocks the body and numbs the mind.

And a day like that, you don’t have to look back at the calendar, to see what day of the week it was. You know the day. You know the hour. You know what the weather was like. You feel that day, as if it is forever etched in your very body and soul.

It was Friday, February 21, 2003. There was a nip in the air, but it was sunny, spring-like and beautiful. Living out in the country, on a farm, spring weather always brings with it a sense of urgency to clean windows, following the winter months. The weather was perfect for that.

I had spent my morning doing some other cleaning, tidying up, and immediately after lunch, I tackled the windows. I felt light, free. Energetic. It was a very good day.

This was noteworthy because I had started battling fatigue, muscle pains and joint pains some months earlier. I had seen a doctor but testing showed nothing. Chronic fatigue, maybe, or Fibromyalgia. But they didn’t think so, and they couldn’t know for sure. I was to take comfort knowing it wasn’t serious. I did. And I took advantage of the good days. Like that Friday….

I had seen my father several weeks earlier–the last week of January–for a family get-together. Our late Christmas gathering. We met at a small community centre, in Hawkesville, Ontario, just minutes away from the family who took me in and gave me back my life. Minutes away from the place of my healing, and from the people who had opened that door to truth and healing in the first place.

Alice had said, ‘The truth will set you free’. And it had. I spent time with my family that day, without the fears of days gone by. It was one of the only family gatherings, if not the only one, where I didn’t have flashbacks to childhood. The only time we were all together and I didn’t worry about Dad sneaking away to get a gun to murder us all. Yes, the truth had set me free.

And it was in the town where the healing took place, that I saw my father for the last time in his living years.

That day Dad looked pale. Tired. He sat back and watched his family. He and I chatted for a  while. I could return to the precise spot where we talked, but for the life of me I have not been able to recall a word of the conversation. I remember we both laughed, but that is all. And I remember we were standing near the dessert table, a spot he was supposed to avoid. He never did well with following doctor’s orders.

But the memory of that day was the farthest thing from my mind as I scrubbed windows that Friday. I was in my own zone, playing music, watching children–the three who were not yet in school.

The phone rang, interrupting my productivity. It was my sister-in-law, whom I could easily chat with for several hours, if I wasn’t careful. It wasn’t something we did often, but every now and then… I answered.

The conversation is a blur. “Trudy, your father… heart attack… didn’t make it…”

“You’re sure? …He’s dead?”

She said he was gone.

The mind is a funny thing. I found myself thinking, “maybe at the hospital they will shock him and bring him back…. maybe they thought he’s dead but…. ” Even as the thoughts chased through my head, I tamed them. It was over. Dad was gone. I hung up the phone. The final words had been spoken. What was done, was done. What was healed, was healed. The rest remained, forever, as it had been left.

I finished the window. Numb. Really? Dad, gone just like that? Once strong, and invincible, now he was lifeless.

I called my brother Wil. Told him. It feels harsh when you speak the words to an unsuspecting sibling. We talked about going together to the hospital, later. He and I. Maybe another sibling or two. And our spouses, if they wanted to. We’d talk later.

I called Tim.

I finished the window. Halfishly. Dumped the bucket of water. Put away my stuff. I didn’t really cry much. It was all too surreal. I had decided years earlier how I would respond. But that was when things were bad. Very bad. I was simply going to shut off my heart and not worry about his end. My sanity would depend on it.

Now it was different. Things had changed so drastically in a few short years. Not perfect, but as good as they were going to get, given all that had been. I was at peace. Even so, there is always the element of grieving what was lost, of grieving what we never had.

Even though we had talked, forgiven, and things were as right as they could get in this life, I felt strangely empty and lonely. As though I had been robbed, one final time, of all that should have been in our family. Almost as if Dad’s death was the final declaration that what never was, never would be.

I found myself hurled into grieving life and death, simultaneously. Celebrating what we had, and aching for what we lacked. I cried out in thanks to God for the last several years, while feeling, keenly, the horror of years gone by. I was thankful we had talked things out, in The Living Years, and yet wished we had said more. So much conflict.

And that is how it had to be… It was the beginning of the last farewell…

To Be Continued…

© Trudy Metzger

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