The Deep End

Posted: December 26, 2013 in Uncategorized


I am not a strong swimmer.  In fact, at best I’m a weak swimmer, in spite of my parents’ best efforts to make sure I learned the how-to’s.  Every summer I was entered into the next level of lessons and every summer I barely passed the test at the end.  I never got the breathing technique right.  Terrified, I would stand at the end of the diving board before I quickly plugged my nose and jumped in feet first.  As a teen attending camp, I dreaded the “swim test” to be allowed out onto the dock where the cool kids hung out and jumped off.

Not much has changed…now as an adult, if it’s really hot, I may do a lap of a backstroke or a short underwater swim…from one safe side to the other.  Basically, all I can do is tread water for about 60 seconds and hold my breath for 20. And I still can’t dive.

Don’t get me wrong – I love water.   Looking at it, sitting next to it, dangling my feet or lying on a raft.   Just don’t ask me to put my head under.  I enjoy calm waters, but I would never jump off a boat without a life jacket.

For the past two years, I have been in the deep end.  And this isn’t a pool with the edge nearby or a rope in view.  This is the middle of the ocean with no boat in sight and no visible horizon.

In December 2011, I received the news that my husband had ALS.  In December 2012, I watched him take his last earthly breath.  Now it’s December 2013, and I have lived an entire year with the pain of grief and loss.

I have been rocked to the core.  I have hit the bottom.  Both years have been horrendous and I would never want to re-live either of them.  I have no idea how I made it through one day of this, let alone two years.

Before 2011, I had experienced trials.  Life was not always easy.  God conformed me into His image through many lessons. There were losses through a miscarriage, death of grandparents and my much-loved in-laws. And we experienced disappointment through rejection and betrayal.  Living life in the ministry, I’ve walked with countless others through their own sufferings: death, divorce, bondage to sin, along with the natural consequences of living in a sin cursed world.

Like standing on the beach and looking out at the ocean, I knew there was suffering.  I had tiptoed into it and experienced it to a small degree.  But this is different.  This is an over-whelming, life altering, in your face, I-can-not-survive-this type of pain.  Most can sympathize; they can’t imagine and kindly admit that.  A few can empathize.  They have walked this road before and I see in their eyes that they can relate.

I have been dropped into the ocean and it is a very lonely place to be.  Many rafts have held me afloat:  A loving family, a supportive church, Godly friends, the Bible, GriefShare, and counseling.  For each of these, I am truly grateful.  But this is still a path I am on alone. Each grief is individual—no one really understands.

That is, no one but Jesus.  He alone can relate.  He alone carries me.  I look at the cross.  I consider His life, His suffering, His rejection, His sorrow and anguish.  I consider how He resisted temptation to the point of sweating blood (Hebrews 12:4); how He shed His blood for me, a sinner, who could never earn salvation on my own (I Corinthians 15:3-4). By His stripes I will be healed (Isaiah 53:4).

I have stopped asking, “Why?”  I refuse to spiritualize the matter and say that I know why God took Patrick; or that I can see “the good” that has come from it.  Humanly, I will never get it.  I know many people have benefited from his story and from watching him faithfully trust God until the end.  I enjoy hearing about how God has used this in people’s lives.  It does bring some comfort to hear people talk about Patrick. (Please don’t stop telling me what Patrick meant to you!) But truth be told, I wish God had chosen some other way to minister to those needs, because I would rather have my husband still by my side.

Selfishly, I would have never chosen for my family to be the example of this.  We are all changed.  It has left a hole that will never be filled.  We have struggled to figure out how to be a family of three when our leader is gone.  We each have our individual pain–and then there is the pain of watching the other ones suffer and not being able to fix it.

It feels like drowning.  In my darkest moments, I have wanted to give up.  It seems easier to just swallow the water and let myself sink.  “The enemy crushes me.  He makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead, so that my spirit grows faint within me” (Psalm 143:3). I can relate to this psalm of David.  Crying, sobbing, wailing, screaming…sounds come out of me that I never knew existed.   The tears spill daily and the stronger episodes interrupt me at least once a week.  Thrashing about in the deep end is exhausting.

I now ask, “How?”  One of the things I have not doubted is God’s sovereignty.  I know that our days are numbered before one of them even happens (Psalm 139:16). So if this was God’s will and timing for Patrick (and it was), then it’s also His will for me and for my kids.  As long as I am still on this earth, He has a purpose for me (Philippians 1:6). Our family’s story is only one tiny part of the Kingdom purposes God is carrying out.  I am on the path that He has put me on.  He is carrying me.  Earth has nothing I desire; nothing here can satisfy me.  The only peace and fulfillment I long for and will ever find hope in is through my relationship with Jesus Christ.

So that’s what gets me out of bed.  The Gospel of Jesus. The first step of the day is always the hardest.  I fight the temptation to hide under the covers.  But fight I must.  Cry, pray and push; cry, pray and push.  Repeat as often as needed.  Let the emotions come as they will; face them and embrace them. When the wave passes, take another step. Sometimes when I lack the words to pray, and the tears are blinding my ability to read, I simply meditate on four words that describe what Jesus is to me:

He is my Creator;

He is my Savior.

He is my Sustainer;

And He is my Comforter.

He has already rescued me from my greatest need (Romans 5:8), and He continues to keep my head above water.  He created the vast ocean and He put me in it, but He has never left me alone (Joshua 1:9).

Because of this, I have peace and I have hope.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;  we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Therefore we do not lose heart….For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (II Corinthians 4:7-9, 16 & 17)


  1. lorie and albert smith says:

    thank u

  2. Dorothy Fairchild says:

    Thank you for sharing. YOUR story continues and speaks loudly of our Savior’s love. You’re in my prayers.

  3. Brenda says:

    Thank you for sharing !!! Every word you wrote is truth raw truth , that Gods sheep need to here!! I am thankful you can put it into words . I have been watching you these past years and you are the real deal and true to your self you just let it flow how ever you feel ! Thank you for being a strong soldier in Gods army ! Faithful Godly women that I wouldn’t want to mess with! 🙂 I have come to love you and yours!! Brenda oxox

  4. Les and Judy Johnson says:

    Our prayers and thoughts have been and will continue in 2014. We continue to get good news about your children–you must be very proud of them

  5. kathy and joe says:

    Kathy&Joe say: Keep on keeping on, never give up on the prize that’s waiting for you and family.
    We are with you with the struggles that are in this sin cursed world.
    God is with us and will see us through it all. All of you are in our prayers.
    Have a very blessed New Year with plenty more to follow.

  6. Brenda Friend says:

    I have been praying for you. Please know that we care. Our heart breaks for you. We love you

  7. Russ Arbuckle says:

    Thank you. Patrick you left us a year ago today and I still miss you smile and teachings. Your family continues to grieve as do we. From experience I know the pain, but, somehow God was with me and let me through that time. Glory be to God

  8. Dena, Thank you so much for being totally REAL! It has been a whole year since Patrick began his new life in heaven! Wonderful for him, heart-wrentching for you and your children. I have not walked in your shoes. I do not know what it is like to lose my best friend, leader, supporter, my earthly life! I have lost grandparents, parents, and siblings, but I doubt that the grief I felt for these was anything remotely close to the grief that you feel from losing your spouse. Thank you for sharing your heart. We have been praying for you,Dena, Paige & Parker, and we will continue to do so. Love & Hugs, Larry & Shirley

  9. Mandi says:

    Dena. You are amazing!! This post is priceless so well written and so heart felt. I am so honored to know you and so proud of you as you live out your faith victoriously! Keep on pushing through! You are such an encouragement to me and many others as we read your fantastic writings I know our God will use them for His glory! You have been given a gift. Wait and watch the awesome work God is going to do! I AM praying for you.

  10. Lynn Thompson says:

    Dena, My Pastor: Steve Barton gave me the link to your blog. I went back through to your husband was diagnosed and read forward. It was good to read and hear that someone else thinks and feels as I do and says the things I have said. It was very helpful to read your blog and encouraging to me. My husband passed away on August 2, 2013 without warning in his sleep. I am on 4 months. I would love to be able to keep in touch with you. Thank you for sharing. Lynn (Evelyn) Thompson.

  11. Glenna Rae Flack says:

    What a journey that you have traveled. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  12. Lily Staker says:

    I have thought of you and the kids many times throughout this year. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are right in saying that grief is individual. I sometimes thought I wasn’t grieving the “right way”. A wise pastor shared that we all grieve differently and we can’t listen to how others tell us to grieve. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  13. David and Kathy Cortner says:

    Exceptionally well written – godly perspective but reality of the struggle…praying for you today.

    Dave and Kathy Cortner

  14. LKotal says:

    Dear Dena and family,

    We have thought about you and the kids many times throughout the year. We also pray for you as well. Thank you for sharing your honest and open feelings. They are well written and received. Patrick made an everlasting impression on me. He will never be forgotten only missed.


  15. Dear Dena,

    Thank you for this latest “Patrick’s Story.” You write well, describing a horrible, yet glorious discovery. There have been very dark months and years in my life (if you care to, read my booklet “Warrior, Wounded, Wisdom”), but those dark days are nothing like losing a life-time companion. In those very dark times, I discovered God more fully than ever before. That discovery was worth all the misery through which we passed.

    No, I do not understand what you are going through. Our minds and hearts go out to you. We have asked God for you many times.

    This morning your Dad said you had the job, so that’s good.

    When you get back from Florida, we would be happy to bring over a meal to either (1) leave with you, or (2) sit down and eat with you. Give us a buzz (1-586-463-8020) or write us a text (586-260-1913).

    Keith & Marilyn Kaynor

  16. Joanna Arp Carter says:

    Dena, you are in my thoughts and prayers. I am so sorry for your pain and sadness. Check your email sometime (maybe an old account). I sent you something you might like to get. Got your email from a mutual friend. I do think of you and pray for you. Joanna Arp Carter

  17. Faye Moore says:

    Amen, Dena. Amen!

  18. Judy Kite says:

    Thank you for sharing. I have been on the same journey for four months. I lost my husband to pancreatic cancer. I understand very well your feeling of drowning. You bless my heart and I am praying for you and your family as you continue.

  19. Dena, My husband died of a heart attack October 12, 2011, leaving me as a single mom of 3 children (16,14,9). As I read your post, the pain your words describe are so familiar to me. I know that each person’s grief is different, but I can tell you that I know the feeling of “drowning” and the struggle everyday to choose to take that first step, the feeling of wanting to stay in bed and just pull the covers over your head, sometimes it is all I can do to just pull myself out of bed. Your post has blessed me this evening and I want you to know that I will be holding you up in prayer. God is sovereign over all things and my prayer will be for us to continue to seek His will and purpose for our lives. This road He has called us to travel is a painful one, however, His grace is sufficient to sustain us. Thank you for sharing your heart, and I hope you continue to do so, as I know how healing it can be.
    Blessings to you and your children.
    Tamara Sonnenberg (friend of Shelley & Kim)

  20. Thanks for your honest writing of both your faith and your stuggles, Dena. We are with you in spirit and pray for you, Paige and Parker. May God shine his light on you and through you.
    All the best, Karen and Jim Crutchfield

  21. Amy Ayers says:

    Psalm 23.
    You’re in my prayers.

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