Missions

Dealing with Death from across the Ocean

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My favorite pic of Joy in 2011

We had just finished a great evening with friends. Settled in bed, I heard the familiar sound of a Whatts App message. I debated whether to get up or not to see who it was, but I’m thankful I did:

“Joy is in heaven.”

Across the ocean, my dear friend, Joy’s mother, shares the news the only way she knows how. Joy, so appropriately named, was diagnosed with leukemia a few days after we left for South Africa. She was five months old when her family received the news.

For two and a half years we have prayed and electronically encouraged the best we could through chemo treatments, a bone marrow transplant (bone marrow which was given by her 4 year old sister) and many other complications through it all.

Technology can never replace true contact.

In August 2013 my husband and I went to the states on furlough. Joy had been leukemia free. We thought we would only get to see her once or twice but the Lord blessed us with more visits than we ever thought and with some wonderful times with her, her siblings and parents.

We returned to South Africa only to learn in December that the leukemia had shown its ugly head again and another complication was spreading through her little almost 3 year old body. The doctors had given her 1-2 months to live.

Again more praying:

Lord, keep her GVHD at bay.

Lord, let them have a blessed Christmas together.

Lord, help Joy’s breathing.

Lord, please let them be able to go to Disneyworld as they have planned.

“Joy is in heaven.”

I wasn’t prepared for this New Year’s Day announcement.

Lord, seriously, New Year’s Day? Couldn’t you have picked another day?

Lord, they didn’t make it to Disneyworld. Couldn’t you have at least granted them that time together?

Then He reminded me of the sweetest time He allowed us to have with them while on furlough laughing, crying and sharing. Though much had happened in two years for each of our families, it was if we had never been apart. True friendship is like that.

He reminded me of the scripture verse Joy’s mom and I share on our walls:

“We walk by faith and not by sight.” -2 Cor. 5:17

So at 3AM my time we are texting back and forth. Comforting one another with cell phones in hand.

Through Skype Doug and I “attend” the funeral. I felt under-dressed in my crocs, capris and summer shirt. This was new territory for me. Would it have been more respectful if we had dressed for it even though no one could see us? The connection wasn’t that great but we did manage to hear most of it with tissue in hand sobbing before the screen so we wouldn’t miss a word. Her parents shared their testimony of God’s faithfulness and the blessing of having Joy in their life even if it was for a short time.

The video decided to work as the closed casket was being wheeled out and the family was exiting. We could just make out a beautiful picture of Joy at the front. We pressed closer to the screen as if that would make the portrait bigger. The connection ended but our tears continued.

“…She is not sent away, but only sent before; like unto a star which, going out of sight, does not die and vanish, but shines in another hemisphere.”

-Samuel Rutherford

12 thoughts on “Dealing with Death from across the Ocean”

  1. Thank you for sharing this story on Velvet Ashes today. Entering into your friend’s sorrow surely brought her comfort.

  2. Debbie, my heart goes out to Joy’s family and to you, especially since you were so far away. That had to be really hard. Skype has made life on the mission field so much different than it always was before. What a blessing you could use it to “attend” the service.

    I see you “Liked” my Facebook Page, Spiritual Memoirs 101, and hope you will find encouragement and inspiration there to keep writing your God-and-you stories. Psalm 96:3 at the top of your blog is one of the verses I use in classes and the blog to encourage people to write their stories. Deuteronomy 4:9 is also one of my favorites. It tells us to always remember what we’ve seen God do and to be sure to tell our kids and grandkids. Memoir is a perfect format for doing that.

    You and I have another thing in common: I worked in Africa for 8 years with SIL/Wycliffe. I love the African people and the beautiful continent.

    Thanks for making this connection. God bless you.

    Be of good cheer,
    Linda Thomas

  3. What a tragedy to lose such a precious baby! How touching that her parents were able to share about God’s faithfulness at such an overwhelmingly stressful occasion. I’m in awe of their faith. Thank you for sharing and I am so sorry for this incredible loss.

  4. Bless your dear hearts! Only Jesus can comprehend your pain and the pain of these dear parents. May He wrap His loving arms around all of you and hold you close as you grieve. So happy you stopped by my blog and left such sweet encouragement behind, and so glad to have “met” you today! Love, Cheryl

  5. This is really tough stuff that every missionary will have to deal with at one time or another and probably more than once. It can also happen with your dear friends on the mission field while you are back home. Thanks for sharing the story our prayers are with Joy’s family!

  6. I’m so sorry you experienced that. It is hard to be far away during those times. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. He loves you, and knows just what you need!

  7. That must be so difficult. I can’t imagine having to attend from afar.
    Death is so sad, but true death has been defeated through Christ.
    Praying peace over you all.

  8. Had just read the quote from Samuel B. Rutherford you posted, and found it so encouraging…what a wonderful quote from him across the years! I found myself trying to put myself in the Conley’s place and imagine what it is like to lose a child, and that just broke my heart. I am praying for them to know it is ok to recover and move forward into personal joy, rest and normalcy. May God give them and you grace!

  9. I thought about you during the service, not realizing at first that you were able to “attend.” I was thinking how hard it must be to be so far away…..and praising God for the time you all had together this summer – He made sure you got that time. I also bemoaned the fact that they didn’t get to go to Disneyland……then I thought of where Joy was now – Disneyland doesn’t compare. 🙂
    Love and prayers to you both.

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