#TellHisStory: How The Real World-Changers Live … and How They Die
Outside my windows, the trees had begun their beautiful dying.
I stared out blankly, eyes cloudy with grief, thinking about the phone call I’d just gotten.
She was dying.
I didn’t want to go say goodbye. But she was ready to go, surrendering to the season. She was a tree in autumn, about to show her glorious colors.
I was a grown woman, grieving as a child. That night, I slept with a set of stuffed brown bears that she gave me when I was six or seven years old. Mama Bear had velcro hands, so that Baby Bear could nestle inside. As a child, I unVelcroed and re-Velcroed those bear arms countless times. They never wore out.
It felt like the most foolish and most sensible thing I could do: to fall asleep like a child, bears in arms.
* * * * *
The next morning, I sent a Facebook message to friends in my writing/prayer group. They are the type of friends who counsel you, but don’t chastise you for sleeping with toys.
“Someone I love very much is dying, and I don’t know what to do,” I wrote, while tears tore down my cheeks. “I should go see her, but I don’t know if I can. I am afraid.”
They each said one thing I needed to hear:
1 – “You won’t ever regret going. In fact, you may regret not going.”
2 – “It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to lose it in front of her.”
3 – “Even grief is a gift.”
4 – “Don’t let the enemy rob you of something beautifully meaningful. He’s got you.”
The next day, I woke before dawn to head east to see her — my dying godmother, Janet.
I set a pair of stuffed bears on the car seat next to me.
* * * * *
As a little girl, I was smitten with Janet. As my godmother, she was given the task — along with my parents — of seeing to it that I knew about Jesus and His teachings. She taught me mostly by using the gifts that are available to all people: by being present, by holding me close, by looking me straight in the eye, by making me feel brave when I was small.
She had a beautiful singing voice, and along with her sister and my mother, they sang together at churches around northwest Iowa. The three of them were called, quite simply, The Trio. The song I loved most? “Something Beautiful” by the Gaithers.
Janet always made me feel warm inside with specialness, like I was the most important person on the planet. I was this small shadow behind her, like a skinny apron string. She let me make a mess of things with the flour. She let me push in her insulin shots. She let me eat ice cream before dinner, even when she couldn’t have any. And afterward, we’d climb to the hay loft to search for kittens.
When I was sad, she would pluck a tissue from the box to dab at my tears. She listened. And always, on our visits, she’d tell me something new about Jesus.
I remember the day she pulled the nestled bears from the bottom of a closet. She placed them in my arms. “I think these belong to you. I know you’ll take good care of these, Jennifer.”
I always did.
* * * * *
Turns out, Janet made a lot of people feel like they were the most important person on the planet. This week, my Facebook news feed was swollen with tributes to Janet, age 72. There were pictures of Janet holding babies, Janet wearing sunglasses, Janet trying to feed children bits of cake off of her hospital tray. “She’s always trying to give her food away,” someone wrote in the comments.
Someone posted a picture of her wiping away a granddaughter’s tears with her tired hand. I walked down a whole corridor of memories when I saw that photo:
And then I was there, at the end of a life. At a bedside.
I walked in with a collection of memories, that felt like a series of sketches: A bear. An apron. A song. A church. A hand. A tissue. A Savior.
My mom came later, along with a group of close friends.
We decided to sing, and the room was thick with Gaither, with memories, with Jesus. We all sang “Something Beautiful,” and the trio still knew their harmonized parts. It was the last time they’d sing together, this side of heaven.
As I stood there, I remembered the four things my friends told me about grief. And I thought it might be good to always remember these, and I thought it might be good to tell you, too. Because it seems we all have to do really hard things. It seems there’s something scaring all of us, but once we walk down the corridor toward the thing that frightens us, we might find a song at the end of the hallway. We might find Something Beautiful.
I also thought about the impact of one life. You know this, don’t you? One person has immeasurable potential to make others know how deeply they’re cherished. That person doesn’t have to speak to full arenas, or sell bestselling books, or make a lot of money, to make a lot of difference. They just have to be available. They just have to be a person.
You might find the most influential people in all the world, holding tissues in their hands, right up to the very end, so that they have one last chance to heal the hurt in the world.
* * * * *
It was my turn to say goodbye. The sun pooled on Janet’s blanket, and she held the edge between her fingers. I leaned in close, clumsy with grief.
I told her how much I loved her, and how she’d loved me well, and how she taught me so much about Jesus. I stammered and fought those stubborn tears, even though my friends told me it was okay to cry.
It wouldn’t be long before God loosened my godmother from earth.
“I’ll see you later,” I said.
“I’ll see you later,” she said.
Her eyes were thick with faith, wide and warm. And I could feel her breath on my cheek, like a small fog. We stayed that way for a moment, eye to eye, one last time. Until later.
And when my tears slipped out — much as I tried not to let them — she lifted a tired hand to wipe them away.
And I left the end of a life, with a song.
The Trio’s Last Song
(If you are unable to view the video in your email, click here.)
Janet Anderson went to be with Jesus at 8:40 a.m. on Oct. 14, 2014.
So, what’s your Story?
A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.
You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.
Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.
Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.
Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.
A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?
For more details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here. Share the love of story by visiting someone else in the community![badge url=’https://jenniferdukeslee.com/tell-his-story/’ title=’#TellHisStory – a community of God/’s storytellers’ image=’https://jenniferdukeslee.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/tellhisstory-badge.jpg’]
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Oh, Jennifer! This is just precious. I am SO terribly sorry for your loss…you have my deepest, most heartfelt sympathy. As you know, your loss is surely Heaven’s gain. I loved hearing that dear song…I hadn’t heard that one in such a long time, and to think she sang it right before her welcome in to Heaven made it even more special. I know you will miss her terribly, and I trust Jesus to hold you extra close, as you grieve.
What beautiful friends you have. What a beautiful gift to have a godmother to love you and show you Jesus. And what a beautiful tribute this is to one so precious, and the precious moments that sometimes only the pain of grief can bring you to. Wishing I could reach through the screen and share a long hug over the joy and sorrow of saying goodbye to the ones we love. Thank you for sharing this, friend.
I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful heritage, a wonderful privilege, to have this special relationship with your godmother.
I’ve been praying for you, my friend! What a beautiful, honoring post! I’m so glad you went!
What a beautiful tribute and lesson in living you’ve given for Janet. May the Holy Spirit draw near and comfort all those who loved her and may her lessons continue to resonate in the lives of people as they remember that being available, drawing near, listening, telling about Jesus to an audience of one are just as important as preaching from a pulpit or publishing a book.
I’m so sorry for your loss, Jennifer. You have paid Janet a beautiful tribute here! We are so blessed that we will be with our loved ones again in Jesus. Thanks for encouraging us to go in spite of our fear. To grieve openly, but not as one without hope. There is no greater privilege than to be next to someone when they meet Jesus in salvation and when they go to meet Him face to face.
Thanks for sharing this beautiful story, a lesson in how to love. Prayers for comfort and peace for all who knew and loved her.
This brings tears to my eyes. I’m so sorry for your loss, Jennifer, but so happy you had someone like Janet in your life, who poured into you and left a beautiful impression of Jesus there. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on grief; I struggle with this, but am learning, alongside you, to grieve not as one without hope but as one who knows I will meet my loved ones again. Blessings, dear one!
Tears in my eyes over here.. thanks for sharing this story with us.
Thank you for entrusting us with the weight and gift of these words. Sacred ground.
No words. Only tears. Tears that are grateful for the legacy we each have been given. Tears of relief that it is only until later. Praying for you & for God’s comfort to be ever present.
Confession: I came to link up, and as always, in a hurry to leave (forgive me). But as I scrolled down, I stumbled upon your words, and that photo up there. I got stuck and thought I’d stay for a while. It’s a beautiful story, but you always manage to bring out the exquisite (painfully beautiful) with your words, Jennifer. I should be reading you often (smile).
Oh my… that video … isn’t that the purest worship… it baths the soul in its simplistic beauty… what a gift you had been given … and this lights something inside of me… to simply love and be a gift to others… thanks for sharing this sweet, tender story!!!
I’m so sorry for your loss, Jennifer, but I rejoice that you will be reunited with your godmother in Heaven. This was just beautiful. I’m glad that you have wonderful friends to support you and talk you through those times when you’re afraid. I know you’ll never regret going to see her that last time.
Tears. I love you. So proud to be your friend.
There is something so beautiful in sharing the last moments with the loves our hearts cling onto. When we realize they belong to something better, greater, something beautiful we can walk away allowing our tears to crystallize the memories of their legacy in our lives. Your post reminded me of the day my grandmother went to be with Jesus. It was gut-wrenching hard, sobs burst out of my being, though I wanted to be strong. She let her fingerprint on me, as she was supposed to. She left HIS mark of love on all of us, like your godmother. Thank you for sharing this hard moment, this pain-filled, yet beautiful moment. I will be praying for the Lord to comfort you, to fill you each day with a new level of joy in spite of the pain the loss reveals. The one consolation I had, was that I knew she was walking right into the arms of her beloved Savior, the one she taught me about and the one she longed to see… just like you have the consolation of faith to hedge you in.
My sweet mom in law passed away in October 4 years ago. She was a big Gaither fan. You made me miss her so much this morning as I read this.
May God wrap Himself around you and give you His supernatural comfort and courage.
What a beautiful tribute to your Godmother! It truly is amazing that you were there to sing with her during her final moments on our earth. May the love of her memories comfort you always! Much love!
Thank you for sharing these precious memories with us, and the song. Oh, the song. Makes me miss my grandmothers and their beautiful lives – but they are sweet memories. Blessings to you Jennifer.
Oh, tears. Beautiful. Reminding me of my last moments with my godmother, my moms lifelong and best friend. She died of ovarian cancer over 20 years ago. I can still feel the soft, warm hug she enveloped me with as we said goodbye.
Oh, how beautiful! As hard as my Mom’s death was, I wouldn’t trade being there with her in those final moments for anything! Treasured memories, thank you so much for sharing.
I’m so sorry, Jennifer. Thank you for being so transparent. It sounds like your godmother’s life was a beautiful testimony of God’s powerful and redeeming love.
I’m misty here at the gift Janet was to you and to so many…so glad you went to see her…((hugs))
What a loving tribute to your godmother and story of being brave in the face of grief. Beauty through tears – those days that are so hard, yet full of beautiful, bittersweet memories.
Jennifer, I’m so very sorry and saddened about the loss of your beloved godmother. I’m so glad that the Lord gave you the strength to go to be with her, and I pray He will continue to give you strength as you grieve her loss and share her beautiful story. May He comfort you with the hope of heaven and this truth: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart (Eccl. 3:11).”
I continue to pray too for your physical wellbeing.
Thank you for this beautiful post and for sharing those precious four things to hold onto that speak such truth. It brings back the vivid memories of my own mother’s illness and passing on April 8th this year, which are etched in pain, but also brought me back to the LORD, a gift from my mother, through the overwhelming peace of our Heavenly Father upon her.
I am so sorry for your and your family’s loss, but so thankful to our Loving Saviour that He has promised to “surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins, He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (Isaiah 51:3) and to turn “all those painful partings…into reunions” (Zephaniah 3:20). Praying for our loving Father to bring you comfort and peace in your heartache.
The tears are flowing, Jennifer . . . Recently, my husband flew to Texas to be by his best friend’s side as he lay dying. Yes, it was difficult, but it was precisely the right thing to do. Your life was so blessed by Janet, and I’m so glad you could say good-bye until you are reunited in Heaven. Know God is embracing you just as that mama bear is holding her little one . . .
So very sorry, Jennifer; so thankful for your honest narrative and innermost thoughts. This post resonated deeply in my heart. My mother graduated to heaven just last week on October 9, as the result of a stroke. I, too, thought much about her impact upon family, friends, coworkers, church folk, even strangers. My mother also had a beautiful singing voice, like your godmother, Janet. Mom sang frequent solos at churches, banquets, conferences, and on radio (including WMBI Moody Radio in Chicago). Then there were all the lives she impacted, over the 70 years she worked with children in the church. Like Janet, Mom made herself available; God used her to make a difference.
A beautiful tribute – may you know God’s comfort in your loss.
I am so-so sorry for your loss. For that hole in your heart and life. For those hot tears on your cheeks. I have shared this with so many. I share it with you.
When we have lost a loved one, we may look at it this way: Of the roses that climb the garden wall, some blossom on our side and some will blossom on the other side, being hidden from our view, but the vine keeps them joined together. And so it is with the wall of death. It merely hides the other side; it does not divide. Our loved ones who have gone on to be with Jesus may be hidden from our view, but they have just blossomed on the other side. And, if we, who remain here, are also in Christ, then we are all united together, because the Vine keeps us together.
Praying for your aching heart.
This is so beautiful, Jennifer. Thanks also for sharing the video. I can feel what a special moment it was! I visited with a friend on Tuesday who has cancer, not knowing that she would die last night. I didn’t know her well, but I feel blessed that I got to spend those few moments with her in this lifetime. May you hold tight to your memories of Janet to give you peace and comfort as you grieve!
As Janet rejoices with Jesus, I send you prayers of comfort for your heart. What a beautiful tribute to Janet. She leaves a lovely, godly legacy.
With sincere sympathy for your loss. It is truly sacred ground.
So much to treasure here for all of us who have lost someone so dear. Prayers for continued comfort as you remember the special times. Thank you for the reminder that grief is also a gift. It is often difficult for those around us to be with us in our grief, but it is a path to healing I am thankful for even in the pain. Sending you a southern hug!
Thanks so much for sharing this grief and beautiful tribute with us. My family just lost one of our best family friends in a biking accident, and we’ve been going through a similar journey of realizing the value and impact a single life has.
I’m so glad you were able to go Janet. Moments like these are so hard, like diamonds, but–oh!–the light that shines.
Just beautiful, Jennifer. I am so sorry for your loss, but so grateful for the presence of this good woman in your life. Now you are turning around and sharing her with us – what a gift. Thank you.