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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Givens

Beauty in Dark Places

(This post was written by Joseph)

“They’re saying that mom doesn’t have much time left” is what my sister told me over the phone, while I was still in training for my new job.

My heart immediately sank. “Well, S^#%,” I replied (I almost never swear). I tried to talk myself into believing that she was going to be okay, that the doctors were wrong again. After all, we’d been told that same thing by doctors numerous times over the years, and somehow she had always pulled through. Sadly, the doctors were right this time. That is how my 2020, the worst year of my life, began.

Our final picture together

My mom passed away on February 8 that year. She had developed pneumonia, and her body wasn’t strong enough to fight it off. At least I got to see her when she was somewhat aware before she passed. “I’m so happy to see you!” was the last thing she said to me. My kids got to be present and say goodbye. Thankfully, covid hadn’t spread through the country yet, so my whole family got to be there as she took her last breaths. My heart was broken.

But that’s not all. Shortly before this time, my dad had begun having symptoms. He’d had an MRI, and the doctors had found a lesion in his brain. He had been supposed to have an biopsy, but my mom’s passing put a delay on that. The moment my mom passed, my dad nearly passed out and had to be wheeled to the emergency room. His new scan showed that the lesion had nearly doubled in size. His biopsy was scheduled for the following week. My dad at my sister's wedding in 2018

That next week, after his surgery, my brother put the doctor on the phone as he told us the news. It was worse than we could possibly have imagined. My dad had developed a brain tumor called glioblastoma, the same tumor that had taken the life of John McCain. It is the most aggressive form of brain cancer, and almost no one survives more than a year after their diagnosis. Shortly thereafter, my family went to visit my dad while he was recovering in the hospital. He wasn’t himself at all. He was angry. He was swearing (something I’d almost never heard him do). He was a very different man than the person I remembered growing up with.

But that’s not all. During our visit, we were asked to go to the apartment that my dad shared with my brother and get a few things. As we approached the building, we saw several fire trucks spraying water onto a burning building. I was in disbelief. Rachel told me that it was my brother’s building, but I didn’t want to believe it, so I got out of the car and started walking. I told some bystanders which building I was looking for, and they told me that it was the one that was on fire. I called my brother and dad and told them what had happened. As you can imagine, they were shocked.

To top everything off, some looters broke into the building after the fire was put out and it was being patrolled by security. They took everything. They even stole my mom’s ashes. We were truly devastated.

Finally, my dad’s cancer progressed much faster than we could have imagined, and he passed away after a short battle, in a beautiful hospice center, on June 18th, the day after his 62nd birthday.

You can probably see why I think of 2020 as the worst year of my life. Nothing seemed to go well that year. Everyone says that 2020 was the worst, and I’m somewhat resentful of that fact to this day, because I suspect my 2020 was worse than almost everyone else’s. Most people were upset that they couldn’t go out to eat. For me, both my parents died and my brother’s apartment burned down and my mom’s ashes were stolen. I’m pretty sure I win.

I write this not to sound angry—although I was very angry at the time. I still haven’t fully recovered from that year, and I probably never will. I write it to mention that beauty emerged even from the worst moments of my life, from unexpected places.

We moved a lot when I was a child. We lived in at least 5 different states. My work gave me four weeks off after my dad died, and my sister and I were able to take a trip to visit many of the places we’d lived as children. We visited the college where our parents met. We visited the places that we lived in South Carolina and the place where she was born in Kentucky. We traveled to Florida to see the house my grandma lived in and that we visited many times as children. I think of that trip as almost a sacred pilgrimage of remembrance for my sister and me. It was a wonderful time spent together, grieving and trying to see the beauty in our circumstances.

What have I learned? I don’t exactly know. Or I guess what I mean is I can’t quite put it into words. It would be easy to spout clichés like “Life is short” or “Hug your loved ones because you never know when they’ll be gone.” Those are both true, but they don’t do a good job of expressing the deeper meanings. I have found beauty in sadness. I have known what it means to be crushed. It would be easy to say that I can see God’s purpose in this, but I don’t really think that way anymore. The truth is, bad things happen. Crappy, awful, heart-rending things happen. There are times that you will want to just lie on the floor and curse God and humanity with the loudest voice you can muster. There will be times when you, like I have a tendency to do, hold your feelings inside, believing you can’t let anyone else see you cry because that would mean you’re not strong enough. Trust me, I’m not strong enough.

What I’m saying is, keep your eyes open for the beauty that surrounds you, even in your darkest times. The way community comes together to surround you in your times of deepest grief, the way the sun sparkles on the mountains of Kentucky when it sets, the voice of your children as they cry and grieve the loss of someone who they knew loved them for who they are. Look for God in the empty spaces, in the darkness. God is there in those beautiful times, and he is trying to speak to you. If nothing else, let the dark times mold you into a more compassionate person, appreciating things that you now take for granted and reaching out to others experiencing darkness with a sympathy that only you can have because of what you have been through.

As I enter into the second anniversary of the darkest point in my life, I will make a decision to love those who feel unloved, and to understand those who feel like no one understands. Maybe that’s where the true beauty of suffering can be found.

Forgive the extra long post today. I hope that peace and blessings follow you wherever you are. You are loved beyond measure. Never forget to seek out the beautiful things in the darkness.

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1 comentario

Judy Clemens Smucker
Judy Clemens Smucker
03 feb 2022

Thank you for your vulnerable sharing. Blessings to you and your family as you do God’s work.

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