Posted by: karanoel | August 28, 2018

I regret to inform you

On a Monday, four weeks ago, I was at the kitchen sink doing a quick cleanup after lunch. An upward glance mid-task made my heart stop and time freeze. On the long driveway stretching out before my kitchen window were three highly uniformed Naval officers, approaching with a measured gait. It is a picture that no parent with a child in the military ever wants to see.

I reached the front door an eternal moment before their polished shoes reached my doorstep, willing there to be some other news they came to deliver. Their solemn expressions gave my deepest fears no relief. I must have invited them in because there they stood in my entryway. Dimples appeared in the cheeks of the man with the kind, round face as he began to speak and for a moment – such a short moment – I thought he was smiling; that my fears were unfounded. Instead, he calmly spoke words that I pray no other mother will ever have to hear: “I regret to inform you that your son died this morning due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

It was a shock so severe that a horrified stillness replaced the crumpled wailing and beating of my breast I would have expected in those first minutes. This was the boy God used to save my life; one I loved with my whole heart; my dearest companion for all those years it was just the two of us. I knew he’d been struggling. The intensity of Navy life pressed in on deeper things he couldn’t fully articulate. Depression and anxiety had plagued him for months. But he was getting help and changes had been made to ease his load. In our last conversation, just a couple weeks before, his renewed hopefulness and talk of the future eased my concern. I rested in the belief that he’d made it through the worst.

My mind could not process the loss, the finality of his decision. So I sat, stunned, in the next slide of my memory on our deep, brown sofa in the living room as condolences were offered by the still-standing men in their crisp blue suits with stiff white hats in hand. A friend who was over for a playdate wandered out from Chase’s room where she’d been entertaining the kids. “Cole shot himself,” I blurted out. She stood there, aghast, eyes filling with tears, then came and wrapped her arms around me before saying she would keep the kids in the back as long as I needed… a token of grace.

The chaplain, a gentle soul in this harsh new reality, asked who I needed to call. My husband. My mom. John rushed home from work. Mom pulled to the side of the road and cried aloud to Jesus with a greater anguish than I’d ever heard. He was so loved. He was so needed in this family. We thought he was going to be okay. John joined me on the sofa. He held me and we wept together. We called Madi, our 18 year old daughter. She kept repeating “it can’t be true” before breaking down and crying with us. Minutes couldn’t have passed before friends showed up to share in our grief and to hold us up. I would have thought that I would have wanted to be alone, but the community that gathered around us wrapped us up in a love deeper than I’ve ever experienced – one I couldn’t have done without.

The days that followed are a blur. Countless people texted, called, came. Meals were brought. Chase was whisked away to play. Prayer was offered up constantly on our behalf, keeping us suspended above the darkness below. The Navy Chief came often with paperwork to be signed, questions to be answered, details to be worked out. John tended to most of it, absorbing all he could in the midst of his grief to spare me. Still, my heart ached as words like “death certificate” and “remains” were used in connection with my precious son; my great treasure.

Friends grieved with me and prayed with me. Each time, I was met with a grace so tangible and powerful that my grief was overcome by comfort. It was my manna – nothing I could hoard for tomorrow, but enough to meet the needs of each day. God reminded me of His presence and His goodness; of His unfailing love, not just for me but for Cole. “If Cole is with you,” I cried out to the Lord one day, “then it is well with my soul.” He responded with a profound assurance that my boy is safe in His loving arms.

The days kept coming as the memorial service approached. Our friends stepped up to help in mighty and humbling ways, but they couldn’t do their part without mine being done first. Many decisions had to be made and hard tasks had to be done, sometimes ending with me collapsed in tears, crying out for more grace – which always seemed to come. Chase started kindergarten, a confusing but sweet reminder that new beginnings will come and life will go on. We continued to get through… the arrival of family as wounds were cracked back open and new healing came, our remarkably meaningful memorial service where a few hundred dear friends showed up in love and support, the dreaded delivery of Cole’s ashes to our home by a Petty Officer. And this past weekend, we made it through a formal Naval memorial service in Virginia, which was undeniably honoring and beautiful and yet proved to be the hardest day of my life. Cole’s death finally felt real and absolute, not like a strange dream I keep expecting to awake from.

Through it all, I can’t tell you how many people have shared how much Cole touched and brightened their lives. So many have deeply mourned his loss. One officer in particular – and a few sailors – couldn’t stop crying long enough to share with me their affection for him. Many friends shared stories of his wit, quirk and influence. Each made me smile big and feel close to him because it’s just who he was. My heart felt tender joy when some shared that he had helped them through the hardest time of their lives. I was deeply moved when two friends said he sat with them in their darkest hours and talked them out of suicide. He mattered so much.

We have been home from Virginia for a couple days. The Lord has met me in powerful ways, soothing my heart with His balm, refreshing my battle-weary soul. I have felt a shift; a reorientation toward eternity. Though Cole and I loved each other here with the best our hearts had to give, we will be able to give each other perfect love for all eternity. I cannot wait for that day. In the meantime, I am going to let God heal my every hurt and draw me up into His joy, which is not – and never has been – dependent on life’s circumstances. He is enough for me, even now. And I am going to assault the kingdom of darkness with a mighty hope and bring many, many people to heaven with me who will see the loving, healing power of this great Savior. I have no doubt that the enemy will quickly regret the day he messed with my son.

I would like to leave you with the words I shared at Cole’s memorial service. It is only a glimpse because there is no possible way to share in a few minutes all that Cole was or what he meant to me…

The first time I knew that God loved me was the day I found out I was pregnant with Cole. To be entrusted with such a treasure felt like an outright act of grace when I didn’t feel worthy of any good thing. It’s like my heart woke up that day. I suddenly wanted to live – and live well – so I could become what he needed. God used him to save my life.

When I was pregnant with Cole, I don’t remember a single sharp kick. Every movement was calm and gentle. It’s like he was showing me who he was going to be – never a rough and tumble kind of kid but mellow, thoughtful, kind; one who would spend his energy instead on matters of the mind. And what a mind he had. He’d hardly spoken a word before breaking out in complete sentences. And he’d hardly spoken those sentences before stunning us with his vocabulary. It’s like his mind was always in motion, quietly drawing in information and then piecing it together into something bigger – more complete and usable – which he couldn’t help but share. Whether it was a physics concept, a coffee roasting technique, a new vein of music or anything about tattoos or motorcycles, he came to life with a childlike excitement, animated and chatty, not only wanting to convey his delight in his newfound knowledge but keenly wanting you to experience it too. The older he got, the more I realized I couldn’t possibly understand the technical information he most loved to share – and he knew it too – but one of my greatest joys is that he still loved to share it with me.

Since I’d had Cole so young and was a single mom for 15 years, we had an incredibly close relationship and at times were probably more like brother and sister, facing hard things and growing up together. We were a bit of an odd couple; different in nearly every way possible, but maybe most pronounced in his abundance of logic and my utter lack of it. Despite our differences – or maybe because of them – we enjoyed, appreciated and were frequently entertained by each other. When he was a teenager, I was driving him to a Civil Air Patrol meeting when we were forced to stop on the main street leaving the neighborhood because of a downed power line. The meeting wasn’t that important but I still went into a frenzied panic, yelling “We are trapped in the neighborhood!” Cole sat quietly, giving space for my hysteria to run its course, before suggesting with calm reason… “or… we could take the street that goes around the barrier.” I think he laughed all the way to the meeting and I know he teased me for several years afterwards. But that was the thing. His humor was so good natured and held an appreciation for its subject. If he teased you, it was because he loved you. Humor was his love language. It was quirky, silly, witty, irreverent and downright funny. It drew people in. It brightened everything. It resulted in a million and one inside jokes that made people feel like a friend; like they were a part of something.

As a kid, Cole’s favorite toys were weapons and treasure, so his generous uncle kept him well-stocked with toy swords and plastic jewels. His love of weapons never changed, but what he considered treasure did. It wasn’t the shiny, bejeweled things he valued, but the things that other people often failed to appreciate. Like the enormous tupperware of random parts and wires that he was sure he could make something out of. Or all of the discarded items from the dumpster by our apartment that he brought me as gifts – a barely living houseplant, a banged up desk lamp, a lovely polka dot dress that I proudly wore. What I came to realize was that, while he didn’t parade it around like his dumpster treasures, he had this vision for people too. He saw value in those who were banged up or just needed help to get to the next thing, and his tender heart couldn’t help but reach out and try to pull them through. I can’t tell you how many people have told me recently that Cole helped them through the hardest time of their lives.

I am so proud of him for that; for giving to others when he was struggling so much himself. I have always been so proud of him – this brilliant, funny, moody companion of mine. The last time I talked to him, I told him again how proud I was. I knew by his lack of response that he didn’t feel worthy of it, but I’m so glad I had the chance to say it. And if I were able to talk to him today, I would tell him the same. I am so damn proud. He had so many difficult things to contend with and yet he accomplished so much, touched the lives of countless people and left behind an unbelievably sweet trail of joy.

He is now with Jesus – a fellow treasure seeker in unlikely places, with a shared heart for the broken and damaged. While Cole hadn’t been able to lift his eyes from his own damage to see the eyes of compassion looking upon him or the gentle hand reaching out to lift him up, I know that God never left Cole’s side, holding him more securely in His love than Cole knew. God saw past all of the pain and the shame into the heart of this remarkable boy – to his cries for truth; the longing for all of his pieces to come together into something meaningful; the unfailing righteousness bestowed upon him when he received Jesus. He is now living as a complete expression of who he was made to be; finally able to see himself through the eyes of perfect love. And I can’t help but picture his joy.

There is comfort in that. And in knowing that I loved Cole with all my heart and he loved me. That can never be taken away. But I could never take the broken pieces of his life or my heart and put them back together, let alone make something beautiful out of them. But God can. As I trust Him with each shard, each fragment, He will humbly receive them and transform them. He won’t patch back together what was, with jagged cracks evidencing our pain. Instead, he will take those pieces and make something new, beautiful and whole – a seamless work. The same love that healed Cole in heaven will heal me here. And the same love that heals me here will heal others too. We have only begun to see Cole’s purpose on this earth fulfilled.

Cole flannel


Responses

  1. Beautifully said. I agree that Satan is going to regret the day he messed with your boy. I know God’s love grows in us in the midst of our sorrow and things we don’t understand. We become stronger and stronger until we burst forth into God’s eternal purpose for our lives we can’t be hindered or held back anymore. All the enemies plans are shattered and God’s glory comes forth from our circumstances.
    Love you sweet cousin
    Janelle

    • Wow Janelle. That was so beautifully said. I will copy it down and read it several more times. I know that you are a living testament of that truth. Love you.

  2. I know this sounds odd but I was waiting for this post. I just knew that your words would be so beautiful, heartfelt. Real. I agree with sweet Janelle when she says we become stronger and stronger until we burst fourth. Thank you for sharing all this with us. I love you!
    Julie

    • Thank you Julie. Love you so very much. Don’t know what I would do without friends like you!

  3. Oh dear Kara. What sweet words full of love and hurt for our dearest Cole. May this be only a brief moment in eternity for your aching heart. I love you dear friend. Keep on writing. You are a blessing to so many.

    • A brief moment in eternity… I am starting to realize how very true this is. Thank you for helping me keep my eyes on Jesus and being such a blessing to me. Love you!

  4. Kara, thank you for sharing openly, honestly and truthfully of your sorrow. I’m still moved to tears when I think of you living through this most devastating time, and yet so amazed when I read your words that share beauty and life so sweetly. In you, Christ is shining on earth, and we know in heaven, angels are singing along with Cole in adoration of our God, Immanuel. God with us…with Cole, and with you now. May He be what you need through each day and moment. Much love to you.
    Kristen

    • What a beautiful picture that is – angels singing along with Cole in adoration of our God! Thank you so much for the kind and encouraging words. So much love, Kara

  5. Thank you Kari for this beautiful picture of your loving Cole and all you have been feeling and enduring. So much love and grace shared with us. Ron and I cry with you and spend time with our Lord to pray for you and John and your mom and dad. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

  6. Dearest Sister, though you don’t know me I wanted to extend my deepest sympathies to you. I am a friend of your moms and have been so fortunate to know her. It’s been an added pleasure to know a bit of you through her stories. I love you and everyday you are in my thoughts.

    • Thank you so much Teresa! I’m grateful your love and care. My mom is the best, isn’t she? 🙂

  7. I’m late–and so sorry–to hear of this, Kara. Just wanted to add my words of sympathy and prayer to those above. Wishing you the peace that goes beyond all understanding, and a deep, warming heart-knowledge of Cole’s wholeness in Christ to accompany the conviction you already have.

    • Thank you so much, Mitch, for reading and responding with such encouraging words, “peace that goes beyond all understanding, and a deep, warming heart-knowledge of Cole’s wholeness in Christ.” Yes and amen!

  8. You don’t know me, but your blog was recommended to me by Kath Fisher from Montana who is a dear friend of mine. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I love your trust and your reliance on God through your grief and struggles. I know where you are coming from. I lost my son 7 years ago in March, in a very similar way, and your words are like an echo of my experience. He was 34 and left behind two children. Through it all God taught me much of what you are wonderfully saying here. I have a blog and wrote many articles if you would like to read them its http://www.wendykleker.wordpress. Thank you so much for sharing your heart. I will read the rest of your blogs.

    • Wendy, I’m so sorry about the loss of your son, especially with the added pain of him having children. But I’m so glad you had God to lean on. I honestly don’t know how anyone makes it through otherwise. I look forward to reading your blog. Thank you for sharing! XOXO

  9. Thanks. I know what you mean, I too don’t know how anyone makes it through something like this without God. I forgot to tell you, that you will have to go to the archives in my blog to 2012, the blogs about my son start in April or May. They go through about a year. Especially read “Looking Beyond” that is the one where God assured me that my son is in Glory. God gave me a special blessing and gift of an experience that saved my sanity and maybe my life. Absolutely I would never have made it without Him. Praying for you.

    • His comfort and healing goes so deep and spares us from so much! I am really looking forward to reading about what the Lord showed you. Thank you for letting me know where to find that time on your blog. I’m going to wait until I have a quiet moment to take it in. ♥️

  10. Hello Kara.A beautiful mother and a beautiful son. So full of love. God bless you forever. Love Bill(Kelly West’s brother).

    • Thank you so much Bill! God bless you too.

  11. I don’t have proper words, but my heart is hurting deeply with you as I read this. I weep with you, my sister.

    • Thank you so much for hurting with me, Jennifer. That means so much. And thank you for your blog which is such a beautiful encouragement to keep giving my heart and life and focus to Jesus who is my only hope. ❤️

      • With all my heart, you are welcome, my precious sister. His beautiful Spirit unites us in special ways, doesn’t He? ❤

      • He sure does! ❤️


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