When Jerod and Nathan were toddlers their great grandmother (Libby’s mom’s mother) died during the spring of 1989 following a brief illness. While we were on our way back home from the funeral in Greensboro, Alabama Jerod wanted to know where Nonnie was now. Libby and I tried to explain to our young boys in very simple terms some complex ideas that, frankly, we had trouble understanding ourselves. It was difficult at best explaining the death of a loved one to the two restless, short attention spanned boys in the backseat of a moving car and as usual you never know how much information is actually sinking into their little brains especially when the conversation proceeds something like this, “…but dad…… why can’t we just drive over to her house and see Nonnie?” as the younger Nathan chimes in with, “Yes daddy….please!!” Trying to select my words carefully now I say, “Nonnie is not at her house, she is heaven with Jesus.” Both boys appeared to be in deep thought and I was sure my bright children were considering their own mortality. Jerod quickly broke the silence when he said, “Ok, then can we stop for ice cream?” and Nathan followed with, “Yes daddy…….please!!”
Later that evening when we were back home, Libby was in the kitchen cooking supper and I was playing with the boys in the living room when we heard a scream coming from the kitchen; Libby had just seen a bug crawl across the floor. Now Libby was deathly afraid of bugs and she definitely did not want to get close enough to kill one, so she called to me over her shoulder as she ran out of the room, “Barry, come kill this bug!”. As I got up to perform my manly duty Jerod quickly jumped to his feet and said, “Let me do it dad.” I looked at Libby and shrugged my shoulders as our four year old walked into the kitchen, assessed the situation and then turned back toward his mom and me as he lifted up his cowboy boot preparing to step on the bug. “Watch this,” he said, “I’m going to send him to see Jesus!” I looked over at Libby and whispered, “We may need to have that heaven discussion one more time, I’m not sure that the right message got through.”
Nonnie’s was the first death in our family that our boys would experience and as it turned out, it would be the last time they experienced that kind of loss for a very long time; in fact 21 years would pass between the death of their Nonnie and the next death in our family. When the boys were both in college Libby and I had a conversation which began with Libby saying, “I’m really worried about our boys, they have lived a charmed life”. Not really sure where all of this was going I asked what she meant by “charmed life”. Libby said, “Well, except when they were toddlers, they have never experienced the loss of a loved one.” Libby went on to explain how she was afraid that because our boys had been spared that particular agony they never developed the skills to deal with the loss of someone that they love. I told Libby that they were smart boys and we would just have to pray that we had laid enough groundwork in other areas of their lives to carry over, because they would certainly have their share of grief sooner or later,besides there was nothing that either one of us could do that would delay or speed up that experience for them.
Sadly, beginning a few months after that conversation, our boys would get multiple opportunities to develop grieving skills as their cousin Samantha Gilley, grandmother Joyce Gilley, grandfather Jimmy Willis, uncle Michael Gilley and then finally, their mom Libby Gilley all “went to see Jesus”.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NIV).