My son, Joseph Malik Fannell, 22, was killed by a driver who ran a red light. This blog was created to chronicle the emotions and stages of my grief following his death.
Grief is a state of being. It never ends. We never get over it or through it. We just find ways to endure.
"If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there; if you're kicked in the gut, He will help you catch your breathe." Psalm 34:18
In the shadow of your grief, remember to breathe.
Many years ago, there was a song called The Great Pretender sung by the
Platters. Many of you know me personally
and know that this song is not quite my generation. I belonged to the more disco and original hip
hop era. Anyway, one morning during my devotional time
with the Lord, God spoke to me and said that’s what you have been these
days. The Great Pretender. As I was taken aback a bit, the Lord told me,
as He often does in situations like this, look up the words. And so, I did.
Oh yes, I'm the great
pretender. Pretending that I'm doing
well. My need is such, I pretend too
much. I'm lonely but no one can tell….
I stopped there and questioned the Lord a bit, reminding Him of just how
real I have been. Am I not honestly
telling people how I feel? Am I not
telling them what this grief walk is really like? Am I not yet declaring the Truth of Your
Word? How am I pretending, Lord?” And the Lord answers because He knows
everything. “You seem to be, what you’re not, you see… you’re weary, but no one can
tell.” Yes, you are doing all those
things, but at the same time, you are yet holding back. You’re only telling half the story. You’re giving them glimpses of what it’s
like, but not presenting a full picture.
You’re only telling what you want them to know. Amid everything that I am bringing you
through, you are pretending that you’re doing well. You’re pretending that everything is yet
okay. Yes, I am good. Yes, I am God and people need to know
that. But if you hold back the depth of your
pain, you will be holding back the depth of MY deliverance. Stop covering up the wound. You will not heal completely, if you keep
hiding what really hurts. Reveal it.
Be honest with yourself. Be
honest with Me. Let others know that you
are not okay, but you can be. You shall
be. Confront the pain so it can be dealt
with. Pain is not pretty. Glossing over it does not help you, just like
semi-gloss. It doesn’t make anything
look better. It doesn’t hide
imperfections. It merely tries to give
it a shine. This is REAL TALK.
Ouch. Oh, yes, I'm the great pretender.
Adrift in a world of my own. I've
played the game, but to my real shame. You've
left me to grieve all alone…
You see it was just a week ago that I found out about the death of Anthony
Rodriguez, my neighbor’s son and a childhood friend of Joseph’s. To hear him
tell it, as he relayed at my Joseph’s funeral, Joseph was his best friend and
they became friends, simply by riding their bikes together in a circle, for a
That’s what he said. And they
remained friends throughout high school.
So Joseph’s death hit him hard. His mom told me of how he struggled with
Joe’s death and even just talking about him.
She told me how Anthony wore the green bracelet every day, that the New
Jersey Sharing Network gave us for donating his organs, and how much Anthony
loved and guarded the bowtie of Joe’s he wore to Joe’s funeral and how no one
could touch it or Joe’s funeral program.
It was because of Anthony and Joseph that my family and I became friends
with the Rodriguez family. He was our
neighbor, he was Joseph’s friend and he was only 24. The age Joseph would have been today.
I had heard that Anthony went into the hospital complaining about a
headache only to never return home. He
died June 10th of unknown causes, just two years and five days from
the date Joseph died. His death hit us
almost as hard as it hit his family, as we relived every single moment of
Joseph’s last days leading up to his burial.
So many similarities between the two, the timing, the people, the
service… the last time we walked into that church was the day we buried our own
son. Have not been there since and here
we were having to come face to face with this again. And the pain remains the same. Yet another person had to bury their
child. Their 24-year-old child with a
lifetime of things to accomplish and memories to make. Just like my Joseph. “These things should not be,” I repeat to the
Lord, for them, as I have done for us countless times before. A parent is not supposed to bury their
child. And so, as I woke up this
particular day, I could not help but feel tired. I could not help but feel bloated,
overwhelmed, shaken. Weary. Once again overshadowed by grief.
For two years I have struggled with Joseph’s death. I still have my questions. I still have my doubts. In the midst of my joy, I still cry. I still sit awake some nights. I still want to hide and stay in the bed some
days. Losing a child, grieving a child
is like a never-ending nightmare. You
sleep, and then you wake up to find that the nightmare is real. Your child is still gone. What you believed could never happen, would
never happen, happened and you are yet here to face it, to continue to live it,
every day God gives you.
Too real is this feeling of make
believe. Too real when I feel what my
heart can't conceal.
And as much as I fight to overcome on a daily basis, sometimes moment by
moment, I am yet faced with the harsh reality of this is how it is. And so, I continue to push. I pretend.
I put on the smile that I’m expected to wear. I put on the clothes that help to brighten my
spirit. Wear my bowties in every way I
could find, in my ears, on my fingers, on my neck, on my nails, on my wrists, with
my wallet and pocketbook. I do the
things that seemingly make me happy or used to, like shopping, puzzles or silly
little Facebook games. And all the while
I still have this thing gnawing at me called grief.
Yes, I'm the great pretender. (Just like the Lord said). Just laughin' and gay like a clown. I seem to be what I'm not, you see. I'm wearing my heart like a crown. Pretending that you're still around.
And now since the pot has been stirred up all over again, all the things
and in all the ways that I have found to adjust, I am yet forced to find
another. But I won’t do it by
pretending. I won’t do it by offering to
be someone that I am not. I won’t do it
by giving simple words of platitude or by using cliché church sayings. I can’t do it by the rules of society and who
says what, or where or how things must be done.
I can’t do it by being politically correct. I won’t pretend. I can’t pretend. I can only do it by being me. I can only do it by revealing the pain that
it caused me. The pain of the gut-wrenchingly
honest, take your breath away, truth about death. About grief.
And then as I do, and as God did for me, with the comfort that He has
given me, I may be able to be a comfort to others. Without reservation and without pretense.
Death has hit my family and I once again as we faced the
burial of my brother, Mark, Monday, December 19th, just days before
the celebration of the miracle of Christmas.
Almost seems ironic to write that in the same sentence,
death and celebration; death and miracle; even death and Christmas. But isn’t that what the idea of Christmas
brought? Death. God sending His Only Son Jesus to be born
into the world, to live a sinless life and become a sacrificial lamb, to take
upon the sins of the world and to DIE, so that we ALL may have eternal
life. Even those the world counts
unworthy. Those like me. Wretched one that I was. But God.
The miracle of Christmas… Jesus coming to earth and being
born TO A VIRGIN in a manger. The
celebration of Christmas… remembering what it means that “Unto us a Son was
born, unto us a Son was given and He shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor,
Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and of His Kingdom that shall
be no end.” Death and Christmas… the
reason Jesus was born. To die. To save the world from their sins. Amazing
grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was
blind, but now I see. Christmas!
Now I know just the idea of Christmas gets some people
worked up. I hear it all the time. Oh, it’s a pagan holiday! Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th! Christmas is so commercialized. Whatever.
For those who want to deny it and refuse to celebrate it for whatever
reason, it’s insignificant to me, really…
Jesus WAS born. It doesn’t
matter the day He was born, Sunday, Wednesday, or Thursday. It doesn’t matter the date, the 22nd,
the 25th, the 14th or the 31st; the time, or
really the time of the year. Don’t get
so caught up on that or you’ll miss the message. JESUS CHRIST WAS BORN. For if you deny that you deny His very
existence. And He had to be born FIRST,
so He could die. And with that death,
came victory. OUR VICTORY. Our victory over death. O, death, where is thy sting?!
Death and Christmas equals victory. Victory over oppression. Victory over sickness, victory over poverty,
and yes, victory over death. Yes,
victory over death!
This I know is an extremely hard concept to grasp, as the
disciples told Jesus, we’re going to have our faith increased to grab hold of
it. And I have struggled with that over
the past year and a half following Joseph’s death, and then my mother-in-law’s
death last Spring, and even now with my brother’s death, in this season we call
Christmas. The time of miracles and
But at the same time, I can’t help but to be encouraged,
because in the words of Jeremiah, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have
hope, it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed. His compassions fail not. They are new every morning.” God is faithful to remind me of this
Scripture that He gave me as part of a foundation when He first saved me over
16 years ago, 1 Corinthians 15:55 “Where, o, death is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting?” I really never understood why, being a baby
Christian at the time, but He has always spoken from it and continues to do so
time and time again, reaffirming that death is NOT the end. And it has been defeated, no matter what it
feels like in the natural.
While we ache for our loved ones on the earth (as I do), it
stinks and it does sting (in the natural).
But as we are called to be spiritual beings, believing what the Word
says, death has no victory, therefore it has no sting. Because not only has it been defeated it is
NOT the end. Life is only beginning for
our loved ones. And if we receive Jesus
and believe what He has done for us starting with the miracle of Christmas, we
will see our loved ones again. God put
in motion a plan to defeat death in the miracle of Christmas! Because of Jesus Christ being born. And it worked!
Because of Christ, because of Christmas, even because of
death, our loved ones that have gone on and received Jesus are in a far better
place. A place as the Scripture says,
where there are no more tears, there is no more sorrow, there is no more pain,
there are no more meds to take, there are no more breathing issues, or cramped
legs, or legs who cannot move or legs that give out. There are no skin diseases, lesions or
conditions or the like. There are no
cancers of any kinds, brains are operating and people are in their right
minds. There is no more worries… no more
drama. NO MORE DEATH. Death has been defeated!
First Corinthians 15:51 says, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we
will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an
eye, at the last trumpet. For the
trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will
be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself
with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When
the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with
immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been
swallowed up in victory.’ This is
what just happened to my brother (and Joseph, and your loved ones, too). When he fell asleep, when death came upon him
on this earth, his body that was perishable, mortal (able to be destroyed), was
then clothed by GOD, with that which cannot be destroyed, with that which will
last for eternal. And death, his death,
has been swallowed up in victory! It has
been wiped away. He has come through
And from that point of view, I can say just as Paul did,
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where,
O death, is your sting? And thanks be to
God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” A reason to celebrate the miracle of
Christmas, even NOW and always.
This Christmas season marks the second year that I am
without my Joseph. The second Christmas that my family and I were
robbed of the opportunity to celebrate with our loved one. The
second Christmas the man who killed my son, gets to celebrate with his family,
while… well… we don’t. And although the season is barely getting
underway, already somehow it has taken a toll on my emotions.
In the whole first year that Joseph was gone, I not once
broke down while I was out. Oh, don’t get me wrong! I’ve
shed a tear or two. Was saddened. Was
shakened. And even felt like screaming. But never have I
gotten to the point where I came to a complete standstill, so totally lost in
my emotions, that I had to flee from my environment. That’s where I
was yesterday. That’s where I was again today. Not a good
place. And one I’d rather not visit.
As I mustered up the strength, again, to gather myself
together, I was mindful of what brought me to where I was…. The season we are
in. The celebrating (or not). The holiday music and
songs. The Christmas trees, lights and the décor. People
coming together (or making plans to do
so). All.of.it. Then I heard a song on the
radio. “This Christmas.” A classic. Only
this one was the version sung by Chris Brown, when he sang it for the so-named
movie. You see, that was Joseph’s favorite Christmas movie of all
time. And unlike probably the rest of the world, the best version of
the song he ever heard. (Still shaking my head about that
one). So when I heard the song immediately I thought of Joseph
and what may have made me smile last year, made me sad this
The more time passes, the more it seems to
hurt. (I have to say this again and I can never say this often
enough, TIME DOES NOT HEAL ALL WOUNDS. Only God can do
that). But I yet know that it’s a different kind of wound, a different
kind of hurt. A different kind of pain than that initial
one. Than that one that takes your breath away. If I had
to explain it, it’s more of a learning how to breathe with a new heart kind of
pain. Like you can breathe better, but it pinches when you
inhale. Yeah. That kind of pain. You feel
better, but it yet hurts.
Anyway. Once I gathered my thoughts together I
started reflecting on the time of the year and the season that we’re
in. And God spoke. ‘Tis the season to be
mindful. Even for me, even for us, we need to be mindful of
Christmas, the holiday season, is one of the loneliest times
of the year. It is also a time where people become stressed out,
more so than other times of the year. People are
depressed. And although people tend to believe that suicidal rates
are at an all-time high this time of the year, they are not, but this is the
time of the year that propels them into depression. Then over-time,
thoughts of suicide become more apparent as distractions from the holiday
disappear. Be mindful of people. Those who are
alone. Those who have more on their plates than they usually do or
perhaps more than you do. Look out for them in some way or see if you can lend a helping hand, or ear.
This season people are more prone to crime than other times
of the year. Those that don’t have money who would more than likely
steal, steal. Those that you would think would not steal, but want
to “give” to their loved ones, steal to do so or even to make ends meet during
the holidays. Be mindful of them. Maybe you can offer to make a meal or buy a toy for a child.
People tend to socialize and drink more, so there are more
driving accidents. There are more distractions now more than
ever. People are Facebooking live while driving. Side
note: PLEASE… DON’T DO THAT! I take this
very personal. Joseph was killed by a driver who ran a red light! Do not believe for one moment that it
cannot happen to you or you will not be the one who will kill somebody
else. NO-THING is that important that you have to FACEBOOK LIVE
while you are driving.
The holiday season is filled with people who have lost loved
ones (as myself). There are people that have gone through
separation, kids of separation. There are people looking in the face
of eviction or who are already facing homelessness. There are some
who have just suffered major financial stability, lost jobs. And
there are some that have just been diagnosed with health issues and are
battling some real diseases. This very season. Be mindful of
their suffering. Of their sadness. Be a little more kind. Smile a little more. You may never know what that might mean to someone.
In the midst of your celebration, remember that someone else
may not feel like celebrating. Or like me, they may want to celebrate, but as
they try to, it causes them pain. Be mindful of that. In
the midst of your singing, someone else is crying. Be
mindful. In the midst of your decorating, someone is packing up
their belongings to be stored away somewhere until they can find a place to
live. Be mindful of that.
I am certainly not asking for anyone to do anything for me or anyone else for that matter, that the Lord has not moved upon them to do. I sincerely believe
that when the Lord tells us to do something it is not a burden and that no
matter what happens, absolutely nothing and no one, can stop you from doing
it. So please, this is not what this writing is for. I do
believe that God wants us to be mindful of others going forth. Especially
now. Especially in this season. Christmas is a time of
giving. It is a time to show forth love. Sacrificial
love. Isn’t that what Christ did for
Lastly, I was reminded of a word that my hubby shared in
2008, “A Tale of Two Seasons.” (You can find it on our YouTube
channel, here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex-1-o0KScc). God
is amazing, because as I got this written word in my spirit, this sermon popped
up on my timeline. I encourage you to watch it, because in it,
Pastor Jeff speaks about how God tells the story of Christmas and how it is two
seasons. One where people are happy, and another where people are
not so happy. There are people who were angry, like Herod (who
wanted to kill Jesus) and there were people who were grieving (all the mothers
of the babies who were killed by Herod, and some others). And then
he goes on to say how God wants us to be aware of it. For a
looking at some pictures of us; some before Joseph pics and some after Joseph
pics... (funny how grief causes you to measure life by the before and after). I saw one in particular and immediately heard,
‘that’s a perfect picture.’ In the same
instant I turned away from it and said “No, it’s not, it’s incomplete. Joseph is missing.” And then God said, “Just because the picture
is incomplete does not mean it's not perfect.”
This was April 3rd.
then I’ve been struggling with that thought and even mentioned it to my husband
the other day. I have been asking the
Lord to reveal to me what that could possibly mean, because in my own head it
makes NO sense. How could a picture be
complete if someone you love is not in it?
How could the picture be complete, knowing that Joseph is not here with
I was reminded of a photo that I saw that a Facebook friend posted of her and
her daughter. She is a beautiful young
lady around my youngest daughter’s age, and she takes a lot of pictures. But this picture in particular was an
absolutely perfect picture, I thought. Though
they posed for it, you can tell it was random.
Not "set up." You could see the love in her eyes she had for
her little girl and the admiration and love the little girl had for her
mom. It radiated from the inside.
spoke this to me. We try so hard to take
what we deem a “perfect” picture with our cameras and even with our life. We
have to make sure the lighting is right, the setting is perfect, and even how
we look, choosing to delete the photos we say are not so good.
life isn't like that, though. We are not perfect. We don't always have the
right setting or conditions and don't always look the way others think we
should (or even ourselves). Sometimes things are just ugly. Sometimes we have blocked the lighting,
allowed other things to interfere, or things happen that keep us from smiling
so “perfectly.” Pictures are moments
frozen in time. An idea captured with
the eye of a camera lens. Some of those
moments are good, some not so good. And
we deem them so or incomplete, because in that moment of time things are just
not the way we want them to be.
we were to prepare for the picture, the beauty of being who we are on the
inside will be lost, the reality of what we are feeling won’t be seen, because
the photo has been set up.
said yes the picture is incomplete, because that is how you see it. But the picture is yet perfect, because
perfection (and He had me look this up) is a process or condition where things
are presented as faultless as they can POSSIBLY be. Perfection is a state of creation, it is
smiled in the picture. And our smiles may
not have been what they were before Joseph, but the love that we have for each
other yet radiates from within and that is what makes for a perfect picture.
We as a
people, we as a family are not perfect, but the picture that we took, is
presented as perfect, because we, in our life after Joseph, in that frozen
moment of time, are being as free as we POSSIBLY can be from all the defects in
our life. All the things that are not so perfect, having to live without Joseph.
because the picture is incomplete, does not mean it’s not perfect (or beautiful).
A very hard saying as Peter said, but
one I choose to believe and walk in. By faith.
today, May 18th, as I walk in the shadow of grief, I purpose to live
to allow for that random picture (even if it doesn't look too good) and learn to
value the moments that are captured that couldn't come out more perfect if I
thing about grief and suffering, is that it can cause you to lose sight of God,
bringing you into a dark place, a place of hopelessness. A place of loneliness, a place of unspeakable
sadness and even deep depression. Funny
thing about dark places, not many want to join you, or are even willing to
visit. “Don’t invite me to your pity
party.” I hear; but that dark place is
far more than a pity party, it’s a PIT.
recently found myself there… in a pit, that dark place, that no one dare
treads, nor even has the courage to do so.
You see it would take too much of a sacrifice. One would have to avail themselves, avail
their time, their vulnerability, in order to sit with you there. They might have to put themselves in your
shoes and feel what you feel. A little
too close for comfort for most. Just
think of Job’s friends, oh they were with him in the beginning, but when it got
to be too much for them, too much to try and understand, the questions and the
doubt reared their ugly heads.
can’t blame people though. Most are not
wired that way and many cannot handle the burdens they have not been asked to
bear. So if I didn’t realize it before,
this journey called grief, is a solitary one, especially for those who don’t
know of anyone who has taken the trip.
It’s a long one and far too often, one of silence. But somewhere in the depths of heaven, there
sits a God willing to travel with you.
Problem is, you may not always know it.
So during a recent Bible Study when our teacher was led to go out of
order with a series we had just started, I finally felt like someone was trying
to climb into my dark place with me. And
not only were they trying to get in there with me, they were trying to bring me
see every Wednesday we have Bible Study at our church. The “Real” Happy Hour is what God renamed it
one day, because my hubby, Pastor Jeff shares truly from the heart of God, and
it really does make one’s soul, happy.
Far better than any wine, any liquor could do. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the Living Water and He refreshes
our soul every time we ask for a drink.
But it’s not just Pastor Jeff whom God uses, the congregants all get to
share in the discussion as well. It’s a
full participation class, where each one of us are allowed to ask and answer
questions, as we purpose to learn Christ and encourage each other.
now and then, Pastor Jeff finds a teaching series and lesson handouts are
issued. Pastor Jeff began a new series a
couple of weeks ago, Busyness: Finding God
in the Whirlwind, and having led Lessons One and Two, he passed the baton on to
someone else, who was led to teach from Lesson 6, throwing us off course, and
so I thought.
I saw the lesson title, “Remain in Conversation with God,” I must admit, I felt
a little like Sarah, who laughed when God told her she was going to have a
baby. I heard God say, “You’re coming
out of that dark place” and it caused me to chuckle in my spirit, sarcastically
of course. You see to remain in
conversation with God, means we have to take the time to practice His presence,
which simply means checking in throughout the day, just like you would with
anyone else you love. And in my dark
place, God and I were not having conversations, we were having monologues,
where I would tell God my issues (and even those of others), without taking the
time to listen to what He had to say about them. A conversation is a dialogue, it’s
communication back and forth between you and somebody else. Clearly this was not what I had been having.
we’re doing the lesson and our teacher for the night, begins to tell us about
David’s whereabouts when he wrote this particular Psalm, 16. He was in a cave, a dark place and he was
praising the Lord, focusing on Who God is in spite of what he was going
through. And as I am sitting there,
listening to the Lord operating through His people, I heard the Lord say again,
“You’re coming out of that dark place.”
lesson was all about David having been attacked and not wanting to die, seeking
to find refuge, not really in the cave, but in God. Some of us, as I have, go into dark places,
seeking to find refuge, but we’re not focused on God, we die, involuntarily
perhaps. We never come out, instead we
fall into a pit of depression, never to be the same again. We give up the little life that remains
inside of us, and sometimes we even take it ourselves, because the pain, the
attack, is too hard to bear.
God came into my dark place, as we went on with the Bible Study and others had
shared what David might have been feeling and what it must have been like. And in the midst of it all, as my own husband
shared, David yet found a way to praise God.
In the cave, in his dark place, he yet had a praise in his mouth.
it is by faith he was able to do this, and it is by faith we will be able to do
so. The Word says, the just shall live
by faith. When everything around us
screams otherwise, when everything around is completely opposite of what we
want it to be, when everything around is dark, and it feels like we are in a
pit, a cave, hiding, our faith says, God is yet good and God is yet worthy of
me Lord. You are my Rock. You are my Strong-Tower. You are
my Refuge. My Lord and my God. In You, I find hope.
the death of our son, I have been on some kind of rollercoaster ride. Joseph died on the 5th of
June. Whenever the end of one month and
the beginning of another appears, somewhere in the middle I remember and it
stirs up all kinds of emotions in me.
And while people tend to stay away from me during this time, it only
makes me more mindful, as I struggle to catch my breath, remembering to
breathe. It’s an effort to do so. Because each moment I don’t, I am drawn
closer to a cave, to a dark place, desiring to hide from the attack of my
during this Bible Study, as my sister began to share what was in her heart, she
told of how when she first came to the church, just two weeks after Joseph’s
death, and all the while she’s been there (8 months), when she looked at us she
would wonder how we were able to go on.
She asked of the Lord, truly desiring to know. She didn’t just feel sympathy, she wanted to
feel what we felt. She wanted to know
what it was like. She asked of the Lord,
she said, “How are they able to cope?”
She said that she could not imagine the pain. And that is when I knew she got into that
cave with me, because she had been asking the Lord so much, she had been
earnestly praying for us, the Lord allowed her to feel it. And she relayed the story of how in a dream
she just had less than two weeks ago, she lost her son. And then she told of how the next day the
sadness was overwhelming. All day she
felt that pain, and it was ONLY a dream!
But she understood. And it was
then, I felt the presence of God, the love of God, pull me out of my dark
a heart of compassion our God has. Such
a demonstration of love. Seeing someone
hurting so badly and caring enough to want to relate to it. And do.
Sometimes that’s all we need.
Somebody to understand. Who wants
to understand. That’s what I needed to
bring me out. Someone willing to go in
there to me. God knew it and He provided
it. The Word says (and I’m paraphrasing)
“We do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.”
Jesus is not so far removed from us that He cannot feel what we go
through. He did and He does.
“You’re coming out of that dark place,” He said. And to remain in conversation with Him, I
say, “Oh, yes I am.”
is good and God is real, as I continue to walk in the shadow of grief.