Friday, March 21, 2014

Dan McLaughlin

On Saturday, March 15, my husband suddenly and unexpectedly passed from life to life. On a beautiful day, on an enjoyable outing, in the middle of a normal, pleasant conversation, he left the limitations of earth and entered the joy of heaven. My grief is deep. I loved him. I relied on him. I’ll miss him more than I can possibly say.

I realize that I’m not an objective observer, but I can say in all honesty that Dan was a remarkable man. He was brilliant, funny, talented and faithful. Since his death, the words “most” and “best” have been spoken and written over and over by those who knew him. People have called him “the best husband and father I’ve ever seen,” “the most godly person I’ve ever met,” and “the best man I’ve ever known.”

Dan lived life wide open. Once he met you, you were his friend. Once you were his friend, he would serve you and share all of himself with you. He used to simply say, “I like to be useful.”  He was a servant, through and through.

I don’t claim to understand the mystery of the relationship between God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, and natural law. Certainly God knows the time of each person’s death. Does that mean that he sets a specific day and hour for each of us?  I’m not going to even try to tackle that question. Here’s what I do know about the timing of Dan’s death:

  • Dan had recently spent quality time with most of his family. In February, he flew to Virginia to visit his father. Not long after that, he and I took the campervan south for a wonderful, relaxing trip to Florida, stopping to visit our oldest son in Nashville on the way down and back. We aren’t left with many “I wish we had spent more time together” regrets.

  • I have a part-time job writing articles for an addiction treatment network. One of my topic assignments for the week before Dan died was on coping with the death of a loved one.

  • One of Dan’s favorite things to do was to sing with and occasionally direct a group of fellow music ministers. Two days before his death, he sang with them and directed the songs “When the Roll is Called up Yonder” and “I’m Bound for the Promised Land.”

  • On the morning of the day Dan died, he used his laptop to pull up a clip about heaven and near-death experiences he had been sent. Then he, our youngest son, and I had a nice conversation about heaven just a few hours before he got to see it for himself.

  • Dan’s heart attack took place while he was driving us around a state park. We had been on the highway for quite a while before we reached the park grounds. The circumstances of his death would have surely been much worse had we still been on the highway.

  • When I saw Dan was in trouble, I flagged down people in the area and someone who knew CPR appeared immediately and kept working until the ambulance arrived. It wasn’t possible to revive him, but I’m not left wondering whether it would have been.

  • A Christian family was among those in the area who came to help. When I said I wanted to pray, they prayed with me. I never felt alone.

  • Dan died on a Saturday. Sunday’s sermon topic, which had been prepared in advance, was “I am a Citizen of Heaven.”

  • The weather has been cooperative. My chemical sensitivities make it extremely difficult to be inside most public places. Amazingly we were able to find a funeral home with a patio, so during the visitation, I was able to be outside, where people could join me as they wished. We held the funeral service at the graveside. If the weather hadn’t been warm enough, it’s hard to imagine how I could have been part of the final goodbyes.

  • After his graduation from college, my youngest son traveled to Africa for a while. He returned to the states in December and has been living with us while he looks for a job. The fact that he’s here now is huge.

I’m glad I didn’t know when I married Dan that he would die in his 50s, but if I had known, I would have married him anyway. We had 30 precious years together. As do all couples, we had our disagreements and times of tension, but I never doubted we would work them out and I never wondered about his commitment to me. He took his wedding vows seriously and he cherished me in sickness and in health. I’ve thought several times since his death that there’s more than one way to lose a spouse. Many people with chronic illness are abandoned and deserted by their husbands or wives. Mine was faithful until death and I’m deeply and truly grateful.

My wise sister talks about living in the “tension of the and,” meaning that two apparently contradictory things can both be true. The day after Dan died I opened the curtains to see a robin sitting in a dusting of snow and it seemed like an appropriate allegory. It was winter and it was spring. I know the future holds both pain and peace, fear and faith, loneliness and love.

More than once in my life, I’ve taken a step back and re-examined my theology of suffering. I’ve done the “what ifs.”  I believe it was author Sheldon Vanauken who said that he tried to give up his faith and found that he couldn’t – that it was like moving a stone that was too heavy for him. I’ve personally thought of unbelief as a garment. I tried it on and found that it didn’t fit. I wrestle and I question and I rage against the circumstances of life, but I always come back to faith that God is still in control and still working things out for the ultimate good of his children.

I don’t know what the future holds. There are many unanswered questions and I have to fight the temptation to panic. One thing I don’t worry about, however, is whether or not my husband’s spirit lives or whether he is with the Lord. He knew and loved Jesus Christ. He was ready to meet him. If you’re not sure that you’re ready, I urge to you read this page at the website

It’s interesting to me that death feels so unnatural, despite the fact that everyone on earth experiences it. We weren’t created for time and death. We were created for eternity. My husband’s earthly body is now uninhabited, but he lives and I’ll see him again. In the meantime, life is going to be even more challenging than it already was. Please pray for me and my sons.