Grief is a close companion to most people. Suffering follows closely behind. Whether it’s with the loss of a friendship, a job, a miscarriage, a divorce or through the death of a family member; no one escapes from the realities of grief. In life, grief is inevitable. Danielle Stahlecker remembers the day that her mom was diagnosed with ALS. That day not only took her breath away, but it invited grief into her life in a way she never experienced it before. Grief was now her new companion.
Danielle grew up in a loving Christian home. She was the oldest of four girls. The love her parents had for one another and for Jesus showed her what it meant to walk with Jesus. Danielle became a Christian at age 7 and her faith was made real when she was a middle schooler attending church one Sunday.
“I understood the sacrifice He did for me through a pastor’s sermon,” Danielle recalled. “He was teaching about Jesus on the cross and saying “it is finished.” I thought about all of my sin, the fact that all of it was nailed on that cross, that it was finished for me. I really began to understand what grace meant. It’s been 30 years now that I have known and walked with God.”
God has never left her side. He’s led her through hardships, provided wisdom and direction with decisions in life, and He’s offered His continued mercy and grace with marriage, parenting, and faith. Never did Danielle imagine she would be tested and shaped in the way it has been the past five years. Especially that first day she got the news.
“I remembered lying in my bed in fear and total devastation,” Danielle described after getting the call from her mom about the diagnosis. “As a nurse I knew what the outcome was. I remembered begging God for it not to be true. Grief became a companion and I began the journey, unwilling, but without choice. My mom was a rock to me and to my dad and sisters. Before the diagnosis, she was a vibrant Jesus lover and people lover. She was an extravert with high energy and an intentional wife, mom, and grandparent. She was a leader of Bible studies, ministries, and women; she always had an open-door policy. She was a woman of faith who lived out her beliefs and did what she promised. She was faithful to the very end. I watched her worship on a ventilator, paralyzed in bed, not able to eat, breathe, move...and she would still fight to raise her hand to worship. That’s the mom I had. That’s why the loss was so significant.”
Her mom, Michelle, lost her battle with ALS two years ago. Danielle couldn’t imagine not having the faithfulness of God and His unwavering promise leading her every single day. Sometimes every single hour.
“Our Savior understands suffering and grief,” Danielle shared. “He understands that feeling of questioning and wondering and how it will play out. We begged God for healing, for any other way, Jesus understands this too, there is great comfort in this because He did the same before the cross. There was an active decision we made as a family to commit to giving our mom the best care we could. We knew staying spiritually minded was the ONLY real sustaining Hope we had. Romans 15:13 was my mom’s favorite verse and we stayed close to the words, “May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace …so that you may abound in HOPE.” There was never any medical hope given to the disease process, but we chose to live in the present day, knowing that God would provide all we needed. This helped us maintain our Joy and Hope instead of borrowing tomorrow’s suffering. My mom’s mantra was ‘Only Today’. That’s all we have been given, and when you live in this mindset, you don’t miss the joy of what is present.”
Over the past five years, Danielle, her mom Michelle, and her family learned to believe in the total sufficiency of Jesus.
“There is a simplification that comes with walking through suffering,” Danielle said with earnest humility. “That God is either sufficient or He is not. So, when you agree with God in your sorrow, then you agree to His sufficiency. And it doesn’t take away the pain, but it becomes a very honest place. Realizing that I could feel very raw and simultaneously safe under the arms and guise of His provision every day. There are still many moments where I can look back at the trauma and the pain of caretaking for the person I loved. You see, God’s provision is always there, but when you are in it, you may not see it. The Lord has been faithful to help me recall the provision of this journey in the time that followed my mom’s death.”
Grief and suffering also brought with it an endless list of losses. With the loss of her mom, there were the losses leading up to her passing and the losses that continue day after day.
“There are so many losses,” Danielle explained. “What we could do and couldn’t do. The loss of my mom’s voice, her hug, the role reversal of taking care of the woman who has always been the one caring. I began one on one counseling; working through trauma of what the caretaking and this disease process had cost me personally and emotionally. Trauma from loss and suffering must be attended to. For me, counseling was a strategic coping mechanism that allowed me to get in touch with where I was and how to continue to walk this journey out.”
Along with counseling, the Lord provided other tools and help for Danielle and her family as they walked with grief. The first Thanksgiving and Christmas after her mom’s passing, she and her sisters went to GriefShare’s Surviving the Holidays and found it vital and supportive.
“It was a place for everyone at different grief places,” Danielle recalled her first time there two years ago. “It offered community with others who know loss. It was great.”
Danielle realized even more so the importance of community.
“We were committed to staying with our closest friends through our City Group at church. They were with us the day she was diagnosed, and the same women were there with me the day my mom went to Heaven. This is the beautiful, sacred part of the Body of Christ. It was and is a vital part of my healing. You must find your safe people, and never let them go.”
“Also, when we grieve, there is a temptation to feel shame and to shut down,” Danielle said. “We need to lament and try to be honest with people who ask. It’s also okay to not want to share when you don’t have the margin. But when you do, there is freedom. If we choose to hold hands with Jesus, walking through grief, there will be freedom there. But if we deny it, pretend in our grief, there will be shame and unintended emotions which then leads to more damage. Be vulnerable with others. Tell them ‘hey, I’m really sad today, could you pray for me? I’m a little mad at God today, could you help me?’ Our goal is to go through grief and to grieve well and to heal and not to put on a band-aid quickly and do it with SAFE people who point you to Jesus and truth.”
There are other tools Danielle has found helpful. One is journaling (you can rip it up especially when you are angry), working out, being outside, calling the ones that loss the same mom (sisters) to share the sadness. The Book of Psalms in the Bible has been a balm to Danielle’s open wounds and an easy go-to when she didn’t feel like opening her bible but knew she needed to.
Grief has also given her eyes to look to heaven more regularly.
“Heaven is so much more exciting and so much more real; and whatever we go through, makes it worth it,” Danielle exclaimed with intention. “My mom is not here, and I miss her and want her here; but that’s the reality of eternal life. Our hearts are set for eternity. We go through loss knowing the hope of eternity. Jesus has overcome the world. If you don’t know Jesus, know that you don’t have to do this life alone. You weren’t created to do loss or grief alone. You have a Good Shepherd who wants to come alongside you and help you.”
If you are in a place of grief, may these words remind you that Jesus is and will be sufficient. Jesus provides a community of people who want to walk alongside you before, during, and after the seasons of grief. That is the Lord’s provision for all who go through life and especially through grief. Jesus is our breath and our living hope no matter what tomorrow holds. Danielle, with her breath given by the Lord for each day, is singing of His goodness.
For more information on Citylight Care Groups, visit citylightomaha.org/caregroups.