the day I met grief

Before my mom could finish her sentence, I felt my body crumble and heard my voice wail. I was prepared for bad news because of her urgent text, but I wasn’t prepared for this. I didn’t know grief until yesterday, not like this.

“William was killed in a car accident…”

A new gravity crushed my limbs closer to the earth and a new sadness stretched my soul straight apart. And somewhere, I could hear Patrick still on the phone with my mom on speaker and I think she said, “We are praying for you both.” In her wisdom, she refused to tell me the bad news until I was with Patrick. She insisted that Christina, James, and Carly drop all plans to meet our parents in person to hear the news. All sorts of scenarios played out in my head in those hours before I was with Patrick again. None of those scenarios was this.

The silence hurt as much as the sobs and both felt like poor efforts to make anything “better.” That’s the finality of death, I guess. It can’t be made any different than what it is.

William’s joy for building projects and free car repairs and being everyone’s biggest fan was something that challenged the idea of a “man’s man.” He wasn’t too strong to be sensitive or too confident to ask questions. He was the best bargain shopper I know (maybe only second to my dad), but he was also one of the most compassionate and generous. I always wondered if part of the motivation for a better bargain was because it made him better able to be a benefactor.

His love for his wife, Grace, was rich with whimsy and deep with sweet service. They loved each other so well and we were excited to learn about marriage from them and with them. They both made the other better reflect the Creator and I so desperately want the same for our marriage. There are too many lessons to remember, really. How could William cram so much goodness into 27 years and how can it feel like I am already forgetting?

“He was so useful for the kingdom… I don’t understand… It doesn’t make sense.”
“It probably never will, Care….”

Everything got truncated and the day gave way to a long prayer walk in the park. We prayed and walked and prayed and walked and we didn’t try to figure anything out.

And still nothing is figured out in the thunderstorm underneath my ribcage, not really. Why don’t more people get to meet him? Why don’t more people get to know his generosity and compassion and heart of service? Why don’t we have the chance to get lost in laughter or get lost on highways or get lost in thought with this man one more time?

Why did I get to know this incredible man for 27 years and why don’t I get to know him on this earth anymore?

Yesterday was the worst day of my life, but God was not defeated.

Yesterday was mostly phone calls and sobs and silence and hugs and “I love yous.” But, yesterday was also something we would never expect so soon. We felt, so close and so sure, the absolute importance of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because before time began Christ conquered yesterday completely. He chose William before the foundations of the world to be His child and that means that my brother is now in his forever home.

In William’s death (even as I struggle to get these words out), we claim God’s precious promise that Christ has made him alive forever. The beauty of it shatters my soul where the thunderstorm rages underneath my ribcage.

riding bulls

All we know is that Christ is not less victorious because of William’s death. And William, one of the strongest men I will ever know, can now boast in a strength that defeated his grave. William is now in the presence of the Lord, where his strength is joy and pleasures forevermore.

It seems backwards and sideways and disrespectful to speak about joy when my brother/best friend from high school will never sit around another fire at family vacation or go on another backpacking adventure with his wife or offer to help whoever is standing in front of him in need.

But more devastating than even William’s death is the kind of eternal separation that our sin warrants. This is what the Israelites realized in Nehemiah. They understood, in the same place where the thunderstorm rages under my ribcage, the impossible chasm they had created by their sin. God, in His grace, gave them these words in verse 10:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Yesterday, my mom left a message on my phone while she was on layover in the Houston airport. Her voice was clear and her tone was assured. She had met an angel, she said, a little girl who was singing about God’s love never changing and about “tears coming in the night but joy coming in the morning.” The Lord gave such a precious gift in this message (He even sent an angel with perfect pitch!). Then she told me that the verse I had texted her (Nehemiah 8:10) was the verse God gave her after my nephew Isaac died. She had wrestled that joy and finally understood that strength comes from being in the presence of God because that’s where joy is found.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

If you do not know how to get into the presence of the Lord, this is the most important question in your life today as much as it is mine. We need His presence for joy because we need His joy for strength. There is nothing more pressing, no work more important, and no task with more priority. Concern yourself with joy and there you will find strength.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. I’m probably not supposed to be writing yet, either. I guess I’m supposed to be getting to know grief and that takes awhile. But I don’t know who makes up the “supposes” and I could only sleep about four hours last night because of all these words rumbling around in my soul.

All the commotion that summer stirs up in the city gets silent on a Sunday at 6 am when it is raining. But then, the rain stopped and the clouds parted and the light came in through the stained glass at church with the sounds of the train. Why did the rain stop, I wanted to say, doesn’t it know that William is gone? Why did the clouds part, I wanted to ask, don’t they know that William’s perfect witty remarks won’t be the reply all in the family email chain? Why did the light play with colors on church windows, I wanted to whisper, doesn’t it know the world feels less beautiful without him here?

We took communion through tears – the bread and the cup that symbolize that Christ conquered William’s death and death altogether. We recited the Apostles’ Creed together with our church and I choked out the last lines, “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.”

Because it is good to remember the resurrection on days like today. It is good to remember that there is a place prepared for those who have been called in Christ, those who have responded to God’s offer of ultimate love in His Son.

Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

55 thoughts on “the day I met grief

  1. I sat in a worship service miles away from all Nichols, with tears coming and going . . But mostly coming. Blessed by the ‘beyond imagination thoughts’ of William in Jesus’ presence. Aching for your family, each one, and thinking about each of you and where you might be . . . Surrounded by the family of God? Embracing one another in California? Grieving and yet not without hope! Please, know that we love you all and pray fervently for God’s grace and comfort.

    1. Karol, thank you. God is so good. In this, He is making Himself known in a bigger and more beautiful way than any of us could have ever orchestrated. He is sovereign. I think of all Terry’s sermons on sovereignty and cling to the joy of knowing that God is planning such marvelous things for the kingdom through this. He is loving us and loving others and loving those who walked away and ran away and those who never came to Him – through this He is drawing them to Himself.

  2. My heart goes out to the Nichols’, Beckers, and all families. Loss like this hurts for a time, but God will turn the mourning into rejoicing. Love and prayers for all. Beautifully written Caroline!!

  3. Caroline and family…prayers come your way for continued daily strength and fortitude in the faith we share in Jesus Our Lord and Saviour. You found what you need for both now and forever in speaking and responding to…. Joy coming in the morning……
    for it is only in that Joy (Jesus-Others-You) and you yourself applying that joy to everything now….that you can share that Joy of Jesus even now in your sorrow.
    From the first scripture you joyfully memorized….the Joy on your face that day :)….became buried like a treasure in your heart….comes alive because of His Love that He (Jesus) gave us in His death and resurrection on the cross…..
    loved you then….love you now….and get to love you for an eternity!
    Your friend in Christ…LeAnn Hawthorne 🙂

    1. This is beautiful, LeAnn. Thank you for your words and especially for Scripture. It is so true that God has hidden His word in our hearts so that we remember that He is good, He is sovereign, and He is perfectly taking care of His children. He is enjoying the presence of one of His awesome creations in heaven right now and my brother is delighting to be home. To God be the glory.

  4. I do not know your pain….but I know the pain of having someone you love ripped from your life in an instant. Your faith and the prayers of those you love will carry you. I will be one of the Warriors on my knees. I love you, sweet girl.

    1. Tami, your words are such comfort because I know you are no stranger to pain. God is so good to show us His love and grace in this time. Thank you for praying!

  5. Though we’ve never met, I’m sending a hug and praying on your family’s behalf. Your words pay a wonderful tribute to William, and point people to Christ. May you continue to experience God’s comforting presence and strength as you walk this out.

  6. Oh Caroline, our hearts break for/with you. Praise to the Father for rushing to you with such beautiful clarity at this moment in your grief. I know He will shepherd you every step of your journey…
    Ephesians 3:14-19
    14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

    1. Thank you so much for your words and especially for Scripture. The God of peace is surrounding us with His presence, lifting us up with His Word, and reminding us of the forever He has prepared. To God be the glory.

  7. Caroline, my heart goes out to you and your family. You have strength that only Jesus provides at times such as these. May he continue to wrap your family in his loving embrace.

  8. This very post will get you through each day…it is HIS gift back to you. Read it as often as you can amidst the clouds, tears, and confusion…His words here will get you through it all. Lots of love and a huge hug to you!

  9. grief has a way of working itself into our lives when we never want it to; it’s a raw emotion that shatters and aches every portion of your heart and body. I am praying for moments of stillness and assurance in the darkness of the storm for you and your family!

    1. Thank you for praying. Grief is persistent, but we are not resisting it. We are so much more aware of God’s provision when we step fully into our sorrow and feel His peace.

    1. Thank you so much, Rich. God is glorified as His message of hope reaches further than our little lives ever could. William is ministering in his death because the grave cannot hold the message of Christ’s life. Amen, glory to God.

  10. i’m sorry for your loss, and i admire your strength during such a storm of emotions. My prayers go out to you and your family.

    1. Thank you, Ian. May God be glorified by our peace in the middle of sorrow. God is so good, so very good to provide more and abundantly more than we need because He gives us Himself.

  11. Lots of prayers, lots of memories… I don’t know many families that are as close as you Nichols clan. I haven’t spoken to any of you in years but I feel this grief with you. Hang in there lady!

    1. Thank you, Chelsie. Please come to the memorial on Friday and/or the visitation on Thursday to celebrate his life. We love him, but we want everyone to know that we are not without hope. We really believe God conquered Will’s death on the cross and William would want everyone to know that there is hope.

  12. Caroline , Thank you for your words. You are living out Jesus words in Matthew 5:4 “..blessed are those who mourn…”. Unless you object I would like to pass along your blog to my congregation. I asked them for their prayers yesterday and it seems faithful today to pass along the truth of Christ through your blog. Lord have mercy , Uncle Dave

  13. Caroline, my heart hurts so much for you and your family. I wish it made more sense and wish I had the words. I will be lifting you, Patrick, and your whole family up in prayer through this time. I love y’all.

    1. Justin. This is the worst and hardest thing, but I am learning the depth of God’s grace and strength. It is endless. Tell everyone you know today that God’s strength is endless and you must go to the cross to know Him. This is so urgent.

  14. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. A beautifully written blog about your brother. Hard to read through tears, I am Praying for you and your family. (((((Hugs))))))
    Tamara’s mom

    1. Robyn, thank you so much for your words and encouragement. Please know that we do not grieve without hope. William’s death is the worst day in our lives, but it is a reminder to each of us that God is not defeated in death. We are rejoicing that William is alive forever in heaven and we know that for sure. We are praying that others might find the hope he had and the hope we now cling to.

  15. I’m so sorry for your loss of your brother Caroline. William will be missed by many thoughts & prayers to your family

      1. Thank you so much, Sara. Please join us for the memorial on Friday and/or the visitation on Thursday in Atlantic. We are so ready to celebrate the life of such an amazing man.

  16. Caroline, I am an old friend of your aunt, Allison Greenwald. She shared the news of your brother’s death with me today as well as your blog post. My heart is aching for you and the whole Nichols family. Your blog post was a beautiful, timely and profound expression of grief and hope. Thank you.
    ~ Ellen Montei

    1. Ellen, Allison spoke of you often. Thank you for your words and your encouragement and your prayers. We are so confident that God is reaching out further than our lives ever could to proclaim the mystery of the hope we have. It doesn’t make any sense except that Christ died so that we may experience resurrection. William is experiencing that in the presence of Jesus today and we are so grateful to share his story.

    1. Thank you, Terri. Please join us for the visitation and/or memorial this Thursday and Friday in Atlantic. We are looking forward to celebrating the life of such an amazing man.

  17. Caroilne- I’m a family friend (a high school classmate of your aunts Allison and Amy) but I never had the chance to know your brother William – although I’m sure we met at some point over the years. But your beautiful post helps all of us – even people who never met him – know at least something about what made him such a unique and precious man of God. Thank you for sharing about your beloved brother- and thank you, too, for sharing your grief. Please know that literally thousands of people …. most of whom you don’t even know …. are holding you and your whole family in love and prayer, and are sharing your grief. God bless.

    1. Greg, I know you well (though we may not have officially met). Thank you for your words. We are truly overwhelmed with the weight – not exactly of his death, but of the message we feel burdened to bring to the world about his life, the life he lives now forever with the Lord in heaven. We want others to know about that kind of forever life through Jesus Christ.

  18. Caroline: You don’t know me, but I know your sweet family (immediate and extended), as I grew up in Atlantic, Iowa. I was so saddened to hear of the loss of William for your family. As I read through several of your past posts here, I kept coming back to the Col. 1:17 verse that you cite when writing your wedding vows to each other: “In Christ all things are held together.” What powerful truth and comfort that is! I know I have personally lived that truth. In lean times and fat, in joy and sorrow, if Christ is the cornerstone I have nothing to fear and such assurances to cling to. I’m thrilled to find your blog. It would be an honor to continue to support your entire family in prayer as you navigate this new, never ending journey of missing William until we are all called home.

    1. Thank you for your words and thank you for reminding me of the truth that is just as true today as it was when the words were written. Christ holds all things together. He is holding us together today and I can tell you with the most honest heart that this is true. We are praising God that this is true and we want so much for others to know that in this truth (that Christ holds all things together) there is hope.

  19. Dear Caroline,

    We don’t know each other but I was also a Skinny Dip Blogger. Meghan French pointed me to this post. Just wanted to say thank you for your bravery. Your courage and your choice to declare Christus Victor is so beautiful. Thank you for encouraging and shining and beaming bright light on my faith today. Just from the photos I can see your brothers infectious joy. Praying for your family and his wife. Thank you Lord that your love wins and that you have conquered death for us all.

  20. Caroline, you don’t know me, but I knew your brother. My sister, Lena Rystrom, is Grace’s best friend and is traveling out to Iowa with her tomorrow. I want you to know that the minute we found out, my whole family has been praying for your family and Grace’s family. My heart is so heavy for you all, and while I don’t really have the words, I want you to know how much we are sorry for your loss. We will continue to pray. Thank you for so bravely articulating your heart in this horrific event, and your faith in Christ. So so powerful, I cried because of the situation, but was also filled with JOY because of your words. Thank you for sharing. Many prayers coming your way:) love Katie

    1. Katie, thank you so much for your words and your prayers. The Lord is good and we are holding on to his joy. Keep praying and loving Grace. We are hurting for her and believing God will be her joy.

  21. My darling, I do not know you but I knew grace in college. I am grieving wholeheartedly with you in this time. I am no stranger to grief, but cannot begin to fathom how deep you are grieving right now. Be strong and courageous, for The Lord himself goes before you in this time and always.

    With a broken heart but a hopeful spirit,

    Mandie Sattler

  22. Thank you for this, As we walk through life we get feel that things in our life are going bad, and then something unexpected happens that brings all of our cares into focus… Oneday we will all be faced with our own mortality, and at that point that we are translated to the great beyond and stand befor God, what is our response at the point… “Yes” I am a child or the final rejection of a life lived in complete defience of the saving grace of Jesus Christ!
    It does my heart good to know that Wil’s life was not wasted. May God bless you and your family through this time!

    Tyler’s Dad

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