I’m CSPC member Rocky Walters, and this is how I’m living deeply.
You walk by her bedroom and think, ‘She’s never coming back.’ The things we did together, we will never do again. Losing Karras, our 24-year-old daughter, was such a visceral pain. When somebody says, ‘I can’t imagine’- you can’t imagine. You just can’t. I couldn’t. This is the worst it can be. You lose your parents, may lose your spouse, and that’s very hard, but that’s the natural progression of things. Not this. Karras was so kind to everybody, kindness without qualification. There were no biases. The one young lady who stuck with her through all her chemo treatment until she passed was of Asian descent. Afterward, this friend came and visited my wife, Nancy, and me a couple of times. I asked her how she came to bond with Karras. She said, ‘When we were in middle school, Karras and her friends were eating lunch. Karras saw I was eating by myself, so she came over and asked if I’d like to eat with them.’ That started a friendship with her and the other girls. Karras’s nature was to be very kind and giving. The personal qualities that matter most, she had the best of them. And she was tough, as we’d see in the closing month of 2009 and first half of 2010. She came home from college for Christmas break, saying, ‘I’ve got these sores on my legs, and they’re just not healing up. Maybe some exercise will make me feel better’. In our home at that time, we had kind of turned our third floor into a little exercise area. She went up there, exercised, then came downstairs. As I saw her going into her bedroom, I asked, ‘Did you have a good workout?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I guess, but I just feel tired.’ I went to the door of her room just in time to see her fall over and faint. I had a hard time reviving her but finally got her up in her bed, and she snapped out of it. Nancy came home and took her to the doctor. They did some blood work and told her, ‘You need to go to the hospital immediately.’ Her red blood cells were severely diminished. We started a few weeks of transfusions and testing. Finally, they said, ‘We believe she’s got leukemia.’
The afternoon that we got the official leukemia diagnosis, Karras came to me, gave me a hug, and said, ‘Dad, this means I’m going to lose my hair and die.’ I said, ‘No, we’re going to fight this, we’ll get through it.’ We talked for a bit and then she went to bed. At that point I was talking to God: ‘Why Karras?’ I cannot tell you how clear, audible, and immediate this was, but I heard Him say, ‘Nothing I haven’t done with my own Son.’ Almost a father-to-father answer, albeit His on a much higher order. From that point forward, I never questioned ‘Why her?’ again. She battled it for most of six months. Much of that time was in a hospital. She went through three rounds of chemo. The last one was a pretty heavy dose. She never got that recovery time she needed in her compromised state and became septic. That is how she passed. She never acknowledged she was dying until three days before she passed. That day, in intensive care, she gave Nancy and me a hug and said, ‘Mom and Dad, thanks for everything.’ And ‘thanks for everything’ was not thanks for dinner- it was, ‘Thanks for what you did with me in my life.’ That was the context we took it in because we knew she knew she would be leaving us. Those turned out to be her last words. From there, Nancy and I both finally prayed, ‘Your will be done- it’s okay. We’ll keep in the game here, but we are absolutely, completely turning it over to You.’ We’d seen this normally very active girl battle and battle so hard in this bed- and turn 24 in the hospital. Now she was exhausted, fading, barely hanging on. The day of her passing, June 1, 2010, we knew when the day started that the moment we’d dreaded was coming. The doctor gave her 24 hours. I was in a recliner next to her bed that night. Nancy was in a chair, leaned over, holding Karras’s arm. It was right around 4 am when I awoke and looked at her vitals displayed on the wall to see there was no heartbeat. The vitals said she still had oxygen content for another moment, but my little girl was on her way home. So, I was awakened right at the moment when she passed, and I don’t think that was a coincidence.
The first couple weeks or so after Karras died, I went through this period of numbness. I thought I was a pretty darn strong person, but there was nothing that could affect me more than this. Nothing. She and I had a special bond. When things were really going bad, I could go and talk to her, and they weren’t as bad anymore. How do you go on living when someone you’ve poured your life into is gone so young? I was showing up for work, going through the motions. At night we had dinner and then I read and prayed until I fell asleep. On weekends I added a more significant amount of prayer time to the regimen. I did what I had to, then prayed and read. My initial thought was, ‘I want to learn as much as I can about where she is.’ So I started buying a bunch of books about Heaven, and they weren’t really that fulfilling. I moved past those pretty quickly, then started to get into some of the more classical works. To this day, C. S. Lewis is one of my absolute favorites. I consumed his writings, and then I read books on pain and suffering- all the while looking to the Bible for cross referencing. For almost a year and a half, during the most gut-wrenching sorrow and emotional pain of my life, I survived by reading all the best spiritual works I could. Outside of my employment, that was it. There were no other interests or efforts to any degree. I cannot tell you what the weather was during that time, how my favorite football team played, or what the general world events were. It was a season of spiritual education and dialogue in prayer. Slowly, the healing was coming. Through this mixture of education, prayer, and meditation, I was being taught and cared for, and it changed me and my way of looking at things.
When I was right in the height of all this, I noticed I looked at people differently. I thought the best of them and liked them immediately without reservation; gave them the benefit of the doubt, almost like a spiritual love without condition. In this grief, God was rewiring my heart. Maybe I was seeing others more like He did; that was what it felt like. But there’s no question I now move toward helping others when before I would’ve shied away. I believe this is one huge reason God allows pain and suffering: It is for our growth. There were many areas where I needed to learn submission to His will to develop into who I think He wants me to be. But the catalyst for considerable growth was a considerable discomfort. We’re on a journey for growth here, and we must experience pain to grow. The pain is an attention-getter; it causes us to recoil and reset our thinking. Through physical and emotional setbacks, we move closer to God- seeing, feeling, and wanting more of Him. Pain moves us toward Him, and extreme pain has us living with Him. At least it did me until I could walk again, until I could be somewhat whole. I came out of it better for the experience. It was part of His plan perfectly tailored for my growth.
One takeaway from all this for me is: When a serious trial happens to you, I don’t think you question or fight it. I think you lean into Him and let the Spirit guide you. Listen intently to that small voice that nudges us. Respond to the nudges, keep reaching for Him. Let Him take you through the trials of the season and help you with His plan specifically designed for you. I know that may be hard to do, and I sure don’t totally understand it. But I know that when He allows the pain and suffering, it is with a greater knowledge in view of more wonderful joys to come than we could ever comprehend as we move closer to Him. Flowing out of that truth, another takeaway for me is to be careful with judgment of the Creator. This was a struggle for my own 74-year-old (at the time) father when Karras died. He asked me why God would allow this. I couldn’t articulate it very well, but my simple, unthoughtful immediate response was because God knew it was the right thing to do. After research, thoughtful examination, and listening to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, my response would now be, ‘He allows pain and suffering because He IS a kind and loving God.’ I am 100% sure of our Creator and His love for us. My life has been created for me by Him and it is perfectly suited for what I need (Romans 8:18). The harder acknowledgement is that my daughter’s life was perfect for her also. I am blessed beyond measure in that knowledge. Because of pain, I am a better soul.