18: My Daughter, Rose

18: My Daughter, Rose

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

My Daughter, Rose

Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.

~Author Unknown

I sat by my dear daughter, Rose, as she lay reclining next to me, eyes closed and a peaceful expression on her face. I held her hand and stroked her hair softly and told her how much I loved her. After a while, there was a slight commotion in the room and voices speaking in Russian, a language I was in the process of learning but which I didn’t understand well as yet. Then someone spoke in English, “It’s time to go. They need to cremate the bodies now.”

I recoiled in horror. How could anyone even suggest taking my darling daughter and burning her in a fire! The very thought was utterly appalling to me! But then another voice cut into my thoughts: “They are not here.” It was the voice of Rose’s father-in-law and I immediately knew that he was referring to heaven and reminding us of our belief that our dear ones—Rose, her husband Piper, and their son Sean—were no longer occupying the three bodies that were laid out there side by side in their coffins, but had left this world for a better place.

“Are you in a place where you can sit down?” my mother-in-law had gently asked my husband, Ken, over the phone hardly even a week ago. She had then proceeded to tell us the terrible news—that our 26-year-old daughter was dead, along with her 26-year-old husband and their three-year-old son. They had been driving on an icy highway outside a remote city in Siberia on their way home from snowboarding in the mountains, when their car had skidded out of control on the ice and collided with a bus.

The news had been so unbelievable and unexpected that it had been hard for our minds to take in—like someone telling us that the sky is green or that grass is purple. We had simply sat collapsed on a bench outside the bookshop where we had been shopping when the phone call came, and we struggled to regain some kind of equilibrium in a world that was spinning out of focus. Ken and I were actually on a short vacation at the time, which is why the news of our loved ones’ deaths was first told to my husband’s parents, they being the only people that the American Embassy in Russia were able to contact at that time.

It had been a very difficult year for us, and everyone had advised us to get away for a few days to rest. We had driven from our home in Boston to a small town in rural Pennsylvania to spend a few days enjoying the quiet countryside. Four months earlier, one of our other daughters, Lillie, had been involved in a car crash in Boston when a drunk driver had come speeding out of a side street in the early hours of the morning and hit the car she was driving, resulting in the tragic death of one of the passengers, and injuring the four others, including Lillie. She was the most seriously hurt but miraculously survived a delicate brain surgery and was finally on the road to recovery after a very difficult convalescence.

Now here we were again, facing another tragedy. Those words—“They are not here”—pierced my consciousness and at that moment, I wasn’t even sure if I believed in heaven anymore. In that instant, it was as though everything I had ever believed in was swept away like a computer that suddenly crashes, or like a movie that abruptly stops in the middle of the action, and you are left with only static and swirling dots.

I had always believed in God, except for a few years during my youth when I had rejected my childhood beliefs and had declared myself an atheist. But then my life had taken some surprising turns and I had grown to love God with all my heart and had spent many years living in Latin America and later in Siberia as a missionary with my husband and our six children. I couldn’t imagine not believing in heaven after having lived in dangerous situations and depending on God for everything, and seeing so many miracles through the years. But here I was, deeply concerned about Rose and her family and knowing that their future and their happiness and wellbeing depended on there being an afterlife. Suddenly everything I had been so sure of seemed to have been swept away.

As I stood there at that moment, it occurred to me that my faith in God had always been connected to the Bible, so I tried to think of a Bible verse about heaven. I thought of the verse in John 3:16 which says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” I pondered this verse for a moment and asked myself, “Do I really believe this, or are these just nice words?” Then another thought came to me, “You have a choice. You can choose to believe this or you can choose not to believe it. It’s your choice.” So in that moment, I responded, “I choose to believe,” and immediately, I felt a gentle peace surrounding and supporting me, something that, to this day, has always stayed with me.

After we left that place, we all went outside and walked around and around the block. Everything was so cold and drab. We were all in a daze. Actually, we were waiting for the bodies to be cremated, and trying to keep ourselves moving about and warm while we waited. It was impossible for us to bring the bodies all the way back to the States to be buried, so we had opted to have our loved ones cremated in Russia so we could bring their ashes in urns back with us to be buried.

Finally, we were taken in a few vehicles to where the accident had taken place. The road was so lonely and empty. Hardly any vehicles passed by while we were there. It was hard to believe that there could have even been a bus coming at the very moment when they had spun out of control. We saw all the debris at the side of the road scattered in the snow. Up on a little hillside in the background, someone had placed a wreath of flowers in memory of our children.

I tried to imagine how it had been for Rose and her family to crash out there in the middle of nowhere and leave this world in such a remote corner of the earth. Suddenly as I was looking at the wreath of flowers, I saw the sun setting behind it and the sun’s rays shone down directly on it and formed a crisscross of rays around the wreath. I grabbed my camera to catch this beautiful sight. Piper’s brother noticed it the same moment as I did, and he too snatched up his camera to capture this picture. It came to me like a beautiful promise—that even there in the middle of nowhere, God’s love and light had been surrounding them and had carried them safely through the tragedy and on to a better place.

That night we traveled on a train from Novokuznetsk to Novosibirsk where Rose and Piper and little Sean had lived as missionaries and humanitarian aid workers. I stood in the corridor of the train, gazing out the window at the birch trees and snow in the darkness, and poured out my thoughts to God. I felt as though He responded by assuring me not to worry about Rose and Piper and Sean because they were happy and had gone on to a new life, but that I needed rather to focus my attention on caring for our other children and helping them through the days ahead.

In Novosibirsk, we had a memorial service and it was so touching to see so many dear Russian people who expressed their love and appreciation for Rose and Piper and Sean, who had lived among them for the past several years, and had loved and helped so many. I couldn’t help but think that despite their short lives, Rose and Piper had lived life to the fullest. Even though they had only lived 26 years on this earth, who was I to decide how long a lifetime should be?

I am so thankful for Rose and Piper and Sean and the wonderful times we shared when they were here with us. Often I feel the presence of Rose, close to me. And heaven is no longer an abstract place to me. It seems much more real now and I look forward to going there someday when my time on this earth comes to an end. In the meantime, I love life and I want to live each day, loving the people around me, my children and grandchildren, and God.

~Laraine Paquette

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