October 26th, 2016, marks the fourth anniversary of Kristen's death. She revised the letter below in February 2012.
Dear loved ones,
As I write this I admit feeling a little sad. Sad because my greatest earthly desire was to grow old with Deric … 17 years of marriage was not nearly long enough. Sad because it is a mother’s job to be there to comfort her child when that child experiences her first broken heart, or when he sits on the bench during a much-anticipated game. Sad because my heart hurts to think I will not be there to share in my children’s joys and inevitable accomplishments, their weddings, or for the births of their own children. Sad to leave my mom and my sister with yet another loss after the premature death of my dad. Despite the sadness this illness has brought, when I consider my life I quickly realize that God has blessed me abundantly … how can I feel anything except overwhelming thankfulness?
Sometimes there are television shows that teach us something meaningful about life & offer nuggets of truth that we can tuck away. Downton Abbey is one of those for me. [Spoiler Alert for anyone who has not watched the Season 4 Premier as there will be scenes I talk about specifically.]
One of the primary characters named Mary (pictured left above) is six months widowed. On the day she gave birth to her first born son, her husband Matthew died in a car accident. About a year ago, Branson (pictured right above) lost his wife Sybil, Mary's sister, during the birth of their daughter. Grief & loss is a common theme in this first 2 hour episode of Downton & the paradox of joy in the midst of suffering
Kristen Milligan passed away one year ago tomorrow. She was a truly amazing person and my very best friend. One of her favorite verses is found in James 1:2-4 and she referenced it often in her speaking engagements, books, and daily life. This is what it says in the modern day Message translation of the bible:
"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."
One day someone asked me if I was interested in sponsoring a candle for the upcoming Relay for Life event in honor or memory of someone with cancer. Afraid to answer, I simply agreed and took the paperwork home. I asked myself, “Do I know anyone with cancer?” Nobody in my family had cancer, none of my friends had cancer, none of my friends’ family members had cancer. I didn’t know anyone with cancer. But they made it seem like I should?
In the first chapter of his Gospel, John gives an account of how Jesus selects the apostles. Interesting approach – John doesn’t give an account of each apostle’s first encounter with Jesus. Instead, he focuses on four – Andrew (Peter), Simon, Philip, and Nathanael.
Nathanael first hears about Jesus from Philip, who tells him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael’s response is shocking – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Doubt. Nathanael was saying, “I doubt it!” He was questioning. He could not believe. This was impossible.
Doubt. What is it, and how is it able to, so easily, grab hold of us? Twist our thoughts? Fill us with dread and anxiety?
This morning I woke up to a very dense fog. It was so foggy, in fact, that I could not see my next door neighbor's house. I knew that it would not remain like that forever but it sure was gloomy and difficult to get on with the day when I couldn't see past my front yard.
I knew the sun was still shining somewhere beyond the dense cloud cover. I didn't doubt it's existence or the power that it had to heat the day and light up all the shadows. But while the fog was sitting heavy it was very difficult to imagine a beautiful day.
Now is the time of year when we consider all that the past year held for us, and ponder what the year ahead will bring. This can stir up a vast array of emotions . . . hope, worry, excitement, fear, gratitude, fatigue, doubt, peace, longing, joy . . . sometimes several at once.
Kristen Milligan "With Open Hands" at 2011 NYC IOH Retreat
With Open Hands: Part 1
A few years ago I was in a book study with a few people who read the book “With Open Hands” by Henri Nouwen. I was a new mom at the time with my first son about 15 months old. He was at that “separation anxiety” stage where he clung to me every time the threat of me leaving him arose. When I started the book it was a confusing time for me with this baby boy of mine needing me so much on a daily basis, yet I was learning about having “open hands”. This normal developmental stage of course eventually passed, but while we were “in it” life was a day to day trial and error experiment of how much to let go & how much to let him cling to me.
I’m sure some of you relate to this idea of attempting to strike a balance between learning to let go & keeping loved ones close. It’s not an easy task, that I think I will struggle with possibly for my entire life, especially in regards to my little ones.
Today we grieve the death of Kristen Milligan, co-founder of Inheritance of Hope. Kristen died on Friday, October 26, 2012. Hers was a life well-lived.
After retiring from her first career of training guide dogs for the visually impaired and deaf-blind to become a full-time mom, Kristen was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer in stage 4 on March 18, 2003 -- her 30th birthday. For the next 10 years, Kristen was dedicated to helping families navigate life-threatening illnesses, beginning with her own children. She wrote A Train's Rust, A Toy Maker's Love to communicate about illness and death with her then four-year-old daughter Ashlea, two-year-old son Luke, and seven-month-old daughter Rebecca. She wrote another book for children and one for adults about her experiences. Kristen also was a poised speaker who shared her story with audiences around the United States and internationally.
Earlier this week, my family and I were walking on the grounds of a chapel in St. Augustine, FL. While strolling through this beautifully manicured piece of our nation's history, I came across a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, who is highly revered in the Catholic church. Next to the statue was a prayer that is often associated with St.Francis. As I read the prayer, my heart was immediately grabbed by how closely this prayer parallels the heartfelt service offered by Inheritance of Hope volunteers.