Marcia Gaddis lost her 27-year-old daughter, Megan to a rare disease, Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease. During the journey Marcia posted journal entries on CarePages, an online community for families coping with illness. This stream of writing as a healing tool went beyond Megan’s illness and death to a rich story about faith when life falls apart. Marcia’s award-winning book, When God Comes Near, chronicles her heart-felt cries to God in the midst of the journey.
MG: In September, 2008, my 27– year-old daughter died from an extremely rare and fatal disease. While she was diagnosed in June of 2007 and given 4-6 months to live, God allowed her to linger with us for fifteen months. God spared her from knowing that she was dying and spared her from some of the frightening symptoms of the disease. And He gave me words to write on a website that informed loved ones weekly about our journey. It became a journey of hope and healing. I found God giving me words about my garden, or the night sky, or a conversation. I spoke little of Megan but a lot about her faith, her prayer journals, and her love for Jesus.
God made his presence known in my writing. I would often wait a day to edit before posting and when I would reread I would cry because I knew this writing was not from me, but from a greater source. I just happened to be able to type fast, somehow capturing my pain in print, finding acceptance and healing and hope along the way.
Was this an unexpected coping mechanism or had you used writing as a healing tool in the past?
I worked for a private Christian school in Atlanta, in advancement office where I did creative writing. A friend suggested I post updates on a website to keep people updated. Megan had tons of friends. In doing that, I didn’t realize what was happening. I thought I was giving simple updates. The writing took on a mind of its own, became something bigger than me.
As Megan’s death drew closer, I wrote more and more about nature and observations and creation or a conversation…since her death the writing has gotten stronger, clearer, more thought provoking. It was helpful to other people but it was God taking me by hand and saying I’m going to be your strength through words while u do this.
The writing continues to heal me, as I edit down and pare out unnecessary words. I sit and cry myself when I read them, thinking I don’t know how I did this. By the grace of God, by him filling me up with mental energy that kept me with just enough strength to get through the week. I started to wane and then I would sit down and write again. Like a filling-up each week to pour into someone else. It’s a real mystery.
There is a hope that permeates your writing. A hope for Megan’s healing carried you through some dark patches, and a hope for Megan in general. Did writing help you uncover or process that hope?
Writing helped me process. I never thought of the writing as a healing tool until I looked back. Now almost a year since Megan’s death, as I reread and look to publish much of the writing, I realize it was God’s healing tool for me then – and now. I have read and re-read my journal entries – now over 100 – and see the transformation of pain to hope not just for me for those who follow the writing. For me, it was a gift that I accepted, opened, used, and continue to use. I am so thankful for it and wonder at this gift that keeps on giving. It is mysterious, transformational, and challenging.
I’ve always been a person with a lot of hope. A lot of hope for today, tomorrow, for eternity. I was growing a lot in my faith prior to Megan’s illness, trying to memorize scripture, trying to focus on that passage in Romans 12:1, being a living sacrifice for God and I had been mulling over a handout about all the things we should, based on this scripture, be willing to give to God. One of those was my health, the health of my children, my life itself. So, I was practicing doing that.
I thought Lord some of these are easy. I can surrender my right to be right, but give you my children? I’m not so sure I can give up my hopes and dreams for their future. God sorta pulled me aside and said, here’s what I want you to do.
Megan started having strange symptoms. It was unbelievable the way God carried me all the way thru her hospital stays (brief until they got diagnosis) bringing her home when she looked absolutely normal at that time (except for a little spaciness). The whole thing was hard to believe and we hoped for a miracle. We just knew God would heal this child who loved Jesus more than anything and we simply could not fathom that He was going to allow her to go all the way to death to this life at such a young age.
I knew that for Megan, if she did die, she was in heaven with her lord and savior. For Christians, that is such a wonderful hope. It was a win win. Either he gives us back to us or he takes her on to be with him. And that’s what he did. And I would love to have her back. I know that because of the way he ordered this life, she is in a far better place and I have hope for that place myself.
I would love to have my daughter back. In my limited human knowledge I will always want my beautiful and talented daughter here with me; enjoying the life we knew and loved together. But I know if God said, “Megan, would you like to go back to your earthly life?” she would opt for Heaven. So because I have not died and have no idea how grand it will be, I then must trust and seek to know the One who has the plan and purpose for all of our lives.
In trying to understand God’s perspective (which I never will), I know that suffering is part of this life and it is rampant. And if not Megan, then who? I cannot be a judge of who gets to suffer and who gets by without suffering. I believe God was well-pleased with her obedience in her young life. And I know without a shadow of a doubt that she is well and secure in that place all of our hearts yearn for.
When I shake my fists a year later, I know He is still the God that I can turn to. And He speaks to my heart and assures me that all is well for Megan. And He urges me to speak up about these truths and peace that passeth all understanding. Oh, I do not understand it, but I trust it. And on those days that are still dark, I go to Gethsemane and sit there and say those same words of Jesus – “Lord, was there not any other way? Did she have to die at 26?” And I cry and cry and somehow my soul offers up, “Not my way, but yours” and after I have cast my cares – again – on the Lord, I know He has heard me, forgives my human longings, and then nudges me to get busy for Him and use this for His glory.
How important was it for you to write about the difficult things you’ve walked through?
It continues to help me sort out my faith mentally and it seems when I am most vulnerable, allowing others in on my thoughts, I get tremendous feedback of those wanting more, needing more, telling me that I put into words their pent up and deepest feelings.
I remember one time writing my thoughts as I wondered about how she would die. I did not post this, but wrote out all the possibilities – pneumonia, starvation, choking. I wrote about my wanting my husband to be there with me and then moved on to telling the children and making the necessary phone calls. I wrote about dreading her being taken from our home. I wrote about mentally composing her obituary.
I always wonder about the moment my brain fully comprehended the fact she was going to die. I think my heart still has some comprehending to do.
What did you discover through the writing process?
That to “be still and know that I am God” has eternal merit. I stayed very still. I discovered that God was in our sorrow, beside of us, leading and guiding, comforting, and deleting the pain. I discovered that the words might be limitless, but I must choose them with care and intention.
I believe God when he says he has a plan and a purpose for our lives. I believe it is good – always good. Babby Mason sings a song that says, “If you can’t see his hand, trust his heart.” I thought I did that. Suffering has confirmed it.
I still consider Gethsemane and how Jesus begged for another way. I am so glad to have that story. Jesus, fully human, did not want to go through the plan for his life, but he laid it down, gave all – for me. Amazing.
Visit Marcia at www.MarciaGaddis.com. Marcia is also one of the brave-hearted women featured in Write Where It Hurts.