Four years ago, on November 13, 2017, the mother of one of my closest friends passed away.
This morning, the first thing that my friend Ashley Muse wanted to do was to share – with me and with you – how she planned to live this fourth anniversary of her mother’s death.
Here is our interview:
How did you decide to get a puppy on the anniversary of your mother’s passing, and what makes this meaningful for you?
Ashley Muse: I think, as for most people, my mother’s passions formed such a critical part of who I am and of my identity today. And so, even the reason why I chose to get a Dachshund specifically is because she loved Dachshunds. She had one before I was born and then another after, so that we always had Dachshunds growing up and she always loved them. It was also important for me to choose a name that would honour her, that would be a kind of a nod to her. And so, I picked the name Sanibel, which is an island off the coast of Florida to which we used to vacation as a family every summer. My best childhood memories are from there, from the times we would go to visit aunts and uncles there on the Fourth of July. My sister helped me come up with the name, and the reason that I am picking up Sanibel today is because I wanted to attach a good memory to this date.
That’s really thoughtful. Would you like to tell me a bit more about your mom and also about what your sisters are doing to mark the day?
Ashley Muse: Definitely. I was asked the other day, if I could pick two words to describe my mom, what would they be? There are many, of course, but without a doubt I would say: strength and wisdom. She concluded every prayer for me and my sisters by asking for wisdom and favour, and she herself was so wise. First, she just understood humans on a fundamental level and on a psychological level as well because that was her craft. She studied psychology and that’s how she met my dad. And then spiritually, she was really wise as well. So, those are two things – strength and wisdom – that I aspire to pursue and achieve. This is what motivates me in addition to my ordinary desire to glorify God in those areas.
As for my sisters, I have come to appreciate and respect how important it is for each of them to grieve and commemorate in their own ways that they find meaningful. However, it so happens that this year my sisters and I have each chosen to do something really fun as we mark the anniversary. Both of my sisters are at an AirBnB and travelling with friends. And today, I’ll also be with my friends when I pick up Sanibel, so it’s interesting that we are on the same page with our approaches this year.
Do you think it’s like a breakthrough to do something fun on this day, or did you have any hesitation about marking the day in this way?
Ashley Muse: I’m hesitant to say ‘breakthrough’ because I never want to see grief as linear because it’s not; it’s cyclical. I made a mistake early on when I thought to myself, ‘I did it. I’m past it.’ But then I would have a bad day or week, hit rock bottom emotionally, and become frustrated with myself. So I hesitate to say ‘breakthrough’, but I will say that it is a good thing, a positive thing. And if, next month, I have a day or week where I miss her terribly, then that’s okay.
Do you think about involving your mom in a sense today and do you feel like you’re sharing the day with her even as she’s not here?
Ashley Muse: Yeah, I do. Because it’s something she would love for me so much. She would be so happy for me. Obviously part of me is sad that I won’t be able to actually share this with her, but one of the things I’ve been learning recently is about finding meaning in both big things and small things. I’ve become more intentional about seeking and creating meaning in things. And that’s why today is special – because this really feels like doing something meaningful.
Usually, I’ve been super anxious about the day, but today I was so excited that I couldn’t even sleep. I woke up at 5 a.m. and just began getting the crate ready. It’s a huge life change. In a way it’s commemorating the end of one life and the start of another one. Yes, she’s a puppy; she’s a baby. But, it’s also the start of another life – in a sense, of my own. I’ve always said that I don’t want to be tied to a place, but want to be able to pick up and leave. But now, I’m done living like that. Sanibel is going to teach me some compromise and selflessness, which I can tell is part of God working on my spirit. God is redeeming parts of my life and restoring them.
Sometimes there can be this mindset among people of faith that if you just pray hard enough, then things will get better or then evil and sad things won’t happen. What has been the development for your spiritually in suffering loss and grief in combatting these spiritual outlooks?
Ashley Muse: That has been probably one of the most important things – if not the most important thing – in which I have developed as a result of everything’s that’s happened in the past few years. I grew up in a community that told me to expect miracles and to expect healing, that if you had enough faith and you prayed for healing, that prayer would be answered. That is what I believed, and that was wrong. And, it could have been completely destructive. It could have totally destroyed my faith. But, by the grace of God, it didn’t.
After a lot of prayer, a lot of seeking counsel, studying scripture, and looking at different perspectives and interpretations of scripture, I’m now at a place where I don’t think God promises us happiness. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite. I was just reading the other day about when Jesus was telling his disciples that he has to leave. He tells them that’s it’s going to be bad and they’re going to face tribulation. And he says, ‘I say these things to you that you might have peace in me.’ I’ve been reflecting on what that means. It’s this peace that things are going to be okay, not necessarily on this earth, but in the end, in eternity. And that’s what restored my hope, because for a long time I didn’t have hope.
Another turning point for me occurred when some Coptic Christians visited our church for Persecuted Church Sunday. They were sharing their testimony when someone in our congregation asked how we could pray for them. At this point, I fully expected them to say, ‘Please pray that the persecution would end, that God would protect us from any harm.’ But instead, this woman said, “Could you please pray that we remain faithful to Christ in our sufferings?”
And this jolted me because I thought, ‘We don’t think like this in the West! We immediately pray for the suffering to end.’ And, upon reflection, I don’t think we really learn that much through that. We develop character, we develop our spirit in ways that enable us to bless others by going through trials and tribulations. So that was huge in reorienting my perspective.
What are some things that people said that were unhelpful and what are some things that people said that were helpful, specifically with respect to suffering and grieving the loss of your mom?
Ashley Muse: Someone told me that my mom was sick because of her sin and another suggested that it could have been a generational curse. Others said things like, ‘If you had enough faith, then she would have been healed’ or ‘This happened so that you can experience God in new ways.’ Those were really destructive and that really hurt.
After losing my mom, I felt lost and like I could not ever get back to loving Jesus as I did before. It was helpful when someone suggested, “Maybe you’re not supposed to get back to exactly where you were. Maybe that was naive.”
It turns out that he was right. It was naive not to expect to struggle with the Lord. Now, my relationship with God is so much more genuine because it is so much more real. I can say, ‘I’m mad at you for this’ or ‘This hurt me’ and I feel comfortable doing that. God is not going to condemn me for this, and it’s deepened our relationship and clarified my understanding of His role in our lives.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and your insights, my dear friend!
Ashley Muse: It was so good to reserve time and space to glorify God and to honour my mom – both by talking about her and reflecting on my own journey. Thank you for doing this.
Cover photo: Esther Rose with her four daughters on Sanibel Island. (Ashley is on the right)