From Grief to Hope and a Lifting Fog

As the soft rain struck the ground atop my late wife’s grave with the relaxing rhythm of summer tranquility, a rather clarifying if not somewhat cruel thought snuck into the recesses of my brain. April’s closest earthly friends were now those grimy little worms wiggling about that damp Virginia soil. We who once were one in the most glorious and wonderful of ways were now forever separated by time and space until such measurements are no more. She under me, and I under her.

But instead of allowing the dark clouds hovering above her grave to stain my face afresh with tears, I just gazed out at the cemetery and sighed…a deep abiding sigh. I miss her deeply. But at that moment, I could not conjure up the wailing that had defined the first 6+ weeks that followed April’s death.

During those first 40 days or so, I cried and cried profusely. Everything from the pictures in my office to the pillows on my bed shattered the composure of my soul. I hated family meals. Instead of being able to share my day with my purplely person, I had to banish my thoughts to the confusing realm of inner dialogue while my kids bantered about the finer points of steam locomotives and the proper way to eat ketchup. Grief even accompanied the sweet joys of ministry. Those moments indirectly highlighted the wretched truth that my spiritual helper and greatest source of earthly wisdom was gone. As Lacey told me when she presented me with a new portrait complete with tears, “Daddy, you cry a lot.”

Being the planner and muddled visionary that I am, I attempted to estimate the ebb and flow of my grief almost from the moment April died. Though I now know such an enterprise is doomed to fail, I could not help myself. I predicted then that the dark misty cloud of sorrow that swept over my soul the morning after April’s death would remain over my heart at least into the early months of 2023.  

But shortly after the 6-week mark while driving home, that dark wet flog unexpectedly lifted. The hope of God blew afresh into my soul through the ordinary means of Christian fellowship, scripture memory, and prayer. That afternoon, I suddenly and inexplicably felt the goodness of God afresh for the first time in months. As Psalm 42 says, I could, “again praise you. My salvation and my God.” He was no longer a painful mystery to question but a loving Father to trust. On that Tuesday afternoon, I had tasted the goodness of God. That following Wednesday proved to be the first day without tears.  When Thursday arrived, I just sighed.

I do not believe that week represented the end of my grief, but rather the unpredictable changing nature of my sorrow. The external tears of those first weeks have seeped into the depths of my soul and formed a never-ending stream of loss. At times and without warning, it will still rush to the surface of my consciousness. The last few days have been particularly brutal. In years past, I never minded getting older but celebrating my 38th birthday as a single dad with three kids proved to be a vicious reminder of why death is so evil. I have lost a lifetime of goodness. The tears still come. I suspect they will continue to flow until I am reunited with my dear April in heaven which dries up all tears and sorrow. In other words, grief will undoubtedly always be my companion in some form. She cannot be buried. She cannot be escaped this side of heaven.

But, I also learned a few weeks back that grief has no right to banish hope. Rather, the two emotions work in tandem. We see this in the grand scheme of the Christian gospel. The grief of sin leads to the joy of faith and holiness. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:4).”

The same proves true for this widower. When I come across our wedding photos, I cannot help but stop and appreciate the goodness of God represented in those mementos of love, joy, and happiness. October 20, 2012 was a good, good day. The loss of that goodness rightfully leads to tears. But, I must not remain forever in the sadness of that grief. No amount of tears spilled (not even a years’ worth) nor of time traversed can heal the heart. But hope founded upon the character of our God who promises to bottle our tears can.

When resting with Him, I am reminded that the blessings of time past do not represent the limits of God’s love but rather his great ability to bless me afresh. His love for me did not end when April died. In other words, the grief of today increasingly fills me with hope for tomorrow. I have come to understand that April’s story which so gloriously shaped my story points to the reality that Jesus is still working in my life for my good today. As the Psalmist reminds us, “By day the Lord commands he steadfast love and at night his song is with me (Ps 42:8).” In other words, the sorrows for what has been increasingly give me hope for what could be – albeit in a new and varied form. Grief must accompany my soul but hope also proves to be an equally close friend. She too will never be buried. And so…as I walk into tomorrow…I embrace the sorrow of today trusting that its end will be joy. May God be merciful.

April Gentry Witkowski Obituary (6.12.83 – 6.25.22)

April Gentry Witkowski enjoyed being a conundrum, a mystery that defied expectation. Despite what her first name might lead one to believe, she was born on June 12, 1983. She spent the first months of her life in one of those sparsely furnished Fort Worth, Texas houses with paper thin walls that could not contain her cries and that had been unofficially reserved for poor, Baptist seminary students such as her father. When April was three, she moved with her parents, Ray and Debra Gentry, from Houston, Texas to Ellenwood, Georgia which would also serve as the first home of her little sister, Allison Gentry. She would become April’s childhood shadow and eventual second-in-command of all crafting projects. April then moved to Ashburn, Georgia where Ray served as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church Ashburn (FBCA). While living in the brick pastorium located behind FBCA, April began to develop many of the interests and hobbies that shaped her life such as her love for the color purple, her passion for crafting, quilting, drawing floor plans, playing the piano, make believe, using sign language, and stitching together her notebook on Georgia history. Her childhood would twist and turn through public, private, and homeschool education circles, giving her the unique ability to relate to children who wore polos and khakis to homeroom and to those who wore pajamas as they studied grammar books on their bed. She would also spend a good portion of her life moving seamlessly about middle Georgia. She knew Warner Robins, Georgia like the back of her hand. And yet, she considered metro Atlanta to be her home, having spent her high school and college years in Lawrenceville, Georgia. She liked being unpredictable.

The one aspect of April’s life that was never a conundrum proved to be her faith. Being a pastor’s kid (PK), she regularly sat in the first pew or two of FBCA as her father preached from the platform and as her mother stared down at April from the choir loft. One summer night as Ray preached the gospel, the Spirit opened April’s eyes, blessing her with an awareness of her sinfulness and of God’s saving grace manifested through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. With tears slowly sliding down her well-defined dimples, she prayerfully confessed Jesus as her Lord and savior. Though only seven at the time, the Spirit wrought a change in April’s life that led her to build friendships across the racial boundaries of the Old South, to evangelize her little sister through mentions of how everyone in her family but her sister would be in heaven because they loved Jesus and Allison did not, and to debate her grade schoolteacher when she taught April that the dinosaurs had died off before humans arrived.

In the years that followed, April’s faith continued to blossom as she went on her first mission trip with the Chattanooga Valley Baptist Church youth group and developed a passion for children that made her the go-to babysitter for many and a fantastic preschool volunteer at Hebron Baptist Church. While in college, she came into contact with the rich traditions of reformed theology and biblical counseling through the influence of her mother. Buoyed by the security of God’s sovereignty and the sufficiency of the Scriptures, April determined to support local churches committed to expository preaching and to living out the doctrines of grace. This conviction led her to develop a sweet relationship with Providence Baptist Church that she has maintained throughout the years. After completing a business degree through the Liberty University distance learning program,  dabbling in the Atlanta real estate market, and mastering the spiritual gift of office work while on staff at Sandy Valley Baptist Church and Central Baptist Church, April left Georgia for Louisville, Kentucky. There she earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) for the purpose of being better equipped to serve the local church.

After completing her seminary degree in 2011, God’s kind providence directed this girl whose dislike for football and sports mirrored her love for coke and Cheez-Its to a position at the SBTS Health and Recreation Center. As she facilitated basketball tournaments and managed swimming pool schedules, she unsuspectingly met another seminary graduate, Peter Witkowski, who decided to ask her out because she had the kindest of smiles. Their courtship began January 7, 2012, with a date at the Hill Billy Caffe and ended in a marriage ceremony on October 20, 2012.

Immediately following her marriage to Peter, April moved to Eastman, Georgia where she labored alongside Peter, seeking to expand and develop the children’s ministry at First Baptist Church Eastman (FBCE). She taught Sunday school classes, planned lock-ins, and designed the children’s ministry logo for FBCE. Though she proved gifted with children, she also delighted in counseling the women of FBCE both formally behind a desk with Peter and informally on her sofa as her babies played around her. She embraced hospitality and all the wonderful aromas of cooking that can go with it to encourage others in their pursuit of holiness.

She also experienced great heartache in Eastman. In July 2013, she buried her first-born son, Peter Alexander who died from complications of his premature birth.

Though she knew much heart ache in 2013 and then again in 2015 as she suffered a miscarriage and then once again as she battled cancer, April’s God never failed her. He sustained her through her grief and then blessed her and Peter with a second son, Luke Alexander, and then two daughters Lily Vienna and Lacey Ruth.

Her four children proved to be her greatest joy after Christ. From the moment they entered her womb, April bonded with her children. She delighted in teaching Luke how to shoot basketballs into laundry baskets, in having dance parties with her girls, and in picking out cute and yet affordable outfits for all three kiddos. But the greatest evidence of her love proved to be her unceasing prayers for her children’s salvation and the many hours she devoted to telling them of the God who had transformed her life all those years ago.

In 2018, April and Peter came to Virginia to revitalize Amissville Baptist Church (ABC). April had always wanted to support her husband as God used him to expand and sanctify a local church through the preaching of the Scriptures. With a clear calling from above, April came to Virginia intent on sharing her life with this sweet congregation. As her health declined, she gave her all to attend ABC, lamented how her cancer limited her involvement at church, and encouraged her husband to faithfully fulfill his divine charge to shepherd these sheep whom she loved dearly.

During these last years, April’s heart clung fiercely to her Lord and Savior, her husband and children, and her church family. For her family and friends, she battled breast cancer for more than three years, longing to be a part of her husband’s sanctification story, her children’s salvation story, and her church’s restoration story. On June 25 at 9:15PM, her glorious story came to an end. Though her official biography is now closed, April’s story will continue on within the stories of those who had the joy of calling her their friend, sister, daughter, mommy, and bride. Wise King Solomon lovingly wrote, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing (Prov 10:7).” April was a blessing to all who knew her.

April never wanted to be boring. Her alter ego was that of a Russian spy named Natasha. But for all her wonderful complexity, her final legacy, her memory now entrusted to us, proved to be gloriously unmysterious. She loved the Lord her God with all her heart, soul, and strength and her neighbor as herself. May we all go and do likewise.

April is survived by her husband: Peter Witkowski; her children: Luke Witkowski, Lily Witkowski, and Lacey Witkowski; her parents: Ray and Debra Gentry; and, her sister: Alison Gentry. She is preceeded in death by her son, Peter Alexander Witkowski.

Funeral Details

The funeral will occur at Amissville Baptist Church on Friday, July 1, 2022 at 3:30PM. The family will host a viewing from 2:30-3:30PM and a dinner will follow the internment. The service will be livestreamed on ABC’s website and facebook page.

Instead of flowers, the family asks for donations to be made to the April Witkowski Memorial fund either online or through the mail at: Amissville Baptist Church P.O. Box 158, Amissville, Virginia 20106.  

Memo: April Gentry Witkowski Death Announcement

Editor’s Note: April’s Funeral will be Friday July First at 3:30PM at Amissville Baptist Church. The viewing will begin at 2:30PM.

My dearest April Gentry Witkowski died last night (June 25) at 9:15PM thirteen days after her 39th birthday. Following our evening scripture devotion and our singing of Worthy of Worship, I left April to tuck in our three precious children. As I came downstairs several minutes later, I discovered that April too had found rest…her final rest in the merciful and loving arms of our Lord and savior.

No man could have had a more glorious wife, nor children a more loving mother, nor family and friends a kinder companion than April. Undoubtedly, the hearts underneath our tear-stained faces will ache with unbelievable sorrow. And yet hope remains for we know that our savior lives, and that April lives with him. By God’s grace, I believe we can do the unthinkable and press forward in a world without my glorious, purplely person for I know that I will one day soon spend an eternity with her.

Oh how, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his Saints.” – Psalm 116:15

Thank you for loving us well. May, God be Glorified!

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