5 Weeks Later: A Postscript to April’s Death

The last few weeks have been hard…unbelievably hard. During the last weeks of her life, I told April many times that my heart would forever contain a purple stain. Having lost a son four hours after his premature birth and having buried my own father not too long ago, I thought I knew something of the scars that wound the human heart. But when I awoke on June 26 to a world that no longer contained my purpley person, I experienced a penetrating and soul crushing grief unlike anything I had ever encountered. My heart had not been wounded. It had been severed…wrecked at its core.

The night before, April had been my everything…the source of my earthly happiness and the marrow that infused hope into my future. Even as she slipped into an unconscious state on the evening of the 24th, our marriage was real. Memories of vows, first dances, and nights alone rightly informed my vision for tomorrow. Hope, however precarious, still remained. Relationship existed. Her soft inhale and exhales and the touch of her warm hand brought comfort to my heart. But the moment that she turned cold, I was alone. What had been the most fundamental and essential essence of my life was became but a memory – a treasure chest of joys and wisdom to be stewarded well- but still a lifeless memory. Life to death. Hope to tragedy. Whole to less than whole.

Though my grief is profound, I know that all that has transpired is no tragedy for my dear bride. She has exchanged her frail body for one of eternal peace and her flawed husband for the perfect love of Christ. Though I know her desperate wish and prayer was to stay with me and our children and though I affirm that her love for us still resides within her heavenly heart- albeit a perfected love, I cannot wish her back to this troubled planet. I cannot ask her to exchange Christ’s headship for mine. She has achieved her end. She is glorifying God and perfectly enjoying him forever. Her joy is complete.

And yet, mine remains hidden by hidden a glass covered by shadows.  

In the hours after her death, an unsettling silence settled over our home. As I wandered are room alone, I could not help but fill that forsaken space with the simply cry of, “Where are you?” Though I asked the question often, no reply came. All those pictures that she valued so much just coldly stared backed at my tear-stained face. I miss her. Ten years ago when I stumbled into April at Southern Seminary, I found in her something far greater than any ruby or diamond. Though she has gained all, I have lost the companionship, the wisdom, and the affections of this woman worth more than gold.

These last weeks, I have found a new affection for Paul’s sentiment in Philippians 1:23 which says,

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (Phil 1:23).”

I long for Christ…for the joys that my dear April knows well. Life is hard. Oh, what faith it takes to say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the Lord.”

The Path Forward

Though no prophet or son of a prophet, I suspect my life is not close to its end. At the very least, I know God has not called me to prepare for death as much as he has called me to prepare for and to minister to my children and to my church family. As Paul notes in the next verse in Philippians 1, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Thus, I will cherish the days ahead. I will navigate the dark alley ways of doubt and the swamps of sorrows, knowing that my savior will hold me fast. As the Psalmist says,

“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their trouble. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18).”

Though hard and emotionally complex, the path forward possesses a spiritual simplicity that even the youngest of believers can easily recognize. God asks nothing special of me during this season. He calls me to trust his wise, loving, and all-powerful character. Then, he commands me to live out the gospel within my local church context, attending to the things that he has called me to such as preaching and loving my children well. In short, I am to love the Lord my God with all my heart soul, mind, and strength and my neighbor as myself.

When April and I lost our first-born son, we found simple obedience to be the surest pathway to hope. Even as she and I grappled with her cancer over the last three years, our souls were forever and always reinvigorated by ministry. The very act of caring for our neighbor in the midst of our sorrows often brought us the divine perspective and hope that our hearts needed to make sense of the very pain that only hours earlier had tempted us to withdraw from the community of faith. If I will but obey Christ in the minutia of life as I suffer, hope will come. As Paul wrote,

“Suffering produces character which leads to the hope of Christ that never disappoints (Rom. 5:2-5).”

With this in mind, I have resumed working on my dissertation, returned to the church office, and reascended the pulpit. The pathway to restoration is beautifully simple.

As I traverse the many ups and downs of this path of grief over the next months, I know there will be many more tears…some anticipated – such as the first full week of school – and some not so much. Life will continue to hurt for a time. And I fully suspect some sorrows will not fully healed until the other side of heaven. But I also know there will be new joys…new relationships…new and increasing evidences of grace in my life, in the lives of my children, and in my church family. Christ promises of abundant life have not grown stale. The God who knew April would live but 39 years and ordained that I would have the blessed joy of being her husband (of being one with her) for 9.5 of those years still loves me. The valley of Bacca will once again flow with the streams of hope. By God’s mercy, I will go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:5-7). The clouds will lift. Joy will come in the morning, and I will praise him again.

I greatly appreciate your prayers for me and my family as we continue walk through this valley.  

May God be merciful!  

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!

Contact/Support Info

Please note, we long to responded to all texts and messages. But with the many challenges facing us, our responses will probably be increasingly slow.

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

SNAIL-MAIL: P.O. BOX 637/ AMISSVILLE, VA 20106

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND

Memo: As Death Draws Nears: April Update 6.19.22

Decline has become April’s new norm. Though her doctors credit her resolve and determination for having propelled her beyond that initial two-week prediction that expired this past Wednesday (June 15, 2022), her trajectory remains unchanged. Over the past seven days, she has moved from traveling up and down the stairs between our living room and bedroom, to traveling between her hospice bed and her favorite chair a few feet away, to staying in her hospice bed. As her mobility has declined, her fatigue and mental fog have increased. She eats and drinks very little and sleeps much of the day, gaining clarity of mind at best for thirty minutes here and there during the afternoon. At times, she can engage in conversation and respond to messages. But after a few minutes, she must surrender to the impulse for more sleep, lower her bed, and set aside her best intentions to carry on.

The Vocation of Death

In his book Surprised By Suffering, R.C. Sproul described death as being a type of vocation, a calling…if you will. To associate death with say one’s call to preach will undoubtedly sound strange, but I believe the idea proves poignantly true. Solomon bluntly notes in Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they will die.” We should not seek out death, but we also must not pretend that death will never come. It is appointed for all men and women to die once. Rather than shunning discussions of death, we should diligently mine the things of God so that we are prepared for that moment when our mortal and broken bodies will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor 5:3-8). As the Puritan John Flavel noted,

“It is the high point of wisdom to look upon things which shortly will not be as if they were not.”

May seeing Jesus face to face be our true purpose, the telos of our existence. In short, the vocation of death is the calling to depend upon Jesus as we walk underneath shadows of death so that we might reach the joys of heaven.

To steward this her final vocation well, April and I have devoted those ever-shrinking moments of her mental clarity to the task of preparing for eternity. I read her our daily Bible readings and then pray with her. We talk of Jesus’s sweet promise that he “will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), of his pledge “to come again and take you to myself (Jn. 14:2),” and of how sleep can be a common mercy in times of sorrow. We also talk through some of our family’s plans for the immediate future which inevitably must touch upon April’s demise. While April floats in and out of consciousness, I spend my energy managing April’s medications, assisting her with daily necessities, studying how to shepherd (as much as can be done on this side of eternity) her heart towards Jesus, parenting our children, and praying for her, our family, and our church family. When she’s able to break free from the fetters of fatigue, April summons her small amounts of energy to reaffirm her love for me, our children, her parents and her sister, the Witkowski family, and her many friends. There have been many tears and “I love you’s” these last few days. After swallowing her pills or bite or two of food, she blesses our children with one those faint and yet, all important hugs and then closes her eyes.

Her time grows short. The ‘when’ still remains obscured behind providence’s heavy curtain. So, we continue to take one day at a time, valuing these precious moments.

As long as April retains her earthly citizenship, I plan to stay close by her side surrounded by our children.

What Comes Next

Once her funeral is complete, I will be out of the pulpit for another 2-3 weeks to begin the process of slowly transforming our family of five into a family of four. At the conclusion of that time, I will return to my church duties and eventually resume dissertation, relying upon the support of my fellow elders, deacons, church members, family, and friends.

Gratitude

Dear friends, April and I will forever and always will cherish your visits, messages, cards, and those times of prayer, fellowship, and song that we have shared together these last few weeks. We also appreciate your many generous gifts that have been given to us and appreciate Fresta Valley Christian School (FV) for having generously secured our children’s education for the next school year. Lastly, we appreciate our church family gifting me the freedom to devote myself to April this past month. You have loved us well! Thank you!

Prayer Requests

Please continue to pray for God to encourage and comfort April with a special awareness of his spirit. Pray for me, the elders of ABC, and for the Witkowski and Gentry families to have the wisdom needed to navigate what comes in the days before after her death. And Pray for God to save and comfort our children and our extend families, our church family, and our many friends as who are grieving her cancer and who will soon grieve her death.

May God be merciful.

Contact/Support Info

Please note, we long to responded to all texts and messages. But with the many challenges facing us, our responses will probably be increasingly slow.

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

SNAIL-MAIL: P.O. BOX 637/ AMISSVILLE, VA 20106

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND