Bracing for a Distorted and Warped Perception

Bracing for a Distorted and Warped Perception

On Tuesday afternoon, the day following Kim’s death, I had to go to the funeral home. My father went with me. My three children, now all in town, accompanied us.

When it came to making plans for the funeral, my son, Paul, stepped up and helped me with the unwelcome and inescapable logistical decisions. In hindsight, I am so proud of him. Kim would have been proud—but not surprised.

After a laborious meeting, making some initial decisions, and completing paperwork, the funeral director invited us to follow him down a hall. We entered a room, and I found myself in a stark and sterile place—a room full of empty caskets. We had to select a casket. After a few minutes of wandering aimlessly through the room looking at various caskets, I became overwhelmed with the relentlessness of the pitiless cascading reality. I turned to my daughter, Emily, and said to her, “What am I doing here?” Twenty-five hours after I learned of Kim’s death, I was standing in this room full of caskets. Pain was beginning to pour in upon me.

“…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

There is an aspect to loss that distorts and warps reality. It’s simply difficult to grasp it all. Acceptance has to catch up with the new uninvited and unwelcome reality. It’s good to be surrounded by family and friends to walk you through it all.

A few weeks after Kim’s death I was sitting in my den, and I flashed back to the moment when I was abruptly told of her passing. The event replayed in my mind, although I wasn’t even trying. It was an unsolicited replay of the memory.

I observed that the room looked different in my memory from that fateful day than it looked on the current day. In my memory, the room was elongated. The place where the policewoman or paramedic stood to break the news to me seemed skewed when compared to what currently was before me across the room. I wondered out loud, “Has my room been rearranged?”

I remembered Leigh Ann had been sitting next to me to my left. However, in my mind my couch seemed different. Later, my pastor was at the other end of my couch sitting in silence until it was appropriate to speak. In my mind, he seemed to be at the far end of the room. The couch seemed stretched out, longer.

In retrospect, I realize shock was literally distorting the perception of my experience. My memory of that day is concrete and distinct, but it’s a warped and skewed snapshot in time. In essence, the power of shock created an alternate reality in my memory bank of the very same room.

“We live life as if it were a motion picture. Loss turns life into a snapshot.” Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss

Shock, especially a sudden onslaught, distorts and warps perception. This is why I heard repeatedly over the next few weeks from several trusted advisors, “Don’t make any major decisions.” But, I kept thinking to myself, “A casket and a funeral are pretty major decisions, but I didn’t get to delay those decisions.”

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. …I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11, 13


  1. Anonymous

    Thank you so much, D. Ray, for sharing your journey with us….in all of its sadness and hope. All of us will have to experience some degree of this journey at some point. Even now, I feel God is preparing me for this journey. Thank you for your insights. Wanda Stewart

    • D. Ray

      Thank you, Wanda. I’ve learned that grief and grace go well together. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

  2. Anonymous

    So insightful about the shock distorting your perception. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us. Grace to you, Susan L

    • D. Ray

      Thanks, Susan! Stay safe! Greet T for me.

  3. Annette

    Going thru the motions……….emotions………..numbness but yet pain………….and in our society, no delays for the finality of life. Thank you again for sharing pieces of you that we all feel yet are uncertain how to articulate without seeming to be an absolute mess.

    • D. Ray

      Thanks, Annette. To be clear…I am familiar with what it is to be an absolute mess, too. And I’ve learned it’s okay! It’s even healthy.

  4. Cyndy L.

    It is so God, this timing. The tug of heart and friends for you to begin writing about loss and grief. The layers and layers of indescribable and varying stories of loss and grief now experienced in lives across the globe. May we all continue to be HEaLeD through these stories shared, these voices expressed, these authentic and raw experiences offered. Thank you for connecting these nebulous sensations to pen, to paper, to computer keys and sending them out into the world so that others may be reminded of Love and belonging even in the midst of suffering.

    • D. Ray

      Thank you, Cyndy L. You’re correct. The losses going on right now—loss of social interaction, loss of gathering, loss of school year, job loss, job interruption, illness, and loss of life—give way to shock and pain. We need to courageously face it all in order to deal with it. And we need to rest in our loss of control!

  5. Anonymous

    My own memories of losing Dana come flooding back each time I read your posts. You describe things so accurately. I don’t remember if anyone went with me to pick out the casket. I do remember walking to the doorway of that room, stopping, pointing to a beautiful wood-grain one and walking out. All of 20 seconds. Everything about that time is indeed a snapshot—even after 15 years. Keep writing you are helping us all. Jennifer Mathewson Speer

    • D. Ray

      Thank you, Jennifer. Oh, how many times have I thought of you. The call that came to Kim from Dana’s friend who had his phone. The trip I took with my father to attend the funeral. The overwhelming crowd that gathered. What an impact you and Dana had on your community. And I remember the worship service, also known as a funeral. I will never forget singing, “You give and take away…my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name!” Thank you, for leading the way in faithful response to loss!

  6. Annette

    from one mess to another…………….grace and mercy from the one who can fix any mess……………stay well brother.

  7. Anonymous

    Your post this week brought me right back to the funeral home on the same day as I heard my (nurse) sister say to me, “He’s gone.” What an emotional, draining day. My mom was sitting in another room and was showing advanced symptoms of Alzheimers at that time. She still knew who I was but she was confused as to why I was crying. It was hard repeating that answer over to her many times. All I really remember about the funeral home was telling my dad and two sisters to go in the “casket room” and pick out the prettiest wooden casket. My husband was a woodworker. Within a year, our family was picking out a casket for my mother. By then, she had forgotten my name but still smiled when she saw me. These are all sad memories but I am so thankful for God’s faithful hand on the months and years to follow. I just don’t know how folks find peace in these moments without knowing our Lord and Savior. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I’ve actually starting journaling myself!

    • D. Ray

      Well done…journal on. Others who wrote books or shared their story helped me. Comfort others with the comfort you’ve received.

  8. Anonymous

    Ooh DRay may you continue finding healing of the heart through writing about your loss

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