January 06, 2018

On Telling (and Living) Stories with Unhappy Endings - Kim Rempel

Eight years ago, I got the call.

Mom had cancer.

She embraced with tears and grace the path set before her, and I soon developed a deep distaste for its description as a journey. I didn’t want to go on that journey, and wanted to refuse its suffering.

What began as my own personal journal to name and process the events and thoughts of those days soon wove themselves together as chapters of a book. Mom’s faith and strength were tempered in her trial and made fierce. Like a shimmering sword raised in battle, she glinted God’s goodness into that dark night. It was a stunning, faith-building battle to witness. I was built up by the watching. For that reason, for the building up of others, she agreed to my publishing the story so others could likewise be encouraged, and God could be honored in the telling.

But there was a problem.

Seven years after that diagnosis, she passed away. That was last February.

Now, as I write the closing chapters to that book, I am unsure how to write its unhappy ending in a way that leaves us inspired, encouraged, and edified.

What potential Mom’s absence has offered us by way of renewal or reinvention has not been grabbed hold of by all. The unity Mom always sought, and peace she always worked so hard to maintain, has crumbled and fallen away. She was the hub in the wheel, and each family member the spokes who now lie scattered, and unwilling to change our state of separateness. I had hoped for more, though I can’t imagine what. Wholeness, I suppose. Mass redemption. Restoration to God and to each other.

What began years ago with a promise of restoration has remained unfulfilled thus far. Instead, things have become much worse. Discord has increased. There is hatred and manipulation, broken relationship, gossip, and many of the other terrible things that happen when we walk apart from the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5)

While Mom’s time here is done and her interactions with us complete, the effects of her impact continues to unfold. We still move forward, and sometimes that part of the story is unpleasant. Which is where I stand, paused and wondering how to close it. After all, a good story has a happy ending, doesn’t it? At the moment, this story doesn’t have one. Yet.

Even so, the book must end. At the moment, this ongoing story stops short, leaving only frayed edges. If it were a blanket, it would be too short, the inspiring image or quote woven into it would be incomplete and end on the wrong word, and no one would buy or use the ugly thing. The good news though, is that the Weaver is not done. My pages may end, but His work does not. And He will bring it to completion in His perfect way and time. In that, I trust.

I see it this way; whatever happens, pleasant, difficult, traumatic, or bountiful, it puts me to a decision every time, in every instance; will I trust God more or will I trust Him less? 

My desire is to always, always trust Him more. So, when struggle comes, that is the opportunity to practice in the pain. As I do, I learn much and grow immensely in character and faith, perhaps also becoming a glinting sword in darkness.

After much prayer about how to share all the parts of the story, I will end it with glimpses of God’s work in difficult circumstances; a counting of blessings, a striving for the joy set before us. It seems a poetic end to the story, when that is exactly how Mom thrived in her trial. Indeed, it’s how James did. And Paul did. And Jesus did. I will now practice what I witnessed.

If you’re living a story with an unhappy ending (so far), or find yourself in a dark or troubled time, I hope you are encouraged, as I am, by this:

Light shines brightest in darkness. A hero is discovered in angst and trouble and need. In my trouble and need, He absolutely deepened my experience of Him as my hero and light and rescue, and my faith is stronger as a result, and unshakeable. For that, I am deeply thankful. 

Kimberly Dawn Rempel helps authors and entrepreneurs build their business and their faith through 1:1 coaching, editing, and book marketing.  Click here to Download her free guide, 14 Ways to Leverage Your Book  or join her Facebook Group, Marketing-Savvy Authorpreneurs HERE.


  1. Your story reminds me of what God taught me during my mother's 'journey' with dementia. (Another journey one never wants to take!) As each hope, each promise appeared to be coming to fruition only to be thrown into the trash heap, the Lord taught me that each of us has our own journey, our own story. He holds me accountable for mine alone. The others taking part in the drama are his responsibility, not mine. For me, that learning has freed me more than I could imagine. Yes, I'm to give a cup of water, but it's not up to me whether the receiver drinks it or not!

    1. Such good advice, Bobbi.

    2. Yessss!!! That's so true, and also a lesson I've learned through this process. Thanks for reading, Bobbi :)

  2. There is probably more to the story that needs to unfold before it gets published. :) One thing I know for sure, God's TIMING is always perfect.

    1. Definitely something to pray about. :) Thanks, Tracy!

  3. Thank you for your honest reflection on suffering. That's how it sita with me at least. I relate to this account in your life. Regarding you mom you say, "She was the hub in the wheel, and each family member the spokes who now lie scattered, and unwilling to change our state of separateness." When I worked in healthcare as a spiritual care practitioner (chaplain) I sat alongside many hubs in wheels. With the death of the "hub" many times the "spokes" would eventually scatter. In witnessing this scattering I came to divorce myself from the cliche flippantly used by God's people, "it's all good." I fail to graso the "good" in families living separate emotionally from each other. "Unhappy endings" reflect unhappy people kept apart by their humanness. It would be wonderful to one day have a chance to talk with you Kim about the reality of unhappy endings. Blessings on you. Your mother would be so proud of you!

    1. Thanks for your (once again) thoughtful and encouraging words. I can see you doing well in a chaplain position :)

      I agree with your take on the cause of unhappy endings. We're sinful humans, and that often damages relationship.

      I can hardly wait until heaven, when unhappy endings and damaged relationships will be a thing of the past, and joy and healing will take their place. Aaaah!!! Yess. Glorious.

      In the meantime, as Bobbi mentioned in different words, we sow whatever seeds we have been given to sow, and my part is to trust God with the growing of them.

  4. Pamela M Smith9:05 am GMT-7

    Wow. I'm so impressed with the depth of your thoughts & descriptions. Thank you for sharing. Your story will help inform mine as I walk the journey of aging parents.

  5. Kim,
    Thanks for sharing so openly and honestly about the pain, the questions, and the struggles you have been going through. I believe God takes us through these seasons so that others can see His grace reflected, however imperfectly, in our lives.

    I am walking through my own dark season right now. God has reminded me it is His job to have the answers and my job to trust Him. Virtual hugs!

  6. You have written beautifully, Kim, about how your mother glorified God by her suffering and how, through her pain, she ministered to others. She was, and still is, a light in the darkness. I love your paragraph about the frayed edges and your knowing the blanket isn't finished because it's too short. You have accepted that God the Weaver is not done working on this blanket. (This is a strong paragraph with a powerful image.

    You may be the little bit of yeast that works the whole batch of dough. You may be the light that shines in the darkness. As the Prophet says at the beginning of Isaiah, Chapter 60, "Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you."

    As Christ-followers, we are the bearers of his light. Although our light may seem fragile and flickering, a small light can grow to become the light for the world that is in darkness. May God's light shine through you, Kim. Thanks for sharing this story of faith.


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