Grief and Hope in the Loss of Rush Limbaugh

Last summer, the rain fell gently while I sat on my back deck, listening as it tapped on the canopy and splashed on leaves that shimmered in the gray of the morning.  My thoughts were scattered as they often are, thinking about too much at once, when suddenly I felt drawn to pray.  My thoughts stilled, and one word came to mind: Rush.  I closed my eyes to the watery shadows of the morning and cried out to the Lord for Rush Limbaugh in his fight with cancer.  As the words tumbled from my lips, I couldn't stop the tears from falling, so I just let them fall with the rain.

Yesterday, the tears fell again when I heard the heartbreaking news that he had died of complications from lung cancer.

I don't know why I was compelled to pray at that moment many months ago, but God's Spirit was moving me as clearly as the rain dropping from one leaf to the next.  I prayed for Rush and his family — for strength in the face of treatment, peace in the midst of fear, comfort in a time of sadness, and healing if it was God's will.  I felt, in that moment, the prayers of many joining with me.  God was gracious.  Rush survived his battle for many months — precious time spent with family and friends, time I'm sure he didn't think he'd get.

Like many others who have listened to Rush since he went national with his radio program in the late eighties, I grieve the loss.  He was a vibrant presence in my life — in all our lives — so much like a friend or family member, because he was with us every day on those radio waves.

I remember when I first "met" Rush.  It was 1989, and I was working as a news reporter for the local paper in Aiken, South Carolina.  Some people at church had told me about this guy on the radio who was saying everything no one else dared to say — but the very things all of us were thinking.  So, as I drove into the country to write a fluff piece about harvesting peaches, I turned on the radio.  From that point on, I never changed the dial.

Through every season of my life since then, Rush has been a touchstone of sanity and a reminder that our nation will never go down without a fight.  From working as a reporter to moving to Florida with the unexpected calling of my husband to go into ministry and attend seminary to driving back home from classes on warm spring days with the scent of orange blossoms in the air — I listened to Rush. 

When I settled at home to raise a family with two children who scurried around my feet as I wrote on a tiny new Apple computer that was all the rage — Rush's laughter drifted from the speakers like a song I played over and over again.

Through the Gulf War, accusations of Republicans starving children, femi-nazis, Snapple, abortion-call hang-ups, Hillary Clinton baking cookies, and Monica Lewinsky's blue dress — I listened to Rush along with millions of other people.  

At the turn of the century, after the scare of Y2K faded into a red-faced memory, I found myself sitting alone in a cheap apartment as I went through a nightmarish divorce.  I had lost everything.  The faucet dripped.  Pill bugs constantly crept onto the carpet from under the baseboards, I was pregnant, and I felt the crushing heaviness of loneliness.  But when I turned on the radio at noon every day, that heaviness lifted a little.  Rush was there as he'd always been. 

As I worked small jobs to earn money, remarried, had a baby, created a new life for my two children, and then welcomed three stepchildren to raise, I turned on El Rushbo for a bit of adult sanity. 

When Obama became president in the midst of an economic crisis and the Tea Party spread from sea to shining sea, I turned to Rush for encouragement.  When I decided to start writing about political issues, moving away from the religious writing I'd always done, Rush was a resource and an inspiration.  The day he read one of my articles on the air, I was filled with gratefulness.  At the time, I wrote under the name DC McAllister because I kept my political writings separate from my job as a news reporter.  But Rush made a point to call me Denise.  I don't know why, but I appreciated it, and it made him seem like a big brother affirming my work in a personal way. 

For the last few years as I worked in conservative media, writing fervently, trying to be a voice of change, trailblazing in support of President Trump when others in conservative media were casting aspersions on him, I would often turn on Rush's radio program to get that old-time perspective rooted in common sense and goodwill.  I turned to him for encouragement, to be instilled with courage he shared by merely being there.  I knew there was always a kindred spirit on the airwaves to lean on.  Even when I left conservative media, he was still there — a guiding light in the midst of loss.  That light has now gone out, but the rays of his warmth and brightness shine on, like water rippling on a lake.

The liberal world has always hated Rush, of course.  But that only made his voice stronger and more valuable.  They accused him of misogyny, bigotry, homophobia, and racism, but every day, he rose above it all, laughing in the face of slander, remaining steadfast to his calling, and never forgetting who he was.  Liberals didn't define him.  RINOs didn't define him.  Jealous malcontents in the media didn't define him — and they still don't.  Only God defined him — and God gave him a voice for these times and courage to persevere.  He was a gift to us, and no one will ever take that legacy away — not now, not ever, because it's fixed in our hearts and in our minds.

The day Rush told us he had cancer, I felt as if someone had kicked me in the gut.  I'd seen too much of that dreadful disease in my own life.  Loved ones who had died from it, my own struggles to overcome it, and my husband's horrendous battle against it.  Cancer is a thief that wears a mask with our own face and steals our life away.  The thought of Rush — or anyone else — suffering through the pain and fear of it haunted me.

So I prayed.  I confess to not always knowing how to pray for illness.  Do I pray for healing, or do I simply pray for grace?  Does God answer prayers of healing, or doesn't he?  Many people pray for healing, but they still pass away, tragic victims of insidious destroyers that plague this broken world.  I do believe that God answers prayer — he says so.  He just doesn't always answer in the way we want.  So, while I pray for healing, I also pray as Jesus taught us: to focus on the present, to ask that our needs — whatever they might be — are met in this moment; to seek his grace and forgiveness; to show love to others; and to give him all the glory. 

I also pray for those spiritual blessings that I know God promises his children — strength in his power, gratefulness for the life he has given us, and peace that passes all understanding.  Prayers such as these aren't just some cold recitation; I don't become an automaton, repeating phrases that fail to penetrate the heart.  I feel.  I get frustrated at times.  And I cry — a lot.  I doubt even as I pray.  I confess how I struggle too often with despair — darkness so deep at times that I don't want to go on in this painful world.  But even in this confession, I reach out to our Savior, who has promised to always be with us — our Shepherd who walks faithfully with us through every valley.

As I prayed for Rush, I thought of Jesus when he found out that his friend Lazarus was sick.  I remembered the story — how Jesus was far away and couldn't be there in person to help, how he grieved for his friend, how he wept for him — how he loved him.

I know we don't like to think about death, especially when we're praying for healing during a time of sickness.  But it will come to us all, and we will only find peace when we look it in the face and know that it has no real power over us.  We have a Friend who loves us, who weeps for us when we're in pain, who feels grief even though he knows the outcome, and who will one day say: "Take off the grave clothes" and live.

When Jesus saw Lazarus's family and friends weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit.  As he stood outside his friend's tomb, he wept — a testimony of his love.  God is not a stoic who stands apart from us in times of suffering.  Jesus feels what we feel.  He loves us so much that even divine omniscience can't keep the tears from falling.

After reading through John 11 and thinking these thoughts, I thanked God that, even as I prayed for Rush and others who are struggling as he did, there is joy in the suffering even in the midst of pain, there is light in the darkness, and mostly, there is life everlasting. 

This hope sustains us, but we still feel pain in the struggle and grief in loss.  We make no apologies for that.  Our tear-stained faces carry no shame.  There is a season for everything and a time for weeping.  But one day, "He will wipe every tear from our eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  Our Lord who loves us will make everything new.

Image via Flickr, Public Domain.