Bloody Baghdad

Meet Nic. Widow. Mother. Survivor. Hero. I met Nic recently through a mutual friend and knew immediately why God chose for our paths to intersect. I believe, in part, it was for this very purpose: to share her story with you. It bears out that when we live by faith in Christ, even the shattering moments result in Life. This is an important read on this Memorial Day weekend as we remember those who have paid a very dear price. 

  Photo Credit: Director, Krissy Collins; Photographer and Editor, Gabi Brown

Photo Credit: Director, Krissy Collins; Photographer and Editor, Gabi Brown

It was May 25th, 2006. The interrupting knock at my door startled me. It was unexpected but not abrupt. The taps were inviting and considerate, gently rhythmic. Jumping up, I made my way over to the entryway. Who was there? With curious anticipation, I flung open the door.

“Mrs. DiCenzo.”

Vision now blurry. Mind in overdrive. You...no. You're not welcome here, I roared under my breath. 

“Mrs. DiCenzo.”

Standing before me were two soldiers in full military uniform. Speechless. Suddenly feeling deceived by those sweet knocks just seconds ago.

“Ma'am. Your husband was killed today in Baghdad, Iraq.”

I wanted to stop the man’s words, push them back into his mouth, and shut the door. But I didn't. Time for me was halted and shock had found a home.

Where were the tears? They never flowed. They couldn't. This was not real. My life was not over. My world was not gone. But it was. And the darkness...it surrounded me. 

There I was...shut up in my home, Death invading.  The minutes passed slowly 'til the twilight hours sat glaring me in the face.  At three o’clock that morning, I allowed my body to sink into the couch, and the tears rushed like rivers. “Daddy, help me.  Daddy, help me. Please, Daddy help me.”  The only words my broken spirit could muster. Over and over I'd repeat these words...they became this blanket of security as I enfolded myself in them just to stay alive. 

I had never called God “Daddy." God the Father had always been slightly elusive to me. Jesus I could touch and feel. His sacrifice was brutal, yet beautiful. But God? Who was He? That night I discovered who God really was and His new name began to roll off my tongue.    

And Daddy gave me a thought. It was a thought I would return to everyday:  Doug is not dead, because Jesus is not dead.  That was the point of the cross.   

Doug is alive, because Jesus is alive.  

Those words were a starting point…my anchor…the hope I carried. 

But the nightmare didn’t end with the knock—far from it.  It had only just begun.  

Stationed in Germany at the time, the army saw fit to move my son and I out in less than two weeks. Barely able to breathe, I packed my things and said my goodbyes. I boarded the plane, never having felt so alone. I crawled into my seat and wept the entire flight home, my tears the only friends I had left. I was leaving everything and headed to nothing. My friends were gone.  My things were gone.  My husband was gone.  And in a way, I was gone. I wasn't the same person as I had been seconds before the knock on that door...I was not that person.  But she was all I knew how to be. Who was I now?  

Time passed, and I prayed it would pass quickly. Living another day without him was unbearable. I prayed Jesus would return yesterday. Doug was gone, and I just couldn't carry the load without him.  I needed to see him again. I needed Heaven to come now--I needed that space where there would be no more tears or pain. But I wasn't living in Heaven...I was in hell, reliving my loss with each breath, mourning Doug and the life that had been suffocated in grief.  Little did I know that every tear, every question would have a purpose...but that's the sting of grief:  it narrows your sight to see only the pain and to miss the point.  

I was doing my best to adjust to my new life. I was in a borrowed home, in a strange city, surrounded by things not my own, driving a car not my own, and living a life not my own. Nothing was recognizable, not even me. The tears continued without mercy and came in torrents until there were no more. Grief pursued me, silenced me, and dragged me into the darkness. 

 A month after Doug's death, I received a call. “Nic, more of Doug has been identified.  More of him is coming in urn number two.” I had already lost all of him...how could there be more?

The deep darkness swelled in tidal waves and crashed across my soul. What did Doug look like when he was killed? What had happened? Was his head even attached to his body? Were his hands? His feet?  

Six months later. Another call. “Nic, are you sitting down?” Urn number three was on the way. Crash...another wave of darkness. 

Doug died three times that year. His vehicle was struck by an IED. It was the most powerful explosion his men had ever seen. It exploded right next to his door, severing him in two. His lower half was in tact as if nothing had happened...his upper half was gone. Nothing was whole. Nothing recognizable. I'm told they picked little bits and pieces of him off the doors, off the streets, and off his men. His head wasn’t there. His arms weren’t there. His chest wasn’t there. My husband was scattered over Bagdad in a billion little pieces, like my life...shattered in disrepair.

My mind would pulse. Did he know how much I loved him?  I sat imagining his head in my lap, demanding he hear those words one more time. I was a wreck, wondering if he had suffered...had he felt pain?  No, I sensed...the Prince of Peace quieting my soul. Doug didn’t feel anything. Doug saw war and then saw Him. 

But even with the comfort of knowing that, tragedy demanded an answer. If God is good, how could He allow this?  

And that’s when the hope that anchored my soul, Daddy, swept in.

A fire had begun to burn in me, despite my brokenness. And the questions I pondered over Doug’s death, drove it to a full-grown blaze, because in the midst of all that hurt and darkness, God—Daddy—was there.

I got on my knees and prayed. I begged. I pleaded for God to reveal Heaven to me, to give me a vision. I longed to understand, to see. It didn’t come immediately, but it came, slowly taking form.   

Heaven is not clouds, harps, and haloes...it is life, because He is life. Heaven is life.  Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life."  And it’s there that we find that death is powerless.  Even when it does its worst, we live...because we believe in Him. 

Hope. Life. Purpose. I was desperate to see, hungry to taste and Daddy came through. "And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us." - Romans 5:5

I believe this is why God formed me in the womb—for this very revelation. And without Doug’s death, the vision would not have come. The pain I survived was excruciatingly harsh but I wouldn't trade it. If I did, I would lose a piece of God that I came to know, I would lose the hope of Jesus, and that is something I just can’t fathom. God has used this. He has used the broken pieces of my husband's body to bring others to the truth of eternity. 

Since experiencing Daddy’s love in such a tangible way, I have been teaching on the subjects of Heaven and Revelation, and with each and every class, I see hope take root and life take shape. It is amazing to witness, and honestly without Doug that hope would not be alive. 

Memorial Day weekend is where it all started. Memorial Day weekend my husband was in a billion different pieces and his blood painted a plot of ground in Baghdad. On Memorial Day weekend, my tears fell and my world was forever changed. The darkness crashed in.  But out of that crushing darkness, out of Doug’s bits and pieces, a revelation also crashed in, and when revelation comes, so does the light.  

“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” John 1:4

In this world darkness and death will come, but He promises us if we trust Him, so will the Light. I am baffled and awe-struck that Daddy took the darkest moment of my life to shine the brightest light.  It’s in His light that we are whole.

So today, on this Memorial Day, remember the fallen, remember their families, but most of all, remember that we live because Jesus lives.

There are no graves in Heaven. There are no bits and pieces. There is wholeness. There is Life.


For more information on Nic and her book Revelation In Black and White, click here.