Before You Wake

Life Lessons from a Father to His Children


By Erick Erickson

Read by Erick Erickson

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From Erick Erickson, “arguably the most powerful conservative in America today” (The Atlantic), an inspiring book about life’s enduring values, based on a viral essay he wrote for his children after he and his wife both faced grave medical situations.

“A must read.” — RedState

In late 2016, prompted by the news that his wife was battling cancer and his own pulmonary medical scare, Erick Erickson posted a piece to his website, The Resurgent. Styled as a letter to his young children, the piece, titled “If I Should Die Before You Wake,” was a stirring message–and challenge–about how to live a life of purpose and joy. The essay went viral, shared by figures like New York Times columnist and author of The Road to Character, David Brooks. Now, in a time when our country needs healing and a reminder of our values more than ever, Erickson has expanded the project, composing a total of ten letters, featuring a wonderful mix of the practical, inspirational, and spiritual.




Sometimes we encounter suffering. We don't know why it happens. When it does, some people will come to you and say, "God is testing you." To others, "God is setting you up for something if you weather the storm." But sometimes hard times are just hard times. There are no lessons to be learned. And sometimes, only in retrospect do you see those lessons.

In time, your memory of challenging periods of your lives will start to fade. You will remember bits and pieces, but maybe not the whole. You'll no doubt remember bits and pieces of this past year of our lives. This past year was the hardest year for our family. It has weighed on your parents so much.

In April 2016, I spent a week in the hospital trying not to die. My lungs had filled up with blood clots. My blood oxygen level had fallen below 90 percent. I could not breathe lying down or standing up. Walking left me gasping for air. For months I thought it was allergies, but it got worse and worse, until finally your mother forced me to go to the doctor. The doctor sent me to the hospital for a CT scan and I never left. Within hours I was being treated like a stroke victim, administered tissue plasminogen activator, then lots of blood thinners. I looked like the victim of a car wreck, with a single bruise stretching from my shoulder to my hand.

Gunnar, perhaps by the time you read this you will have forgotten, but for the last year you have been increasingly worried about me. You are upset I work too much, insistent that I play with you to get me out of the office, and mad at my boss, "Mr. Pete," for me working so hard.

As it turned out, I wasn't the only one you and your sister began to worry about. While I was in the hospital, your mother traveled to Arizona to the Mayo Clinic for a checkup on her lungs. The doctors found spots growing and in June, performed a lung biopsy. While I have clots in my lungs, your mom has a rather uncommon form of lung cancer. Thankfully, an oral chemotherapy she is taking is shrinking the growths.

In the midst of these twin medical crises, the 2016 presidential campaign was in full swing and I was a conservative who did not support Donald Trump. Protestors showed up at our home. People sent us hate mail. They called my office daily demanding I be fired. Everybody was convinced I had destroyed my career. Our house had to be protected by guards. You two were yelled at in the store by a man angry with me for not supporting Donald Trump. At school, other kids made sure you knew your dad was not liked in their household. Some of them wondered aloud if something bad would happen to us.

For a time we stopped going to church because we couldn't make it from Sunday school to the sanctuary without someone stopping us to give us a piece of their mind about politics. One day toward the end of 2016, I went up to bed late, looked at your mother, and said, "I don't know if I'm going to survive this year." Your mom had a near meltdown. "I've made a deal with God," she said. "He can't take both of us." Here we were, both of us just over forty, and for a time it seemed we both had a death sentence.

I would lie awake at night wondering what I needed to do to make sure you two would be okay if something happened. I realized that if I died tonight and you googled me, you would come away with an awful picture of me, much of it untrue. But some of it is and these are things with which I must reckon. But nothing you'd find on the internet would give you a real picture of who your father is, why I have raised you as I have, and how much I want for you to be a better person than me.

I realized I needed to write down the things I want you to know about me; the things I want you to know about life; the reasons we believe what we believe and have raised you accordingly; and I really just want you to know me. Being told you might die has a way of shaking you to your core and making you reprioritize things in your life.

Above all else in this universe, know that your mom and I love you. If something should ever happen to us that means we are separated from you by the chasm of eternity, we want to see you again and be with you. But in the meantime we want to make sure you are raised lovingly and properly. I want you to know how we come into your room at night and just watch you sleep. I want you to know in the quiet hours of darkness we sometimes cry because we know your body, heart, or soul is hurting. I want you to know that our love for you is so deep and wide that you will never truly be able to fathom it till you have children of your own.

This most painful year we have endured together has made us stronger as a family, more tender to friends, and has both provided valuable lessons and made me aware I need to share those and other lessons with you. I needed to write this book for you. I have written two books in the past. One I did not really want to write. The other felt necessary, if not personal. But none were like this. This is a book I need you to read—perhaps not at this moment, but to open later, like a time capsule. That is why I am compelled to write this book. If I should die before you wake, I want you to know these things are real and true.

Love you always,



Waiting for Batman

God Has a Plan and It May Not Be Yours

I WAS SITTING IN THE MUD CRYING. The rain was falling gently. I remember it was quiet. In my lap was Evelyn, our one-year-old. How could I explain to her that her mother, Christy, was dying? Doctors had just told me she had six months to live.

When you get married you don't think about being widowed. You read stories in People magazine about other people's tragic lives—celebrities who die young or random families who encounter unspeakable heartbreak. Here I was, covered in mud, snot, rain, and tears, with a baby girl in my lap patting me as if to tell me it was okay. It was happening to me. I had become a country music song.

Christy and I got married in October 2000. Angie, her mother, had died when Christy was a kid, but Christy was old enough to remember her. Her mom made tape recordings for Christy and her younger sister and wrote personal notes for them to open later. Christy's mother, grandmother, and others in her family all had breast cancer. We knew the odds were against Christy. To change fate, Christy decided to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy soon after our wedding. She didn't have cancer, but given the odds, we knew she would get it.

On January 19, 2001, Christy had her surgery. The next day I watched the presidential inauguration from the hospital as my wife recovered. The muscle damage was so bad the doctors could not complete a reconstruction. So we had more surgeries to go. Over the next several years, Christy would have several more reconstructive surgeries, as the first few never really took. Then we had Evelyn, and Christy needed another one.

But by the beginning of 2006 we were in a good place. I had practiced law for six years, five of them in a law firm. While I was at my law firm, some friends started a political website, RedState, in 2004 and it quickly found an audience. I started to write for it. That November, MSNBC was looking for a conservative blogger to fly up to New York to blog the last week of the election. They reached out to RedState and I was the only one who could go. After informing my bosses, a partner in my law firm came in my office, closed the door, and asked the question that changed my life. "Do you know the definition of a dumbass?" he asked.

I laughed. "No," I replied.

He stared right at me. "You," he said. "You hate practicing law. You need to go find a job in politics. It's what you love."

That conversation changed my life. In November 2005, I left my law firm and soon began working full-time as RedState's editor. By 2006, Christy's surgeries were done, my life had stabilized in a job I loved, and we had our first child. But the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be the headlamp of a fast-approaching train.

"You've got to come get me. I feel like I'm dying," Christy told me over the phone. That was the Friday before Labor Day in 2006. She served as the assistant to the president of my alma mater, Mercer University, and was curled up in a ball on the floor of her office's bathroom. I rushed to the campus. When I found her, she was pale, cold, clammy, and sweating. I carried her across campus to her boss's doctor in the medical school. He said her symptoms were consistent with either a pulmonary embolism or a gallbladder attack. We went to the emergency room for a scan of her lungs.

The doctors found no pulmonary embolism so it had to be a gallbladder attack. They did, however, note some curious spots in her lungs, but those could be dealt with later. Sure in the knowledge it was just a gallbladder attack, we drove off the next morning to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to spend the week with my in-laws. Christy was in agony the entire time. Evelyn, perhaps sensing her mother's distress, never fussed during the five-hour drive.

The next day I took Christy to a nearby emergency room. Turns out she had a buildup of gallstones in her bile duct. When I suggested we drive back home so she could have surgery, the local doctor matter-of-factly told us she'd be dead by the time we got there. Instead they whisked her off to emergency surgery.

That Labor Day, Christy recovered from surgery at the beach, and I got to play with Evelyn and build memories I would not otherwise have had. Evelyn had been born in August 2005 as I was winding down my law practice. Between leaving my law firm and starting at RedState full-time, I took a job in Washington, D.C. As I commuted to Washington every week, I had few memories of Evelyn's first year. One week I'd be home for three days. The next week I'd be home for four. One of the only memories I have of that time is Evelyn's first smile. She was in her crib, sick, but looked up at me and smiled. I got a picture of her second smile and that memory has never left me. Christy finally told me I was either going to kill myself or she was going to kill me. I quit that job and started full-time at RedState on July 1, 2006.

Now, several months later, here I was at the beach and all I had to do was play with Evelyn. We spent a lot of time in the pool. I read through Harry Potter and made my way through Dr. Seuss multiple times. We hung out at a hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint. I had a beer, she had a bottle, and we shared french fries. "Dad!" she could gurgle. I have no idea what else she was saying, but that one I knew.

We made it home after a week at the beach, relieved that Christy's health scare was behind us. On our home answering machine we found a message from the first emergency room, in Georgia. They found something "upon further review" of Christy's scan. It was the blocked bile duct. All we could do was laugh.

The days turned cooler. The leaves fell off the cherry tree in the backyard. Thanksgiving came and went. Just before Christmas, Christy's doctor suggested she have a follow-up scan because of those spots in her lungs. I remember her coming home that day. I had just turned the corner in the hallway. I knew something was wrong the moment I saw her; she had the look on her face she gets when she does not want to tell me bad news.

"I have to pack a bag and go to the hospital," she said. When scanning her lungs, doctors found a blood clot in her jugular vein, which is not exactly a common place for a blood clot to be lodged. They were going to put her in a hospital room and pump her full of blood thinners. The combination of the spots in her lungs and this blood clot had made the doctors suspicious. They wanted to make sure she did not have cancer. Given her family history, it was plausible.

Just before Christmas in 2006, Christy had a lung biopsy. It was a miserable surgery.

To make matters worse, on the day Christy headed into the operating room, my partners at RedState announced we had to close up shop. After the Republicans lost control of Congress in November 2006, our ad revenue plummeted. As Christy was about to wrap up surgery, I was coming to the realization I was about to be unemployed for the first time since law school.

Then the doctors came out. They summoned my father-in-law, mother-in-law, and me down a corridor that housed a series of small, windowless rooms. In the room they placed us in, there were a couple of chairs, a table, and a phone, and I am pretty sure there was a Bible. It was like a scene from a movie.

The surgeon told us that the pathology report did not look good. It appeared that not only did Christy have cancer, but it was an aggressive one that had spread to her lungs. Having looked it over several times, they were convinced that was the case, and they were further convinced that she probably had no more than six months to live.

It had started to rain outside. The roads were slick and a terrible accident happened. The doctor had to excuse himself to go help in the emergency room. My in-laws did their best to keep it together. I went to be with Christy as she woke up from surgery.

As she came to, I told her what the doctors said. I did not cry, but my voice quivered. She was having none of it, which made me more determined to force the gravity of the situation into her head. I walked with her as they wheeled her to a private room. Our preacher and his wife met us at the door. Christy's parents were crying. Then it dawned on me I had to go get Evelyn from daycare.

I rushed out of the hospital into the rain, got in my car, avoiding eye contact with anyone at daycare, and ferried Evelyn to our house. But I was done. I could not handle it anymore. I was out of a job and six months from being a widower. I pulled Evelyn out of her car seat and sank in the mud. On my knees all I could do was cry. I held that baby tight and she patted me on the face as if to tell me it was okay. But it was not okay.

How was I going to explain this to her? In six months, when suddenly I would be the only one around, how was she going to know what happened to her mom? I finally got up the strength to get her in the house. I carried her upstairs, put her in dry clothes, and laid her in her crib. I went to my office and tried to start sending emails with the prognosis. My dad and oldest sister were coming to take over. When they got there, I could go back to the hospital. Until then, the house was cold and dark and quiet, except for me crying. Being alone with dark thoughts is never good, but I had no choice.

I finally made it back to the hospital a few hours later. Christy was in her room and she was still too hardheaded to believe she was dying. She would not even entertain the thought of it. She was far more concerned about what I was going to do. I was sure it had to be the pain medicine talking.

"You know what you need to do?" she asked. "No," I moaned. "You need to be a catapult," she replied. "You have been finding people and ideas and throwing them out there for other people to talk about. You need to find a job to do that. You should be the guy who throws other people and good ideas into the arena." I liked the sound of it. I had no idea how to do it.

We kept talking and talking. Christy might not have thought she was going to die, but we talked about the things you do not talk about unless confronted by death. What sort of person should Evelyn have as another mother; what sort of job I needed; should we change churches; how Christy wanted Evelyn to remember her; the things we needed to do in the next six months—we talked about it all.

Around 10:30 p.m. the surgeon returned. He was on his way home and wanted to check in. "We had the pathologists go back over the biopsied material," he said. "We don't think it is cancer, but we do not know what it is. We have decided to send it off to the Mayo Clinic for examination."

Was this a sick joke? Another wave of emotion hit me. I was happy, crying, nauseous, excited all at once. It was like the end of a roller coaster. Hallelujah! The doctor left and all we could do was sit there in silence, letting the day soak over us. The feeling of nausea was the last to leave. All I could do was keep kissing Christy. Then, of course, we had to go back through all the things we had just talked about and make sure the decisions we had made still held up. They did.

I did not even think about looming unemployment that night. I left the hospital so Christy could sleep. My snoring would have kept her up—her and the rest of the floor. The next morning I had an email waiting for me from one of my partners at RedState. He was delighted by the doctors walking back reports of Christy's death and also had news of his own: We had gotten an offer to sell RedState. The site would not have to close after all. Over the week of Christmas, we negotiated the sale of the business and I agreed to stay on as the editor for three years.

Christmas of 2006 was one of the happiest in my life. Some say it was luck. Some say it was the natural flow of things. I say it was providential. I had never been one of those people to write out plans. When I was a lawyer, most people in my firm got swept up in the craze of writing one-, three-, and five-year plans of where they wanted to be. I never had wanted to do that. I go where the good Lord leads. I have never put myself on a career path. I work hard and opportunities have been placed in front of me.

Case in point: In 2007, I got elected to our local city council. No one actually ran against me. My single-minded issue was shutting down massage parlors in town that served as fronts for human trafficking.

That year, we decided it was time to try again at growing our family. By now we knew Christy had a genetic clotting disorder, so she would have to go on blood thinners during her pregnancy. Thankfully she could give herself the injections. Gunnar was born on December 9, 2008.

Gunnar's birthday will live in infamy in the family. We knew Christy would have to be induced. Given her health, the doctor wanted to be in control of everything. Christy's mom came down to stay with Evelyn and we went in to the hospital around six o'clock in the morning. I had my iPad, the hospital had Wi-Fi, and The Dark Knight was out on iTunes. I set my iPad to download the movie, sat back, and fell asleep.

I do not remember much of the next few hours, other than my wife yelling at me to stop snoring. Allegedly, nurses were popping their heads in to see what the awful noise was. Yes, my wife was having contractions, had not yet had an epidural, and I was on the couch sound asleep, sawing logs, waiting for Batman. Kid? Pfffft. Batman was coming out.

Gunnar came that afternoon—before Batman, I might add. Hospital Wi-Fi sucks.

Now we had our family. With all the other health concerns, we knew Gunnar had to be our second and our last. Health issues and babies behind us, we could grow the family. As we got into 2009, Christy became more convinced it was time for her to stay home with the kids.

As much as she loved her boss and her job, after several years of hair-raising adventures in health care, she was done. That raised all sorts of problems. We were on Christy's health insurance and the cost of buying our own plan would have been tremendous. I had not had a pay raise since RedState had changed owners; we were already living paycheck to paycheck. All we could do is pray.

I know scripture says, "be still and know that I am God," but it can be really hard to be still. Waiting on God can draw out your worst impatience. But sometimes God works fast.

Within seventy-two hours of Christy deciding to leave her job, I got an email from a lady named Michelle at CNN. She wanted me to call her. She would be producing a new show for John King and wanted to know if I would like a job. She said she had been involved back in 2004 with finding the bloggers for MSNBC. She had eventually made her way to CNN, but had followed my career. They were looking for an outside-the-Beltway conservative and hoped I would fit the bill. A day after that, my boss at RedState's parent company called to tell me I was getting a raise. It equaled the income Christy was giving up. God is good.

CNN flew me to New York to meet with the executives at the network. We negotiated a reasonable deal for three years. Next thing I knew, I was on TV. Not only that, but I was surrounded by people I had grown up watching. Paul Begala, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Donna Brazile, Wolf Blitzer, David Gergen—you name it.

They were, truth be told, rather skeptical of a "firebrand conservative blogger." I, of course, had grown up thinking most of them were the enemy. Over three years, though, I learned it is possible to have good friends with whom you disagree politically.

At CNN I learned a lot. My boss, Lucy, had one rule of thumb: Believe whatever you want to believe, but be respectful. I did not always live up to that, but I tried. I also realized some of these "enemies" were the nicest people ever. We may have disagreed on politics, but I could hang out with them and we all had something in common. We also shared a common cynicism about people on TV who had never done anything but claimed to be experts.

I had, in my law firm, run political campaigns, developed polling, designed mail and commercials, developed grassroots plans, etc. Suddenly I was on television with people who had run presidential campaigns and people who had done jack but were somehow "political strategists." The camaraderie between those of us who had actually done real jobs in politics transcended partisanship. This was my tribe.

A year before I joined CNN, the local news-talk radio station had called to see if I could fill in for one of their hosts. He had been arrested in a drug raid. That day of fill-in turned into three months of getting up at 5 a.m. to do radio from six to nine in the morning. It lasted three months, at which point they hired a guy who had worked up in Atlanta. I got paid in expired gift certificates to local restaurants.

A year later, the radio station asked me to come back. The local host had been promoted to the Dallas market. I filled in again for a few months and the president of the Cox Media Group happened to listen. He had Greg, the company's radio consultant, call me to see if I might want a weekend radio show. "Absolutely not," I told Greg. I already had enough to do and did not want to give up my weekends.

Greg called back later to see if I might at least like to fill in for Herman Cain. That was a no-brainer. In October 2010, I drove up to Atlanta and filled in for Herman Cain's evening radio show. When the show was over several people walked in the studio. I knew immediately the visions of a long radio career were burning up like an asteroid entering the atmosphere.

Instead, the program director informed me that they did not really want me to have a weekend radio show. Cain was running for president and they wanted to see if I would like his job. I did not hesitate. "Absolutely," I said. Then added, "But I need to ask my wife first."

On January 11, 2011, I started my very own radio show. I was the first person at WSB to get a five-day-a-week show who had not started out on the weekend, so they told me. It turned out that during the Great Depression, my aunt Lela had also worked at WSB. She would sing and play the piano on Saturdays and Sundays for people going to synagogue and church.

Life thereafter was on cruise control. I did my show from 9 p.m. to midnight, five nights a week. The first week was during an ice storm. I slept on the floor of the station, had no phone callers, and talked for three hours every night. Eventually, I started filling in for Rush Limbaugh. I moved my TV gig over to Fox News. I never saw 2016 coming.

The best-laid plans are often not the ones that take shape. God has a plan and it may not be yours. You can be waiting for Batman one minute and the next find yourself in the hospital trying not to die.

But there is also something else. Had I to do it all over again, I would. I would do it in a heartbeat. I would marry the same woman and we would have the same kids and we would make the same mistakes, if not more, and learn the same and more lessons. We would love and live and try not to die.

A lot of people spend their lives second-guessing decisions. I just go where the good Lord leads. The burdens, the heartache, the tragedy, the suffering, and the joy are all parts of life. There is no use second-guessing things already done because they are not within your power to control. There is no use having a pity party over cancer or blood clots or a lot of other terrible things, because those things are not in your control. If there is one lesson I have learned above all others, it is that things not within your control are things not worth getting worked up about. They just are.

When you head out into the world, you are going to be confronted with a lot of choices. Many of them will be overwhelming choices. Many of them will be choices where you realize you know no one who can relate to those choices from whom you can seek advice. All you can do is pray about it and proceed. You may make the wrong choice. There are choices I have made that I have realized were wrong. But it was no longer within my power to undo them so there was no point in lingering on them.

Life just comes at you. President Calvin Coolidge used to say that when ten problems were bounding down the road at you, if you just stand still nine of them will bounce off the road before they get to you. I think he was right. And I think you have to chart the road on which you wish to travel, then let life or the Lord, depending on your perspective, lead. Sometimes you will find yourself in the whirlwind. Sometimes you will find yourself snoring in a hospital room waiting for Batman.


Summer in the South

To Suffer Is to Live


  • "A must read: Erick Erickson's Before You Wake is a heartfelt reminder of what's important."—RedState
  • "Poignant."—"The Daily Briefing," Fox News
  • "Striking ... Reading [Erickson's] personal story is a small experiment in weakening the filter, in shaking off the spell of simulated life, of letting a person's suffering give you a glimpse of them in full."—Ross Douthat, New York Times

On Sale
Oct 3, 2017
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Erick Erickson

About the Author

Erick Erickson is the popular host of Atlanta’s Evening News on 95.5FM and AM750. The former Editor of, he launched his website The Resurgent in early 2016. Erickson is also a Fox News contributor. He studied political science and history at Mercer University and earned a law degree at Walter F. George School of Law. Erickson lives with his family in Macon, Georgia.

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