Everyone expects to pick out a crib for their child, but no one expects to pick out a coffin. —Author Unknown
One of the most difficult journeys in life is to learn how to live again after the loss of a child. The person who has not experienced it, cannot comprehend the pain, though he/she may sincerely try. Even if a person has experienced this type of loss, the road traveled is very unique to each individual. Likewise, even mothers and fathers who are dealing with the loss of the same loved one, do not handle things the same. Siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles also have very unique perspectives.
Parents lose their children in all stages of life: the unborn child, at birth, the week-old newborn, the three-year-old with leukemia, the school aged child that was hit by a car, the teenager who decides life is just too hard, the college student who is in a car accident, or the son who dies defending his country’s freedom. In our eyes, parents should not outlive their child; it is simply not natural and certainly does not seem right. Even though we know it happens, we cannot comprehend the gravity of it unless it happens to us.
My sister and I have both lost babies that were a week old. My Andrew was seven days old and had complications from an omphalocele surgery. My sister’s baby (Riley) was born three days after my fourth child was born (two and half years after the death of our son). He and his brother Jackson were identical twins. Riley weighed only one pound at birth. Many years have passed by since those dark days. We both do better as time passes, but how we respond to life still sometimes shows the scars of tragedy. Somedays I do not want to let my children out of my sight…desiring the security of them being nearby. Most days I tolerate just fine. However, it is still not unusual for the well of emotions to come flowing again, being triggered by the littlest of things.
I used to think of myself as a confident, extroverted person. I thought of my faith as being solid. Our journey began not when we went to do mission work in Romania, but when we returned and lost our baby. My heart hurt so much that I frequently found myself on “auto pilot,” merely going through the motions. I cannot count the number of times after our loss that I have walked away from a conversation questioning myself, “Did I say, ‘hello’, or ‘good-bye’, or ‘thank you’?” I question if my words were said in the right spirit. During those early months and even years of grief, my emotions were so raw; focus was so difficult.
I began to see that there is so much that I do not have control over. I have seen through these years that I have to learn patience and compassion for those who do not understand what I have gone through. For these, their view of the world is very different and can easily be offensive to those who have suffered great loss. I truly have been learning that my confidence comes through Christ. The things that used to seem so important, are not anymore.
It was very difficult not to ask, “Why?” “Why did this happen?” This has led to great reflection over these years. My faith is not as “easy” and “naive” as it was before. I think I understand more fully that God never promised that our service to Him in life would be easy or free from sorrow and loss. Being a Christian is not a “free pass” from the burdens of life. Freedom from the burdens of life will await us when this life comes to an end, or the Lord comes again.
What He does promise us is that He will be with us through “the valley of the shadow of death” (see Psalm 23:4). In the early days and years of grief, I sometimes found it very difficult to concentrate to read much of anything, even my Bible. When I did read, my thoughts would wander and I would frequently end up sobbing. I knew Job and Psalms were the place to find comfort, but I still struggled. I tried reading a couple of books by those that had also suffered grief. This was difficult, too, because the pain these people described hit so close to home. It was like rubbing salt in an open wound. I knew in my head that my Andrew was in a place of peace and comfort. I knew he would never have to feel the shame of succumbing to temptation, or experience sickness or losing a loved one, as his brother and sister had. I knew these things in my head, but my heart still ached. I am certain that I did not always treat God properly during this period of time, but I know He has been with me, and am so thankful for His long-suffering.
Life certainly is a journey. The things that happen change our course and even the way we view things. For a long time, I kept asking, “When will I be myself again?” I have now answered that question: “I will not be the same.” I am forever a new person, seeing the world through different glasses. Like all experiences in life, this one has taught me many things. The changes that came our way were so sudden, and yet growth has been slow and difficult.
It has been 12 years now and I still cry on occasions. During that time, when a young couple from our congregation lost their premature baby boy, I could relate to the pain. I cried. I certainly have gained a depth of empathy that I did not have before. Now, I teach sixth grade, and it hit me on Andrew’s birthday this past spring, that he would have been with that group of kids. He may have been in my science class.
While it is true that I am just not the same as before we lost our son, even after the passing of many years, the good news is that God is the same (Hebrews 13:8). He is still a God of love (1 John 4:8), and He is still a faithful God (1 Corinthians 1:9). In times of great struggle and in good times too, let us hold to His everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27) and the cross of His Son! My prayer is that this article will help those who have suffered the loss of a child or have gone through some other kind of tragedy, or perhaps help someone understand just a fraction more about what a dear loved one is going through.
While God certainly did not cause this horrible event to happen, in His magnificent power, He can use it for my spiritual growth, and prayerfully for the assistance of others as well (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 1:4).