“Some friends are here to see you.”
Those words changed my life forever. My youngest child, my three-year-old baby girl, my Alexandra Joy, had been killed. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for that news or for the horror of it all and the loss that I felt.
At her young age, Alli was starting to gain a measure of independence, and the night she was killed was no different. Alex was killed instantly when a freight train running on an unprotected nearby track hit her. Looking back, I remember that so many thoughts ran through my mind…
“Had I been there, she would not have died.” “Did I do something that caused this to happen?” “Why didn’t God keep her safe from harm?” “How is it possible that her purpose on earth is fulfilled at age three?” “Why did God allow her to die?”
Even now I cannot answer all those questions, and I’ve come up with many more since that absolutely horrible night. However, I know the One Who does have those answers, and I believe I can know the truth, perhaps not in my time but in God’s time. It is very easy to spiritualize death, but the plain fact is that however we choose to explain it away and practically force ourselves and others to almost ignore the issue, death has a very real impact and is emotionally painful to all it touches.
When your loss is as great as that of the death of your child, the impact shatters your heart.
Those of us who have already experienced a deep loss know what it’s like to appear on the outside to be functioning well but who are, in reality, only going through the motions. Once we reach a point of embracing God in the midst of our pain and begin receiving all that He wants to give us to help us through it, our desire to live again, to actively participate in life, starts to return.
Grieving is grieving whether you are a Christian or not. Knowing generally what to expect does help. You may think the effect of a great loss you’ve experienced will be different for you, but don’t expect it to be. I can’t tell you how many times while reading a book on grief and loss that I said to myself, “Hey, that’s me!”
Anyone who has ever experienced a deep loss in life will attest that grieving doesn’t stop after the third day. In fact, it isn’t until a few months later that walking through the grief becomes the hardest. Following an overwhelming tragedy, the world around you doesn’t take long to return to normal. Just look at what has happened in the Western world since the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001. The all-night prayer meetings, the candlelight vigils have all but stopped since the Twin Towers were destroyed. Let’s face it, you are left to your own devices to deal with the loss. To “get over it” is neither a rational nor, honestly, a possible thing to do.
I want to encourage you to face your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as much as possible, to work through all you need to in order to arrive at a place of peace and acceptance. Shutting down your emotions, hiding from life, or self-medicating will only prolong the pain you will necessarily go through in coming to terms with death. This attempt to escape from the cycle of grief I liken to wandering in the wilderness: You will have to cover the same ground again and again until you deal with your feelings, thoughts, and emotions. If you do not resolve your feelings, you will begin to take that anger out on the whole world. Bitterness and anger do not lead to peace. You cannot allow bitterness, anger, or any other negative emotion to take control of your life.
It is not unusual to question God. (He already knows what you are really thinking anyway!) You might even be angry with Him, but to be completely honest, that anger is misplaced. I spent some time believing I had the right to be mad at the world because this horrible thing had happened to me. In fact, I was completely astonished that the world could keep on functioning normally-that, everywhere, people continued living as before-when my life and world had been shaken and abruptly changed by this absolutely horrible event that had happened to me. How dare they!
Let me share with you three essential areas in which to focus as you walk through the grieving process.
- God understands your pain.
The Bible says that Jesus has gone through everything that we have gone through and will ever go through.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).
It is true that because Jesus did not have any natural children, one might think that he never had to bear the loss of a child. Jesus Himself did not, but His Father did. God lost His only Son to the most hideous and horrible death anyone could ever experience. Shortly after Alli died, God reminded me that He knew exactly how I felt because His child suffered death also. I was struck with how profound that is! We seldom think about God the Father as a father feeling fatherly emotions. He is truly touched with the feelings of our pain because He experienced it too.
- Protect your marriage and family.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. (Colossians 3:18,19)
Families are extremely vulnerable when adversity such as the death of a child occurs. Very few studies have been done to determine how often the loss of a child leads to the divorce of the parents. In any case, the death of a child can lead to indifference, apathy, and emotional estrangement within the marriage. That happened with me for a short time. Many people become lost in depression, which certainly doesn’t help the situation. Marriage is hard work, and adversity such as this shakes the very foundation.
It has been commonly thought that 75% of the parents who lose a child eventually divorce. Actually, for parents to consider divorce is much more common and, even then, few actually carry through with the idea. Feelings of guilt and assigning guilt, more than expressing blame, have a negative effect on a marriage. Either parent expressing guilt may also cause damage. Each parent should support the other in the other’s expression of grief without taking it to such an extreme that they miss the common areas of response to grief they could be going through together.
After losing a child, a couple who knows the damage these conditions could cause to their marriage will know what to watch for and remain alert to ward them off. You do not have to let the tragic loss hurt your marriage if you let a loving God take you through the experience. Actually, I believe that a tragedy can have the opposite effect; it can bring you and your spouse closer together as you deal with the overwhelming tribulation.
- Your life has changed; but God has not.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8).
I learned early on in this journey that my experience does not change God, but it does change me. Just because I do not understand why something happened does not mean that it is God’s character that is wrong. How I allow myself to be changed is, for a large part, mine to decide.
I chose to let God lead me through this. It was hard and it was painful, but I got through the worst of it. (I say “the worst of it” because you are never really completely “through” it, ever). I can’t say that I did it right, because I messed up more times than I can count, but I did make it through into returning to a relatively normal activity-filled life, caring for my husband and children, and maintaining a strong relationship with my Lord —and am still making it through.
Only God can take credit for healing my broken heart and giving me a new perspective and desire to keep on living. He is indeed the same yesterday, today, and forever. May you grow to know Him more and more and may you stay close in your relationship with Him forever. If you don’t know Him well, get to know Him. Believe in Him. Trust in Him. He cares for you! ***
BY by Pam Dressler
Get a copy of Pam’s book LIFE AFTER LOSS @ your local Christian bookstore, or at .www.wordalive.ca