“Life Goes On” vs “Get Over It”

We had our annual BASIS Picnic this past weekend. I suppose some outsiders might say that it’s time we bereaved parents “get over it” (our loss) and get back to carrying on with our lives. Others might wonder how grieving parents can enjoy a picnic that exemplifies fun and enjoyment.

If anyone looked in at our picnic from the outside, I believe they could have understood the false premise of either of the above two observations. Dealing with our own deep grief is difficult in itself, and misguided analysis of how we are dealing with our grief is frustrating and hurtful. However, we must not let others determine how we grieve. We also must not let such misguided attitudes determine our attitude toward those who can’t understand or grasp the magnitude of our grief.

As Director of BASIS, I was pleased to see the interaction of parents at the picnic. There was a lot of laughter and fun and enjoyment. There was also exchange of comfort and caring and even some tears. All were appropriate and helpful.

Any bereaved parent will tell you that they never “get over it;” but we understand that indeed “life goes on.” However, bereaved parents also are painfully aware that “life will never be the same” after their loss.

So, it is not a contradiction for grieving parents to laugh and find joys in life in their ongoing journey of grief. My observation is that an event like a BASIS picnic is a safe place to have fun and shed tears with other grieving parents because we share a common bond of the deepest of human losses, losing a child.

When I come away from a BASIS picnic or a BASIS Breakfast or a support group meeting I feel encouraged and my heart is a little better healed, and I am a little better able to “go on” in the rest of my world. I can better react to those who don’t understand.

I am also so very thankful for the blessing of having others walk with me in my journey of grief and for the privilege of walking with other grieving parents.

Once again, the picnic demonstrated to me the truth of God’s promise in II Corinthians 1:3-7 (TLB):

"What a wonderful God we have—he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does he do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we undergo sufferings for Christ, the more he will shower us with his comfort and encouragement. We are in deep trouble for bringing you God’s comfort and salvation. But in our trouble God has comforted us—and this, too, to help you: to show you from our personal experience how God will tenderly comfort you when you undergo these same sufferings. He will give you the strength to endure."

Help Along the Way

As a nation, we just celebrated our independence again on July 4. We are fortunate to live in a country where we have so many freedoms; but as great as our Constitution and Bill of Rights are, there are some freedoms only God can give.

The good news of the Gospel is that we can be forgiven of our sins, freed from the bondage of sin, and freed from both the penalty and the guilt of sin. That is surely more than good news. It’s great news!

However, in this life we won’t be free from sickness, accidents, heartaches, disappointments, or the death of loved ones. Believers are not immune to such pain. In the next life we will be free of such things. In the meantime, we have been given the Spirit of God to dwell with us and in us. We are not left alone in our times of pain.

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit. He said to His disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, because, He abides with you, and He will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned…” (John 14:16-18 NRSV)

It is good to know we are not alone. It has been a blessing to me to have family and friends with me in my journey of grief in the loss of our daughter, but knowing God is with me is even more comforting and helpful.

The Psalmist captures this relationship we can have with God in troubled times when he wrote, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 NRSV)

In your journey of grief, may you realize the blessing of God’s presence as expressed in the words of this song:

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand. *

*Words: Kar­o­lina W. San­dell-Berg, 1865 (Blott en dag, ett ögon­blick i sän­der); trans­lat­ed from Swed­ish to Eng­lish by An­drew L. Skoog (1856-1934).

Celebrating the Memory of Your Child

When I was a teenager my family lived next to a cemetery. My brother and I had the job of mowing the cemetery and trimming around all the tombstones. (No “weed eaters” for us back then). Sometimes, as I mowed, I would stop and read the tombstones. I would read the names and the date the person was born and when that person died; but that was all I knew about him or her.

Sometimes, like around Mother’s Day or perhaps the birth date or death date of the deceased, I would find flowers by the tombstone. That told me that the person in the grave was being remembered by someone. Sometimes I saw the person bringing the flowers and saw him or her standing for a while at the grave.

As a teenager I thought the person by the grave was most likely thinking about the person in the grave, and I probably assumed that the deceased was a mother or father or a grandparent. However, by reading dates on the tombstones I realized that, in some cases, the deceased person was young. This meant it was someone’s child.

Now, I realize that some of those whose birth and death dates revealed that they were adults, were ALSO someone’s child. Our daughter, Crystal was thirty-six when she died. Yes, she was an adult, but she was and still is our child. The death of a child, no matter what age, seems so wrong and unnatural.

We considered the funeral for our daughter a “celebration.” We did not celebrate her death, of course. We celebrated her life. That was more than eleven years ago, but we continue to celebrate Crystal’s memory. 

Parents find different ways to celebrate the memory of their deceased child.

At our recent annual BASIS Breakfast, the speakers, Rev. Charles and Judy Gates, brought a book they had put together depicting their daughter, Heather, who died from leukemia at age 24. It was a book of pictures spanning Heather’s life. It was well done and very meaningful. I noticed that it was done several years after Heather died. Ways of celebrating the memory of someone we love don’t have to be created right after the time of death.

Celebrating the memory of our children should be an ongoing thing. Bereaved parents never want to forget their child or have their child be forgotten by others.

One of the ways my wife and I celebrate Crystal’s memory is to plant a tree each year on her birthday. We will plant the twelfth tree in a few weeks. Every time I look at one of the trees we planted and marked with a heart- shaped stone I think of our daughter. Those growing trees help us celebrate her memory. In addition to planting trees, my wife has made picture albums, we have written a book, “Until It’s All Crystal Clear,” and I have written some poems.

God remembers us and He remembers our sorrows in the loss of our children. “You have seen me tossing and turning in the night. You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle. You have recorded every one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 

Surely, He also remembers and celebrates with us as we celebrate the memory of our children, knowing that, one day, we can celebrate together in heaven forever, not as a memory, but in person!

I would be interested in hearing how some of you who read this blog celebrate the memory of your child. CONTACT me to share your ideas!

A New Perspective

Six months after our daughter Crystal’s death, her husband Dave told me he had made a little progress in his grief with the coming of the New Year. He said he was able to move on some. Then he made this observation: “To move on didn’t mean I packed up my memories of Crystal and then looked back at them as I moved forward. Instead, I packed up the memories and took them with me as I began to move ahead.”

Soon after that Dave sent me the following poem.

A New Perspective - By Dave Kline
March 4, 2006
 
I never knew how short life was, the end is always near,
But I have a new perspective now, its all so very clear.
 
Each day I have, every hour I live, is so precious and so dear.
For I have a new perspective now, it’s all so very clear.
 
Robin and Jeff I watch grow big, and toward God I guide and steer.
Since I have this new perspective now, it’s all so very clear.
 
Raise them up to live their lives with all the proper gear,
For I have a new perspective now, it’s all so very clear.
 
Do my best with what I have, and with God I need not fear.
I have this new perspective now, and it’s all so very clear.
 
Spend time with my friends, my family, and kids while we’re all still here.
Since I have this new perspective now, it’s all so very clear.
 
No more worries about earthly things, for Heaven has no peer.
I have this new perspective now, it’s all so very clear.
 
And I’ll keep going, and the kids will too, never turning toward the rear.
For we have a new perspective now, it’s all so very clear.
 
Always moving toward the endless Son, tho’ the days may be dark and drear.
That’s from our new perspective now, it’s all so very clear.
 
The kids will grow, but I’ll grow too, older by the year.
With our new perspective now, it’s all so very clear.
 
I hope one day to have new little ones to guide, as grandchildren they appear.
 
I’ll show them my new perspective then, I’ll make it so very clear.
But a day will come eventually, when I’ll shed no earthly tear.
I’ll have a new perspective then, it’ll all be very clear.
 
I’ll be with Him, and see her too; we’ll all be very near,
For I’ll have the best perspective then, it’s all so Crystal clear.

 

Blessings to you on your journey of grief.

Grieving the Death of a Child

Two articles that caught my attention recently are listed below. My hope is that you will be helped by the insights shared here.

From the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2015

No parent is prepared for a child's death. Parents are simply not supposed to outlive their children. It is important to remember that how long your child lived does not determine the size of your loss. The loss of a child is profound at every age.

  • Parents of young children are intimately involved in their daily lives. Death changes every aspect of family life, often leaving an enormous emptiness.
  • The death of an older child or adolescent is difficult because children at this age are beginning to reach their potential and become independent individuals.
  • When an adult child dies, you lose not only a child but often a close friend, a link to grandchildren, and an irreplaceable source of emotional and practical support.

You may find that you also grieve for the hopes and dreams you had for your child, the potential that will never be realized, and the experiences you will never share. If you lost your only child, you may also feel that you have lost your identity as a parent and perhaps the possibility of grandchildren. The pain of these losses will always be a part of you. Yet with time, most parents find a way forward and begin to experience happiness and meaning in life once again.

Margo F. Weiss, PHD wrote the following:

The loss of a child is the most devastating experience a parent can face-and missing the child never goes away. A piece of yourself is lost and your future is forever changed.

The age of the child at the time of death does not lessen the hurt or devastation. It feels completely unnatural for a child to die before his or her parents.

  1. Miscarriage affects about 25% of women who become pregnant during their lifetime. The experience of pregnancy loss can be devastating to couples, yet the majority of women who miscarry become pregnant again soon after the loss. This can become emotionally and physically challenging for the couple. They are often plagued with concerns about the possibility of another miscarriage and whether they made an appropriate decision to conceive again.
  2. Stillbirths, occurring in about 1% of pregnancies, can leave a feeling of disorientation, yearning and despair. Hospitals will give parents the option of spending time with the baby to say goodbye, and many parents have said that seeing their child was important for their grief process and enabled them to see the baby as a part of themselves. Another form of infant loss is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) - the most frequent cause of death in children under one year of age - that creates a profound void and sense of loss in the family.
  3. Approximately 2,000 children are reported missing every day, and these kidnappings and cases of missing children cause parents almost unbearable pain. Not knowing whether a child is dead or alive results in confusion, fright and anxiety. When the bodies of kidnapped children are found, parents may express saddened relief that their children can now have a proper burial and healing can finally begin.
  4. The parents of murder victims face many unique struggles in their process of bereavement. A sense of loss of control is common, and the suddenness of the death is so overwhelming that, for a period of time, parents are often incapable of processing through the grief. For this group, dealing with spiritual beliefs, attitudes toward life, and general physical health may hold special importance.
  5. Each day, 46 children are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S., and 35% of those will die. Cancer remains the number one disease killer of children. The anguish and extreme pain parents experience begins with diagnosis. One part of the parents' heart hopes for a cure, while the other part begins the quiet process of impending grief

My Son's Glory Day

I’ve been referring to my son’s day of death as his “death day” for 12 years. On some level, that bothers me. It implies a negative event took place. It was not a fun day for sure, but a very difficult day from a parent’s perspective. But just yesterday, the 12th anniversary of our son’s death, I was thinking how for him it was a day full of glory. The words to a hymn came to mind:

When all my labors and trials are o’er,
And I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore,
Will through the ages be glory for me.
Chorus:
O that will be, glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me;
When by his grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me.
 
When by the gift of his infinite grace,
I am accorded in heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face
Will through the ages be glory for me.
 
Friends will be there I have loved long ago;
Joy like a river around me will flow;
Yet, just a smile from my Saviour, I know,
Will through the ages be glory for me.

[“O That Will be Glory” written by Charles H. Gabriel, 1856-1932.]

From now on, I’m going to call June 8th “my son’s Glory Day.” That’s a far better description of the day we celebrate in memory of our son. We take the day off of work and make a plan to go somewhere we both enjoy, or pick a new place to explore. Our son enjoyed trips and meeting new people. He could start a conversation with anyone and find out all about them in about 10 minutes. I can’t do that even now. I’m laid back and shy around new people. But I do like to explore new places of interest. This plan has helped us to look fondly forward to this day, instead of dreading it. Sure, we still feel that seed of sadness inside us…but the day is not so hard to endure now.

- Written by Marilyn Barto, former BASIS Ministry Secretary

Picking Up the Pieces

Some time ago my sister gave me a plaque that I have hanging here in my office. It reads: “I finally got it all together and forgot where I put it.”

When a child dies the devastation is unimaginable, meaning that no can fully imagine what it’s like for us. It is different for each of us; but we all share the reality that our lives will never be the same again.

We go on with our lives – and with our broken hearts. We take a day at a time; sometimes a moment at a time. In the early stages of our grief, we wonder if or how we can ever function. Will we ever be able to get it “all together” again?

Unfortunately, if that is our goal, it will be an elusive one, always beyond our reach. After losing our precious daughter, Crystal, we certainly have not put all the pieces back together because some pieces will always be missing.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty together again. 

We ask ourselves if life will ever be normal again. Yes, it will be. It will be normal, but not the same normal. It will be a new normal. It will be normal to grieve the loss of our child. It will be normal for our great loss to affect our lives immensely. It is not something we will ever get over. The broken pieces of our lives can never be put back together as they were. We will not wake up one morning in this life and everything will be back the way it was; but we can get through each day, each year. Our hearts can be mended.

When broken steel is welded it is stronger than before; and so too, with our broken hearts. I am able to do ministry to bereaved parents, not because I have got it all together and put all the pieces back in place. I can do this ministry because God can take my broken heart and mend and mold it anew, with welds of love, grace and compassion that makes it stronger than I ever could.

Be encouraged, “God is in all things working for our good.” He has blessings yet for you as He continues to provide healing and comfort to your broken heart, even though it has been shattered into many pieces.

Some Helps for the Grieving

In my search to write another blog, I was looking through some files here at the BASIS office and I came across two brief items. I was helped by what I discovered. I pray that you might be helped too, in your journey, as you read and reflect on what follows.

To Those Who Hurt…

  • Those things that hurt, instruct. - Ben Franklin
  • We tend to see life as an idealized journey of our own making without any hills or unexpected turns.  We plan for the future and we build up unrealistic expectations of what life should be like.  Deep down, we all expect to keep our health, our loved ones, and our possessions throughout our lives.  But loss is inevitable in life. - Ron Davis
  • Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired, eating when you are hungry, or sneezing when your nose itches.  - Anonymous

To Those Who Want to Be There for Us…

  • Ministering to the hurting means removing your watch.
  • “Being there” offers comfort.  Taking time to visit shows that you are willing to share your painful emotions.
  • It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.  – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • A good listener becomes a personal intensive care unit.
  • A father whose child had died was asked what was most helpful to him.  He replied simply, “My father was helpful because he cried.”
  • The hurt need most – someone to listen, and in that listening – CARE!
  • So often we struggle for some words of comfort when what the bereaved really need and desire is to be embraced, or simply touched; to share tears that reflect a profound sense of loss on the part of the minister as well as the one being ministered to.

 

Merry Christmas

What do you think of when you hear the world “merry?” I looked it up in the dictionary. Webster’s New World Dictionary gives this definition: “full of fun and laughter; lively and cheerful… festive; see HAPPY.”

When your child is not going to be with you in person this Christmas, how can you be “full of fun and laughter?” How can you be “lively and cheerful… festive?” “Happy?!” It seems impossible, I know; but hopefully you will have some fun, laughter and happiness with the people who are still with you.

Over the Christmas season, my wife, Iris, and I have often watched some of our Christmas videos of the past over the Christmas season to remember our daughter, Crystal. We have discovered that whenever we do that, it brings tears; but it also brings some laughter and fond memories. It is a way of keeping our daughter alive to us.

As we celebrate Christmas this year with other family members, we know we can have a “Merry Christmas” in the joy we share being with them, exchanging gifts as we exchange gifts and, at times, sharing memories of Crystal.

If this is the first Christmas without your child, you may not feel like being “merry;” and that’s okay. Grieving doesn’t require you to put on a “happy” face. For me, the first few Christmas days were the hardest. This will be our 12th Christmas without Crystal, and there is still sadness and heartbreak even as I write about this a few days before Christmas.

A few months after Crystal died, Iris seemed to sense God telling her to “concentrate on the living.” It didn’t me she was to forget her daughter but to also focus on the family and friends still here. Iris and I have tried to do that. We surely do miss the child who has gone from us but we are also grateful for the family still with us and we will endeavor to have a “Merry Christmas” with them.

 

God Is In Control?

“God is in control.” What does that mean? I have heard people say that. Does it mean He controls everything? I don’t think so. He is not controlling what I am typing right now. If He is, He is not a very good typist. He allows me to make my own mistakes, and I make my share. I can’t cop out by saying, “The Devil made me do it;” nor can I say, “God made me do it.”

When our children were very young I felt that, as parents, we were in control, but only on a limited basis even then. We tried to control the environment they were in. We kept it safe, we kept it warm, we controlled what they ate, where they could go. But we couldn’t control when they cried, though we tried to comfort them and respond to their needs. We couldn’t control every action they made or every word they said.

We are finite. God is infinite, yet He chooses not to control everything we do or say. Sometimes it FEELS like He doesn’t control what happens to us’ tho’, in reality, He permits or directs everything – but always for a purpose. God’s ways are indeed higher than our ways. I don’t propose to know the mind of God; but I do know some things about God. I know God is good and He works for good for us even in this fallen world. His love for us is beyond understanding, yet in His wisdom and love He does not protect us from every painful thing in this life.

Bad things do happen to good people. Experiencing the death of a child cannot be construed as a good thing; but, even there, God is present to bring good out of even the worst of things. Jesus’ death was painful for Him and painful for His mother; but His cruel death was not the last word. God turned things around.

The death of our daughter, Crystal, devastated us. We were crushed by the most painful experience of our lives. Our hearts were broken. God did not intervene and physically heal our daughter; but He has restored her to even greater health and we will see her again. Eleven years later we are still here. We have survived. Life has gone on for us. There is still sorrow and pain from our loss; but we have also experienced new joys and blessings. I don’t have all the answers; but my faith still holds to a sovereign God who finds a way to give us freedom, unconditional love and His Presence in the worst circumstances of our lives.

When life seems out of control, remember – there is Someone Who is in control! And, He has promised to provide comfort and some healing in this life. The ultimate good He brings will not come until the next life when God makes all things new! In the meantime, we can count on Him “never to leave us nor forsake us.”

Keepsakes

At a recent support group meeting we were asked to bring something that was a keepsake belonging to our deceased loved one. Someone brought a special picture. Someone else brought an item their loved one had made, while another brought the locks of hair they had swept up after cutting their son’s hair shortly before he was killed in an automobile accident.

We all have keepsakes that remind us of our deceased loved ones. These keepsakes are actual, physical things. But there is a keepsake you can’t hold in your hand that may be a more precious treasure—the keepsake of our memories.

Our physical keepsakes eventually deteriorate over time, be it a picture, or craft or whatever.  That is also true of memories, but as Ashley Davis Prend points out:

“It is true that memories become dimmer. But it’s also true that they persist. Your memories become like valued archives in your mind. Your loved one’s life cannot be erased, because it lives in the past, it lives in your heart… The memories will come at expected moments and unexpected ones. Some will bring you sorrow and some will bring you joy.”*

Though these memories may be archived we aren’t easily able to separate them into those that bring only sorrow and those which bring only joy. Most often there is a connection, so that, you can’t seem to have one without the other.

This the way I described it in the book my wife and I wrote:

“Joy and laughter were scarce in our home after Crystal’s death. On those occasions when joy would trickle in, it was often followed by a torrent of grief as the painful memories would flood in. Usually the good memories were overwhelmed by the realization that Crystal could no longer share those memories with us. One of the biggest hurts is that no longer can we say, ‘Crystal, remember when…?’ Yet, Crystal continues to live on, not only in our lives but in other areas as well.’’**

After eleven years the occasions of joy tend to be more than a trickle and though the painful memories still come, they seldom come in as a flood. Joy and sorrow still get mixed together at times, but that is not unlike life itself.

I pray that as time goes by in your loss, your memories of joy will increase and the painful ones will diminish. Those of us who have experience the death of a loved one know that we never get over it, but God helps us to get through it.

* Ashley Davis Prend, Transcending Loss, Berkley Books, NY

** Don and Iris Allison, Until It’s Crystal Clear

Another Anniversary

Recently I wrote a blog, “An Anniversary I Don’t Celebrate.” It was the 11th anniversary of our daughter, Crystal’s (36), death from leukemia. I hesitated to even call it an anniversary, but I didn’t know what else to call it.

There is another anniversary I do celebrate this week. It is our 54th wedding anniversary. I celebrate that God brought Iris into my life and that we fell in love and got married. God has truly blessed our lives in many ways. Without the blessing of our marriage we never would have had Crystal.

I am grateful for two wonderful children and four super grandchildren. Crystal is no longer with us in person but I am so grateful for the thirty-six years we had with her.

I don’t think there will be anniversaries in heaven because there will be no dimension of time.  Heaven will be one grand continuous celebration. It is something I look forward to with great anticipation. Here some anniversaries are joyful, some are not. The Bible says that, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” I Corinthians 2:9.

Iris and I will celebrate our wedding anniversary this week and we will reflect on our lives together. We will rejoice for the many blessings and happy times we have shared together. We will no doubt remember the birth of our children and the blessing they have been. In the midst of our celebration we will also be reminded that Crystal is no longer with us. That will be painful, but we will also be glad that God brought us together and blessed our marriage and enabled us to share the good times and support each other in the difficult times.

This reminds me of a few verses from a poem I wrote for Iris a few years ago:

When I see you crying
I know you are so sad.
It’s something I can understand,
Because I am her dad.
 
I cry for you and you for me.
We are her dad and mother.
The only way we hope to live,
Is holding to each other.
 
Then one day we both will join
Our daughter with no tear.
There is no doubt in our mind,
For this is Crystal Clear.

An Anniversary I Don't Celebrate

Today (August 1) is an anniversary for me, but it is not one I celebrate. I even hesitate to call it an anniversary, but I don’t know what else to call it. You see, eleven years ago today our precious daughter, Crystal, died from leukemia at age thirty-six. I was with her in the hospital as she passed from this life to the next. As I have thought about this today, even though I do not celebrate, there are things for which I am thankful:

I am thankful for the presence of God and His comfort through His Spirit who abides in me.
I am thankful for my wife, Iris, who has walked together with me through our grief journey these past eleven years, and I am thankful for family and friends who have given their support.
I am also thankful for the opportunity I now have of directing the BASIS ministry. For some who may not be familiar with BASIS it stands for Brothers and Sisters In Support, and it is a ministry to bereaved parents, parents who have experienced the loss of children of various ages.
I was thankful today as several people connected to BASIS sat around the lunch table at our office and gave me the opportunity to share some thoughts and remembrances; but more importantly, they gave me the opportunity to thank them for their love and support through my journey of grief.

Thankfulness is not just a blessing to the one receiving thanks but it is also a blessing to the one who gives the thanks. Think how awful it would be if there was no one to thank for the comfort, encouragement and support YOU have received along your grief journey! Most of all, thank our God, Who is…the God of all comfort… [II Corinthians 1:3].

On second thought, there is a reason to celebrate and we did celebrate at Crystal's funeral. We celebrated her life and we celebrated her entrance to heaven where she resides with her Lord and Savior, Jesus. We also celebrate that, one day, we will be reunited with Crystal forever!!!

"Good Grief"

I don’t know how that expression came to be, but at first I thought, “Those two words don’t seem to go together.” The expression is often used humorously, when someone pretends that a situation is more serious than it really is: “Good grief. It’s only a tiny scratch. We don’t need to call an ambulance.”

In the Charlie Brown cartoon, “good grief” seems to be the favorite expression Linus and Lucy use to express frustration.

Grief has been defined as: deep sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, distress. It is often an exclamation that expresses surprise, alarm, dismay or some other, usually, negative emotion. Someone expressed grief as, “the feeling of reaching out for someone who’s always been there, only to discover when I need her [or him] one more time, she’s no longer there.” These things certainly don’t seem – good.

The ability to grieve over a loss can be a healthy and helpful thing, a good thing. You may have heard the expression, “Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace.” Although that is not a definition, it expresses a truth about grief. Since we all handle and process grief differently, are there some guidelines about handling grief in a healthy way so it can actually become “good”?

When we grieve the loss of a child, healthy grief:

  • recognizes the great value of that child. The deeper the love and connection with the deceased, the deeper the grief or sense of loss.
  • pours out your grief to God.  He always hears the cries of His children.
  • asks for help from others. God doesn’t expect us to grieve alone.
  • looks for blessings.  Not that God needs to bring you loss so He can bring you blessings; but God works even in the worst circumstances to bring something good. From a cross and a tomb God brought salvation and new life that is everlasting!
  • finds ways to use the comfort you receive to share with others. They will be blessed and so will you.

This doesn’t mean we have to just put on a happy face in our grief. 

Paul David Trip writes:

“In times of death, Christians should be sadder than anyone else. We know how sin brought death into the world. We mourn not only for the loved one we have lost, but also for the fact that death continues to destroy. We live in a place where something that was never meant to be has become a common experience. We know how wonderful life on earth could have been.
“Yet we should also be the most hopeful of any who mourn. God brings the best out of the worst. Even in the darkest moments, we are never alone. The death and resurrection of Christ stand as a sure and reliable promise that someday death will die.” *

Embrace the truth of those words and take steps to grieve in a healthy way.  You will find that your grief truly can be GOOD!

*Paul David Trip, Grief, Finding Hope Again, New Growth Press, p.12

How Do You Make Sense Out of Tragedies?

Tragedies are a part of life here on earth. The greatest tragedy by far for me and my wife, Iris, is the death of our daughter, Crystal. She died at age 36 from leukemia in 2005.

God has made a world inhabited by imperfect human beings, human beings who make mistakes and cause accidents, human beings who are capable of evil that can injure and kill others. Hitler and Stalin were human beings who inflicted great suffering and death on millions. However, not all tragedies are accounted for by evil people or self-inflicted. As far as I know, no evil person caused Crystal to get leukemia and die at age thirty-six. As far as we know, too, Crystal did not get leukemia because of a mistake she made.

We must recognize that life consists of many factors that we have difficulty accepting or explaining. If God created everything, why is there suffering? Did God create that too? Author, E. Stanley Jones, makes a helpful observation. He says, “God has chosen to run the universe by order rather than by whim or notion. The laws are orderly because God’s mind is orderly; they are dependable because God is dependable.” [i] I agree with this statement and it helps me understand that just because we are Christians, we are not exempt from the laws of the universe that God has designed. If I fall off of a 200 foot cliff, I will crash to the earth below. Our bodies are wonderful creations but they are imperfect. They are susceptible to disease and we all have a limited life span in our current bodies

Sometimes God does intervene and rescue us from disaster, disease and even death; but even then, those interventions are temporary. However, most times it does not seem as if God does intervene with a miracle. God heals some, but not all; nor does He promise to. An absence of healing is not a sign of our lack of faith. Author Jones even suggests that when God chooses not to heal it may be a “compliment of His faith in our spiritual strength.” [ii]

God has a way, though, of turning our sunsets into sunrises. At the time the sun is setting, the hope of a sunrise sometime off in the future may not be too comforting. At the moment of the death of a loved one, the darkness of the setting sun can be so dark that the promise of another sunrise in the future, somewhere, sometime, may fall short in its power to heal our pain. This does not mean the hope of another sunrise has no power for the Christian. In fact, the hope of another sunrise, the resurrection of the dead in Christ, has great power to comfort and help us to go on.

The point here is that there is a period of darkness between sunset and sunrise. Jesus was in the tomb on Friday and the stone was rolled away on Sunday. Though, as Christians, we are sometimes overwhelmed by sorrow and grief, we know that it is not the final word. It is not the final feeling. There is, thank God, another life ahead for all believers. It is an eternal life with our Lord.

A church-school superintendent and his wife had just lost their child, an only child, and the next Sunday was Easter Sunday. The superintendent went through his duties as usual but not as usual, for there was a note of triumph and victory about it all. As the pupils walked home that day, one boy said very suddenly to his mother, “They really believe it, don’t they?”

“Believe what?” asked the mother.

“Why, the resurrection and all that?”

“Of course; we all believe it.”

“Yes,” said the boy, very thoughtfully, “but not that way; they really believe it.” [iii]

 

[i] E. Stanley Jones, Christ and Human Suffering  (New York, NY: The Abingdon Press, 1933), 19

[ii] Ibid., 89

[iii] Ibid., 229   

Glad For A Broken Heart?

Our daughter’s birthday is next week. We plant a tree each year to remember and honor her life. Crystal’s last birthday on earth was eleven years ago. She was thirty-six. A lot has happened in those eleven years. Last month her daughter, Robin, graduated from college and this past weekend Robin was married in a beautiful setting and ceremony. We rejoiced at both occasions; but, unfortunately for us, Crystal was not able to share those wonderful occasions with us in person and that breaks my heart. However, I am reminded of a blog I wrote some time ago. “Glad For A Broken Heart?”

Really! How can a broken heart be a good thing? On the surface that sounds morbid, abnormal, perhaps impossible. Yet, think about it for a moment. As I stood at the graveside of our precious daughter, Crystal, my heart was surely broken; and even though there has been some healing, there is a huge scar and it is still not fixed. My heart still breaks and I have come to realize that is a good thing. I'm not glad that our daughter died. I'm not glad it happened. It has been by far the most painful thing in my life; but think how tragic it would be if my heart was not broken over the death of my daughter. I am glad for the love we shared. I'm glad for the bond that held us together. I am glad for the wonderful memories. I'm glad Crystal came into our family and blessed us so much for thirty-six years, so it's only natural that I should have a broken heart when she is no longer with us. To not feel a deep loss would diminish the value of our relationship.

To love deeply also means we hurt deeply when the one we love is no longer with us. The saying, "It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" is in reference to love between a man and woman when one party does not return that love. In the case of me and my daughter it is not that one party does not return love but that death has brought a separation for the rest of this life. So, even though it hurts and my heart is still not fixed, I'm glad God created Crystal and that she was part of our family. I'd much rather have it this way than to think it was no big deal that my daughter died because there was no strong bond of love. I am glad I loved her deeply and she loved me, even though that's why it hurts so much.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." [John 3:16]. God's love for us is so much stronger than our love for Him or our love for each other.

God understands broken hearts and one day my heart will be completely whole and I will be reunited with my daughter whose new body will be whole! Then we will celebrate endless glorious occasions!!!

How Will We Go On?

Our family has experienced the devastating loss of our daughter, Crystal. And God has not replaced our daughter, nor will He replace your missing child. Our children are irreplaceable.  But, God has added to our family. He has added other bereaved parents to our family and, thankfully, one day all of our family, including the many bereaved parents we have met, will be united and reunited in heaven. WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE!

Revelation 21:3-4“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”

But “until then” what shall we do? 

Family helps greatly to make it possible to choose joy in our lives. It doesn’t mean we ignore the hardships and heartaches, but it adds something wonderful to our lives to help us keep going. One day everything will be new and perfect and eternal.

But until then... what shall we do? We find part of an answer in a song. 

Until Then*

My heart can sing when I pause to remember
A heartache here is but a stepping stone,
Along a trail that’s winding ever upward.
This troubled world is not my final Home.
Chorus:
But until then my heart will go on singing,
Until then with joy I’ll carry on,
Until the day my eyes behold the City,
Until the day God calls me Home.
This weary would with all its toil and struggle
May take its toll of misery and strife;
The soul of man is like a waiting falcon;
When it’s released, it’s destined for the skies.
Chorus

So, until that day God calls: “Don Allison, come on Home,” I will still have those moments of grief: but, I’ll keep on singing, and with the joy of the Lord, I’ll carry on. And, so will you. We will do it together!

A Mother Finds Hope and Joy in Her Journey of Grief

Chrystal Smallwood, who has lost three babies in pregnancy, shares some intimate moments of her grieving process:

A few years ago, Jeremy (husband) officiated a funeral for a tiny still born baby. The family asked if I would read a poem and some Scripture in the service. I did it, but it was hard. Really hard; gut-wrenching hard.

I wanted to help this family grieve and honor their wishes, and had decided that for an hour I could put myself aside and allow them their moment. I barely made it through the readings, using every bit of emotional strength I had.

In a strange way, it was an enormously redemptive moment. In a sense, I was able to put a face to my unborn and unseen children. I was what my own babies might have looked like. I was able to see a body to what had only been a memory.

When the service was over, and I had given my proper pastoral condolences, I quietly made my way out of the sanctuary. I found the door opposite from where the small crowd was congregating in the back of the room. I tried to be as unnoticed as possible while I exited. I headed toward Jeremy’s office.

I wanted, needed, to be alone.

I needed to mourn the loss of my own babies. To listen to the memories that were needing to speak at this moment.

My fresh tears needed the space and freedom to create their own path.  

I didn’t make it down the long hallway from the sanctuary to Jeremy’s office. The tears were coming faster, and far too powerfully for me to stop them.

I slipped into a classroom and closed the door behind me.

All of the emotions of never physically saying goodbye to my own babies met me that day; that moment.

I allowed the tears to flow.

I allowed the heartache to make its peace.

I allowed what tears and pain had resided in my heart to find a way out; to make their own exit from my heart. They deserved it. I deserved it. My babies deserved it.

That funeral day, having stood next to a tiny casket, listening to my husband pray a final blessing over a little life, and allowing my new tears to fall, I was finally able to say goodbye to my babies.

My momma’s heart kissed them goodbye.

One day I will meet my babies in heaven. I will hold them, and love them, and tell them there wasn’t a day that went by in which I did not think of them. I will tell them the stories of their sisters, and of camping at the farm in Vermont, and meeting Mickey Mouse and Cinderella.

One day I’ll hold my babies. I will listen to them, look into their eyes as I run my fingers through their hair. I’ll follow the shape of their eyebrows and cheekbones with my thumb as I hold their heads in my hand. I will count their fingers and toes and hang on every word they have to tell me.

I’ll tell them of all the times I imagined them in my arms, but mostly, I’ll hold them and love them and kiss them a million times. 

I’ll tell them how Jesus used them to teach me about Himself, and about how my heart still melts at the sight of baby toes and chubby legs.

One day I’ll hold my babies. One day I’ll touch their perfect untouched skin, and smell their perfect fresh smell, and tell them I never stopped loving them, that I never stopped thinking of them—that January, March and July don’t pass by the calendar without a silent birthday wish from my heart to theirs.

But maybe they already know.

Until that day comes, though, I know they are with One who is more loving than I, who created them exactly how He wanted them to be, and has a reason for every second they lived, no matter how infinitely short I think that life was.

Here on this earth, however, we have been gifted with two amazing young ladies. We do our best to raise them with gratitude and intentionality. We celebrate their lives every single day.

The conclusion is a fantastic part of the journey, and we haven’t arrived at it yet. But we know it’s coming. We know there is a last chapter. We know, we believe, that God has written that chapter, that in the end He will make sense of everything… God’s story for us doesn’t always make sense in the present.

But it will.

One day.

I could never have uttered those words in the midst of our loss… I can say them now because it has been many years. I’ve lived this story of grief and loss, but I’ve seen the other side, the side of restored hope and joy, the side of the story where I can look back and see God’s hand in the midst of it all. Most importantly, though, I met Jesus in the midst of it. I realize that it was He who walked alongside us every second of every day, and from it there surely is a testimony.

When Tomorrow Starts Without Me

When Tomorrow starts without me and I’m not there to see;

If the sun should rise

And find your eyes

All filled with tears for me;

 

I wish so much you wouldn’t cry

The way you did today,

While thinking of the many things

We didn’t get to say.

 

I know how much you love me,

As much as I love you,

And each time you think of me

I know you’ll miss me too;

 

But when tomorrow starts without me,

Please try to understand,

That Jesus came and called my name

And took me by the hand,

 

And said my place was ready

In heaven far above,

And that I’d have to leave behind

All those I dearly love.

 

But as I turned to walk away,

A tear fell from my eye,

For all my life, I’d always thought

I didn’t want to die.

 

I had so much to live for

And so much yet to do,

It seemed almost impossible

That I was leaving you.

 

I thought of all the yesterdays,

The good ones and the bad.

I thought of all the love we’d shared

And all the fun we’d had.

 

If I could relive yesterday,

I thought, just for a while,

I’d say goodbye and kiss you

And maybe see you smile.

 

But then I fully realized

That this could never be,

For emptiness and memories

Would take the place of me.

 

And when I thought of worldly things

That I’d miss come tomorrow,

I thought of you,

And when I did,

My heart was filled with sorrow.

 

But when I walked through heaven’s gates,

I felt so much at home.

When God looked down and smiled at me,

From His great golden throne.

 

He said, “This is eternity

And all I’ve promised you.

Today your life on earth is past

But here it starts anew.

 

I promise no tomorrow,

But today will always last,

And since each day’s the same day,

There’s no longing for the past,

 

You have been so faithful,

so trusting and so true.

Though there were times you did some things

You knew you shouldn’t do.

 

But you have been forgiven

And now at last you’re free.

So won’t you take my hand

And share my life with me?”

 

So when tomorrow starts without me,

Don’t think we’re far apart,

For every time you think of me,

I’m right here in your heart!

- Author Unknown

Extra Losses In Your Life

The loss of a loved one is not a single loss.

The death of a child would be enough to cope with in the inevitable journey of grief, but such a loss also brings with it other losses. The child you love is gone, but in addition, there can be the loss of family relationships, the loss of finances, the loss of a job or perhaps even the loss of your home.

You may have to consider moving or altering your future plans. So, the loss of structure and stability become real issues to deal with, and sorting out which loss you are dealing with at a particular moment may be confusing.

What we are confronted with after a horrific loss, such as the loss of a child, is that life for us will never be the same. Many things change as a result of that one deep loss. It usually takes a while to realize the many changes that occur. Understanding that there are multiple losses and changes may seem overwhelming at times. Sometimes this can paralyze us in coping with them. Trying to prioritize the various challenges we now face can help. Some issues will require more immediate action. Others will allow for more time to deal with them.

Taking things “One Day at a Time” can be an oversimplification; but, in general, it is good counsel. There is no smooth and easy road on our grief journey; but God promises comfort, wisdom and guidance on a daily basis in our journey.

It has been more than ten years since our daughter, Crystal, died from leukemia. Our lives have certainly changed since our great loss. Not having Crystal with us now still effects our lives as a family. Crystal’s daughter, Robin, will graduate from college and is engaged to be married.  Crystal won’t be there in person to celebrate those special occasions with us. If you are a bereaved parent you have your own unique changes you have to face.

Even though life is different and will never be the same as it was, I can testify that God is faithful, for He has provided comfort and strength to go on with the new “normal” of our lives. May God help you in your journey today to cope with the “extra” losses and changes in your life.