How does any parent survive the death of a child?
I cannot begin to answer this question as a professional counselor, but only as a mother who has lived through the worst nightmare of her life.
My husband Cliff and I were blessed with two beautiful sons, David and Chris. They were the joy of our lives. As a mother, I had so many hopes and dreams for each of our growing boys. I never imagined
those hopes and dreams would be forever shattered when our oldest son, David died in a tragic car accident at the age of 17.
The night of the accident, my husband Cliff and I along with our 15 year old son Chris spent an indescribable, terrifying night-waiting, hoping, and praying that David would some how return safely home. The accident occurred around 10:30
pm but the highway patrol never discovered the accident until 7 am that following morning.
received the horrible news, our scant, flicker of hope crumbled helplessly within our hearts. I cried from the depths of my being. I was emotionally numb. God in his compassion and love supplied my body and spirit with an emotional safeguard which temporarily
blocked out the enormous shock of this painful, unbearable reality.
A major loss such as the death
of a spouse or a child can take up to several years to heal. The bereaved person's body may be numbed, literally “in shock” for as long as six months. I struggled to believe and disbelieve that this could have happened. Looking back on that night,
it reminded me of the touching words of the poem, entitled, Footprints in the Sand in which our loving God said, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you see
only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
God continued to carry our grief-stricken
family through the painful funeral, the processing of life insurance claims and the closing out of David's checking account. Each time I had to do these necessary things, I asked Jesus to give me the strength.
After three weeks, I went back to work. I felt as though I was leading a double life during the months that followed. I would drag myself to work each day,
drained and consumed with a deeps sadness.
For months, I felt as though I was an actress playing
a part in a real life drama. At work I tried to act “as if” I was functioning normally, attempting to perform my required duties. At home behind closed doors, I could then be true to my feelings and sob from the deepest part of a mother's grieving
Crying often became my only cleansing release. Crying has its own uniqueness; it is cleansing
and a marvelous healing release. In this age of fast foods, high speed Internet, and instantly replaceable everything, society has a hard time accepting the fact that deep grief takes time to heal. If a person has a physical injury, he or she is pampered and
taken care of until the wound has been completely healed. But it seems if a person has an emotional injury, he or she is expected, in a short while to show up for work and be as efficient as ever. I finally had to accept the fact that society as a whole didn't
consider emotional wounds take time to heal.
Along with the obvious feelings of pain, depression
and sadness there are other reactions to the loss that are not so apparent. The person may feel helpless, fearful, empty, despairing, irritable, angry, feeling guilty and restlessness. I experienced all these emotions at varying degrees of intensity and at
I also felt a loss of concentration, hope, motivation and energy. My job performance
suffered considerably. I was making mistakes and reacting strongly to situations that before the death of my son, I could of handled with ease. Through counseling I began to accept that these feeling and reactions were normal and are to be expected after the
death of a loved one. It's part of the body's natural healing process.
One of my caring coworkers
was very helpful and supportive of me during this time. She allowed me to keep a low profile, while she assumed some of my responsibilities. This helped me to survive the first difficult year of processing through my grief.
The stages of grief are shock/denial, anger/depression and understanding/acceptance. My emotions were numb and in shock for months. Some days
reality was just too painful to accept. Sometimes I would pretend that David was away at college or football camp which helped me to get through a tough day.
Then I began to feel my emotions again. My emotions ranged from feeling deep sadness coupled with sobbing quietly, to being irritable at the littlest things to out and out anger and rage. The professionals
in the field of grief work say that these range of emotions is a normal response to losses.
after my son's death, I was consumed with anger and rage. It was very frightening for me to feel that my emotions were so wildly out of control. I wasn't angry at God for taking my son away from me but at David for his irresponsible decision the night he died.
He chose to drink alcohol and to be a passenger in an automobile that was driven by someone who was also drinking. I became very enraged at alcohol in any form.
One day at our local supermarket, I was shopping for groceries, when I spotted a beer display on one of the end aisles. Each time I past this display, I felt myself becoming so enraged. I felt like demolishing
that beer display until there was nothing left of it. I rushed out of the store before my anger exploded into an uncontrollable rage.
I shared with our family counselor about my uncontrollable rage. He was a kind and caring counselor who worked with each of us process through our grief in our own time in our own way. Each member of a family who has experienced
the death of a loved one, deals with their grief in their own way and in their own time. He offered to take me to the countryside where I could aim, shoot, and demolish as many empty beer cans as I needed to with his rifle, so I could safely release some of
my powerful anger that controlled me.
However, God in his infinite wisdom had other more gentle plans
for me. I took a week off from work and went to a week long spiritual retreat. The second day into the retreat, I participated in a deep, inner healing meditation. During this guided meditation, I pictured Jesus, David and I in a beautiful garden, surrounded
by colorful flowers, rich green grass and magnificent trees filled with softly chirping blue birds. It was a peaceful and serene place. I was overjoyed at being in the presence of Jesus and being able to hug my precious son. Jesus, David and I strolled leisurely
hand in hand, silently feeling the deep, immense love between the three of us.
After the meditation
I felt so much peace and love inside. I never realized until after I returned home from the retreat, that my anger and rage was gone. Jesus had healed me of my uncontrollable anger and replaced it with an outpouring of his grace. Instead of feeling anger,
I felt only love in my heart for my precious son. I was eternally grateful for all the love, joy and happiness my son had given me throughout his short life.
My heavy burden was becoming lighter. I continued into the next year processing through my pain and loss. With special dates such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, David's birthday, and what would have been
his high school graduation, I regressed into a deep sadness, filled with many days of crying. The professionals in the field of grieving state, “The healing process is more like a lightening bolt, full of ups and downs, progressions and regressions,
dramatic leaps and depressing backslides.” It is so important for the grieving person to be reminded that they are very worthwhile human being.
My friends reminded me often to be gentle on myself and encouraged me to get lots of rest. When my sorrow overwhelmed me, God always sent human angels, in the form of caring neighbors, understanding friends and loved ones.
They each listened, loved me, and helped me to go on.
The grieving person can experience a certain
amount of guilt and loss of self-esteem over the loss of his or her loved one. Into the second year of processing through my grief, I became aware of my deep hidden guilt. My guilt stemmed from an acute sense of regret about not being able to say all the many
things hidden deep in my heart to my son David while he was alive. I knew as a mother, I had made many mistakes in raising my son. I felt it was too late to share those precious thoughts and feeling with him.
I suffered over this and asked God to forgive me. I felt God had forgiven me, but I couldn't forgive myself. I decided to write my son a letter, in which
I was able to express my deepest thoughts and feelings to him. After I finished the letter, I felt a sense of cleansing and release. I knew that my son David had heard me because God revealed this truth to me in a touching book, entitled, On Children and Death, by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. In her book she states: “I want you to know that our research in death and life after death has revealed beyond a shadow of a doubt, that those who
make the transition are more alive, more surrounded with unconditional love and beauty than you can ever conceive...The only thing that stays with them is the knowledge of love and care that they have received and of the lessons they have learned during their
physical life.” These are reassuring words for me to know that my son can only feel all the love that I and others gave him during his earthly life.
David's physical life is over, but his soul is with Jesus surrounded by unconditional love. This is indeed the promise that Jesus holds out to each of us. “I am the resurrection and
the life. He that believes in me, will live, even though he dies.” John 11: 25. I have a renewed sense of hope because I know that I will see my child again at the Heavenly Banquet
being prepared by our Father in Heaven.
When tragedy and death strike a family,
it can be overwhelming for everyone concerned. Processing through our losses is indeed challenging bringing us through some deep dark valleys but with God's love and His amazing grace we can again experience rays of sunshine and hope in our lives. Grief coupled with God's love changes us from the inside out helping us little by little to be a people of love and compassion.
Through experiencing deep anguish and sorrow, I have emerged a more compassionate person. As I release my son in love, I have received the healing power of God's grace. As
my wounds have healed, so do I become an instrument of God grace in reaching out to others who are grieving. “Out of every tragedy can come a blessing or a curse, compassion or bitterness...the choice is yours. From the book On Children and Death by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. I choose each day the unique blessing this tragedy has ultimately given to me. (Reprint-Published in St Anthony
Messenger Magazine November 2012)