Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We Never Really Grieve Alone

I struggled all day Tuesday, although it probably didn't seem like it.

The very first person I talked to told me two local girls had been killed in a car wreck on a stretch of four-lane I drove through twice yesterday, and that two brothers who were also in the car were in the local trauma center. She was bringing her dog to stay with me for the Thanksgiving holiday. We'd never met and she had no way of knowing how the news of a child's death hits me. As soon as she left I stood in my kennel yard and cried and prayed, for the families, the injured, those destined to go on with holes in their heart and enough regrets and what ifs to cripple them if they aren't careful.

All day that awareness hung over me, stopping me in whatever I was doing and sending me back to tears and prayers.

After a brief visit to my newsfeed on Facebook, I had to stay away. A friend of mine had posted that one of the girls was her niece. There were pictures and tributes and other parents that had lost children were posting; other Facebook friends were related. All day I argued with myself about going back to the computer.

I thought about how wrong life is when children die and how those deaths, so undeserved, may make us question God. I thought about how God gave us a perfect world, but we weren't content with that and how all the tragedy on every scale, the wars and genocides, abuse and neglect, car crashes and illnesses are part of the choice humanity made. God isn't any happier with it than we are, but to end it, well that time isn't quite right apparently. When I hurt for people I don't even know, I have to believe He hurts as well for people that He was willing to send his son to die for.

I wanted to wrap my words around it and unravel it all in my mind, but I didn't want to blog about someone else's tragedy. It wasn't about me, it was about them.

Then I went out to gather my eggs, tuck my hens in and get the kennel towels off the line because the local forecast says wet weather and possibly snow tomorrow.

I almost never see a sunrise or sunset because of the hills and trees around my home, but the sky was lit up in a way that could not be ignored. I set my laundry basket down and walked to the end of the drive. The clouds drifting in from the south were all painted pink on their undersides and the horizon was molten gold where the sun was sinking.

As we're wont to do in this camera/phone era, I snapped a picture of the first sunset I'd seen in ages, then went to put my phone back. Already the pink was fading, and I noticed a small white spot in the clouds. It didn't seem to match, just a little circle of light in the darkening sky, no way the sun was reaching around a cloud to be there.

Then it hit me and I felt like the spot was Ethan, my far from an angel son gone on to heaven all the same. There was a feeling of peace, even as I stood and cried one more time.

I shared it from my phone and tried to explain what it meant. Then I came inside to get ready for Zumba, but suddenly the stomach ache I've had for two days was back and I decided I wasn't driving 30 minutes to class only to not feel like dancing. Instead I came to my computer, thinking I could post the picture to my blog and that would be enough, but as soon as I set my fingers to the keyboard, it all came pouring out.

When you lose a child, you feel so alone. Mothers and fathers love their children so differently that it's easy to feel that not even your spouse understands. You're on this island of pain where you cannot imagine how you are supposed to ever laugh again, or enjoy a meal, or lay down at night and go to sleep without crying. You can't hardly even keep breathing because it feels like there's a vice around your chest and you're not even sure you want your heart to keep beating.

Beyond the circumstances, once the rest of the world has processed that your child is gone and sent its condolences and tried to help, what you're left with is the same emotions that virtually every grieving parent feels. When I lost Ethan, I had friends who had lost children in far different ways who still knew what I was going through and who were here for me. Whether it's war, car accidents, illnesses, or drug abuse, what we parents are left with is the same sometimes crippling burden of grief. It's the endless questions that can never be answered about what could have been different, the unfulfilled expectations, the inability to see an altered version of ourselves in our child, the rest of our lives without what should have been an integral part of it.

I think once you've lost a child, then you feel it every time you hear of a child dying -- whether that child is a baby, a teenager, or even grown. Any time you hear of a parent losing their son or daughter, you grieve with them because you know down deep in your heart and in the very core of your being what they're going through. Depending on the timing or the circumstance, you may almost feel it all again, even though you never saw the child except when they were already a memory.

Knowing that, I have to believe that God feels our pain.

It's easy to forget in the grand scheme of worship that Jesus is God's son. He came to earth and died and in order to die had to be separated from God for a brief span. On the third day Jesus arose, just as God knew he would, but for those days He felt what we feel. He understands our pain and every time He grieves with us.

I wish I could say I came up with that entirely on my own, but at least part of that comes from my friend Annah Elizabeth's book Digging for the Light. Annah Elizabeth and I were pregnant with our sons at the same time. In the spring of 1990, Ethan was born about a month before her son, who died shortly after birth. We've never met, but through the wonder of the internet we've become supporters of one another on our journey of grief. During her grief and depression following her son's death, she met with a woman who she called a wise woman. This woman told her "God is always with us. Divine intervention is rare. He was in the room with you.... He was crying out in pain with you...."

Those words were healing to Annah Elizabeth and they were healing to me as well. Sometimes, albeit rarely, there are miracles. Most of us have known of one or two and if we've lost a child we've been jealous that miracle wasn't for us. But it makes a difference to know that God is no more happy with the situation than we are. I take it a bit further in thinking that not only does He weep with us, but He feels as keenly as I feel the pain of mothers I've never met over the loss of children I do not know.

So I stand and cry and look at the sky, and in the clouds there is a spot of light, and I realize I cannot keep it all in or limit it to a few lines on Facebook. Perhaps the light was not only to comfort me, but to remind me of my gift and that unraveling the pain with words is what I do and isn't always just for me.


  1. Angela, right now, days after you lit up your keyboard and let emotional sparks fly from your fingertips, I cry...five hundred-and-some miles apart from a friend and neighbor I have never met...nano-seconds and countless more miles from other neighbors who have shared in our grief...and in similar grief...

    Happy and sad tears, Angela... I am humbled and honored beyond measure to have helped you in some small way... I am but a messenger...a believer that miracles do exist...and someone who appreciates the kind God who wraps his arms around us in our times of need...Thank you for sharing the inspiration with others, so that they, too, might find some modicum of peace and healing...

    I am so happy you saw Ethan's light, Angela...and I look forward to the day when I can personally deliver a hug... Until then, may you know how much you have touched my life, as well...

    Your neighbor in hope, healing, and happiness...

    1. Annah I found you during a dark time through what felt like random chance, but which I know was surely a divine nudge. You helped me find the Light again. I can never thank you enough.