Sunday, December 25, 2011

Helping Parents Cope With Loss

The phone rang. How glad I was to hear my oldest son's voice. "Mom, I'd like to bring Debbie home for the Christmas holidays. Will that be all right?"

"Of course," I replied, thrilled. "When will you be here?"

"Friday afternoon. Mom, I feel a lot better."

"O Chuck, I'm so glad! We'll have everything ready for you and Debbie. Take care, Honey!"

As I put the phone down I felt a surge of hope. The Thanksgiving holidays had been terrible, like a nightmare for all of us, parents and five sons. Chuck came home with a hollow heart and no thanks for his life. We had a long talk the first day he was home.

"Mom, I feel so bad, and I don't know why. Do you think you can forgive me for all the trouble I've given you these past few years?"

"Oh, Chuck!" I took him in my arms and we wept together. I will never forget the gift of that afternoon. "I love you so much. I need your forgiveness, too!"

We talked for quite a while and then Chuck said quietly, "Mom, I'm so terribly unhappy." He lowered his head and mumbled, "I'm thinking about suicide."

Did I hear him say suicide? "But Chuck, there's nothing on earth that can be that bad! God loves you, son. Can you believe that?"

"I haven't any time for God." The Thanksgiving holidays went slowly, at Chuck's sick pace, for he was physically ill, as well. My heart grieved for him, but I didn't know what to do for him. The evening before he was to go back to college, he came to my room.

"Mom, I want you to take care of my stereo for me." I assumed that he didn't want to take it back until after the Christmas holidays, which were but three short weeks away.

And now this encouraging phone call! The next day I cleaned and shopped with a light heart. I decided to take a short rest and listen to some tapes. I must have fallen asleep for about an hour and it was during that fateful hour that Chuck came home a day early, came into the house and got the shotgun, went into the woods next to our house, and hid. Hours later, while we were trying to figure out why he was home, where he was, and why his car was loaded with everything he owned, we heard him scream and then shoot himself to death.

About four months later I wrote a booklet titled Grief while I was in the depths of despair. I knew that if I didn't write it while in the valley, there was no way I would be able to write it when coming out of that awful chasm of anguish.

And this is what I want to share with every parent who is trying to crawl out of the depths of despair: hope and God's love.

I would like first to explain how I view God's will. I heard many times at the funeral home, "It's God's will." As I have a loving God who gives us the good we have in our lives, I cringed every time I heard it said in such concern and love. James 1:17 tells us, "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above..." I couldn't grasp the concept of the death of this fine and handsome young man as God's will. Surely this couldn't be a good and perfect gift! And yet I knew that these cherished friends didn't realize the stab I felt every time I heard it said.

A friend gave me an exceptional book on God's will that I believe every parent who has lost a child should read. First, let's see what God's word has to say: "THUS IT IS NOT THE WILL OF YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN THAT ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES PERISH" (Matthew 18:14, NAS). When a parent comes to me with grief etched on his or her face and heart, this is the first comfort I share with them: it is not the will of God that this happened. It is my personal belief that if the parent can't accept this, then he or she may not be able to bring the good God wants out of the tragedy.

The book is The Will of God by Leslie D. Weatherhead. It was published in 1944. Dr. Weatherhead wrote the book to comfort all those who had lost a loved one in World War II. He left a legacy for us all, in that he has explained the inexplicable in a way that we can accept all that happens to us as His will, but it still leaves us a loving and worthy God to bring us through the grief.

Dr. Weatherhead explained that God's will has three parts:
1) the intentional will of God;
2) the circumstantial will of God; and
3) the ultimate will of God.

He then takes the death of Jesus and relates these three parts of God's will to this most tragic event in time. It was not God's intentional will that His Son should die. The original intent was that men should follow Jesus, not kill Him. Therefore, the discipleship of men was the intentional will. But men, through free will, chose evil and set up circumstances that sent Jesus to the cross. Jesus was compelled to either die or to run away. In those circumstances, then, the death on the cross was the Father's will.

We now come to God's ultimate will, and this is that nothing can happen which finally defeats His purposes. For an example that his readers could relate to at that time, Dr. Weatherhead tells about the father who wanted his son to become an architect (intentional will). Then his country declared war (evil circumstances) and the young man chose to join the Army. His father says to him, "I am glad you are in the Army, John." Because of the situation, it is now the father's will.

As I relate this to my son's death, I know that God's intentional will was for Chuck to live a good and productive life. But Chuck got on drugs and also someone dropped LSD on him. Chuck's brain could no longer function from the drugs. A friend said to me shortly after his death that I could accept it more readily if I could think of the brain as being an organ just like the heart or liver. The difference with the brain is that, when it gets sick, our conceptions become misconceptions. That thought helped me greatly in the days ahead.

Because of the circumstances of Chuck's own unwise choices (and we have all made foolish decisions!) and situations beyond his control, he took his own life. I believe with all my heart that God's ultimate will in this is for us to help others in their sorrow. Hence the birth of the booklet Grief.

I would like to address another problem for the families left behind when there is a suicide, and it is the tremendous guilt. We ask ourselves why didn't we do this, why did we do that; it can go on and on. Many others have touched on this, but I would like to share yet another thought, perhaps because of our four living sons. We are so ready to judge the families by the suicidal death of that child, and yet do we remember that the other children in the family are living and coping and going on to productive and good lives? I make it a point to tell every parent of a suicided child that this is the final judgment that should be made: that of the living children! I know there are those so ready to judge the family and perhaps others when this tragedy strikes, but we can go on and on, back to grandparents and great grandparents, etc., etc., etc. It is best not to conclude or exclude--only love this afflicted family.

I also make it a point to tell the parent that we are not God and we cannot be with our children every moment of every day. There are forces in their lives that we cannot control, and why would we? We presume much too much if we think that we can spare our children all pain. I know we want to! But it's an insult to God if we think we can govern every waking and sleeping moment of the life of this child who we hold so dear.

When I was in utter despair over Chuck's salvation two cherished friends, independent of each other, gave me the same verse, and I accepted that as a message from God that I was not to fret anymore about it. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Genesis 18:25, NAS). Yes! He knows where Chuck was born and where he lived--and where and how he died, too! Oh, how I thank Him for that! "The Lord shall count when He registers the peoples, 'This one was born there'" (Psalm 87:6, NAS).

The Bible is overflowing with promises of comfort for the brokenhearted, and I discovered that ultimately it is the only consolation. People mean so well. I can remember all the platitudes I so willingly and religiously meted out. And then, when my own heart was shattered into shards--then I realized I must have added to their pain. We are all Job's comforters until we sit where Job sat! Alexander Pope said, "I never knew any man in my life who could not bear another's misfortunes perfectly like a Christian." The breaking heart needs the compassion of another human heart, not religious clich├ęs. Perhaps they can come later--perhaps. "The world perishes not of dark but of cold. The soul in its deep distress seeks not light but warmth, not counsel but understanding" (Anonymous).

Finally, there is Revelation 21:4: "And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." O! "Bless the Lord, O my soul...and forget not all His benefits...who redeems your life from the pit" of awful distress! We praise and thank You, our Father!

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