02 Apr A hope in the midst of losing her son
Guest blog from my dear friend Donna Jennings
I will never forget hearing those dreaded words from a female Dr “Time of Death 5,02” or the way she looked at me with such pity and helplessness as I desperately said “No. Please. Is there nothing you can do?”. She shook her head. Myself and Tom just held on to each other in disbelief. Our beautiful shiny strong and yet gentle son was dead. He was gone, our beautiful little 5 year old Sam was dead. Only a few hours earlier he had been happily playing at a fruit farm jumping on trampolines playing in the bailes of hay. He has been running around like any other 5 year old boy. He had smiled at me from the fence and waved at me as we sat watching them playing from the Cafe. I looked at him with a mothers heart full of love and pride and remember thinking I was so blessed to have such a lovely boy, my heart just swelled with love for him at that moment. Little did I know this would be the last time I would see him alive. My heart broke that day and I would never be the same again.
The death of a child is not something that is easy to write about. Sharing about my personal loss is always hard as I’m sharing with vulnerability, but I have realised the importance of sharing and talking about this painful subject. Through sharing I can help, support and encourage others who have gone through similar circumstances. I have learnt, rather than letting the grief destroy and break me it has been the very catalyst to make me live my life to the fullest, to make it count. Also for my child’s life to have mattered, that his life and death had a meaning and purpose. I have also learnt that grief can be the very thing to unite and connect people on a more deeper and intimate level, in a way that other things can’t.
It’s a well-known statistic that marriages where there has been a loss of a child often experience hardship. There is so much pain and extra strain put on the marriage during grief. Some don’t make it and end up in divorce or separation, which is so sad. Personally for Tom and I, though it certainly wasn’t easy we found our grief actually brought us closer. My husband has Aspergers so sometimes sharing and communication can be difficult, especially reciprocity due to Tom processing differently to me. However, I found in sharing in our grief, as only we could understand at that moment brought us closer. Only us knew what it felt like to lose our boy that was the product of our love and marriage and commitment towards each other. There were moments when we just looked at each other in disbelief and we knew and felt the pain together all at the same time and we could share that. It wasn’t always with words but just the knowledge that we were in it together.
I’m aware though that it is not always the same for other couples. I think also there can be many varying factors for how couples cope with the loss. Also, men and women are wired differently and will process grief differently, often women need to talk and share and are more inclined relationally to talk about emotions whereas men are more wired to solve and sort things out themselves to protect and internalised emotions. Many men will try and bottle things up and be strong for the wife, but this can have a detrimental effect on them emotionally. The wife, however, might want to talk and share and cry with the husband. I am generalising and realise that you might be the opposite to this but on some level, I think this is true.
I realised this early on that Tom didn’t necessarily want to talk about Sam. At times it was hard and yet I desperately needed to, so I learnt to do this with my friends the ones that knew me and Sam well. Also, grief is not linear so it can come at different and unexpected moments through a memory being triggered or suddenly finding something that belonged to the person who has died. It is important to be aware of that couples can also be at different places in their grief. Tom didn’t talk a lot about his grief with me, but we shared moments and memories. For the deeper stuff, Tom has had counselling over the years and he has a strong faith to help him. I was determined to channel my pain and give us a different focus for my grief which was the Charity, For The Love Of The Child. Since Sam’s death, I and my family have endeavoured to fight for and help change children’s lives around the world through our charity “For The Love Of A Child”. We are delighted to have recently set up a Sam’s House-Little Friendly Space for refugee children in Lebanon.
I believe one of the most important things when experiencing the loss of a child or loved one is to share, get it out and get connected with someone to talk about and process your grief and loss. It may be your husband or wife, but actually that can add more strain on each other, it could be a friend or counsellor or therapist or someone you trust, but do share, do talk do remember but with someone you trust or a place where you feel safe.
One of the worst things we can do but something that is so common is to try and avoid the pain and push it away. Not go there, not look at it detach from it. Of course, this is why people may turn to alcohol, or drugs or sex or work to numb it and to avoid it, but if we do this the pain festeres like a wound and it gets worse and worse. I experienced this of not wanting to go there, because it was too painful, too traumatic, but I knew I had to take it somewhere, or I would drown in it.
For me the place where I worked out my deep, deep and awful pain of separation from Sam, was God. It was with him that I connected, it was with him and only him that had the answers to what I was going through. God met me deeply and profoundly and I faced the truth. I received healing and a sense of hope. I got to know God’s eternal purposes through it and I truly received a revelation of God’s Heart and love for us.
Death is so final, it is not nice or pretty or dignified it is brutal, it hurts. It is unmerciful and when it hits you head on, you have to face it and you can’t escape it. It is no respecter of persons it can hit anyone at anytime no matter how young or old you are no matter how fit or well you look after yourself, it can still come. It is of course inevitable. Still, something that we will all have to face and experience at some point in our lives. It is an absolute.
However, thank Goodness that it’s not the end of the story and it wasn’t the end of my story. There is good news that in Christ we can find the answers to life and death. In Jesus, we find new life and hope even in the midsts of losing a loved one or facing our own death. God never promised us an easy ride he states “In this world, you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world”. How did He overcome? He overcame by conquering death. Death was actually the focal point of Jesus’ mission. He came to die as a sacrifice for our sins and make the way for us to everlasting life.
In facing death in the midsts of life, I have found a depth and understanding of God’s heart that I don’t think would have been possible without this experience of losing my son.
At Sam’s funeral, we chose this beautiful Hymn.
“How deep the father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure that he would give his only son”.
To make a wretch his treasure
How great the pain of searing loss the father turns his face away!!!
As wounds which mar the Chosen one
Bring many sons to Glory.
What beautiful profound and heart wrenching and yet glorious words, they make me cry every time. These words echo and chime with my own pain of losing my own son.
Maybe you have lost a loved one, or experienced losing a child or maybe you haven’t, the loss may have been losing a friendship, a parent leaving home, changing schools, moving away, leaving childhood behind, ending a relationship, end of a marriage, parents divorcing, or seeing a loved one suffer and deteriorate through illness, losing a pet, a job, a child to drug or alcohol abuse, losing even a limb or an abilty that you had, or losing hope or faith, or trust. However, I think if we can acknowledge and face it and walk through it and learn from it. It can give us so much wisdom and resilience for the future.Whatever loss you have gone through or going through I hope this little snippet of my journey can help you find courage and wisdom and purpose through what you have gone through and a new sense of life joy and hope!
I encourage you to reflect on the true meaning of the Cross. God didn’t let his son just die, he resurrected him and rose again to an eternal Glory! It is this eternal reality breaking through into my own life that gives me such a profound sense of joy whilst carrying sorrow. This is my prayer for you today, that though you may be hurting and suffering a loss that God would meet with you and not only bring you peace and comfort but he can be a place where you can take your anguish and anger and despair. He can transform it at the cross to help you find his eternal and lasting hope, even in the deepest pain of grief.
That is Hope!