Finding Your Way After Loss

We hope these inspirational stories by those who have experienced loss will hope you cope with your own loss.

A Sudden Realization

Monday, October 20, 1986, was my 35th birthday. By the end of the day, my life was changed forever. As birthdays go, it had been a pretty good day. When I arrived home after work, my husband, Rod, was not there. He was off from work for the week and around 4 p.m. left a message at my office that he was going to run some errands and meet me at home later. Since it was my birthday, he had invited some friends over for dinner. When I arrived home, our friends were there, but Rod wasn’t. Our six-year-old son, Justin, was involved with the party preparations.

By 8:30 p.m., Rod was still not home. Since it was a school night, our friends left. I was furious Rod could be so insensitive. About 20 minutes later, the phone rang, and I was sure it was Rod with an excuse regarding his whereabouts. However, when I answered the phone, it wasn’t a familiar voice; it was a police officer. The caller very matter-of-factly stated there had been a serious automobile accident, and Rod was in the emergency department at a local hospital. He informed me I needed to go immediately. This is the kind of call others receive. I would have never dreamed that I could be on the receiving end of something like this. In 30 seconds, our lives were profoundly affected by some stranger whose name I didn’t even know. Without having any details at all, I immediately sensed the urgency of the situation and began making arrangements to get to Rod.

I walked into Justin’s room and watched him playing very quietly with his toys. He was so content with his world. I wanted desperately to hold him and protect him from any potential danger or harm, but for the time, I had to remain calm so he wouldn’t be alarmed by my leaving.

The initial minutes in an emergency department waiting to know if a family member is dead or alive are torturous. When we finally received word Rod was alive, I was extremely relieved. He was stopped at a stoplight and teenagers in a stolen car, running from the police, ran into him at a very high speed. His condition was extremely critical, but the word “alive” sounded good to me. When the neurosurgeon arrived to talk with me, he stated that Rod had a severe head injury and sheared brain stem. He was in a coma and probably would not survive the night. All I heard was sheared, not severed and alive, not dead. Words like head injury and coma had no real meaning to me at this point. I quickly assumed his ability to survive meant there was a miracle in the works. After all, Rod had been spared.

When I got to see Rod, he was motionless. He didn’t look different or even hurt. I joked with him about every hair being in place, which was typical of him. I could only hope that if he had any awareness, he knew I was there.

After a few minutes, we were escorted to the intensive care waiting room. Funny how intimately entwined the lives of perfect strangers become once you enter that waiting room.

Rod did survive the night, although the prognosis was bleak. I still clung to the miracle theory. For the weeks to follow, we waited for the minutes we could visit during the designated visiting hours. Our lives revolved around those times.

Trying to make sense out of a senseless situation is difficult to say the least. When I went home for the first time and walked into our house, it was also the first time I had allowed myself to consider Rod might not come back or that he would never play with or hold his son again. I was overwhelmed by the realization that I would be on my own. I was married soon after college and had no experience at this. All of a sudden, I had to handle everything, and I was very frightened. Justin tried hard to understand, but he missed his daddy and the special times they routinely spent together. He and Rod had a very loving relationship. Rod was a great dad. Although I tried to balance all things. I could not fill the void left by this tragedy in Justin’s life.

After two months, Rod was transferred to the Baptist Rehabilitation Center. A hospital room at the Rehab facility now became a normal way of life.

Justin continued to visit his dad regularly for the first year. It was very touching to see him sit by his dad’s side and pat Rod’s arm or wipe his face. He would tell his daddy about school and his activities, but Rod couldn’t respond. He was trapped somewhere inside and not even Justin could make a difference. As time went on, Justin began detaching himself from his father. He was the first to let go. Although I was deeply saddened, I understood and supported my child’s decision not to go back.

During this time I relied upon a few close friends for strength and support. I was very grateful for these special friendships; my life was so tumultuous, these relationships became a primary source of stability and security, especially since Rod’s condition fluctuated constantly. I learned to sleep with the phone on the bed so I could quickly respond to an emergency call in the middle of the night. Although Rod had periods of wellness, his condition was apt to change without any notice--resulting in digression and unresponsiveness. Forwards--backwards--we never knew what to expect. I was emotionally exhausted. Where was this miracle I believed in--obviously a worthless concept all along.

I knew Rod was not going to recover, but was determined to control his care. I needed to feel in control of something. Despite my best efforts, Rod didn’t progress. Week after week he lay silent and helpless and there was nothing I could do to alter the quality of his life; this was it. With the support of a close friend, I requested the doctor stop all life prolonging measures. Although this was the right choice, I was angry that life had dealt me a bad hand. Why were we undergoing this senseless ordeal? I felt spiritually abandoned--why wasn’t there some divine intervention so that I wasn’t left to make the final choice?

In June 1989, Rod acquired an infection which resulted in a high fever. We watched as he drew his last breath. Rod was finally at rest.

The first four to six weeks following Rod’s funeral weren’t bad at all. I socialized without dread of some emergency situation arising. My friends were attentive during this time frame. By August, however, many of the people I had come to rely upon were no longer around. I found that many people felt that I had ample time to grieve, and I had...for Rod. I hadn’t counted on the other things I would mourn. After being the caregiver for so long, I was at loose ends. I couldn’t go back to my former life, because it no longer existed. I mourned the passing of friends and family who would no longer play a role in my life, and ultimately I grieved for myself. I had never experienced such incredible loneliness. I tried to internalize my feelings to avoid criticism or the traditional editorial comments from well-wishers who didn’t have a clue to what I was experiencing. Justin and I spent time together, but I was careful he didn’t become my sole outlet; it would have been easy to do. He needed to feel loved, safe and secure without assuming undue responsibility for my losses. He had enough to figure out without taking on my burdens as well. After all, he had suffered too.

However, in order to help him, I had to help myself. I sought the assistance of my minister, who was a well-trained counselor. He was wonderful and non-judgmental. He assured me that recovery was complex and took time. Over time, almost every relationship in my life was impacted by change. As I evolved through the recovery process, relationships which endured (and some didn’t) found a new place in my life.

Recovery for me was like a long distance race, and it took hard work. While I haven’t crossed the finish line yet, it is clearly in sight. Justin is a great kid--now a teenager, active and well-adjusted. As for me, I am much stronger and have accomplished things I never thought possible. My life is certainly difference from anything I had ever envisioned, but despite the obstacles, I not only survived, but am doing fine on my own. In retrospect, who knows...maybe there was a hidden miracle after all.

Dee Banta

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

I Knew the Day Would Come

I knew the day would come--I just didn’t know when--that I would outlive my only sibling, my older brother Art. I work in a hospital and I know people die every day, but not my brother, not at the premature age of 32. Art, at 28, was healthy, handsome and happy. He was outgoing, physically active, very witty and charming.

At the young age of 28, he was overly fatigued and had other symptoms that indicated something wasn’t quite right. He was soon diagnosed with end stage liver disease. He had non-A/non-B hepatitis, now called Hepatitis C. His condition deteriorated rapidly and in a very short period of time, he was in need of a liver transplant. After just turning 29 years of age in February, he received his first liver transplant on March 20, 1987, at Presbyterian University Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was deathly ill at the time of his first transplant; it was indeed a miracle that he lived. He was fortunate, as well, even to have received a liver. Many people die annually awaiting donor organs. After his transplant, Art was an ideal patient, with a positive outlook on life. He took his medicine as prescribed, and his attitude was one of thankfulness and hope for the future. He eventually recovered to the point of being able to participate in activities he enjoyed, such as golf and fishing.

However, his quality time was cut short when he showed signs of rejection, which ultimately led to his having a second transplant operation on January 1989, less than two years after the first one. He never fully recovered from this second transplant, and on June 14, 1989, approximately five months later, Art received his third liver transplant. He then developed severe pancreatitis and had to endure excruciating pain, suffering more than any one person ought to have to suffer through several lifetimes. He had numerous emergency surgeries during his 90-day stay in intensive care. One day at a time was the only way he could look at things. But... when each day became exceedingly difficult and more miserable than the preceding day, he became despondent, weary and depressed. This was a grief laden time for everyone involved--the feelings of utter helplessness, sadness and pity were overpowering. Art miraculously survived his nightmare, and by spring of 1990, was beginning to improve. He improved so much that he chose to have elective eye surgery for his cataracts (caused from the vast amounts of steroids he had to take.) He had this surgery in September 1990, and recovered fairly quickly. By the end of September, he felt better than he’d felt in years. He was able to drive and do some of the things that brought him joy and pleasure.

On October 1, 1990, Art died at his home in Lexington, Kentucky, at the age of 32. Due to his recent gains of improvement, his death was unexpected. He left a wife and a six-year-old daughter, parents and stepparents, grandparents, and me. Although we anticipated it, we weren’t ready or prepared for his death. One might say that the anticipatory grief we experienced throughout his long illness lessened the actual impact of his death...but it didn’t. Nothing could have prepared my family and me for the shock of his untimely death. He had a long, four-year struggle in which he endured endless pain and suffering. I never heard him complain--not even once. He had a strong will to live, a very determined spirit, and an undying faith in God. He was truly an inspiration to us all.

His death affected my entire family. I watched my parents grow older right before my eyes as they lived daily with a constant, never-ending worry and a gut wrenching pain of helplessness and heartache. When the news of his death came, I felt stunned, numb like a robot. There was a bottomless pit in my stomach, an emptiness that’s hard to describe. I cried a lot and sighed a lot. There was a tightness in my throat when I did speak. My heart felt frozen, but as my heart thawed out and reality slowly crept in, disbelief and dismay were left in its place. After disbelief subsided, I tried to rationalize that there was a relief component to Art’s death. His tragedy had come to an end. I tried to find comfort and solace in the fact that he wouldn’t suffer anymore. In my mind, I tried to dwell on the fact that he would never experience any more pain ever again. Later in the bereavement process, I felt angry and still do at times, because it is so unfair that he’s not here with us to enjoy life and watch his daughter grow up. It’s just so unfair that his life was cut so short. The reality that I won’t get to see him, hug him, and have him in my life is a very hard burden to bear.

I ask myself, “What purpose did his death serve?” and “What lessons are to be learned from such a tragedy?” Is the lesson possibly that we shouldn’t take each other or our health for granted? Without our health, nothing else really matters. Life is too short and too precious to waste. We need to appreciate each day and make the most of it.

Somehow, life goes on with or without us. I am thankful that my brother knew how very much I loved him. I have many wonderful, loving memories of happier times, we spent together prior to Art’s illness that I will treasure and cherish forever. He was a wonderful father, husband, son, brother, friend and Christian. He was well loved, well respected, and admired by all who knew him. Our lives are richer and more blessed because of him. I miss him terribly...and I always will.

Michelle Pope

Never Quite Prepared

One is never quite prepared for the death of a loved one. In my case, I thought my parents would be with me until they both turned a very ripe, very old age. I never dreamed I would lose them both within a matter of four months of each other.

I am the youngest of three daughters and have lived most of my adult life in Memphis, Tennessee. My parents relocated to Memphis in 1972, and it quickly became home to us all. I never really “left home” as did my sisters, although my parents and I each had our own lives. They were, however, for many years part of our social life as well as family life.

My sisters and I were very lucky to be part of a warm and loving family. It was always more of a treat for them than a “duty” to come to Memphis for a visit. Part of what made our relationships so special was the ability to laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

In 1983, shortly after my husband and I moved back to Memphis after three years in Nashville, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery and almost one year of chemotherapy, she was given a clean bill of health. She remained cancer-free for about one year when it recurred and had metastasized to the bone. There is nothing so devastating as hearing those dreaded words, but my mother, with her usual strength, was more concerned about me, who was pregnant, and of course my father. This was the beginning of a protracted illness for my mother, with radiation and chemotherapy until at last the doctors told my father there was nothing left to be done. I will never forget the day it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her brain. My mother received the news with quiet dignity and I’ll never forget how beautiful she looked sitting in her wheelchair with her head held high. My concern turned then to my father, who could not even say the words “terminal cancer.” When you’ve been married for 50 years, it’s difficult to imagine life without your partner. My father, however, was the one who truly kept my mother going by his optimism and caring. He became a cook, nursemaid and housemaid (this was a man who called my sister long distance to ask how to turn on the washing machine), and with unfailing devotion cared for my mother until she had to be admitted to the hospital just prior to her death. He also sustained tremendous debt as a result of the illness, but never once let on to my sisters or to me concerning the seriousness of his financial problems. My mother died on February 4, 1989, three days after my son turned two. She was very peaceful at the end which was a blessing. My sister bent down to kiss her and she just quit breathing.

Despite her long illness, nothing prepared us for the sense of loss we all felt. I remember walking back into my parents’ house for the first time after her death and thinking I heard her call my name. She and I had been very close, and it was the realization that I’d never see her again that was particularly devastating. I still miss her sense of humor, her unselfishness, and knowing she was the one person I could go to who always loved me without questions. Our concern quickly turned to our father, who seemed to be at loose ends. I knew in his own way he was quietly grieving, and felt very strongly that he didn’t want to be a burden to us. I was particularly concerned that something would happen to him since my mother had been his main focus for so long.

On June 1, 1989, I received a call at work from my husband and my father’s boss. My father, while on a business trip to Washington, D.C., had suffered a brain hemorrhage in his hotel room and had been taken to George Washington Medical Center. I immediately contacted my sister who lives in Richmond, Virginia, and she headed to Washington. This began a four-week waiting period as my sisters and I took turns staying with him at the hospital until we could get him back to Memphis. He was in a coma almost immediately, but we talked and read to him as if he were totally conscious.

My father died on June 30, 1989. I was not prepared for the sense of tremendous loss I felt. I had not realized how much I had depended on him for support. He had truly been “a pillar of strength” to all of us, and now that was gone.

As I look back to my parents’ deaths and the infamous year of 1989, I remember feeling such a sense of sadness and loss and thinking I’d never recover. I never experienced feelings of anger, because I knew that this is truly what my parents had wanted--to be together. I know for my father, life was not much without my mother, and I also knew that my mother could never have stood seeing my father helpless and in the hospital. In this respect, I could see through my own pain and know that despite the sadness and the horror of their illnesses and deaths, there were blessings to be found. Does one ever “get over” losing someone? I don’t think so, but I do believe that time makes it easier and that you can begin to see the good things again. I often reflect on my parents’ friends and how they loved them, the great times we had as a family, and the tremendous feeling of love we had for each other. These are things that will never “disappear.” I will miss them until my dying day, and I believe as a Christian that I will see them again. I only hope that I can live life as they did and give my children what my parents gave me.

Jenny Prascher

In One Brief Moment

What an exciting time! We were expecting our first child. The topic of every conversation seemed to be the expected arrival of our baby. We visualized our new baby in almost every situation--the first Christmas photo or walking through the neighborhood pushing a stroller along with our dogs. When driving past a playground, we imagined our child playing tee-ball. Things really got exciting when we went to the doctor for the 20 week checkup and ultrasound. We were having a boy! That settled the question of our baby’s name. He would be named Andrew Thomas--Andrew is Dave’s middle name, and Thomas is Sandy’s dad’s name.

Of course, creating a special nursery for our first baby was in order. With fresh paint and striped wallpaper and a puppy motif, the room looked perfect. The finishing touches were a cherry baby bed and armoire. With all the gifts from our baby shower in place, we were ready to bring Andrew home. Unfortunately, that would never happen. One day during the 32nd week, there was very little movement by Andrew. Then there was no movement at all. Thinking he was just sleeping, we didn’t panic but went to the doctor. After a brief heartbeat check followed by an ultrasound, we were given the bad news. Andrew had died. Never in our lives had we felt so helpless. There was nothing that could be done. In one brief moment, we had lost our dreams and our futures. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Even after checking into the Labor and Delivery unit of the hospital, the reality of what had happened did not set in. We still felt the shock, disbelief and heartbreak. Six hours later, Andrew Thomas was delivered. He was a perfectly formed little boy with Sandy’s nose and a tiny bit of Dave’s red hair. We deeply regret not having spent more time holding and photographing Andrew. He will always be our little boy, but having more pictures would have made him seem more real to our family and friends.

Almost immediately, we were faced with many decisions that most young couples would be unprepared for, such as an autopsy and a memorial service. We chose to have an autopsy performed with the slight hope that a physical reason could be found for Andrew’s death. However, the cause of death remains unknown. We learned that infants can be buried free of charge in the county cemetery, or parents can make other arrangements at private cemeteries. However, in the county cemetery, markers are not allowed, as each grave is marked only by a number. After holding our son, Dave couldn’t bear the thought of burying Andrew in a grave that was only identified by a number. For us, a funeral service and a cemetery marker gave us and the world additional evidence of the existence of Andrew. One decision that we did not have to make was that of a name. We were very grateful that we had decided on a name earlier in the pregnancy so that we did not have that additional burden after the delivery. Also, we knew that Andrew was our first child, and that his name would not be used for any other future children we may have. Even if the rest of the world doesn’t recognize it, we know that Andrew was and is our first child.

The grieving process did not end with Andrew’s memorial service. This was the time for us to face reality and begin accepting what had happened. Our family and friends were a tremendous help and provided comfort and encouragement, beginning at the hospital. Many times they kept us going with cards, hugs, a simple “I’m so sorry”, and by just being there for us. Unfortunately, many people put a time limit of about two weeks on the amount of time they think you should grieve, and then act as if nothing has happened--this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though you go back to work and try to get into a normal routine at home, nothing is the same as it was before. We were especially thankful for Sandy’s family and our close friends, Blake and Angie, who helped us work through our grief by being open to our needs and allowing us to talk with them about Andrew. Their love and support was especially needed when other well- meaning acquaintances, who were trying to be nice, said and did things that only made our wounds deeper.

We learned very soon after Andrew’s death that we had to be somewhat selfish in order to cope and to work through the grief process. There were many parties and events that we could not bring ourselves to attend. Many times we stayed home because it had been an emotionally bad day. Andrew was expected to be born around Thanksgiving; therefore, the entire holiday season was very difficult for us to enjoy. We couldn’t celebrate as we had planned, since our dreams had been shattered. The sight of other parents with their babies was especially difficult to handle and was a painful reminder of our loss. Even television was not an escape from our grief due to numerous references to babies in advertisements and programs. Being brave and “keeping a stiff upper lip” did not work for us--many times it was better to be alone and let the tears fall.

As the grief process continued, which began with the shock and denial experienced in the doctor’s office, we realized what a roller coaster ride we were encountering. There were numb feelings and a general lack of concentration and interest in normal everyday activities. These were mixed with feelings of guilt, what went wrong?, and why did this happen to us? Through much reading, prayer and soul-searching, we finally came to understand that we had done nothing wrong, and nothing we could have done would have changed the outcome. We both realize that our relationship to Christ was the thing that helped us most in working through our grief.

Even though it is hard to accept, especially at first, we know and believe that God provides us with everything we need and that He loves us and knows what we need more than we do.

It has now been a little over a year since Andrew died and was born into the kingdom of heaven. The swings of emotions and feelings of helplessness do not come as often although the pain is still present and very real. Now it is difficult to see parents with toddlers, especially red-headed little boys. We make regular trips to the cemetery because it is our desire that the memory of Andrew never die. We have compiled a memory box filled with mementos of Andrew’s birth, baby shower, sympathy cards, footprints and especially our thoughts and memories. We have stored away the smocked outfit made for him to wear home from the hospital, and other things intended especially for Andrew. As of this writing we are expecting our second child, to be name Abigail Elizabeth. There is a new toy box being constructed and a new smocked gown being sewn just for Abbie. We are not embarrassed to let others know that she is our second child, and she has a big brother in heaven named Andrew.

Unfortunately, there will always be someone missing in our family, but Abbie will always know, as we do, that because of God’s promises, one day we will be reunited with Andrew in heaven.

Dave and Sandy Morris

Andrew’s little sister, Abigail Elizabeth, was born on January 14, 1994.

“ grace is sufficient for thee.” II Corinthians 12:9

“ God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

“ thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Because of all the changes I had experienced over a number of years (I felt I was “falling apart”), and because I had begun to worry (something I rarely did), I thought it would be a relief to receive an explanation for what was happening in my body. At least there would be a reason for all the changes; then I could go on with treatment. The diagnosis was finally established--Parkinson’s disease.

It didn’t take many hours to read all I could find at home about Parkinson’s. I hadn’t known very much about it previously. My first research didn’t paint a very pretty picture. I began to be overly concerned about my husband and children, imagining how they would have to suffer too. The thought that was always on my mind was, “I can’t be to them what I’ve always been.”

As soon as I could get an address, I sent off to the American Parkinson’s Foundation for more information. After browsing through some of the booklets and reading others about Parkinson’s, I began to get DEPRESSED.

I don’t think that in my life I had ever really understood what real depression was like. I had heard about it, and knew that it had a power to stop normal functioning in one’s life, but I hadn’t experienced it.

During this time I heard something that I identified with--that depression always involves LOSS. It amazed me that a friend’s observation was so close to my thoughts. She said, “Mary Jo, I think you are mourning your loss; the loss of the person you have always been, the way you have always operated.” I felt a challenge to accept my new self, as well as the new way of living, with all its limitations, to bring about a useful, productive, satisfied and happy life.

In retrospect, there are two very important factors that helped me cope, helped me to move forward, and to continue to cope.

1) The first is my faith in the Word of God and the promises of a loving God, seeing Him as an all-powerful and all-sovereign, faithful God, who has a purpose for my life. For many years prior to this, I had loved God’s Holy Word; and I still read it every day. In no other place did I find such peace. The more I read, the more I was aware of a returning mental clarity that had started fading with the disease. There seemed to be a correlation between time spent in God’s Word and clear thinking. There was a return to the joy of living one day at a time. The Lord took away the depression, and it hasn’t returned to this day.

2) The second factor that has been most instrumental in helping me cope is the love and support of my husband and children. My husband’s love for me is my greatest earthly blessing, my richest treasure. I pray that we will both have the wisdom and patience to accept and encourage each other, as the disease progresses. Our children, as well, play such an important part in that needed blessing of support. It thrills me when they take the initiative to keep in touch. Hardly a week goes by without a visit and/or call from each of them. The assurance of their prayers, love and encouragement seems to have brought us even closer as a family and deepened our relationship to our Heavenly Father.

I have already hinted that my view of a loving, sovereign God is so much richer. As I have come to know Him and His love, mostly through His Word, I know that He wants the very best for my life. When I stretch my mind and grasp hold of the immense thought of a truly sovereign God, who is in control of EVERYTHING, and realizing that HE LOVES ME, and that HE HAS A PURPOSE FOR EACH LIFE, how could I hold my life back from Him? I had to say, “If you can use my life better with this disease, I am willing. If my life would have a greater testimony if you healed me, I know you can heal me, and I am willing. If you choose to take me home earlier than what’s normal, to be with you, I’m willing in this too.”

I haven’t always been able to say that so boldly. But one day I read a statement in His Word that fascinated me. It is in the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made a decree that everyone should worship his golden image, and if they didn’t, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace. Three Jewish boys who loved God refused to bow down, so they were reported. As they stood before the king, they testified fearlessly. “The God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand.” And then they say, “But if not, it won’t make us serve and worship you.” So I can say, “My God is able to heal me, but if he doesn’t I’ll still serve Him and love Him forever.”

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” II Corinthians 4:16

Therefore I pray for you and for me as Paul did:

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Ephesians 3:16-17

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