I doubt any pain is deeper than losing a child to death. The implied natural order of life assumes children will bury their parents—not the other way around.
Yet, this unimaginable loss happens. The Centers for Disease Control has provided statistics concerning deaths of children in the United States.
- Approximately 18 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
- Over 20,000 infants die each year.
- Approximately 4,000 children between the ages of 1-4 years die yearly.
- Approximately 5,300 children between the ages of 5-14 years die.
- The leading causes of death of teenagers: Unintentional Accidents, 48 percent (with over 70 percent from motor vehicle accidents); homicide, 13 percent; suicide, 11 percent; cancer, 6 percent; and heart disease, 3 percent.
Behind each number lies a story, perhaps similar to these:
My experience with losing a child involves a miscarriage when I was 11 weeks pregnant. I always believed I would have three children. I imagine the baby we lost was the son I’d hoped would join our two daughters. His name would have been Luke. Even though the miscarriage happened many years ago, the lingering memory is filled with profound sadness. I’ve been able to “relinquish” the pain because time does heal, but also, because I’m convinced one day I’ll meet my unborn child in Heaven.
My friend, Patty, was permitted to meet her little girl. She was able to hold her, rock her, sing lullabies to her and nurse her—but only for a brief time. Patty had been told she would never conceive, but following an intensive medical procedure, she became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful daughter. What high hopes she had for this ‘miracle child!’ Patty felt certain she was going to grow up to be a mighty force to lead thousands to God’s goodness. Instead, five months after her firstborn child’s birth, my friend wept uncontrollably beside her baby’s tiny grave.
One beautiful late spring day—the last day of the school year—my brother-in-law’s vivacious, life-filled teenage sister, Carol, celebrated with a group of friends by going to a nearby lake. On their way home, the young boy driving the car lost control on a gravel road. Carol was killed instantly in the horrific crash. Other teen passengers received life-altering injuries.
Eve (a pseudonym) knew her son, Keith, had gotten in with a bad crowd. She prayed fervently that her youngest child’s life would turn around. She wept bitter tears and pleaded with God to keep Keith safe. Then, one night she received the call no parent ever wants to receive. Her son was dead—murdered—a drug deal gone bad, his mother was informed.
The stories of Patty’s infant daughter, my brother-in-law’s older sister, and my friend, Eve’s, teenage son are filled with deep loss and grief. The unexpected, untimely deaths of beloved children alter forever the journeys of those who knew and loved them.
Each is a tragic tale; yet, each story is also filled with incredibly beautiful acts of “letting go” and “relinquishment.” Each story has increased my trust in God, whom I’m convinced has built resiliency into our human spirits.
Patty is a gifted communicator. Once you’ve heard her speak, you want to hear more! Numerous opportunities have opened for Patty to tell the story of her daughter’s death. The lives of many people—especially women—have changed as a result of Patty’s written and spoken words. My friend believed her daughter would lead thousands to God’s goodness, and that is happening regularly.
My brother-in-law recently shared with me two entries from his dad’s journal, discovered following his father’s passing. When I read them, their tenderness and depth of faith astounded me. (Thank you, Dave, for permitting me to share these with blog readers.) Carol’s dad referred to his daughter by a nickname, ‘Babe,’ which, for a reason I can’t explain, touches me especially.
Wednesday, May 29 – Our ‘Babe’ was called home today. “Thy Will Be Done.” We do not ask why this should happen but will try humbly to bow to a “Superior Knowledge” of our affairs. Her loss will be felt keenly, for she was a Good Kid.
Saturday, June 1 – Our ‘Babe’s’ funeral was today. Now the attempt to pick up and go ahead, not complaining, but heavy hearted, with no resentment or ill will…. God grant us the grace never to be bitter… [Note: Even though I didn’t know my brother-in-law’s parents well, my association with them and what I’ve learned about them shows that God granted this dear father’s prayer for freedom from bitterness.]
Eve is in her 80’s now, and a few months ago, I spent over an hour listening to this remarkable woman’s story. She said ‘good-bye’ to not only her youngest son, a victim of homicide, but another son and her only daughter, who both died of natural causes. Eve told me that following Keith’s death, she walked around as if in a fog, traveling through each day with perpetual numbness. Her body and mind operated on auto pilot. It seemed as though her spirit died with the news of Kevin’s death, and she told me she couldn’t even pray.
It was only out of tradition that she went to church New Year’s Eve. As she sat with a group of longtime friends who prayed for God’s blessing on the new year, Eve said she heard a voice whispering from somewhere deep within her wounded heart. “Can you forgive the young man who took Keith’s life?” the voice asked gently. Eve told me that without thinking twice, she said, “Of course, I can, Lord. Look at how much you’ve forgiven me.” From that moment, Eve found the strength she needed to keep moving forward, embracing life fully, giving hope and encouragement to many. I love this! Eve’s experience adds new meaning to these Bible verses:
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (Romans 8:26 & 27 NLT)
“Relinquishing” our will into the hands of an unseen God often involves struggle and always requires faith. “Letting go” is never easy, but the act of “relinquishing” anguish and grief—assured the One who sees what I cannot see and understands what to me seems unimaginable—is an act of trust that can help others who are called to navigate similar difficult journeys.
During times of loss and grief, it often feels as if we’re walking in a fog, traveling through each day with perpetual numbness.