When Children Suffer Loss
Moms and dads are supposed to protect their children, but though we try really hard it just isn’t possible to keep them from harm. It begins with skinned knees and goose eggs on the forehead which are usually made better with kisses and hugs and reassuring words from mom or dad.
But as our children grow older our reach diminishes. Rejections, breakups, bike and car accidents, serious health issues, the death of friends or family are beyond our ability as parents to fix. And it hurts. Oh how it hurts not just them but us.
All of my children have been through valleys. Some much deeper and longer lasting than others, but all have tasted loss, the death of a dream or multiple dreams.
When my ninety-year-old father suddenly developed pneumonia and was put on a breathing machine, our youngest daughter called to say she wanted to come home. She is single and because she works at a school, summertime gives her a bit more flexibility with her hours. After a couple days of discussion with her boss and with us she booked a ticket and flew home, arriving on the day the doctor took my father off the breathing machine. It was an emotionally difficult day for all of us. We were concerned about my father’s comfort and care. We were hyper watchful over my mother who was not sleeping well at night and anxious each day for the love of her life who was slipping away.
That Monday afternoon after the suspense of removing the tubes and machine had passed and my father was breathing well on his own, my mom said, “I don’t want him to be left alone tonight.” My brothers and I had been sitting with her for five days by then and we too were exhausted. Laura said, “I’ll stay with him tonight.” At first no one believed her but after all the adults had resigned, she was left standing.
I am not at liberty to share about our daughter’s losses, it is her story to tell if she wishes, but I will say she has had more than her share, from my perspective, more than I imagined she could bear. I feared for her life, for her faith, for her future and I prayed deep soul wrenching prayers for her. She has chosen to believe, to not run away from God and the fruit of that faith was displayed during the last week of June in a hospice room in a small southern town.
She sat with my father all night, not sleeping, but listening to his breathing, talking to him when he seemed alert. Her two cousins, who have had their own losses, joined her in the vigil. On Wednesday night she returned to her post. I asked her before we left the hospital at 10 pm if she was ok staying all night again, that this might be the night he died, that God would take him home. She said yes. At 5:30 Thursday morning she called in tears to say Grandpa was gone. She had stayed with him at his side all night, her cousin again keeping vigil with her. She played a playlist of hymns on her iphone that she made just for her Grandpa, including his favorite, “It is Well With My Soul.” She talked to him when he coughed. She looked in his eyes and watched him stare toward the ceiling at those waiting to escort him Home. And she told him he could go that we’d take care of Grandma. Then he took his last breath. She closed his eyes at 5:16 and knew he was gone.
What could possibly produce that kind of compassion and care in a twenty-something who is not a nurse by profession? Nothing but the hand of the Great Physician, our Wonderful Counselor who had been nearer to her in her losses than any parent or friend can be. We, her parents, did not teach or train this profound heart of love in our girl. It is the work of God alone.
Though it is very difficult, we parents must keep the long view in mind when our children suffer losses, especially profound life altering losses. We do not know what God might be doing in their lives. We dare not get in His way. We are called to protect and nurture but more than that we are called to trust in a sovereign God who knows what He is doing.
We were given many gifts in the last weeks of my dad’s life. Times of sweet prayer and being together, loving one another and even laughter. But the greatest gift to me and to my mother was the gift of one granddaughter and two grandsons who became their Grandpa’s guardians in his final hours of life. “Well done,” said the Father, “well done.”