It had only been a few short months since Mitchell passed away. Summer was behind us, and the air was getting colder each day. In many ways, our grief journey was just beginning, and we’d walk many miles in deep in the shadow of death before we’d find any measure of rest.
As a father, my heart was broken and my soul weary with grief over the loss of my son. Every single day, for over two years, my lungs felt shallow due to chronic weeping.
Though my wife and I were suffering, it was never lost on us that our children were hurting, too. As Natalie and I searched for ways to help our children process their own grief, she discovered Intermountain Health Care (IHC) just established a grief workshop for siblings surviving the loss of a family member. In the previous winter months, I was grateful for the way in which they cared for Mitch in the hospital, and I again admired their desire to help families on the other side of medicine. Their motto, “The child, first and always” was not only true of their practice of medicine, but their compassion for other children left behind when medicine failed.
As we arrived at an unfamiliar park to drop our youngest son off, we noticed balloons surrounding their gathering point. “It must be them,” Natalie said with a comforting tone. Wyatt, unsure he wanted to be there, looked out the window and didn’t say a thing. None of us wanted to be there. We just wanted things the way they used to be.
Wyatt stood on the perimeter of the park, unsure of strangers and what to expect. Suddenly, one of the staff members said, “Hey catch this!” A Frisbee was hurled toward Wyatt, who then crouched and caught the flying disc as he smiled. Within moments, other staff members gathered around Wyatt and began playing with him. They went from being strangers to friends in a matter of minutes.
I had a hard time keeping my emotions at bay as I saw my tender son hurting in his own way and I felt a deep measure of gratitude for these professionals who understood that there is more to medicine than biology and chemistry … that we must also care for the mind and heart, too. Wyatt began to heal that day – and my heart was grateful.
I have learned the collateral of loss goes far beyond a mother and father’s sorrow. Children suffer in their own way and in their own time – which makes parental grief even more complicated. We not only grieve over the loss of a fallen child, but we also grieve over the pain our surviving children experience. I won’t detail such complications in this post – but I will say that even six months after the death of a child, the hell of such grief is only just beginning.
Despite the collateral damage of loss – which damage, on the surface, can seem significant; there are also collateral gains – if we soften our hearts and seek to understand the meaning of things. I believe hard things happen because God not only wants us to be strong, He wants us to become compassionate. The collateral of loss is emotional pain … but there is also spiritual gain.
C.S. Lewis once observed, “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word "love." When I think of my own parenting experience, I’ve come to understand sometimes I must allow my children to struggle so that they might learn and grow. That, too, is love. For all of us, the seeds in need of growth are ones not found on the surface, but deep inside the soul.