Our Children

Years ago as a new hospital chaplain, I looked for milestones in the work. My first trauma call. My first Code. My first emergency Baptism. These challenges came along and were met. My first death didn't happen for quite some time. And when it did, I didn't feel ready for it.

I was alone in the hospital overnight, carrying the beeper, and when it went off and I called the floor, I was asked to come up to be with the family of a patient who had just died. I asked for a little information -- and was told the patient had been sick for awhile, and her mother was present at the death. Walking to the room, I prayed to know what to say. I'd anticipated that the first death would be something very different -- the end to the suffering of a very old and very sick patient, perhaps. As I approached the room, I didn't have the words I needed. But when I went into the room and saw that the patient was in her sixties and her mother in her eighties, I enfolded the woman in my arms and said to her, "This isn't supposed to happen. This isn't the way it is supposed to be."

When we are mothers, when our children are very, very little, we have the miraculous power -- for a brief time -- to make everything all right. It is an amazing gift we are given; the ability to comfort, to fix things, for these little tiny people, the ones we would give everything for. The thing is, though, we don't realize the power is transient. We want it so much that we think it will always be thus.

And we are mistaken.

This summer a close friend's son has developed a dreadful progressive neurological disorder. My friend is at wits' end, feeling helpless and powerless. Not long after that, I learned that the brother of a boy Tom was in school with has Lou Gehrig disease. A friend from church lost her daughter to breast cancer. This isn't supposed to happen.

This past week I learned that a blog friend had lost a daughter at some point long before I knew her, and I just ached for her. We expect to lose our parents someday; that is the natural course of things. But our children?

This morning I learned that a friend's daughter has been hospitalized with an auto-immune hepatitis -- it seems her body has been attacking her own liver to the point where two days ago she was close to death. She's rallied a bit, and tomorrow will be transferred to a major teaching hospital and begin the assessment for a transplant. My friend is devastated. This is her only child and she's a terrific one, too. The kind of gal that has a million friends, a tremendous sense of humor, and a brilliant mind. Much like her mother. But my friend wants so much to be able to do something. To make it better.

Much like the mom of the guy with the neurological disorder who told me she would trade places with him in a minute. Of course she would. Moms should be able to make things better for their children.

This isn't the way it is supposed to be.

There are those who say, "I know that everything happens for a reason." As if there is some reason that they would accept for the tragedy that has befallen them. I don't buy it. I don't believe God visits these horrible things on our children, on His children, for some reason or lesson. I think, instead, that God aches along with us in our pain and that sometimes, at some point, gives us the grace to make some kind of sense out of these things, and to be able to see glimmers of good that come out of even the most awful of situations.

I've been thinking about this a lot today as I cried with my friend and prayed with her daughter.

These are our children, for crying out loud. This isn't supposed to happen.

But it does.


Mrs. Goodneedle said…
I agree with you, Nancy. I've been acutely aware of the loss of children in the last few years. Victims of prolonged and sudden illnesses and also one to a tragic accident, these are children of friends and members of our own church family. A mutual friend told me how the father of one of these precious children was mad at God for taking his child. I explained that God had been there every step of the way and that God's heart was broken too. It's not supposed to happen this way, but sometimes it does. We have a loving Father to hold us up and carry us when we're broken, to help us heal, to show us the light again. Because of that Divine Love we can hope once more, laugh again, and love another child; we carry on...we, the children of God.
Nancy, there are no words. Years ago, when my DH passed away at age 40, the very hardest part of the whole thing was trying to figure out how to tell his father. Luckily, the rest of the supervisors from work volunteered to come with me. A very tall man, with whom I'd wept when he buried his wife, he looked at me and visibly shrank, and said "This isn't the way it's suppose to be. A man is not suppose to bury his son - it is suppose to be the other way around." He later told me that he thought there was a reason his son's death happened the way it did. That God would make something good come from it - and that someone, perhaps even a total stranger, would learn something from it; but that we likely would have to wait until we got to Heaven to find out the "what" and the "why." I know that it changed my life in ways I never would've imagined - but, I wasn't his mother. Never having been a mother I cannot imagine that pain. And, yes, I believe God hurts with us - perhaps the pain would be much worse, were it not so.
Your friends are in my prayers.
*karendianne. said…
Not knowing what to say, childless, but contributing Love, *karendianne./ Living Life at LeeHaven
Unknown said…
When you take a partner deep in the recesses of your mind is the quiet acknowledgement that there's every chance that one of you will go before the other, after all the chances of you both going together in some way are pretty remote. You accept this concept no matter how unpalatable it is to contemplate. But no parent ever really believes they will outlive their child - it just isn't in the natural order of things. My three are healthy and will hopefully stay that way along with lucky. I can't begin to imagine the pain of losing any of them. When my previous partner passed away in intensive care six days after a road traffic accident I know his parents found it so much harder to accept than I did.
SallyB said…
Things like this are why I've spent my entire life struggling with faith. When I was little and in Catholic school and I used to ask the nuns and the priests why my dad had died (he passed away when I was 4 as the result of injuries suffered in a car accident), they'd usually spout some bromide about having to accept it on an article of faith.

Which I couldn't. That was never a good enough answer for me. I wanted something concrete, logical, something I could wrap my head around. They never provided that for me. I suppose that's why I became a Unitarian Universalist, because this faith doesn't demand that I think a certain way or believe certain things. It allows me to explore my faith in my own way, to ask tough questions and maybe not always get easy answers, but I can still explore different faiths and ideas and come to my own conclusions based on both reason and faith.

I still don't understand why people die before what seems like their time to go. I've lost 16 friends my age or younger in the past 2 years and it doesn't seem right. I'm only 51, and yet, times were I was attending the funerals of my friends parents. Now I am attending my own friends funerals. And in some cases, grieving with their surviving parents. It doesn't seem right somehow, but there it is. I'm still not too certain about the whole "God" thing because of events like this, but there must be some reason that these things happen. Either that, or they're just random happenings that have no real explanation other than to say it's just bad luck. At any rate, it's not fair for parents to have to bury their children. Parents never expect to outlive their offspring. I couldn't imagine the pain of losing a child, whether they are an adult or a youngster. I know my paternal grandparents never recovered from the loss of my father. Ever. They grieved for him to their dying day.
graceamazes said…
"But my friend wants so much to be able to do something. To make it better."

How well I know that feeling...
Anonymous said…
Doesn't the saying go: LIFE isn't always fair.... not GOD isn't always fair. ?
I lost my dad even before I was born. My grandmom couldn't look at me because I reminded her of her lost son. My mom never realy got over his death either.
Loosing your child , just to think of it, hurts my heart.
My mom always said: if you are attending more funerals than ever before, that is the moment you realise you are getting older.
But attending your own childs funeral.... I just hope it will not happen to me in my future...
Perry said…
Losing any loved one is very traumatic I think. I agree it must be difficult to lose a child, thank the Lord I haven't, but I know my daughter lives with that thought every day since her youngest has CF and there is no cure. It does make one wonder.
Tanya said…
Your blog always gives me so much to think about. Choosing what to write about and not write about because one doesn't want to offend or turn people away. Thank you.

I sometimes wonder about my own loss because I had my daughter for such a very short time. I think that made it easier for me. To raise a child for years and worry and have countless memories and even more hopes and dreams and then so have that life taken... How unbearable. And anger at God, yes I've been there too and the grasping at Bible promises. Now I'm content to know that I don't know all but hope for everything. And I do believe that God has it all worked out.