Tragedy brings out fear in many people. Those that suffer the tragedy are walking examples of people’s worst nightmares. Those that are suffering can also fear another devastating loss. How can some people live through this with courage and hope, while others are paralyzed by fear?
Many bereaved parents express fear of losing another child. They have experienced the incredible pain of losing a child and can’t bear the thought of this happening again. This fear can be crippling. Knowing that life is fragile and precious is scary.
Others have no fear. Their worst fear occurred and they survived, giving them a sense of courage that they never could have understood before.
Here’s how I learned to live without fear…
It had been three long weeks of very difficult days and nights since our six-year-old daughter, Ellie, died in a tragic accident. Somehow we found the strength to bring our sons to state championship swim meet. It was a long day. We had a pretty good day, but we were all tired after the hour long drive back home. Ma, my wife’s mother, had stayed behind to watch our dog Maverick, and the two new puppies, Slider and Goose. (anyone else a Top Gun fan?)
When we arrived, Ma informed us that Maverick had bit her hand while she was trying to bring him in. He was barking at a neighbor and she tried to retrieve him. He apparently took a large bite in her hand, puncturing her skin in several places. There was a long trail of blood through the garage and down the driveway.
My initial reaction was one of anger. I was mad and felt that the responsible thing to do was to find a new home for him or take him to the pound. As I began to verbalize my plan, my wife quickly resisted. She was upset too, but Maverick was Ellie’s dog and she wasn’t ready to write him off. The situation escalated rapidly and I had learned that trying to discuss anything further would likely just make things worse. So, I exited to our bathroom and decided to regroup. I called my brother and vented. I was frustrated and didn’t know what to do. We were not communicating much at all lately and it was getting worse. I just tried to figure out what to do at this point with my brother.
After my phone call which lasted about an hour, I came out and discovered that my wife was gone. The car was not in the garage and no one knew when she left or where she had gone. She had never done this before. This was very scary. I didn’t know what to do. I decided to go inside and check on Ma’s hand. I knew that dog bites could be dangerous as infections could occur. I went to the store to pick up an antibiotic ointment. It began to rain as I arrived home and parked at the end of the driveway. My wife was not home. She had been gone for several hours.
While parked in the driveway, I looked in my side mirror and saw a light that was moving around and getting closer. I wasn’t sure what it was. I got a bit nervous and the light came closer and closer. Then, a large man came up to my window and shined his flashlight into my window. I rolled down my window and looked up in horror at a policeman standing in the rain.
I lost it. I didn’t want this man to talk, because I didn’t want to hear him say, “I’m sorry, sir, your wife is dead.” I began to just wail and cry, yelling “no, no”. This could not be happening. I had just lost my daughter, I didn’t want to lose my wife too. This was just too much for me and I cried and cried. I must have seemed like a madman as I just cried and carried on for what seemed like forever.
Finally, I calmed down and the policeman finally spoke. He said “Sir, I found your wife, she was parked near the lake. I approached her and she was upset and crying. After identifying her, I was aware of your situation with your daughter. I told her that she needed to move on, and it was probably best if she went home. She pulled away and I decided to follow her. Unfortunately, I was called away. I came by here to see if she made it home.”
I got out of the car and we walked into the empty garage. The police officer took out his notepad and began to ask me questions. I was still a wreck but had caught my breath. I kept thinking that I was so glad that my wife was not dead. No one knew where she was and I was so scared. Then, I heard the question that I’m not sure anyone wants to hear. He asked me, “Did your wife say that she wanted to hurt herself?” I wasn’t sure what the right answer to this question was. No, I didn’t think she would kill herself. But, I didn’t think we would be in the current situation either. Everything in my life was going so wrong and so quickly. I thought about it, and decided that I didn’t think she would do that. After talking with the police officer for ten minutes, he told me that they would keep an eye out for her, and to call if she came home.
I went inside and realized that I had survived something incredible. I gave Ma the medicine and our doctor friend came over to look at her hand. While we were doing that my wife arrived and she slipped into the bedroom and went to sleep. I didn’t know what to do, so I just got the boys to bed. I took my sleeping pill, and crawled into bed and made it through the night.
In the morning, I was a mess. What do I do now? I had been put through an amazing emotional trial. I just prayed to God to help me find a way to deal with this. As my wife awoke, I asked her if she wanted to go to church. It was Sunday, and she agreed. We didn’t say a word to each other as we got ready to go. We drove to church in silence and walked into church. The music was playing but I was not listening. I was just praying and crying. The tears just streamed down my cheeks and I was in a trance. I missed the sermon as I kept in my meditative prayer. Then, I felt an idea enter my mind.
I learned that fear had no place in my life. In my mind, my wife had died. I felt the pain and the anguish of that reality for five minutes. But, I had processed it, and I knew that I could survive it. I realized that there is nothing to be afraid of. I would have gladly sacrificed myself for Ellie and for my wife. The emotional pain that I experienced had been immense, but it could be dealt with. I am convinced that all pain is survivable because it is temporary and with God’s help can be overcome. In the end, our lives are so short and pain creates growth.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
After losing our sweet little Ellie, we were in shock. Our friends and family had no experience with the tragedy we faced. The sudden loss of a young child doesn’t occur very often, so there were few people to talk to who had lived through something like this. When I was in the pit of my despair, several people reached out to me and let me know that I was not alone.
I needed to know that others had survived this. I wasn’t sure I could. I wasn’t sure my family could.
A kind gentleman called me and told me his story of losing his dear son in a tragic accident several years before. He listened to me and sat in my pain with me. He gave me the gift of hope that we could survive. He was a gift that I needed at the moment that he called.
One of my wife’s friends from high school also let us know that she was there for us. She had lost her son and husband recently and suffered terrible injuries as well. Her willingness to share in our pain, in the middle of hers, gave us hope too.
We receive many requests for connections to others with similar losses at Ellie’s Way. It’s been quite overwhelming. So, we’ve created a group on Facebook where we can connect and share our stories. It’s a place where you can interact as much or little as you like.
Here’s what you will find in our group:
- Encouragement and love!
- Over 8,700 members and growing.
- Question of the Day with many comments and discussion.
- Daily “Caption This” contest.
- Remembering Special Days program.
- “Share Your Memories” online events.
Please join us at Ellie’s Way Grief Connections!
Here’s an exercise that helps me keep perspective…
I imagine myself in twenty years. I’m an older me who is diagnosed with cancer. I’m told that I have six months to live and there is nothing the doctors can do. Despite this bad news, my current health is good. I have no limitations – except the knowledge that I’m dying. What would I tell myself to do with the “good” time I have left?
Fast forward six months. I’m a frail old man in bed, writhing in pain from a cancer that just won’t stop. I’m not sure how many more hours or days I have left. There is not much good news regarding my health and I’m limited to a bed. Despite this situation, I have people taking care of me as best they can. What would I tell myself to do with the “good” time I have left?
Rewind to today. I’m a middle aged man. I’m assuming that I have more than twenty years to live, but as Ellie’s death has shown, I could die tomorrow. Who knows? Despite this bad news, my current health is good. I have no limitations – except the knowledge that I am going to die someday. What would I tell myself to do with the “good” time I have left?
The following is a letter to myself…regardless of what this life brings.
Life is a gift from God. Your children, family, friends, neighbors, and strangers are all gifts to be savored. Although some days may be full of hardship and sadness, each breath, heartbeat, and thought illustrates this beautiful gift of life.
Don’t forget the times that you felt most alive. Those were times when love was abounding – when your love was flowing to the world. In the time you have left, keep finding outlets to love and to serve.
Remember the power of right now. Each moment is a blessing to be enjoyed. Look for beauty in people and the world. Be present. Remain hopeful. Share life.
Follow the example of Jesus Christ. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Let God fill you with love, compassion, acceptance, and peace.
Can you picture yourself in the scenarios above? What would your letter say? (leave a comment)