Life After the Storm: Dealing with the Death of a Son
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It was a glorious early October afternoon in North Carolina, the kind of day that makes you feel glad to be alive. A cloudless blue sky, brilliant shining sun, and rich amber leaves on the trees signaled the approach of fall. All of the signs were present. Change was in the air. I was home working in my office when I heard the sound of hard sole dress shoes on the hallway floor. I turned to see my husband standing in the doorway. I wondered what he was doing home in the middle of the afternoon. I was surprised because I knew his plans for that very hour were to be in an important meeting. Without a word, he quietly motioned for me to come with him to our bedroom. When he turned around, the pain on his face told me something was horribly wrong. He whispered, "Jan, we lost James today."
In an instant, with no warning, the day turned very dark and everything in our lives changed. My heart split in two while my mind tried to process the news that our only son was dead. He was in Africa, thousands of miles away from us, and we had no idea how he had died. A thick fog enveloped me, and I started to tremble. Shock and sickening fear welled up from depths I didn't know existed, and guttural cries escaped my mouth from some foreign origin. It was as if a line in the sand were drawn. Time would now be marked by before or after James died. We were thrust on a dark and perilous journey called grief and sorrow, and there was no turning back.
Willing to Walk With You
How do you walk a path you've never been on before? How do you withstand a storm that threatens to wipe out your family and ruin your dreams? How do you keep from becoming wrecked by the uncertainties and disruptions in life? My dramatic disruption was the sudden death of my beautiful 27-year-old son. Yours may be a diagnosis, an addiction, an accident, or a disability. It could be abandonment, rejection, divorce, infertility, or the loss of a job creating both physical and emotional insecurity. Because of these situations, many of us feel as though we are adrift at sea with no compass or purpose other than survival.
I want you to know my heart joins with yours in care and compassion. Although none of us can fully understand the circumstances and unique experiences of another person's life, it's comforting to know others are willing to walk with us through pain, grief, and despair. I want you to know I consider it a privilege and a blessing to come alongside to encourage you and be a companion as you walk your personal trail of tears. My purpose isn't to try to give you answers. It's to help you find the Answer.
It may be that you are the one sorrowing, or it could be you are sharing in the struggle of a child, family member, or friend. All of our lives touch others, so it's inevitable that we take on the load of the people we love. As my children have all become young adults with their own families, I am beginning to understand the obvious but somehow surprising truth that "you are a mother as long as you live." Their cares and concerns are mine. We find our roles reverse as our parents' age, and it's straining and unsettling for all. Sorting through the many decisions with patience and a gentle spirit can be exhausting. Trying to carefully balance the roles and demands of several generations often becomes more than we can take.
Some of us become entangled in a swirl of unwelcome and unsolicited activity based on the actions of others. Maybe you've been raped or violated, falsely accused and lied against, misled and manipulated by people you thought you knew and could trust.
Even when we're surrounded by people we can end up feeling all alone. We're convinced we're unwanted and unaccepted because of what has happened to us. Feelings of despair and depression are common and understandable when shame or guilt is our constant companion. When we realize we have made bad choices and many of the problems we are experiencing is really our own fault, it can cause a deep sense of hopelessness and even the desire to die.
We could be trying to weather a storm alone, or we may be surrounded by a strong group of supporters. Either way, there's a point where the resolution to our pain depends on how we choose to deal with it. At the end of the day, it's individual attitude and action that will determine how this disruption or disappointment will be used in our lives. Will we allow this to ruin us or refine us?
Because I've been through my own storms, may I offer you a word of hope and encouragement? There is life after the storm. There is a journey that will always lead you to the other side. I am praying you will allow me to take your hand and place it in the outstretched hand of Jesus. He will walk you through your storm and take you to the other side of the crisis.
Defining Your Storm
Any disruption of your "normal" defines a life storm. Disruptions come in many shapes and sizes. They vary in magnitude and destructiveness. Sometimes they are predictable and sometimes they are sudden. Cameras in outer space studying the atmosphere on planet earth record that there are as many as 2,000 storms taking place at once. It seems that everywhere you turn and everyone you talk to is either going into, in the midst of, or coming out of a storm.
While teaching a women's Bible study for 16 years, I have had numerous opportunities to share in the many varying and deep challenges women face. We have bared our heavy and anguished hearts in prayer for all sorts of people and circumstances. The searing pain of my own loss and my deep need for care serve to make me more sensitive to the painful trials others are going through.
- A wife becomes a widow when there was so much left to share with her husband.
- A single friend falls into despair after another relationship fails.
- A young mother grapples with the diagnosis of bone cancer in her toddler.
- A parent comes to terms with the meaning of raising a child with autism.
- A rebellious teenage son/daughter disrupts and divides a whole family.
- A wife discovers her husband is deeply involved in pornography.
- A grown daughter struggles to satisfy or please her mother.
These situations represent a few of the many examples in our lives of the variety of dashed dreams and hopes.
You may be wondering if answers really exist. I know they do because I have had my life abruptly disrupted and dramatically changed. Yet I live with tremendous hope and absolute assurance that God has a plan. I want to share it with you because your circumstances and your storm are not exceptions. You are not excluded from the offer to have that same hope and assurance.
Some Storms Seem to Surge Forever
There are many layers to the losses our life storms cause. They are rarely confined to one specific set of circumstances or have nice, neat start and stop dates. In fact, many of them will have repercussions and aftereffects that last forever. Take for example the woman who discovers her husband is unfaithful. The storm dumps pain in bucket loads when she initially uncovers the email that reveals another woman. The truth slowly and surely begins to surface as she finds more evidence of compromise and betrayal. The storm begins to change her and her children. It affects their security and stability. Deep wounds are inflicted that cause major disruption and undermine the whole foundation on which her family has been established. It often continues to the next generation as those who were innocent are dragged into the web of sin and chaos. What can we do to keep from being pulled under by the riptide or tossed like refuse on a deserted beach?
Maybe you see storm clouds far off in the distance, and you're listening carefully to see if that was thunder you heard. Is there a hint somewhere on the horizon of your conscience that a storm is brewing? It may be growing dark and the winds starting to rise, causing a scurry to find protection and cover. For some, the storm is raging. Lightning is ripping through the backdrop of a black sky, and the waves are beginning to crash with deafening volume. The wind is furious, and everything in its path is turned over and uprooted. Brokenness and destruction are shattered all around your feet. Or maybe the storm of your life is in a momentary lull. The eye is hovering over now, but you know the backside has yet to come.
Excerpted with permission from Life After the Storm (Harvest House Publishers, April 2015) by Jan Harrison.
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