Dear sisters, as the introduction stated, I have lost three children.
I am often asked about how they died.
My oldest daughter Jessica would be 16 next week if she was still living. She died when she was in first grade. She developed the flu. It progressed to pneumonia. Her lungs filled with fluid and she did not respond to medications. She was transported by plane to a children's hospital's intensive care unit. Then moved again to another children's hospital where a high tech piece of equipment was available that would give her a chance to survive. We spent a total of 30 days in hospitals. Very far from home and far from my other children.. Some days she got better, some days she was worse. She never got to a point that anyone considered stable. Eventually, various body systems shut down. Her kidneys, her liver, her pancreas, her brain, and finally her heart. She died. We returned home to attempt to normalize life for our two younger children.
Even with health insurance, we had ended up spending all of our savings. and we still were left with big bills to pay. My husbands' law practice suffered through Jessica's illness. We had less than half the income we were used to and a huge stack of bills. We tried to stay functional. We started going to a bereavement group and took our family in for grief counseling. We kept going to church. We prayed. Our focus was on recovery.
11 months after Jessica died, our little one Courtney was sick. It was Christmas morning and we were in California visiting family. We were so stressed about our children and health issues that we took Courtney to the local emergency room instead of opening gifts. She was 22 months old. She was diagnosed as a new diabetic. The hospital put her in their pediatric intensive care unit, put her on an insulin infusion, and arranged helicopter transport to UCLA medical center.. While awaiting that transport, Courtney's blood levels of sugar dropped too fast. The result was a seizure. The seizure caused her brain stem to be damaged and she was pronounced brain dead. 12 hours after walking unto the hospital, our daughter was helicoptered to UCA not for a cure but for an organ harvest.
By that time, we had no savings. We were still working on paying off our first set of medical bills. Our income decreased even more and the stack of debt became a mountain. Our emotional abilities to handle the adversities in life dwindled. Friends and acquaintances started sending us money so that we could meet some of our medical obligations. That is a very humbling experience.
Slowly, we started over. I went back to school and started working on another degree. Heather our only remaining living child started worrying .. And repeated over and over again .. Asking " when am I going to die .. Are you and Daddy going to die soon .. She was very lonesome for her sisters and it was a very difficult time for us all.
We went through genetic testing and were told that the two deaths were not related. that there was nothing wrong genetically. With that verdict, we decided to have another child. Instead we had two miscarriages. 3 years later, we had a successful pregnancy. Two monograms showed a healthy baby, we were ready to have our arms filled.
Within those 3 years of time, I had graduated with my second bachelor's degree, and I started working to help pay off medical bills faster. We thought life was finally going to be adversity free.
Little Robin was born on time .. July 6, 1997. She looked perfect. All her fingers and toes. Just beautiful as a new baby could be. Only one problem, her heart didn't sound right. Some tests were run. 24 hours after her birth, I found myself on another air ambulance, having another child transferred to a children's hospital. Robin had a heart defect. Not a little heart defect. A very big heart defect. The left side her heart was too small to be functional. Our options were putting her on a transplant list, taking her home to die, or putting her through 3 surgeries. We prayed and felt that surgery was the right choice for Robin. She did great. 60% of the children die in the surgery. Robin was home 10 days after her surgery. It felt like a miracle. All was well. We weighed her daily, weighed diapers, and measured everything that went into her, gave tiny little doses of heart medications. Her check up 6 weeks after surgery was excellent.
We had returned to horrible stacks of medical bills but we had a living child to show for them this time. That made it okay.
A week after her 6 week surgical check up, my husband went to check on her one morning. She was dead in her crib.
Losing Robin was the event that sent our lives into an emotional tailspin.
I had struggled with feelings before. All the feelings of grief and loss. All the feelings about "what did I do to deserve this" and feelings about my circumstances not being fair but suddenly I wasn't just angry, I was furious. Furious at everyone who had not had problems in life. Furious at God. Furious at my husband as if he could have fixed any of it!!!
I felt that if I couldn't be successful at motherhood, I was going to be successful at something else!!! I decided to pursue a degree in anesthesia. I spent 2 years getting the experience and credentials together in order to qualify for the anesthesia program. I was accepted. It is such a tough program to get accepted to that when that letter arrived, I just sat down and cried. I called my mom, sobbing that I had been accepted. My life was set to go another direction.
A week later I found out that I was pregnant. What scary and wonderful news.
We wanted this new baby so badly. We wanted a healthy baby. A baby we could raise to adulthood. Our daughter Heather wanted a sister that she could grow old with. Steve and I prayed about the baby. We prayed about school. We wanted both. School was very expensive. We couldn't afford to put me through school and pay a sitter to watch the baby. I had never had a child with a sitter before. I felt such guilt to think about leaving a baby with a sitter.
We prayed and felt that I should plan on going to school a year later. We didn't know how we would afford it but felt that the Lord wanted me in school and that this baby was going to be fine.
I started school a year late. Rachel was 10 months old and healthy. My brother and parents got together and arranged to take care of the finances of Rachel's child care while I was in school. By loaning us the money to pay for it.
School meant commuting 57 miles each way. For residency, it has meant getting up at 3:30 in the morning so that I could leave by 4 am, in order to be at the hospital by 5 am. Every day. It has meant big sacrifices for my husband and our children. Financial sacrifices for my brother and parents. It has been a group effort to get through the program. It is working. I graduate in December.
So what does any of this have to do with keeping God first in your life? Let me tell you something that happened when my oldest daughter was dying, I had a friend come to me. She had lost a child years earlier. She had a piece of advice for me. Her statement was:
"You need to decide how much you are willing to lose. You are losing your oldest daughter today. You are going to grieve. If all your focus is on the loss of Jessica, you will lose more than Jessica . You will lose everything else in your life too. Decide how much else you are willing to lose. Are you going to lose your marriage? Your other children? Your faith? You need to decide."
I have thought a lot about that statement over the years. The statement "how much are you willing to lose?" keeps coming back to me. As each trial has come into our lives, I have balanced my response with that statement, " How much am I willing to lose." It has helped me make choices.
Some of my hardest choices have been spiritual choices. I have had times when I truly wanted to be angry at God. Times when I WAS angry at God. I wanted to remove His presence from my life. I have had times when I felt betrayed because my life has not been easy. I have chosen not to be angry with God. Anger does nothing but separate me from God. Anger makes my life worse instead of better. I had to decide that I was not willing to lose God.
Reading scriptures was very difficult when I felt very forsaken by God. I was looking for answers and I didn't feel that the scriptures were giving me the answers I wanted. I had to look at them differently and realize that scriptures give insight .. But not always answers. I will not have the answers in this life time for why my family has experienced so much loss. But the scriptures do tell me that I will have the opportunity to have insights and answers in the hereafter.
The scriptures tell me that God wants His people tested. Not just easy tests .. But with hard trials. The hard trials of life are what give us our humanity. Our empathy.
In the book "Faith Precedes the Miracle", it reads:
"Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery."
Robert Browning Hamilton wrote:
I walked a mile with Pleasure.
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with sorrow,
And ne'er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me!!
When we suffer tragedy, hardship, or loss, one of the first things that hits us is a loss of innocence. We suddenly become aware that bad things "can happen to me" and that they can happen more than once, not only to us, but to those we hold dear, no matter what we do. We and those we love can be overwhelmed or even die from adversity.
With that loss of innocence comes a set of terrible questions.
Did God cause the hardship that we encountered? Did God fail us when He did not "deliver us from evil?"When He failed to protect us from hardship. We find ourselves wondering, why didn't God actively stop bad things from happening to us where is my miracle?
But look at all the prophets through the ages. Can you think of one of them that did not suffer terribly. Can you find any scripture that assures us that our lives will only have small manageable meaningless trials? Do you know of any scripture that assures us that we will help others through their trials without having to experience any trials first hand.
No, in fact when Paul wrote the Book of Hebrews to provide guidance and preparation to the Saints at Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed the city, he warned them of hardship and against letting the root of bitterness spring up to overwhelm them. There is always the risk and presence of bitter feelings.
The scriptures do tell us that life experience is important. That we are supposed to learn and grow throughout this earthly life no matter how short or how long our time is here. We are told that we are to lift up one another. That we are not to judge one another but to help our fellow man.
The scriptures also tell us to be grateful. We should be grateful to God for all the blessings in our lives. There have been times when I found it very difficult to thank God for food because I would have preferred to go hungry and have my children healthy. There were times when I looked at others and I felt that they didn't seem to have any burdens in their lives and I wondered why I had been so unevenly singled out. these have been times when gratitude was hard.
Someday, maybe in this lifetime, we will gain calmness and perhaps understanding of why certain events were allowed to occur in our lives. My own family history includes people whose terrible hardships put them places where they met the missionaries or a situation of losing the family inheritance and their earthly fortune at the time was catastrophic for this young family .. Yet years later looking back it was viewed as a blessing .. For their lives where blessed and preserved when the area they had lived in was later overrun by Hitler's rampage .. And if they had remained, the family would not have survived. Sometimes we can only wonder.
But this life is supposed to be about experience and about being tested and about strengthening our faith, not about finding pleasure. A life rich in hard choices and experience has a texture. The good and the bad, the hunger and the fulfillment, the grief and the joy, are all experiences that we have this life for. We should feel gratitude for the times that life allows us to add to our experiences.
Yet it is not easy.
The first time I experienced grief I did not know what to expect. It was a new emotion for me, though I have come to learn that for most of human experience, for most of the world's history, grief has been a constant companion. It is far more unusual for someone to reach adulthood without a significant loss and the experience of losing a loved one than it is for what we consider "normal" in our country to occur. Widows and orphans used to be common. Most women died in childbirth. Significant numbers of children never made it to baptism or adulthood.
But this experience hurts. It is a pain that is physical. But at the same time it gives new meaning to happiness and joy.
But what I have found is that we all have burdens. Some burdens are more obvious than others. There are times of light burdens and times of heavy burdens. God gives us what he does for a reason. When our load is light, we can aid others. When our load is heavy, we need to learn how to accept aid.
One of the hardest things I found was learning to accept help from others. To allow someone else to do something for me that I couldn't do for myself.
There is a refining process that comes through suffering, I think, that doesn't come any other way than by suffering. We draw closer to God through trials. We feel a kinship that we have never felt before.
Paul the Apostle experienced great grief and loss as well as physical afflictions that God refused to heal him of. In the end, God allowed Paul to be crucified and slain by the Romans, even though God had delivered him before. Paul wrote about hardship and grief, about how it does not seem joyous, but hard and grievous. But he also wrote about how if we allow it, hardship and adversity can be a blessing for which we thank God.
And thanking God can be for things we may not have thought about. My list includes the following:
In what we experience, we need to remember both what Christ has experienced and to let our experiences bring us full circle back to Christ.
I can suggest things that each of you can use for focus during difficult times. Things that can help you to remember Christ when you feel you have lost all else.
Loss is not unique, adversity is not something that happens only to us.
Christ had loss. We are told that he suffered infirmities like us all and that he was tested in all of them. He had friends deny him and friends betray him. He had dear ones die, Joseph and Lazarus, and he was denied some things, such as old age and prosperity. He felt alone, and in his famous question from the Cross, even wondered why God had forsaken and abandoned him. In the end, everything was required of him, even his life.
Yet no one doubts that Christ triumphed over all things or that he has the full love of our Father and God. Anything we suffered, he suffered. Anything we feel, he felt.
Remembering Christ in adversity can give us hope. It can both give us perspective and give us remembrance that we benefit and learn from experience as he did. Remembering Christ can also give us of his spirit and bring us hope, and faith, and peace.
In remembering Christ we can choose faith over bitterness, love over sadness, hope over despair. We can choose to be nourished and healed and saved through Christ, if we will only let him come to us by coming to him.
With Christ we can have faith, we can gain wisdom, and by his stripes we may be healed.
The decision to follow Christ is just that. It is a decision. A choice. To consciously look at your life and say, "How much am I willing to lose?" And the knowledge that we can gain all things in the hereafter by deciding to follow Christ.
It is my testimony that if we decide, instead of losing everything when we encounter loss, we can choose what not to lose, and that by choosing not to lose Christ, we can turn to him and receive his succor.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
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