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I Am Okay
Coping With the Death of a Child
Pamela J. Kuhn

     Just three short months after our daughter Sarah was taken to heaven, my husband wrote in his journal: “I’m not sure about making it.  I walked into the bedroom this Sunday morning to take Pam a cup of freshly brewed spice tea.  I was met with a crushed wife and mother—a beautiful lady with a face soaked in mournful tears.  Pam is quiet with her grief, but I can feel it screaming from every cell in her frame.  It reaches out to this man who can only try to swallow and choke out, ‘Will you be okay?’  What a stupid question!”

Those who've lost a child have days when they feel as though they're not going to make it. How can life go on? Will I ever feel normal again? Will the pain ever stop? These are only a few of the questions that parents—as well as family and friends—ask themselves.

Sarah's room didn't have much ventilation, so I had used a fan to make her naptime more comfortable. Faulty wiring led to the deadly fire that took little Sarah from our arms to those of the One who gave her to us. The question "Why?" became my new constant companion. No answers were forthcoming.

A friend who had lost his son told us, "You will never get over it, but you can get through it." My husband and I clung to those words of comfort in the weeks and months following Sarah's death. The very first night, we lay in bed, held hands, and promised each other we'd become better, not bitter. We vowed not to lose each other too.

Here some of the things that helped us to "get through" the difficult times following our daughter's death—and to keep our promises to each other. 

Grieve in your own unique way. Everyone mourns differently, and one of the unfortunate mistakes we sometimes make is trying to force others to grieve as we do. My husband has a more melancholy personality than I do. If Sarah had been buried in the town where we lived, he would have gone to her grave every day. I, on the other hand, have never been back to the cemetery since the day we buried her.

My husband wrote constantly in the days after Sarah died, but it was years before I put any of my thoughts on paper. Seeing the stark black and white of my own words seemed somehow to increase the intensity of my grief. However, I devoured any book that I could find on the subject. Our dissimilar grief patterns could have become an issue between us, but in allowing each other to grieve his or her own way, we avoided what could have become stress points.

Keep mementos nearby. Some grieving parents put away every trace of their deceased child; others make a shrine of all that is left behind. I would suggest a middle ground. Because I fill my occasional tables and dresser tops with framed pictures of those I love, it was natural to tuck those of Sarah in among them. The brass-framed picture of her and Daddy is still on the piano; others are scattered throughout our home reminding us of our princess.

My husband keeps Sarah's pacifier—the only one she'd use, and the one we guarded with our lives—in his nightstand drawer. He keeps his loose change in her silver engraved cup, and her tiny baby spoon is used in the jelly dish. These are tiny mementos, but precious to us. They've been smiled over, cried over, reminisced over, and given a permanent place in our home.

Deal with the guilt feelings. In the days after Sarah's death, my heart was filled with guilt. If only I had waited until a later time to put Sarah down for her nap, I thought. If only I had stayed upstairs and cleaned the bathroom. If only . . . over and over again. But the one thing that bothered me most wasthat when I finally realized something was wrong and raced to the second floor to find the hall filledwith smoke, her tiny room full of flames, I froze. Everyone knows a real mother would have ignored the flames to get to her baby. So why didn't I? I agonized over that question, even though the doctor told us the smoke filled Sarah's lungs well before the flames reached her. My husband, on the other hand, was convinced an angel stopped me at the room's flaming entrance so he wouldn't lose both of us. Still, I blamed myself for not having saved my baby.

 But eventually I was able to see that all the wishing in the world wasn't going to change what had happened. I needed to offer my guilt feelings to God. Leaving them with Him hasn't been easy, and there are still times an "if only" sneaks unnoticed into my heart. But I've learned to stop and tell myself, "I can't change it."

Be thankful for one thing each day. The sun rarely shines in the dark pit of grief. Every day seems dreary, and a person's soul feels chilled. To break out of the dismal place I found myself in, I began a gratitude list. The items on that list weren't profound—just small blessings I could count. On the first day, it was the sun shining through a group of trees; on the second, it was the clear amber of my Salada iced tea. Later, I saw drifting white clouds in a clear, blue sky, and the gentle smile of a sales clerk as I made a purchase.

As my list grew, I found myself starting to refocus on life. I was claiming the promise of Isaiah 45:3 (NIV): "I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places." In the secret place of grief, I found wealth day by day. Images like our three-year-old Melanie's pigtails bouncing as she ran to the car after her preschool class, perfect pumpkins to carve, and a sunny basket of yellow mums filled the treasure chest of my mind, and then spilled over into the secret place of my heart.

Ponder the good things. Our minds tend to replay the shocking times of our calamity. I suppose it's natural to allow those moments to repeat in our heads. I kept remembering the suddenness of the
tragedy—the race to the hospital, the realization that Sarah was gone. Over and over I heard the screams, felt the despair, and heard the question of an unthoughtful friend who had asked, "Wasn't there
anything you could do?"

But then I thought of Mary and the difficult times she must have endured from the moment she agreed  to be the mother of Jesus. I found Luke 2:19, which says, "But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart." Mary didn't focus on those times that distressed her.  Instead, she focused on the wonders and joys that came with accepting God's will. I needed to do the same. When disturbing images entered my mind, I'd stop and think about the Christian policeman who prayed with us at the scene of our burning home. I would remember how a family friend brought 
her own daughter's clothes to Melanie, the way Melanie smiled when another friend offered her a few toys, and the comforting feel of the satin nightgown my sister-in-law gave to me. I'd envision the image we chose to have engraved on Sarah's headstone—that of the tiny child nestled in God's big hand—and would hear the sweet voice of another friend as she sang the words of 

Ron Hamilton's "Rejoice in the Lord":

"Oh rejoice in the Lord, He makes no mistake.

He knoweth the end of each path that I take.

For when I am tried, and purified,

I shall come forth as gold."

      Like Mary, I pondered the good things and treasured them in my heart. I've never gotten over our daughter's death. She was our beautiful princess— Sarah of the dark, silky hair, big dark eyes, and beguiling smile. But I've gotten through the deepest pain of mourning. Am I okay? "He has . . . given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink . . . Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning (Lamentations 3:15,Lam. 3:21-23 NLT)

Standing in His faithfulness, I am okay.

Sidebar:  Comforting Words and Gestures
"The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares." — Henri Nouwen
1.      A simple “I’m sorry” is the most comforting thing you can say.  Even the most caring person sometimes say things that comes out wrong, and once said, words cannot be taken back.  When a friend of mine was telling an acquaintance about the accidental drowning death of her teenager the man replied, “Sometimes I wish my teenager would drown.”  My friend quickly and firmly replied, “No, you don’t!”  The man realized how that remark must have sounded to this hurting mother, but it was too late to undo the damage.  Stick with “I’m sorry.” 
2.      Don’t wait for the grieving family to ask for help.  Offer!  Many times a crowd of people is the last thing a grieving parent wants to face.  If another sibling takes gymnastic lessons, plays on a sports team or has band practice, offer to drive the child to his or her activities.  .  Gift certificates to local restaurants ensure that the family eats a healthy meal.  Helping with laundry, house cleaning, and mowing a lawn are practical ways of giving comfort.
3.      Don’t be afraid to talk about the lost child.  Most parents don’t want to think others have forgotten their child.  If a funny incident comes to mind, don’t be afraid to say, “Do you remember when…?”  The story may bring a tear or two, but the healing benefits are abundant.
4.      Remember and acknowledge dates connected to the tragedy.  Mark the date of the child’s death on your calendar.  Send a note each month on that day during the first year.  Try to remember the family annually.  We have friends who still remember August 7th.  One elderly woman gave us money each year before she died so we could eat out and remember Sarah together.  A birthday is another date to remember.  Year after year we received pink carnations on Sarah’s birthday from “Grandma” Arnold.  Her remembrance was soothing balm to our hearts.
5.      Cry with your friend.  A comforting moment for me happened one Sunday in church.  The service had not yet begun, but the sacred atmosphere, blessed with God’s presence, brought forth my tears.  When I looked up, I noticed a friend in the seat in front of me.  When he turned I saw the tears swimming in his eyes overflow to make a trail down his cheeks.  He didn’t say a word.  He just looked into my eyes and cried.  

Linked to: Joy Comes in the Morning