Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Still fumbling with the shoe covers, I stumbled into the delivery room. What confronted me there took my breath away. There to my left lay my wife, holding her hand out to me, seeking my comfort. My newborn son lay on a warming table to my right. I stood frozen between the two, uncertain where I should be. As I stood watching my son I saw his tiny arms and legs twitch once and then again. Then before my eyes he went still. My son Jonathan died that moment, and something inside of me died that day too.

Those events took place August 12, 1987, twenty-two years ago today. I was 26 years old, old enough to know that life was hard, but young enough to still believe that I could change the world. I could never have guessed that this would not be the only time I would see a newborn son die. My son Timothy died in March of 1989. Throughout all of the things that I have seen and experienced in my life these are the darkest days of all. There has never been anything so hard, so devastating, so lonely.

We fear nothing more than death. Death is seen as the end of all things, the termination of not just life but also of anything associated with the one who dies. Death is a thief who takes from us that which is not his. We see death as an enemy, a mindless monster driven only by blind instinct. Death to most is a thing to be avoided at all costs.

The death of a child is the most awful thing I have ever known, easily surpassing any and all of the other struggles of my life. When a child dies there is the loss of hope, the loss of dreams. The death of a child leaves a gaping wound that defies our attempts at healing, taunting us as we see others enjoying what we have lost. I have known all of these things through the loss of not one but two sons.

Death can be overcome, not in a physical sense, but in the heart and spirit, the emotion and will. My wife and I took years to find healing, in many respects that healing is still in progress, but we are healing. Johnathan and Timothy taught me that death is a part of life and by embracing their deaths I have come to be more whole. I have learned that death is not permanent, that there is a part of each of us that lives on. As a Christian I have always believed in eternity, but the deaths of my sons drove me to delve more deeply into the question than cliches and simple, yet misguided answers. The truth is that not only do my sons live in my heart and memory, they live in heaven in the presence of God.

Death is not the end of dreams. I have come to understand that God desires to use me to bring comfort to others who have experienced death. Death does not bring an end to life for those left behind but it does require a reassessment of those things we consider important. Too many of us expect (actually it's closer to demand) that life should unfold according to our desires. We seldom consider the cost of the lives we desire. Death guides us all to reexamine priorities, desires, hopes, and goals. Through the process of grief we can come to better understand what proper priorities should be and how our lives can be more in line with the will of God.

Death is never meaningless. The death of children never makes sense, whether those children are infants or teens. There comes with death overwhelming emotions that cause us to doubt that God is in control of the events of this life. But nothing is farther from the truth. God is in control and death is neither out of His control or beyond His purposes. It is true that we may not find the answers we want in this lifetime, but we can be assured that God has a reason and purpose for permitting death to take a loved one. I have come to understand that my own life before the deaths of my sons, filled with abuse and neglect, was a preparation for learning to deal with the terrible aftermath of death. I have seen that death is not an end but the beginning of a new aspect of life, one with greater meaning and purpose. My own journey from death back to life has shown me the power of God to redeem the most terrible tragedy.

Johnathan and Timothy have bypassed the troubles and struggles of this life. They enjoy the presence of God the Father rather than struggle with the failings of their earthly father. Their deaths, while still painful to recall, have made me a stronger, more faithful man. I thank God not only for them but also for the lessons their deaths taught me.


  1. Larry,

    What a beautiful piece...and so timely for me. I've recently grappled with questions, and emotions due to the deaths of several of my friends' children. Suicide, cancer, car accidents, and now this week another suicide.

    All have inspired fear in me. It is for me to imagine how one can move on with life after losing a child. Yet I've watched and prayerfully held the hands of beloved friends enouraging them to keep taking one step at a time into the future.

    These trailblazers are so brave. They inspire me to keep living, and keep loving each day that the Lord gives us. Thank you for being one of those brave ones...and for giving a glimpse of what it means to keep moving through that dark valley until you again are able to see SONlight.

  2. Thank you, Larry. Sharing your grief will help others learn to manage their grief. Your heart is pored out in every word!

  3. Poetry 4him aka Donna Roysdon Hogue