loss Posts

Being a Friend When Someone Has Experienced a Loss

Being_A_Friend

When Judy and I lost our 5 ½-year-old son Kyle, we were shocked and numb for several weeks. During that time, and through many conversations with others in the last 37 years, we have learned some of the best – and worst – practices for being a friend to someone who has experienced loss.

Loss comes in many shapes and sizes. From losing a child to losing a spouse, through death or divorce, from losing your health to losing a job, all these are forms of loss that call for our friendship to step up to another level of care and compassion.

As we think about being a friend, let’s think about what we go through in our heads and hearts as we contemplate helping someone who has lost. We want to do something that will really help, but are at a loss as to what that might be. What would really help is to undo the loss in the first place, but in most cases that is impossible. So what do we do that would be meaningful? We must resist the temptation to think that anything we say will make them feel better or “fix” the situation.

Within a week of losing Kyle, we had comments from well meaning friends who were trying to use words to make it all better. We heard everything from, “Well at least he’s in heaven” to “God must have known that he would have made your life miserable later on and was sparing you that grief.” We were glad for the assurance that our son was in heaven, but we would rather have had him with us right now. And we would have much rather have had a son, alive, even if he did make some bad choices later in life that would have been painful for him and us.

Words can bring some comfort in the midst of the pain, but they can never fix the pain one suffers in loss. Comforting words may include “I’m so sorry” or “My heart is aching for you right now” or “If I can do anything at all, please tell me. Can I…?” Don’t take over and become a bossy cow in the person’s life, but genuinely be there for them and with them, willing to do whatever.

The two people who helped the most right after we lost Kyle were very different, but both made a real impact. One dear friend just took the initiative, went to the store and bought some diapers for Eric, another of our sons, who was 2 ½ and in the hospital fighting for his life. He too had drowned, but was able to be resuscitated. Then she offered to take Bryan, our 3 ½ year old, to her house while we stayed overnight in the hospital.

Another dear friend came to the hospital to see me in the middle of the night. I was sitting in the hallway on the floor, reliving the horrors of that day over and over in my head. And my heart was aching from the reality that I would never see our son Kyle again in this life. Andy just sat next to me on the hallway floor. He put his arm around me and we just cried together. I’m not sure he ever said a single word in over two hours. He just sat and cried with me, and his presence meant the world to me in that moment.

One of the best things you can do is be a friend who is present and cares. Not a fixer. Be one who empathizes, not one who takes over and forces your help on someone else. Be one who says little, but loves greatly. It is your love, spoken or unspoken, that will mean the most to someone in their time of loss.[1]

[1] For more on this subject, consider my book, When Life Is Changed Forever: By the Death of Someone Near.

The Tension of Joy & Pain

The Tension of Joy and Pain

Our son died on April 7, 1979. Kyle’s death was totally unforeseen. Never in my life would I have thought Kyle’s time on earth would last for only five and a half years.

My joy fled when Kyle was gone. But James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Joy? With Kyle dead and my heart broken? How could I ever be joyful again? It didn’t make any sense at all.

Before losing Kyle, I would have been more likely to define joy as the lack of pain. How could these two apparent opposites be reconciled? But James understood a truth that I desperately needed to understand: pain and joy can coexist. In fact, they go hand-in-hand.

When we use the word consider today, we usually mean “to think about” or “regard” something. But when James says to “consider it pure joy,” he means to account it as joy. It is a function of the mind rather than the heart.

Joy is the emotion you experience when you have been set free. It is the lifting of your soul in the midst of pain. It is far more than just being happy; it is the excitement that comes with being liberated. It is the enthusiastic spirit that results from receiving an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.

James doesn’t say we should experience joy “because of” the painful trials we are going through. Rather, he says we need to use every opportunity to experience pure joy because our Father is sending us something that will set us free from pain’s downward pull. We need to have the eyes of our heart open so we don’t miss His surprises.

Many people think that if they can accumulate enough things and avoid enough pain, they will experience joy. But that is not how it works. Only as we learn to live in faith, in a relationship built on trust and dependence on God, are we able to experience His joy and blessing. Only then can we discover all that He has designed us to be.

I knew it in my head, but I had not put it into practice in my life on a daily basis. I simply had not given it enough time to sink into my heart. The more I understood that truth, the more God was and is able to be all He wants to be in my life.

One of the many things God wanted to do for me was give me a greater freedom in the expression of my personality. I now laugh more, cry more, love more and feel more anger when I see injustice.

I still miss my son’s presence and aliveness with our family. Dealing with the loss of our father-son relationship has proved to be a difficult journey. But going through that process has brought me so much closer in my Father-son relationship with my heavenly Father. As I’ve come to know the Father better, and as our relationship has become more alive and intimate, I’ve come to enjoy my wife, my family and my own aliveness in a richer, fuller way.

I am freer to live without worrying about “what if” and “what might have been” that used to stifle me. I have a greater sense that God is in charge. And when new circumstances come into my life unexpectedly, instead of being overwhelmed, I know God has a way to help me through every one of them.

 

 

(Portions taken from: Dr. Rick Taylor, When Life Is Changed Forever, Harvest House Publishers)

The Many Faces of Love: A Couple’s Love

A Couple's Love

When I first saw Judy, something happened in my heart. Her humor and joy in life shone through loud and clear, and spoke to a hole that was in my life – one I didn’t even realize was that big, until I saw that beautiful young woman so many years ago.

Then I actually met her and realized that what I thought was a hole was really a canyon. Every part of me wanted to be with her more and more. Eventually, I realized I not only wanted her in my life but also needed her in my life. And she realized she needed me as well. That was good news to me.

Now we have been married more than 43 years, and we have both learned many things about our love as a couple.

Young couples can undoubtedly love each other with an authentic love. But it is the testing of that love over time that helps it grow even deeper and stronger. Judy and I have had our love tested many times. Sure there are times when the testing pushes us further apart for periods of time, but in the long run it brings us back together with a deeper love than before.

When we lost our son Kyle in a tragic drowning accident in 1979, Judy and I faced the hardest year of our marriage. She and I needed to grieve so differently. Judy needed to process her grief out loud. I needed to be quiet and mentally process the whole experience. My quietness made Judy feel that I didn’t care. Her talking about it at every turn made me want to get away and find a place in solitude to think, ponder and make some of the biggest faith decisions of my life.

After a while, I realized Judy wasn’t trying to hurt me by talking constantly about her feelings. She was just processing her grief. And Judy realized that I wasn’t trying to ignore and run from her as much as I was just trying to process grief my own way. It was during this intense time of grieving that we learned more about each other than we had ever learned. We were so different, but we filled up what was missing in each other as well.

When our daughter developed a rare blood disease a few years later, we were able to handle it together so much better, as a couple who had drastic differences but whose love helped us appreciate and value each other as well.

When Judy’s mom, June, came to live with us for a little more than two years, our love grew once again as we moved into uncharted territory. June has Alzheimer’s. We knew very little about the disease at the time, but we had learned how to process through that hard time together. I saw Judy’s tender love and compassion for her mom, even though her mom could not understand or value her love much at the time. Watching Judy with her mom made my heart grow deeper in love with her.

We spent the last month with my mom lying in the hospital and then hospice as she suffered from congestive heart failure. She was challenged in taking each breath, her Alzheimer’s had progressed severely over the last decade, and we didn’t know what the outcome would be. Judy and I kept tag teaming being at the hospital with her. We hardly even saw each other, and when we did we were talking through end of life issues and alternatives. It wasn’t a very romantic Valentine’s season.

But as I watched Judy tenderly care for a mother that was not her own, my heart grew even closer to her. She did all this because of her love for me, which makes me love her even more. That girl I saw some 45 years ago has given me so much more than I could have ever known.

It saddens me when I see couples facing hard times and giving up, somehow thinking changing partners will solve their problems. That’s not how God designed life to be lived. It is through the hard times that love grows even deeper and stronger than you could possibly imagine. And that is the kind of love He desires for couples.

The Many Faces of Love: A Mother’s Love

A Mother's Love

As I write this, I am sitting in the hospital with my mom – again. This is the second time in three weeks she has had to be rushed to the emergency room and then admitted to the hospital with a critical blood infection the doctors can’t seem to get rid of.

As I watch my mom fight to live, I find my heart aching for her and my mind reflecting back on so many years of her love for me. Just the thought of her love brings tears to my eyes. I have always heard and felt her sacrificial love for me.

When I was about 4 or 5 years old, living in a small white house on John Street in Evansville, Indiana, our house backed up to a donut shop on Division Street. About 5:00am every day you could smell those donuts being made. What an alluring smell! And every Saturday morning my dad would walk those 100 steps or so to that donut shop and buy a half dozen fresh, warm donuts. He’d walk in the house and we’d sit down to a big glass of milk and two donuts each.

My mom loved donuts. In fact, she has always had a major sweet tooth. Every Saturday my mom would eat her first donut very slowly, while I wolfed down my two. Then my mom would say, “I’m not very hungry this morning. Want my other donut, Ricky?” Without hesitation I took her up on the offer and ate that third donut pronto.

I know now that being hungry or not had nothing to do with her offer of her second donut. My mom loved to see me happy and excited. She would do anything and everything she could for me – even to a fault at times. But it was always motivated by her deep love for me. I realize so much of what I know about love, I learned from my mother’s love.

From the earliest days I can recall, I have heard my mom, referred to as Nana by her grandchildren, say two things frequently: “I love you” and “I’m so proud of you.”

Even now, as she lays in her bed fighting for her life, the most common thing she says is, “I love you so much, Rick! What a blessing you are to me.”

And my heart speaks back to her, “I love you so much, Mom! I’m so blessed to have you as my mom.”

 

Note from the author: My mom went to be with Jesus last night. She is finally experiencing the complete peace and joy of being free from the pains of this life and being in the presence of God. She loved so well and was loved by so many. Thanks to all for your thoughtful words and prayers.

The Courage of Caleb

Courage_Caleb

In the days of Moses the people of Israel had to make a choice. Did they have the courage to trust God, or were they going to cling to what was inadequate and detestable, but familiar? The book of Numbers tells us the story:

The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites…” When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many” – Numbers 13:1-2, 17-18 (NIV)

The Lord wanted the Israelites to go see and hear and smell the land He was giving them, their new home. So Moses sent leaders out to explore the land and its people. There must have been a wave of excitement in the air as these explorers left on their journey. I’m sure there was a buzz around camp while they were gone. And surely men were posted to let Moses and the others know when the heroes returned to camp. Finally the day of their return arrived:

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along Jordan” – Numbers 13:27-29 (NIV)

What a land they saw. Flowing with cactus milk and fig honey, giant fruit, sweet and plump. But the people! The fortified cities! The huge crowds began to hiss and mumble. They did not expect this kind of a report. As the murmuring spread, the volume began to drown out the spies, until one of them spoke up:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” – Numbers 13:30-31 (NIV)

The stage was set for a showdown. Caleb, one of the spies, wanted to pack up right then and take the land that God was giving them. But 10 of the 12 spies, the overwhelming majority, said, “Impossible! They are too strong.” Caleb shouted, “We can certainly do it.” The ten retorted, “We can’t.”

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” – Numbers 14:1-4 (NIV)

The people of the community had a choice to make. That choice was not really over whether they should take the land or not. It was not over whether to go back to Egypt or stay where they were. It had nothing to do with their wives or children, or whether to replace their leader. None of these was the real choice facing the people that long, restless night in the Israelite camp.

They simply had to decide whether they were going to trust God or not. God had already told them that He was giving them this land. All they had to do was go up and accept His gift. Did they trust that God would do it? That He could do it?

There were options. They could go back to Egypt or get another human leader. But which of these alternatives could possibly help them in the distress brought on by unexpected changes in their lives?

We are faced with the same choice. God promises us a new kind of life beyond the wilderness we are in. But all too often we behave just like the Israelites who turned their backs on God, grumbling as they turned, looking for other worthless, empty things to trust in.

Are you willing to trust God when He says you should persevere through your pain? When He says that He will enable you to become a more complete person on the other side? Are you willing to accept pain and difficulty as part of God’s like changing process?

What makes the difference? The focus of faith. Are you focusing on God, or on the circumstances of life? When we keep focused on God, the circumstances have a way of fading into the background, and don’t have a chance to sap our courage to trust God.

(Portions taken from: Dr. Rick Taylor, When Life Is Changed Forever, Harvest House Publishers)

Comfort As God Has Comforted Us

5 books that have changed my life

Though he brings grief,
he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
– Lamentations 3:32-33 (NIV)

A few weeks after our son Kyle’s death we were back in that same hospital waiting for our daughter Kelly to be born. Labor and delivery were difficult and, understandably, very emotional for Judy. To have buried one child and now be giving birth to another in a matter of weeks would weigh on any mother’s heart. I felt so helpless. I knew there were little things I could do, but she had to work so many things out in her own head and heart.

It was uncanny how God used so many people, even some we had never met, to comfort us in our time of need. Cards, letters, phone calls and visits all came our way. We needed them. God used these blessed people to bring us compassion and comfort. But very soon God was putting us in their shoes.

After Kelly’s birth, Judy was in recovery for a few days. She was in a semiprivate room with a young woman who had delivered premature twins. The twins were very small and life was difficult, but they were struggling with everything they had to survive. The doctors were very cautions. There was the very real possibility that one or both would die in minutes, days or weeks.

This new mother of two was agonizing for her children, hoping they would not die, but knowing they surely could. Then she found out Judy had lost a son just weeks before.

Judy did not feel like helping someone else, but there she was. And there was a strange tugging within Judy to do what was best, even though it was painful. God had used Dr. Knarr, our physician friend, to bring Judy and me comfort in our time of need. As he shared his heartache and pain with us, God used him to minister to us, and in the process we had ministered to him. Now God was using Judy to help her roommate, and He used the process to help Judy.

Just four months later one of the twin boys died in the night. The mom asked Judy to come and be with her at the funeral. Judy wept at the thought of burying another young boy. But she went. That was God’s design to bring comfort and ministry into our lives, and into the lives of others through us.

There were soon people in my life as well who were strengthened by what we were going through. Gerald was in his early sixties and newly retired when he lost his wonderful wife after a 28-year bout with cancer. They had lovingly cared for their marriage, and their beautifully intertwined lives accentuated his sense of loss when she was finally torn away from him. Gerald and I met for many months, and he gained comfort not only from my concern as a pastor, but from my experience as a companion who had also lost someone near.

Within a year or so Judy and I were being asked to speak in Death and Dying classes at the university. Each time we felt God’s arms of compassion and tender comfort all over again. That helped us, but so did the help we could give others.

The apostle Paul wrote about the Father’s promised comfort and ministry out of his own need. In fact, he wrote these words to the Corinthians:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NIV)

Paul says he felt the sentence of death. Yet even in his despair he says that all this happened so we may “not rely on ourselves but on God.” Total reliance on the Father is what must happen for us if we are to embrace God’s compassion and comfort, and willingly embrace the difficult task of helping others.

In light of all this, we understand better the words of Paul:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NASB)

Someone just like you needs to feel the arms of God through your arms and to hear God’s tender, understanding voice through your voice. Let God enfold you and you will be able to enfold others. Look. Listen. And then let Him use you to help someone else. The comfort and joy you experience will surprise you.

(Portions taken from: Dr. Rick Taylor, When Life Is Changed Forever, Harvest House Publishers)