A godly grieving father’s perspective. . . Meet Ron Duncan.
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Source: What If?
One of the reasons I write is to share my grief experience with others.
I realized when tossed into the ocean of sorrow that of all the things I had heard about or read about, surviving child loss was never mentioned.
Oh, someone might comment that so-and-so had LOST a child, but then the conversation quickly moved on to more comfortable topics.
But if we don’t talk about it, we can’t learn to live through it.
Silence doesn’t serve anyone well.
I agree with Mr. Rogers:
Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
― Fred Rogers
During the course of my lifetime I have seen many topics dragged from…
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Today is my one and only son’s birthday. If you read my Father’s Day post you know that he was, in the terminology of the latest trend, born still – a cord death. Cole did not die on the day of his birth. I always knew that. David and I were drawn to the hospital because I quit feeling him move. But even I didn’t initially know when he died.
I’m not sure how long after his death that I discovered exactly when he died, but it was an innocent comment made by my mother that truly rocked my world.
She was in my home and all she said was, “I remember you telling me that the baby was moving really funny.” Those words triggered that movie-like effect, you know the one where past events scroll by the screen at warp speed and a replay begins of that exact moment in the character’s past. I was instantly transported back . . . There I stood in my parent’s living room in front of their green velvet love seat. It was about 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 18th. I can see it in my mind’s eye looking on as if I was standing mere feet away from my extremely pregnant self.
I’d driven to there after work in order to bring my mom some fabric which she was going to sew into a balloon shade for the baby room David and I had set up in our home. It was a simple blue and white pinstripe and matched the Paddington Bear pattern of the bedding we’d selected. And then I said it, “Mom, the baby’s moving really funny.” It echoes through my mind even 24 years later. My mother replied, “Why don’t you lay down and maybe it will stop in a moment.” Cringe worthy advice looking back, for indeed the strange movements I felt did stop shortly thereafter. And only in hindsight, only when my Mother spoke those innocent words after my child was long buried, did I realize the significance of those words that began, “I remember you saying . . . ”
Unbeknownst to my Mother, she filled in the blanks and devastated me all with one simple sentence. It was at that very moment, now standing in my own living room that I realized that I not only knew exactly when my child died but that I did nothing – NOTHING! – NOT ONE THING! – to save him. It was in that instant that I could finally find words to describe the strange way my son was moving within my womb. Thrashing. That is the only word that accurately describes those strange, indescribable movements.
I knew with certainty then that I had felt my child dying; thrashing as the cord that was wrapped around his arm pulled tight around his throat and he fought life. That devastating moment began the completely irrational guilt/shame cycle I struggled to overcome for years in spite of knowing full-well that had I known what was happening, I would not have been able to save him. There was no way to get to the hospital, to have my son delivered, before his death. No possible way.
But guilt and shame are all too common experiences in the parent loss community. Far too common. We kick ourselves for what we perceive as poor choices where logic firmly unravels that notion. Rarely is there an earthly way of knowing what is to come. The lack of foreknowledge renders us incapable of intervening in the unacceptable destiny about that plays out in our children’s lives. Logic is trumped by emotion and mental anguish. So , we beat ourselves up and ask, “What kind of mother/father am I?” And the only possible answer is, of course, “A bad one”.
We need someone to blame, someone to be held accountable, and for many broken believers, the heart simply cannot handle even the thought that our child’s death may have been part of God’s plan* – let alone His will. It is far easier to blame ourselves than to rock the very foundations upon which our belief in a loving God resides. Not that we are any more capable of preventing that either. When a large part of your world is destroyed the impact is insidious as wave upon wave of grief batters the broken heart.
Just as few people knew that I felt my son, strangle to death within the ironically protective environment of my womb, few people realize that we debated the trip to Kansas City for Christmas the year my oldest and youngest daughters died.
Bethany, my oldest daughter, had so much going on in the days prior to her death. Tons of angst over school and changes in living arrangements she wanted to make, finances, and Alex, her boyfriend’s uncertain return to UCA. Her life was in complete turmoil and I was helpless to make it better for her. It seemed what might be best for Bethany would be for us to stay home in Bentonville that Christmas, but that was not what was best for the rest of the family and not best for O’rane (the international student spending the holiday with us). Still, I took her aside a day or two before we left for KC and asked her if she would prefer to stay home. I would have chosen to remain in NW Arkansas if that would have made her more comfortable. No one else would have been too keen on that plan, but I had every intention of honoring her wishes had she indicated that she would prefer to stay home.
What I wouldn’t give to have simply stayed home.
I’m considerably older and a bit wiser than I was 24 years ago, but those old demons of guilt and shame have still plagued my days in the aftermath of Bethany & Katie’s deaths. Despite that fact that I had no power whatsoever to prevent any of the tragic circumstances of my life the broken heart is laid bare and vulnerable to the fiery arrows Satan takes such delight in unloading upon the weak.
Maybe just revealing that truth will help another broken-hearted parent caught in the guilt and shame cycle put to rest the irrational personal judgments they have leveled against themselves or a spouse. Maybe it will enable them to see that what the scriptures say is true – that Satan is a thief and a liar bent on our destruction and there is no limit to the devices he will employ to do just that.
Maybe the disclosure of my illogical feelings will enable another parent to make peace with the equally truthful scriptural revelation that our days are numbered prior to our birth; it was never in our power to extend the lives of our children, regardless of the circumstances of their death. There are simply things in this life that are pre-ordained and while that can be a devastating truth it can also be a great comfort, because aside from parents who with knowledge took the lives of their own children; the vast majority of parents have consistently acted in their best interest. And with grace, for those whose actions result in godly conviction (i.e., guilt) there is repentance, forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation through faith in Christ Jesus.
The road is long and dark – but grief embraced, worked through (not short-circuited by positive thinking) – can result in health and healing.
Oh, you never forget. And there never comes a day when the death of your child is justified by spiritual growth or ministry. Those things are just the result of God taking a bad thing and performing a work of redemption not somehow transforming that bad thing into a good thing. God brings good from Satan’s evil actions and intentions, He doesn’t justify Satan’s evil actions and intentions. That’s a very fine distinction, but an extremely important one nonetheless. All things work together for good, not all things are made good.
So while this day is filled with bitter longing and remembrance it is also a day in which I know I can trust that this is not the end of the story. This Kenny Chesney song, “Who You’d Be Today” is reflective of that intense longing and bitter disappointment I feel. But it also reminds me that one day I will know who each of my children really are because I will see them again. I will know them and they will know me in perfection, the way we were created to be before the fall of man. We will be like Him – the one who sacrificed His life and endured for the joy set before Him.
The lyrics to “Held” by Natalie Grant serve to remind me of the things God did not promise me — but also that He has promised to hold me through all the bitterness this life brings. “Can I not wait, for one hour (albeit a very long hour), watching for my Savior? (Paraphrased)” Partial lyrics can be found beneath the youtube link.
Partial lyrics, “Held” by Natalie Grant:
“This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it and
Let the hatred numb our sorrows
The wise hand opens slowly
To lilies of the valley and tomorrow
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held
If hope if born of suffering
If this is only the beginning
Can we not wait, for one hour
Watching for our savior”
*Please allow me back up a bit here. God’s plans and His will are sensitive subjects. I’m not confident that I completely understand them but I am confident of a few things. God’s plans for us are redemptive and good. His will for us is that we be saved and conformed into the image of Christ. There is a huge difference between God’s will and plans for us and foreknowledge. God cannot intervene and prevent every negative circumstance in our lives and maintain His commitment to granting us free will. As believers we need to be aware that God’s plans for us include a strategy for redemption based up His foreknowledge of the events that will impact our lives. We need to realize that God is not the author of all the negative circumstances of our lives.
I awoke alone in a hospital bed to a bright morning after a flurry of activity the night before.
My husband’s first Father’s Day.
A nurse stopped by and then a doctor both of whom introduced themselves — shift change had occurred and I had a whole new team of medical care providers.
Then David entered my room looking tired having left late the night before to catch what sleep he could find.
I was checked to determine if the medication I’d been given the night before had resulted in sufficient effacement in preparation for delivery before a Pitocin drip was started to induce labor. David sat silently at my side holding my hand after a monitor was strapped around my burgeoning waistline to measure contractions. We were then left alone to stilted and quiet communication as we watched the monitor record the Pitocin-induced contractions.
David developed a quick rapport with Mary, my daytime nurse, as she popped in and out of my room at regular intervals. Pitocin generates stronger contractions than a woman experiences when she goes into labor on her own, so I was given a medication to dull the pain which left me nauseous. I curled in upon myself and closed my eyes to get what rest I could.
Shortly after noon, David’s Mom arrived at the hospital. I don’t know how long she stayed as she sat quietly with David while I simply tried to shut out the world and ignore my nausea. Then a group of ladies from my church appeared. While appreciating their presence, not being at my best I really didn’t want to see anyone but neither David, nor I was equipped to send them away. They waited a considerable amount of time before I agreed to see them.
Finally, I progressed to the point of delivery. The doctor prepped us for unexpected things we might see after our child entered the world that we’re not covered in typical childbirth classes. In surreal fascination, I watched as the doctor and my husband settled in to watch the Olympic Track and field trials between contractions as I lay on my back, feet mounted in stirrups at the end of my bed.
And then it was time to begin pushing and with a little help from a vacuum device, the doctor announced that we had a son as Bradley Cole Boxx slid silently into the world at 4:11 in the afternoon, June 21, 1992.
Mary quickly cleaned him up, placed a stocking cap on his head, tagged his body and wrapped him in a warm blanket before handing him to me. I cautiously unwrapped Cole to count fingers and toes as I held my breath remembering the words of preparation the doctor had spoken prior to delivery. In the relative quiet of the delivery room, I looked up at David and asked him if he wanted to hold his son. And on my husband’s first ever Father’s Day, I swallowed thickly when he declined.
Following the normal post-delivery care, the doctor quietly talked David and i through the reasons why we may or may not wish to have an autopsy performed. Since the cause of death was evident (the umbilical cord wrapped around one arm and multiple times around his small throat) we found no reason to authorize a search for any other cause of death. And then my room was cleared of sympathetic medical personnel and David and I were left to spend as much time as we liked with our all too silent son.
David’s first Father’s Day began in the dark of night. He later told me as he drove home from the hospital the night before Cole was born that he realized he now shared the loss of a son with his Heavenly Father.
His first official act of fatherhood was to disassemble the crib he had assembled earlier with such anticipation and joy. This he did after that solitary drive home alone the night before, in the early hours of Father’s Day.
David never held his son. All these years later, he doesn’t recall why he made that choice. Truthfully, he may not have known himself what motivated him to make that decision. I have to wonder if it was a simple form of denial. The horror, the devastating loss, was somehow less real or less personal if he didn’t reach out and touch the flesh of his flesh. Not holding his son is the one regret of David’s initial foray into fatherhood.
But David did what had to be done and he did it independently — it’s what he needed for himself. The day after I came home from the hospital he left to plan Cole’s funeral. I had no idea he’d even made the appointment. He just went and did what needed to be done — because he was a father and it was one of the final acts of service he could perform for the child he loved.
In the intervening years, David embraced fatherhood three more times. Bethany, Gracen, and Katie completed our family. Sadly, two and a half years ago our oldest and youngest daughters were killed by a careless driver.
Father’s Day is a bittersweet day — those most memorable are the ones that were more painful than pleasant. The day is one in which David is ever aware of the absence of the children he’s lost and profoundly grateful that Gracen remains. He acknowledges his sorrow but refuses to dwell on it.
For David, Father’s Day has never about being appreciated by his wife and children. Instead, Father’s Day is all about David’s appreciation for his Dad. For the example of love demonstrated through acts of service more than words. For learning about humor, character and integrity, hard work, and protecting those you love. For David, Father’s Day is about honoring the effort and commitment of the generation before, not reveling in his own fatherhood. And David’s father has loved our family with words and hugs, and meeting needs through the work of His hands that have touched me in ways I can’t begin to describe. He is not so much my father-in-law as he is the father of my heart.
Since becoming a father himself, David has never experienced a Father’s Day untouched by sorrow. But every single Father’s Day since the day his only son came into the world has been marked not only by memories of that first unconventional holiday but also with an uncommon depth of appreciation for the man who raised him.
“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5b
I remember standing in our field with my husband at sundown one day, thankfulness and grace and mercy and wonder flooding my…
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Source: My Cup Overflows