I recently began a post with the intention of talking about one thing and ended up writing about something entirely different. Maybe the Holy Spirit had a hand in that.
Regardless, as I looked back thinking I would begin the the second post a new way, I just couldn’t determine a more appropriate introduction for either subject. So bear with me please, if you think you’ve read this message before—because you have—at least the initial part of this post. But your final destination will be an entirely different place, and looking back, I hope you will consider both worthy of thoughtful consideration. So here we go . . .
I have found in recent times that I have begun speaking of Bethany and Katie in the present tense.
It just feels right.
And . . .
The Bible tells us that we are eternal beings.
One day, sitting in the sanctuary of our home church, Pastor Wes George said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “We all spend eternity somewhere.”
This was before Bethany and Katie died.
And you know, he didn’t say anything I didn’t already know, but the way he framed it, just seemed to boil it down to a profoundly powerful succinct message of truth.
We all spend eternity somewhere.
If I believe that truth, and I do, then this statement is also true:
In spite of the death of the body, life goes on; for the deceased.
Because we are mere mortals and cannot look beyond the veil to see life in eternity play out, we think of death as the end.
But its not.
Satan wants you to believe that’s true.
But . . .
Jesus conquered both death and the grave.
There is more to this world than the eye can see and ears can hear. More than any of our senses can catalog and identify.
Much, much more.
This is why believers do not grieve without hope. Faith and hope do not prevent the pain and suffering death brings; they give us a reason to continue on—something good to look forward to. I don’t know about you, but I need something good to look forward to with anticipation. I still fight with discouragement and even despair, but in the end, I have an unwavering confidence in the hope of Heaven.
So, I intentionally choose to speak of my deceased children in the present tense. I also speak of the deceased children of other bereaved parents in the present tense when I converse with them online for two reasons. First, their children live on, just absent of the earthly shell by which we commonly identified them. And secondly, while we can’t see or be a part of the daily lives of the children we’ve lost, those children have a legacy here in the world we reside in that lives and breathes on in the lives of others.
One of a bereaved parents biggest fears is that their child will be forgotten or deemed irrelevant by society at large. And you know what? It happens every single day. Family and friends cease speaking your child’s name. Time moves on. People forget the significant events in others lives as their own issues demand precedence.
I can’t tell you how many times a friend has said to me, “I’d forgotten you had a son.” It’s been twenty-four years and I understand that very few people ever actually saw my son in the flesh. They had no interaction with him at all and they have busy and demanding lives as well. Remembering my stillborn son is not a reasonable expectation even if it hurts when those we share deeper relationships with forget.
Additionally, many a friend was not present during my pregnancy. We met after Cole’s birth and burial. And when we moved into our new community and made friends, I told the people I met that I had three children. It’s more work than I want to routinely take on to recover a conversation gone south when others discover the tragic death of my son. And frankly, I’m not the most socially adept person out there.
It should be noted that I, like many bereaved parents, struggled greatly with how to answer the question of how many children I have. (*A footnote regarding this question can be found at the bottom of the page).
So yes, children get forgotten. And sadly some, especially those lost by miscarriage, stillbirth, or death shortly after birth are deemed irrelevant which is no great surprise when you consider the cheap regard with which life is held in this day and age.
Every life is relevant and valuable and carries forth a living legacy. Some leave a smaller footprint than others, but each one impacts their world. Even miscarried and aborted babies have a legacy.
You see, every child conceived impacts the lives of those who come in contact with them in some way or another. I would not be the neurotic (smile) woman I am today had I not conceived Cole, Bethany and Katie. Each one of my children changed me; shaped me. They’ve individually and together changed the way I think and interact with others. They’ve helped to refine my faith. They’ve taught me about joy and sorrow and the value of a sense of humor. They’ve increased my understanding of others, made me more caring and generous—more empathetic.
Cole’s footprint is much smaller than Bethany and Katie’s. Bethany & Katie both interacted with the world to a far greater degree. They’ve touched and impacted the lives of every person they ever came into contact with to one degree or another and their individual legacies will be carried forward. They may have contributed to an acquaintance’s overall self-image by a single act of kindness or a rude rejection. The smallest interaction can result in enormous life changes for an individual and then carry on to all the people they later interact with – good or bad.
As a result, the children with the shortest of life spans can also carry great legacies. The child aborted or miscarried, changes their parents. The life of a child that dies in utero or shortly after birth of a disease, for example, may carry forth a legacy of treatment that prevents the death of a multitude of children the world over.
In spite of the fact that the earthly shells belonging to three of my four children have died, my children live on in and through me and the people they encountered in life. They also live on in the eternal unseen world and so I choose to behave as such. Check out this dialogue from John chapter 11 verses 23-26 between Jesus and Martha following the death of her brother Lazarus:
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
I believe this.
So please, don’t freak out, or correct me if you hear me refer to Cole, Bethany or Katie in the present tense. I’m not crazy, delusional or in denial.
I hope you are too!
*Bereaved parents are never comfortable with leaving any of their children unacknowledged which equates with a lack of value or worth and that my friend, is absolutely repulsive to a grieving parent. So bereaved parents adopt various answers to that simple question.
Some give the exact number and deal with the fallout when follow up questions are asked and the death of their child is eventually revealed. Some state only the number of their living children. Many answer with how many they have here and add the number of children in Heaven. And others base their response on how much or little they will interact with that individual in the future.
However they choose to respond should be respected by friends, family and acquaintances. The opinion of others is irrelevant. It is not okay to tell a bereaved parent that they should not count their dead child because it makes others uncomfortable. If that how you feel, suck it up and keep it to yourself. Don’t add to the burden the bereaved already carry by forcing your opinions or convictions upon them. It is also not okay to tack on to a conversation the death or means of death of a child mentioned or left out of the count. By doing so, you are tossing the bereaved into a situation they may not be prepared to deal with. Recognize that this everyday question has become one that reveals vulnerabilities not normally laid open with anyone outside ones closest relationships.
Please demonstrate the utmost respect for the parent’s choice in responding to the question of how many children they have; it’s disrespectful to do otherwise.
November 15, 2016 at 6:51 am
Yes. Thank you.
November 15, 2016 at 9:03 am
It’s my hope that I can always encourage, validate and affirm those who share this difficult journey. May God blessings and consolation be evident and numerous in your life so that are always aware of His presence and love for you!
November 15, 2016 at 9:11 am
Janet, I think of Dom in the present tense but sometimes use the past tense when talking about him to others. You have emboldened me. i needed this today. It’s been a hard few days-have no idea why-but I needed to be reminded that he is alive and well. Thank you, friend.
November 15, 2016 at 10:07 am
Sometimes I slip and speak of my kids in the past tense – and others as well. It’s a long-held habit, I guess. But I try to correct myself. I’m trying to correct my thinking. It helps. I sent you a Facebook message just a few minutes ago. You have been heavy on my heart of late!
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November 15, 2016 at 9:06 pm
The fact that they understand so much more than we do comforts me. They are already experiencing a life in the now that I am looking forward to. Thanks!
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