The loss of a child

Even though I worry about losing one of my children and I occasionally have nightmares about it, I have never experienced the death of a child. I hope I never do. Sometimes in my dark imaginations, I try to picture what it would feel like, how I would react, how people around me would react, and I speculate about what I could and could not handle.

I recently finished reading a book called In His Hands: A Mother’s Journey through the Grief of Sudden Loss by Jenny Hess. She explains in great detail her experience with grief after the tragic death of her 4-year old son, Russell, just a few short years ago. I hurt for her, I admired her, in some ways I understood her, and I definitely learned a lot from her story. Here is a description:

With the sudden loss of a loved one comes an unavoidable fork in the road. Some succumb to anger and despair, while others seek strength in the healing power of Jesus Christ. When faced with paralyzing sorrow, how can one truly find peace and perspective? In His Hands offers a candid portrait of grief in which one family fights to find a way out of the black hole of grief and into the arms of the Savior. Author Jenny Hess invites readers on her journey from heartache to healing, from the shattering loss of her young son to her personal quest for hope. With grace and wisdom, the heavenly insights gained by one woman navigating through her darkest hours demonstrate that though grief is achingly painful, there are tender mercies to be found along the path.

In His Hands

I cried through most of the first three chapters. This book made me think deeply about two things– 1) Would I grieve the same way she did? I don’t think I would, but I’m sure there would be many similarities, and yet, I simply do not know. I can’t possibly understand what it’s really like unless I’ve experienced a related loss myself. And I don’t want to. Her experience confirmed that for me–it is a dark and ugly path that I hope to God to never have to tread. Her story taught me a lot about all of the many ways that a person and her relationships can be affected by grief. There were so many more emotional, spiritual, mental and even physical levels to it than I ever imagined. I hope that if I ever found myself facing the death of a child… well, I hope I could come through it like Jenny did, and still is. With faith and trust despite the hot pain.

The second thing I thought about was this: 2) How can I help people who experience grief on any level? The scriptures teach us to mourn with those that mourn and to comfort those that need comfort. Her story taught me a great deal about things to do and say and not do and not say when someone is grieving a deep loss. I ate up her examples about things that were helpful and thoughtful to her. People brought meals, ran her errands, made and gave gifts reminiscent of her son, offered gifts and letters and encouragement to her living children, visited her, called her and checked on her, asked her how she was doing and really wanted to know, and were not afraid of her or afraid to talk about her son. People also did and said well-intentioned things that hurt her. I realized that there needs to be some balance between moving on with normal life and also acknowledging the loss and identity of the deceased. I know that people mourn differently, and things that were helpful to her may have been hard for someone else, so I see the value of listening the Spirit and acting and not being afraid to ask questions about what might really be the most helpful or what is hurting the most.

I hope that I will be a better comforter and succorer after reading Jenny and Russell’s story. I think she is incredibly brave. Having written a book myself, I know something of the vulnerability that comes with the territory, and she was very honest and raw with the things she experienced and felt. I know that–although cathartic–it must have been incredibly difficult to do and I’m sure there were fears about how it would be received.

I do not know if Jenny will see this review, but thank you, Jenny, for sharing your journey. It seems that one of your fears is that Russell will be forgotten, but having read your story, I now know Russell even though I never met him. I will remember him, and I think everyone that reads will think about him and continue to keep his memory alive. And thank you for your beautiful testimony of God’s love and plan for His children.

To any of you who have experienced loss or had a front row seat to the loss of a loved one, what are some things that people did or said that was helpful to you? Or meaningful? I would love to have an army of ideas to add to those that Jenny shared in her book because I learned that the healing process is a long and painful road. I want to be someone who makes it better any way I can.

GCBC Week 5: “Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also” By Elder Shayne M. Bowen

Welcome Back. I’d love to “hear” from more of you in the comments because it’s always great to get each other’s insight about these talks. For week 5 of general conference book club, we’ll be studying Elder Bowen’s talk from the Saturday A.M. session:

“Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also”

By Elder Shayne M. Bowen

Because of Him, even our Savior, Jesus Christ, those feelings of sorrow, loneliness, and despair will one day be swallowed up in a fulness of joy.

Elder Bowen shares an experience of teaching a woman on his mission who had lost an infant, and how much relief she found through the doctrines in the Book of Mormon.

He then recounted a personal tragedy about the loss of his own 8-month old son who choked on a piece of chalk. He highlights the stages of his mourning and grief and the role that those same doctrines he had taught years ago as a missionary played in his healing and recovery from such a tragedy.

Elder Bowen shared this beautiful quote from Preach My Gospel:

We can be filled with joy, peace, and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

What did you find meaningful or powerful in this talk? How has the gospel helped you to find hope in very desperate circumstances?  Discuss in the comments below.

(A reminder to those of you who are new to General Conference Book Club:  You’re welcome to return to this post any time this week and leave your comment and thoughts in the comment section below. You may also want to see what others are saying about the talk and engage in a conversation for mutual understanding and encouragement. A new talk will be posted each Sunday and will be studied and discussed throughout the week.)

GCBC Week 23: He Is Risen!

Okay, people, only one more week until General Conference. (yay!!)  This week we will study our final talk and then we start all over again. Please join us.

General Conference Book Club Week 23:

I saved President Monson’s talk for last.  We kind of skipped over it a while back when I was in the middle of my move, and it certainly deserves time to be considered.  He spoke at the Sunday morning session, sharing his testimony of the living Savior in “He is Risen!”

“To understand the meaning of death, we must appreciate the purpose of life. The dim light of belief must yield to the noonday sun of revelation, by which we know that we lived before our birth into mortality. In our premortal state, we were doubtless among the sons and daughters of God who shouted for joy because of the opportunity to come to this challenging yet necessary mortal existence. We knew that our purpose was to gain a physical body, to overcome trials, and to prove that we would keep the commandments of God. Our Father knew that because of the nature of mortality, we would be tempted, would sin, and would fall short. So that we might have every chance of success, He provided a Savior, who would suffer and die for us. Not only would He atone for our sins, but as a part of that Atonement, He would also overcome the physical death to which we would be subject because of the Fall of Adam.”

In the comments, please share your thoughts about this talk, your feelings about President Monson, or what you’re most looking forward to in Conference next week.

Go here to find the media versions of the talk (audio, video, mp3, etc.).  If this is your first visit to the General Conference Book Club,  click here to learn more about it.  Next week will begin a whole new round of GCBC; please consider joining us again.  Invite friends, neighbors, your readers etc. to join us in pondering and discussing the words of God as spoken through our living prophets.

Mourning, money and the wonder of window markers

dscf2000 This weekend we had a death in the family.  Clark threw Grant’s beloved St. Bernard Webkin, affectionately called “Giblets” on top of the fireplace.  His paws and half his face melted off.  May he rest in peace in the office trash can.  This was a tragedy beyond Grant’s capacity to endure.  He cried and cried.  He’d settle down for a little while and then the memory of his loss would bring another round of tears and sorrow.  When he came into the office and saw Giblets languishing in his garbage grave, he flung himself upon my lap and sobbed.dscf1999 (That lovely lap is clothed in Frosty the Snowman pajamas.  Don’t judge.  It was snowing.)  Finally we determined that Clark will do chores to earn money and buy Grant a new Webkin.  Grant, who is anxious, and also aware that Clark’s not the most industrious kid in the world, volunteered to help out with the chores to expedite the savings.

In the van on the way home from preschool yesterday, the boys discussed their money-making plans and were trying to guess how long it would take them to earn the money and how many Webkinz they would be able to purchase with their jackpot.  Clark declared, “Mom, I’m going to work and work and work all day.”

“That’ll be great, Clark.”

So I wrote up a handful of chores on the living room window with these fancy new Crayola Window markers I purchased as a late-conference distraction.  While Natalie happily scribbled on the window (and surrounding window frame and wall), the boys wrote their names next to the chore they wanted to undertake first.  Clark chose “clean off table.”

dscf2002Well, it only took about 5 minutes before he changed his mind and declared that it was the most boring job in the world and he didn’t want to do it.  He moaned and wailed and insisted that he should be able to choose another chore because he didn’t like that one.  (This has been a pattern lately.  I refer you back to the Angry Mom sign.)  I said, “Sorry buddy, you need to finish that one before you can start another one.”  He wanted me to do it.  I told him that if I finished the job then I would earn the money.  He whined some more about how he really wanted the money, and finally declared his true intent:  “I want you to do the work and I get the money.”

Um.

Nope.

Wasn’t it Elder Oaks who talked about entitlement?  How we somehow think we deserve things, but aren’t willing to labor for them?  I’m probably stretching his context, but I was not giving in.  I taught high school and I know what entitlement looks like when it grows up.

After much wailing, and a broken record stuck on phrases beginning with the words, “But I don’t waaaaaaaant to…,” Clark decided it would be easier to do his chore.  (Incidentally, I decided it would be easier to move to a desert island.)  Then for a short while, they both worked quite peacefully and even Natalie got in on the action with some Lysol wipes.

dscf2001And for anyone keeping track, there is now $1.25 in the Webkinz fund.  (Yeah, I don’t really care about minimum wage laws.)

In other news, before 7:30 this morning, sweet little Clark who is FOUR AND A HALF years old pooped in his nighttime diaper (nothing brings on more morning rage for me) and Natalie removed her diaper and peed on the living room floor.  There may be another death in the family by the end of the day.