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.
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.