Monday, January 09, 2006

Why Do Horrible Things Happen?

And why do they happen to me? This is not written as an answer to the problem of evil or "Why do bad things happen to good people?", but it is a story of sorrow (may I say tragedy?) and how I dealt with it, and what I have learned from it.

Some of you may know (some of you may not) that we expected to have our second child in January of 2005. Micah was born in 2003 and Noah was born just 1 month ago, but there was a child that we had, even though only for a short time, between these two boys.

When we found out that we were pregnant with our second child, Stephanie and I were both excited and nervous at the same time, even though the excitement that we felt was overpowering the nervousness. Once the doctor confirmed that we were pregnant, we told our family and friends. We wanted everyone to share in our joy and be excited to meet this child, just as we were. Everything was going along smoothly until we went in for our 10 week checkup. We were unable to hear the baby's heartbeat, so we were sent to the hospital to have an ultra sound done to make sure everything was ok. We saw the child, and the nurse made one comment that caught me off guard. She said that the baby looked good for being 6 weeks along. The only problem was that we were 10 weeks along. To make a long story short, we lost that child on June 23, 2004. At that point, my mind, heart, and soul went into a tail spin:

Why did this happen? WHY?

How do I grieve for this child?

Will people allow me to grieve?

Will others grieve with me?

There were no easy answers to these (and many more) questions. Truth be told, it's still hard (very hard) to talk about this situation in any depth with anyone. It's still very painful.

You may be wondering why on earth am I writing this today. Well there are many reasons, and I will tell you but a few.

  1. As I mentioned in the beginning, if he (I have always felt that this child was a boy) would have been born around his due date, he would be one year old right now. I remember the 1 year stage with my oldest boy, Micah, and I will treasure it with my youngest son, Noah, and I am sad that I was unable to experience it with the child we lost.
  2. For a Christmas present for my family, I made a DVD with pictures from the last 3 years of my family's life (mostly of Micah and ending with a barrage of Noah) that I titled "The Johnson Chronicles." I wanted this DVD to have different chapters to cover the different major times in our lives over the past years. After a lot of struggling, I kept a 2 minute chapter titled "Our Lost Child" between the happy chapters of "Introducing Micah" and "Introducing Noah". It was important for me to include this little guy in our DVD memories because, that was a huge part of 2004 for us. It was also a statement to anyone who sees it or ever will see it. That statement is that this child has not been forgotten, and this child is and will be missed.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to answer the micro "why" question, specifically why did this happen to us at this time? Only God knows why, and I have to trust in Him alone to reveal that answer when I meet Him. The answer to the BIG "WHY" question - a fallen world, and death being the end result for all of us because of Adam's sin - is always good to know and understand, but it doesn't lessen the pain or answer the desired specific question.

Personal grieving. How?

The hardest issues for me centered around grieving. How does a man grieve for an unborn child? How does he do that in a society that doesn't recognize that child as a person? I first became toughened. After all, my wife was dealing with emotional and physical pain that I couldn't match, so I had to be strong for her. I also had to take care of Micah. I couldn't just laze around in bed for a few days. There was this little blessing of a boy that needed to be taken care of. But probably most of all, I anticipated the quesitons or skeptical looks from other people when, after they asked me how I was or what was the matter, I informed them that my unborn child just recently died. Thankfully there wasn't much of that. There wasn't much, but there was some.

Knowing that I had to grieve - for my sake as well as my wife's - but not knowing how, I searched the scriptures looking at familiar stories to find some guidance. I would like to share them with you now.

John 11:32-35 When Christ was informed of Lazarus' death, he wept. He didn't bottle it up, didn't act strong for those who needed his spiritual leadership, he wept. He wept even knowing what he would do just a short time later which was to raise Lazarus from the dead. I needed to mourn...really mourn over this loss.

When David, even after repenting of his sin with Bathsheeba and the murder of Uriah, was told by Nathan that the son born to him would die, David pleaded with God for mercy. And once his son died, David uttered these words that have given much peace to my heart. "...I will go to him, but he will not return to me." 2 Samuel 12:23. Matthew Henry's Commentary on this passage was beautiful as well. "Godly parents have great reason to hope concerning their children that die in infancy that it is well with their souls in the other world;" Henry goes on to say, "This may comfort us when our children are removed from us by death, they are better provided for, both in work and wealth, than they could have been in this world. We shall be with them shortly, to part no more."*

Matthew 6:25-34 This is not a passage that I would have normally gone to in mourning, but we were studying the Sermon on the Mount at the time this occurred, and I was given great comfort. If God tells us not to worry about our clothes or what we're going to eat and that He has it all under control, might he not have my life (and the lives of those close to me) in similar care? There are other passages showing that God knows and cares for us in detail before we were born (PS 139:13,73; Isa 44:24).

These passages are great, and they helped me quite a bit, but the one I found most comfort in was Job 1:21,22. After Job had just found out that his whole family (except his wife), his wealth, and his livelihood were taken from him - he uttered the words in v. 21. That is all that I can do, and all that try to do: bless the Lord when times are good and bad.

On one of the closely following Sunday's, I believe that we sang the song "In Christ Alone" and this song will forever remind me of this loss. To this day (even while thinking about it), I cannot complete the 4th verse without tearing up and going hoarse at the line "From life's first cry to final breath Jesus commands my destiny". My child didn't experience either a first cry or a final breath, but thank God that Christ commands that child's (and mine) destiny.

The grieving of others.

A belated thank you to everyone who grieved with Stephanie and me. I know how difficult it is to say the right thing without saying 20 wrong things, so thank you for trying. In our case, if someone didn't know what to say or how to identify with us, a simple heartfelt "I'm so sorry for your loss." or an offer of prayer or help in other ways was perfect. I didn't know until I experienced this myself that someone allowing me to grieve, and grieving with me, by simple statements like these was as good or better than a 20 minute conversation of heartfelt sympathy.

For my part - I will not forget my children...any of them. Anyone who's ever lost a child in any stage of life has my sympathy. I know that if one of my two living children died (Lord willing that does not happen until long after I am gone), it would be harder emotionally to deal with than the loss I have already experienced, but it would be no less of a real loss.

May God be with all of us when the seas of sorrow roll over us, and may we cling to the Lord and cry on His shoulder and rest in the comfort of his all powerful arms when we realize our own helplessness.

*(from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)


Nate said...

I really can't find the words to say right now, but I just wanted to thak you for this last blog. First of all, I want to once again say that I am sorry for your loss last year. I know I told you so then, but now it really hits home - I know how sorrowful it can be and I'm sure it still it when you think back on it.
Lisa and I are sad about our recent loss, but it's kind of a "peacefull" sad. I don't know how to describe it totally. I guess we are relying on the things that we know, not the things that we don't know. We know who God is. We know his character. He knows the end from the beginning! I'm trying to look at this painful situation as a puzzle piece. It's only a part of the picture, and God is the only one who knows what the whole puzzle looks like. We just have to have the faith that he knows where to put the pieces - even if they seem out of place or they seem like pieces that should't be in our puzzle. Of course all of this is easy to say, but it's the perspective that I would like to have.
Thanks again, Nate

~d (tilde) said...

Bless you.
There is nothing else I can say. No one can know your personal grief or struggle to come to grips with it.
Bless you and your healthy family.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reminder, Eric. You will never stop grieving for your second child, yet the rest of us have forgotten. Not that you lost him, but the more personal details, like his birthday. I am so sorry and appreciate the reminder that the grieving doesn't stop after a month, year, whatever! May the Lord help me to be more sensitive. Sarah R.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson