(Editor's note: This blog was first published on JJ's website HERE June 4, 2015)
After the sudden, accidental death of our five year old son, Cooper, it didn’t take us long to realize that holidays only seem to amplify the pain and anguish that you’re already experiencing. We were warned to brace ourselves for the first birthday, the first Christmas, etc… We quickly learned that all the “firsts” would be nearly unbearable even the common ordinary ones. We were ambushed by grief on our first trip to the store, the first church service, the first anything with the painfully obvious empty seat.
To the men who are facing your first Father’s Day after the death of your child let me say I am so very sorry for your loss. My guess is you are feeling helpless and hopeless as Father’s Day approaches. That’s certainly how we felt early on. I experienced the feeling like having a tight band around your chest. I know about the difficulty of eating, sleeping and sometimes even being able to breathe. It was all we could do in the raw early stages of our grief to just put one foot in front of the other. For many months we just stumbled forward in a haze of shock and denial. I made it through the first Father’s Day and by God’s grace you can, too. May I offer some suggestions to help?
Allow friends near:
When we are mourning, often we are tempted to isolate ourselves. But that will cut us off from the grace that God wants to impart through our loved ones.
The grieving process is intensely personal and often unique:
Please don’t do anything rash or dangerous in your effort to cope. My wife, Melanie, and I learned that everyone grieves differently and on his own timetable. Please take as long as you need and grieve in a way that is appropriate for you as long as you are not harming yourself or others.
Seek a qualified counselor:
A pastor or mature Christian friend is a good place to start, but grief this severe may require a licensed professional. They can help you navigate through Father’s Day and hopefully give you a road map to give assistance with other difficult days ahead.
Know that you will recover:
Be encouraged, there is hope. If your struggle is in the very raw stages you may not believe it or even want to hear it but help is on the way. The dark clouds will eventually part to let rays of sunshine peek through. As God allows time to pass the awful suffocating waves that crash over you will be more spaced out. Believe me you will even laugh again one day. Joy will overtake you and your good days will outnumber the bad ones.
Please trust me on this. I couldn’t imagine things ever getting better when I was given that same encouragement at our lowest point, but it’s true. God will make a way where there is no way. He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. He was with Daniel in the lion’s den, He was with Joseph in the pit and He will be there for you. Against all hope, Abraham in hope, believed God. Even with all the circumstances against him, Abraham gave glory to God declaring that God was able to do what He had promised.
Some of the most honest advice we received came from the minister at the graveside of our little boy. He said, “In the next few weeks and months people will come up to you with good intentions and tell you that in time you’ll get over this. They mean well, but it’s simply not true. You’ll never get over this. This is not a wound that heals, it’s an amputation. Just like someone who’s lost an arm or leg or a hand, you have to find a new normal. You’re going to have to find a new way to do life without Cooper. You’ll never get over this…but you will get through it with God’s help.”
Lastly, with Father’s Day on the horizon let me encourage you to place your trust in the God of all comfort who can help you, sustain you, and give you strength to grieve well. We continue to ask “why” but I caution you to not allow questions, bitterness, or anger drive you away from the one who loves you most. There was no magic bullet or secret formula when Melanie and I were grieving. It was just going back to the basics, going to the root of what every believer knows will keep you on course or will help you keep your sanity. You get up, you read your Bible whether you feel like it or not, you pray even when you don’t want to, and you stay connected to a community of believers. Those were the lifelines for us.
Please don’t give up. Don’t stop. Don’t give in. Please don’t throw in the towel. Continue to breathe and just try to make every effort to put one foot in front of the other. Then get up tomorrow and do the same. With God’s help you can do this. Author and pastor Max Lucado puts it this way. “You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. Don’t be foolish or naive. But don’t despair either, with God’s help, you’ll get through this.”