From the beginning of this tragedy, people have remarked at how well my family is handling it. The other day, I joined the chorus and told Jeff he was doing really well for somebody who had never before experienced the sudden death of an immediate family member. He said, “I know my Redeemer lives and I’m not doing as well as you think.” I fully concur with his sentiments.
Having said that, there are some explanations for why we are doing as well as we are.
First, friends who’ve lost children have told us that the six month point is when the reality really hits hard. We are still in a good deal of shock, thank God, and fully expect things to get worse before they get better.
Second, we’ve been through hell as a family over the past five years. Gabe’s death feels like the horrific end to the whole terrible ordeal. As I wrote about last year in Christianity Today, Jeff and I left full time ministry primarily because our boys were not doing well. They were both struggling in numerous ways. They needed some TLC and we rented our lovely little overpriced apartment with the pool and palm trees as a place of respite for them.
[Irvine, CA, 2007]
When Gabe came home last summer after graduating from college, we had a blow-out one day about I don’t remember what. He dumped his feelings about these years and said something about having wanted to kill himself while he was at school. Contrary to what I told The Wheaton Record in the disoriented days after Gabe’s death, he never said when these thoughts began or how long they lasted. I took him seriously, but mistakenly believed that he would be okay now that he was home. After all, we had all experienced these fleeting thoughts in the midst of our trials and a primary source of his pain and stress was gone.
For a while, Gabe appeared to settle into normal life. More recently, I had become concerned again, and had suggested counseling. We tried to encourage him to find a faith community for support and friendship. His one attempt involved a conversation with a pastor who disparaged his beloved parents’ decision to become Anglicans. Jeff took him under his wing and gave him a job so that he could help him get off the ground financially and support him emotionally. We worshiped together at home on Easter Sunday.
We did everything we knew how to do to help Gabe. I can rack my brain all day and night about my own failings and the warning signs we missed, but I know that we gave our all to loving him and caring for him. Even in his desperate state, he was able to leave behind the words, “Dad, you are my hero,” “Mom, you were a great mom” and “Mike, you were my best friend growing up,” etc. Imagine if we had this outcome with angry words left behind. Gabe loved us and we loved him to the end. There is peace because of this. There is also great pain in knowing that our love wasn’t enough to save him.
[Winward Beach, Brick, NJ, 1985]
The third reason we are doing as well as we are is that Gabe always seemed to have a precarious hold on this world. He had his first serious asthma attack when he was 13 months old, 3 days before Jeff and I were married. I was calling the doctor all day long because he was breathing funny and was listless. She kept saying she was too busy to see him, but finally agreed as the day drew to a close. When she listened to his lungs, a look of terror crossed her face and she sent us immediately to the emergency room. Gabe spent the next 5 days in an oxygen tent.
There would be many such terrifying moments over the years, the last of which was 3.5 years ago. I had to fly to Chicago as Gabe was being placed in an ambulance with his lungs on the verge of collapse. I didn’t know if he would be alive when I got there. As I flew through the sky, I imagined what I would do if I was greeted with news of his death.
Gabriel had other physical traumas. The most serious was a brain injury a couple months after this last life-threatening asthma attack. It was 2 days before Christmas, 2004. As Jeff and I waited at home to decorate the tree, Gabe and Mike went to the mall to buy their dad a present. They returned bloodied and with Gabe incoherent and unable to remember the details of his life. They had been assaulted in a dispute over a parking spot. Gabe was knocked backwards to the ground. Because of his NF, the soft spot on the back of his head had never closed. A palm-sized area of his brain was exposed. It took him nearly a week to regain his memory and for a long time afterwards he said he didn’t feel like himself. But then, as always, he seemed to bounce back.
The point is that Gabe lived his whole life in the shadow of death. We lived in that shadow with him. We know we will see him again. The time doesn’t seem so far off to me and the loss is too recent for the ache to have really settled in. It comes over us in huge waves and then passes for a while. Also, I’ve lost many friends and a father when I was just a girl. Issues of mortality don’t weigh heavily on my mind. I’ve always known this life is but a moment. Perhaps Jeff has known it too from living with Gabe and me.
A fourth reason we are doing well is because we have to. We have another child whose whole identity is altered. It has always been Gabe and Mike. No other person has lived Mike’s experiences with him in the way Gabe did. He needs us to lead the way through this. We’re determined that this tragedy not destroy him or us.
[Pumpkin Picking, Wall, NJ, 1988]
Finally and most importantly, there is the comfort of the Holy Spirit. From the early moments after the police left our home, a verse of Scripture kept washing over my brain: A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. I was assured of God’s compassion for Gabe. The story of David’s response to his son’s death also impressed upon my mind. I identify with him in my better moments. He said, While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, “Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live. But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again. I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. (2 Sam. 12:22-23)
Gabriel’s whole life was bathed in prayer. His was a long, intense struggle for such a short life. He overcame tremendous obstacles while he lived, more than most of us will ever have to face. When he died, for days, I kept saying, “My poor baby; my poor baby.” What pain he had to be in to do such a thing. He is at peace now. I’d much rather have him present with us and working through his struggles, but that option is past. As I wrote in Gabe’s obituary, our sorrow is surpassed only by the joy it was to have shared our lives with him. We will miss him every day of our lives, but we will live them with faith, hope and love. That’s what he would want.
[Atlantic Avenue Beach, Long Branch, NJ 2000]
I’m posting this link for those of you who want to read more about what our family endured:
It is one of the many reasons Jeff was Gabe’s hero.
Doing well. What could that really possibly mean… I guess it’s what people call us to for their own needs for us to move on. I’m not doing well reading this… I admit that… I can hardly see through the tears. You are so special to me. Do well or not, this will remain the same… I love you.
Thank you for getting it. I love you too. Was reading Stone Crossings last night again. Lovely.
I wanted to not onl say hello after a long time of not speaking with you but I also wanted to send my love and prayers for you, your family and Gabe. As you know i am still very hurt and distraught over Melinda’s loss and I am so glad I was introduced to your website by Jeff. I have been speaking with him via Email and I am very confident about his strength, your love and your family’s beliefs. I wish I had more words of encouragement but as you well know I am going through pain and grieving. Please respond whenever possible and my love and prayers are with you
Jeff has been telling me about your correspondance and we have been praying for you. We did so in church yesterday. How tragic that two wonderful young people from our store died within months of each other.
For us too the pain is frequently unbearable, but as the Bible says, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Sometimes the pain of missing him is worse, and sometimes it is the pain of how he died. It runs in circles.
I was so glad to hear about the Christian who faithfully ministered to you and Melinda when she was sick. You too can grieve as one who has the hope of being reunited with the one you love. As you said to Jeff, someday we will all be together again.
Did you read my story of our trip to San Francisco? Such a fun party. The post is somewhat melancholy though:
We’ll cry together when you get back from your adventures and with the Lord’s help, heal together.
We love you!
Your are truly a wizard with your words. It is amazing at how you can alleviate pain and sorrow with words and prayers. I am doing my best to keep my faith and with out my faith I know I truly have nothing. I speak with melinda each day and I write her letters all the time. I wish I had some one to share my lettes and thoughts with. I was wondering if I could email them to Jeff and you would take the time to read them. I don’t know why…..I really don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me I just wish to speak with and correspond with good friends whom understand my trajedy. I cannot express how much I respect and love both you and Jeff. It is so hard to find people such as yourselves in todays world. I truly cherish your friendship and I am seeking Gods word. Every time i went to church prior to my departure from California I would cry uncontrolably. I hpe to hear from you
Christine–for the 24 years that I have known you, you have always inspired me. Always.
Over the years, you inspired me as a woman, a wife and mother and as a person. And over the past few years, thru my own trials and tribulations of life, youve inspired me as a Christian. It always seemed that you and Jeff were THERE when I needed it most. You and Jeff were placed directly in my path when my path became clouded with pain and fear. It was you and Jeff who gave me the strength and wisdom to make it thru one more day.
I want to thank you again. And I could only wish that you and Jeff and Mike find the peace that you have so freely given to me. Much peace and strength and love coming for you all in the coming days and months. Hugs, Judy
You’ve always inspired me too, in all those ways, and with your ability to just roll with things.
Our prayers are with you too as you adjust to all the changes in your life.
It was good to be with you in NJ. Your hugs were a great comfort. I look forward to getting and giving some more.
much love, chris
Thank you for sharing this journey with such courage and grace. I look forward to the day when we can finally meet in person. May grace continue to sustain you, Jeff, Michael, and the rest of the family.
What kind words Jeremy. I look forward to meeting you too. I saw that you and Al Hsu are both speaking at a conference in Princeton in June. Who knows, I may find my way there.
Blessings to you.
A friend of ours directed us to your blog and after reading your story, I must say we have much in common. On last Dec.7th our daughter-in-law was injured in an auto accident after dropping our grand children off at kindergarten and day care. She was rear ended by an eighteen year old boy driving his pickup truck, trying to get to school and not be late.
The accident occured right in front of our hospital and Leah was taken inside for an x-ray. Nothing was found and she went on to work. What we didn’t know and wouldn’t find out for a few days, was that a tiny blood vessel had ruptured in her brain and in four short days she would leave us suddenly and our world would be turned upside down and inside out.
We are starting our six month and the pain is still almost unbearable. My son Aaron is not only struggling with Leah’s death, but with many compulsive behaviors including alcholism. Our two grandsons (Hayden 2 yrs and Austin 5 yrs) are struggling and miss their mom a lot. It seems that the last five months have been almost hopeless with trying to grieve Leah’s death to trying to find the right support for Aaron who has turned to alchohol for his support to keeping the grandkids most of the time at our house. Unfortunately, there has been little information dealing with our situation with its many facets. I have found however great comfort and new understanding from Larry Crabb’s book “Shattered Dreams”. I highly recommend this read for any Christian that is reeling from a shattered dream and is having trouble feeling or seeing God through their tough times.
I wanted to share this with you and let your readers know of Larry’s book. If you have any resources to share with us, we would be grateful. Leah was a wonderful young Christian woman and at age 25, she had impacted our community in ways that I never knew of. Her picture is posted at her employers website and I think there is a little video from her funeral service. http://www.ccsdirect.net/
Thank you again for sharing your story here. Friends have told me that I should write Leah’s story. Perhaps some day I will, but not now. It still hurts too much.
I’m so sorry. Thanks for sharing your story. We will pray for you, your wife, son, grandchildren, etc.
It surely is a broken world and yet there are mercies to be found in our grief. Thank God you have those lovely grandchildren. May He give you strength to guide them and care for them. Thank God there is still hope for your son. I will pray for him to be open to receiving and then finding the right kind of help.
Thank you also for the recommendation. A friend has just emailed a quote to me from Lauren Winner’s book, Mudhouse Sabbath.
Here’s a portion:
“Church funerals, when they tell the truth, not only
remember lovingly the lives of the departed, they also preach the gospel–they proclaim that jesus is risen, and insist that those who died in Him shall be risen too.
What churches often do less well is grieve. We lack ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss. A friend of mine whose husband recently died put it like this: ‘For about two weeks the church was really the church– really awesomely, wonderfully the church. Everyone came to the house, baked casseroles, carried Kleenex. But then the two weeks ended, and so
did the consolation calls.’ While you the mourner are still bawling your eyes out and slamming your fists into the wall, everyone else, understandably, forgets and goes back to their normal lives and you find, after all those crowds of people, that you are left alone. You are without the church, and without a church vocabulary for what happens to the living after the dead are dead.
Mourning, maybe, is never easy, but it is better done inside a communal grammar of bereavement. Christianity has a hopeful and true vocabulary for the death-and-resurrection. It is Judaism that offers the grammar for the in-between, for the mourning after death and before Easter.
Judaism understands mourning as a discipline, one in which the mourner is not only allowed, but expected, to be engaged. Rather than asking the mourner to paper over his grief, the Jewish community supports him in mourning….Jewish bereavement marks the days, and then the months, and then all the years after a death.
The first space called ‘aninut’ (literally ‘burial’),
comprises the days after death and before burial.
During these days, mourners are exempt from the other requirements of Jewish law…because only the living are obligated by God’s law, and in those first days after a death, mourners ‘border on death themselves.’ ”
Winner then goes on to describe the Jewish ritual of mourning, which provides structure to the grief.
I’ve been fortunate to have friends with whom to grieve … friends who loved my son and with whom I’ve grieved many a death and some newer friends too. Our church family has been wonderful … and continues to be.
It is a hard road. May we walk it well.
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