When a Child Dies #7 . . . Kristin
To continue the series, I’ve asked my friend Dane Altman to write about the grief journey he and Carole have faced since the death of their beloved daughter Kristin. I appeciate his willingness to share part of their story of loss ten years down the road.
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Our journey of grief began on January 16, 2002, when our oldest daughter, Kristin, died of injuries sustained 3 days earlier in a car accident. I had lost both my parents in the previous six months, so I guess grief was already a resident. I had just buried my mom a month before and was still processing that. But this was a different kind of grief. A darkening kind of grief. After a 3 day vigil of pleading and prayer to the Great Physician, we were told early on the morning of January 16th that Kristin was gone. I felt like I was in a dream, outside my body watching all this. My first and very naïve reaction was, “How do I fix this?” (Isn’t that what we do as men … as husbands and fathers? Fix things and make them right?) I wanted to fix this, not only for me but for the two most precious things I had left in my life: my wife, Carole, and my other daughter, Dana. I wanted to make it better for them. My hurt was deep and raw. But at that moment I hurt as well for them and wanted to stop the hurt.
Over the next several weeks we had so many people close by us. They knew we were hurting. I immediately went back to work because that’s what I was doing before Kristin’s accident. So to me, that was a way of trying to feel like things hadn’t changed. It kept me busy and preoccupied. But we also wanted to be with our friends, to have laughter, levity, anything to make it seem like things were normal. Little did we know then that we were starting another journey to find the “new normal.” We were told numerous times that we would now never be the same. At first I thought that was cruel, but as time passed I could see they were right. We will never be the same … the same Dane & Carole. A part of us has died as well. It doesn’t mean we’re different in a bad way. We’re just not the same. Part of us is now gone and we search for what is “normal” for us now.
Grieving is hard enough as it is, but doing it alone is even worse. I honestly don’t know how people make it through a tragedy like this without a good support group. We had a wonderful support group of friends and family that stood by us and comforted us, listened to us, cried with us and sometimes didn’t say anything—they just hugged us. And we could tell by the hug, by the look in their eyes that we were not alone. Sometimes that was all we needed—a good, sincere hug without any words spoken. A lot of times those loving hugs were the most emotional for me, even more than the words expressed.
Kristin was a beautiful young woman, full of life and energy. She had a contagious smile and an engaging personality. She loved little kids and adored the elderly. Over the years we continue to hear new stories or remembrances of Kristin from friends and acquaintances. From the parent of one of our college friends who said at her memorial at Harding that Kristin was so nice and friendly to their son when he was a freshman and she was an upperclassman. She made him feel special and it impacted him. Parents who have lost a child love to hear stories like this. We crave these stories, these snippets of memories of what she did, what she said. Many we’d never heard before. We need these memories even after 10 years. One of our favorites was from one of her close high school friends who during those years said she was not really a spiritual person. She said she watched Kristin and how she interacted with us and how she lived her Christian life. Today, this special friend is a devout Christian and a godly wife and mother. She told us it’s because of Kristin’s example during those high school years. She said she wanted what Kristin had. How cool is that?! This story absolutely warmed and thrilled our hearts.
We are forever grateful to those who to this day remember Kristin’s anniversary of going Home, and of her earthly birthday. These acts of kindness give us affirmation and give us encouragement … that we’re really not alone. Perhaps our biggest fear is that at some point people will forget. Not only that they’ll forget Kristin, but also the fact that we will continue to grieve until we see our Kristin again. I’ve probably been more emotional at this 10 year’s anniversary than ever before.
In the last 12 months we’ve had 3 friends lose a child. They’re now in the club. We wish they weren’t. We don’t even want to be in this club. We talk to them, listen to them, let them know they’re normal for feeling the range of emotions they’re feeling—the anger they feel. It’s normal we tell them. We hope and pray we’re helping in some way to prepare them for what’s ahead. They always ask, does it get better, will it always feel this way? We think it gets better. The hurt is still there, the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach comes at times, but it does get better. It really does. God sustains us and we trust Him. If I could wave a magic wand and get my daughter back, would I do it? In a heartbeat!! But we look forward to that day when we’ll be with her again. Until then, though, we will continue on the grief journey … heading Home.