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When a Child Dies #10

2012 February 20
by Mike

This excerpt is from my book Megan’s Secrets and is used by permission:

We live with grief. Life doesn’t turn out the way we expect, and we suffer the loss. The health we expected into old age is suddenly lost. The child we thought was “normal” turns out to have special challenges. The teenager we love more than life makes destructive choices. The job we worked hard for is suddenly lost in a downsized economy. The marriage we thought was perfect turns out to be wearisome. The one we love so much dies. Rachel keeps weeping for her children.*

The years roll by and grief changes. But it doesn’t leave. And sometimes it sneaks up and bites us unexpectedly.

Long before I’d ever heard of Dick Hoyt, Megan was my frequent companion as I trained for marathons. She loved the feel of the wind and the up-close view of the outdoors. As I ran and pushed, she clapped her hands, sang little bits of her favorite songs, and would occasionally yell, “Hey, I’m Megan!”

I didn’t know how much I missed those running experiences together until ten or eleven years after her death. On the Sunday that our congregation is full of parents dropping off children at college, I took the stroller (which remains in an honored place in the garage) as a prop to talk about the challenge of letting go.

But in both services, the moment — the MOMENT! — I touched the stroller, I melted down. Through the years, I had some emotional moments while preaching. But never like this. The memories were just too strong.

Megan's stroller


What I’ve learned about grief, though, is this: it’s the only way. I can’t ignore it; I can’t set it aside; I can’t pretend. I must grieve my way through the sorrow and the loss. Painful as it is, grief is a gift—a part of the healing process.

It allows me to remember; it forces me to remember how strong love was and is; it slowly—slowly!—allows me to imagine a new future. And it keeps me dependent on God, eventually looking back over the many miles and realizing how true the words of the Psalmist are: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

This is not a naive, Pollyannaish joy. This is the joy of those who have known deep loss, who have wept the tears of Rachel, who have lived in friendship with others who allow the balm of healing to slowly work (and who are themselves part of that balm of healing), who have been turned by God back to life in this desperate world, and who have learned to hope.

– – – –

*See Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:18. I write earlier in the chapter that Rachel is the “patron saint of all those who have lost a child, all those who’ve suffered greatly, all those who think God has forgotten them.”

14 Responses leave one →
  1. james permalink
    February 20, 2012

    You’re absolutely right. There is no way around it. I’ve tried.

  2. Judy Cope permalink
    February 20, 2012

    My mother’s passing leaves us one degree of separation. Our foundation has supported a program at Pepperdine for the past few years again, one degree of separation. I have a calling to reach out to you.

  3. February 20, 2012

    Thanks, Judy, I’d welcome it.

  4. February 20, 2012

    James – This is the way Anne Lamott put it:

    “Only grieving can heal grief.”

  5. Sandi (Wright) Haustein permalink
    February 20, 2012

    My counselor says it’s like the children’s story: Can’t go under it, can’t go over it — gotta go through it to get to the other side.

  6. Ruth permalink
    February 20, 2012

    When my children were small we moved to a different state. To make the move easier for my four children we would go on adventures after Dad left for work in the afternoon. We would get on the car choose a direction to go and drive, if some one decided had been going the same direction we would change direction. One evening I suppose I wasn’t watching my turns very well so I lost our way. After driving around for a couple hours in the dark we realized we were only a couple miles from home. Stephanie always loved these adventures. When things were going wrong in her life she would laugh and say she was on adventure and was only a couple miles from home. For the past 21 months I tell myself I am on an adventure and Stephanie is waiting at home for me.

  7. Kim Barnett permalink
    March 1, 2012

    You all are absolutely correct! There is no way around grieving! I have tried it too & it is always there. My 18 year old was shot & killed 2 1/2 yrs ago & it gets easier but NEVER goes away!

  8. Cherisse Flanagan permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Mike,

    Allow me to share with you why the day you brought Megan’s stroller to Highland was one of the most important in my life.

    Eleven years ago Danny and I lost our 2nd daughter, perfect Bailey Brooke, April 21, 2002, when she was 11 days old. I think you visited us while we were at Cook’s in the NICU (I’m sorry, my memories of that time are so muddled). We were at Highland the day your brought Megan’s stroller, three years later. The memory of your raw grief, years after you lost Megan, was so powerfully affirming to me. My faith had been shaken, not really because our specific prayers were not answered, but because the whole system seemed to really stink. The first year, I was in constant communion with God, and I knew that he held me. I don’t think I so much prayed as was just with God openly most of the time. Years two and three, I tried to figure it out (God’s system). I didn’t pray exactly, but I knew that God was listening. The day you describe has merged with what I think you said the same day, “God is God, I’m not going to get it.” I remember thinking, “well, if Mike Cope doesn’t get it, then I certainly am not going to.” The day I witnessed your grief, I decided to choose faith. The tension of trying to reason it out just fell away. Ironically, we had the baby blessing for our third daughter, Kyla Faith, that same day. Quite a day for us, really.

    I’ll leave you with an analogy that I have used for years now. Grief is like walking through a minefield. In the beginning, you have no idea when you may step on a mine, or what may trigger it. Like the first time I washed my hands with medical soap and the fragrance flooded me with memories of the NICU. I had to leave my appointment without seeing my doctor. You know you are in a minefield, that everyday is dangerous and dark, never knowing when your day may blow up. Sometimes you step on them on purpose, like listening to the same song over and over. Over time, the mines become further apart and easier to recognize. I knew I was about to step on one yesterday when I clicked on your first post. The tears come much left often, but the hole is still in your heart, always. Those times become precious, really – time with Bailey.

    Blessings to you on your journey. I will read Megan’s Secret when it is time.

  9. June 14, 2013

    Cherisse – These words mean so much to me. Yes, I wrote a baby blessing for Bailey, and had a chance to pray it over her in the NICU at Cook’s. Her brief life lingers with me still.

    At times I wish my raw honesty had been less, well, raw during all those years — after Megan’s death, after Jantsen’s death, after Brody’s death (Chris’s wreck). But when I read words like this, it makes me believe that God used even my pain . . . as I’m sure he has used and is using your pain to comfort others.

    Tiptoeing through the minefield,

    Mike

  10. June 14, 2013

    About the stroller Sunday (8/15/04) . . .

    The day after I took the stroller as a sermon illustration, I wrote these words on my blog:

    Well, I thought I could hold it together yesterday as I pulled out Megan’s old adult jogging stroller as a sermon illustration. It was the Sunday so many parents are dropping off kids for school, and I was using the stroller as a symbol of how we’ve tried lovingly to guide our children and of how difficult it is each time we let go of the handles.

    But . . . there was something about touching that thing that just overwhelmed me. Megan and I covered thousands of miles together. After her death, we gave away so many things to help other families in similar situations. But I couldn’t give the stroller away. It has just hung in the garage for years. This was my first time to have it down in a long time. I probably should have taken it out for a run this week!

    It’s embarrassing to fall apart in front of people. And yet, God tends to use moments like that to allow others to bring their own emotions before him and one another.

    I wish that I could have seen the warning signals at the time — of how I was buckling under grief, depression, and doubt. Little could I have known that five months later, the horrible wreck would happen. That’s when everything snapped. Or to use your analogy, that’s when I stepped on the mine.

    So, Cherisse, that’s part of why your comment means so much to me about an event nine years ago. It comes as a great blessing today.

  11. Larry & Cindy Richmond permalink
    June 14, 2013

    Cherisee, I don’t know you but thank you for sharing your hard-earned wise words and feelings about your Bailey with the rest of us. Mike, we remember going over to Cook’s & saw you/Diane briefly. The horrible wreck was an obvious minefield that day but with the cumulative load of Megan’s transition and all those feelings…..In hindsight, we are thankful that everything snapped for you so that you can use your gift of wording/phrases to help the rest of us eventually come back when we have similar times.

  12. Cherisse Flanagan permalink
    June 20, 2013

    Mike, thanks for your memory of Bailey. Danny remembers your time with her at Cook’s clearly, and simply says, “I miss Mike.” I’m glad that my words could be a blessing to you, who have blessed so many. Take care ~

  13. June 25, 2013

    I was touched by your story of Megan. Going through any loss is not easy, but some are harder than others. Losing my brother (age 62) and Claudette (age 56) within 14 months had a profound effect on my world view. A loss of one career and having to start another one was another tough loss. HOWEVER, I found God to be faithful to ways I cannot explain. When I began to dwell on the “I will be with you passages” (Josh. 1:6; Isa. 41:10; 43: 2, 5; Acts 18:10) my world view changed in major ways. Now that I am nearing 75 I can affirm the faithfulness of God. I do not have the answers to so many “why” questions, but I can see God so much in my past I have confidence for the future. Bottom line: we must trust. I will always remember the words of Avon Malone: We can with stand the what not knowing the why because we know the who. I did not mean to preach, but thanks for the opportunity to say a few things.

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