Today we would have been celebrating a new 8 year old in our home- Billy would be turning 8! There’s always some sadness with not getting to plan his party and reflect each year on how he’s grown. But I can honestly say that reflecting on my own journey of grief, I have experienced true healing- a healing that even brings an inexpressible joy.
I’ve heard it said, “You’re doing better now because so much time has passed. God made time, and time heals. It’s not prayer. What does prayer really do? What’s gonna happen is gonna happen, whether we pray or not.”
I definitely agree that God has used time to help remove me from the intense, vivid, horrific memories and pain of holding my lifeless son in my arms and desperately trying to bring him back to life. Time has also allowed me to experience many new moments of joy again.
But I’d have to disagree with the idea that time itself has healed me. I disagree because of this-
Every single one of us is given time.
But I’ve seen many various outcomes in different people’s lives over time after tragedy.
Over time, some have spun in a downward spiral of depression, struggling to pull out.
Over time, marriages have been torn apart (60-70% in cases of the death of a child).
Over time, if not working through tragedy and/or seeking help, some become bitter, angry, fearful, just shut down, or even take their own life.
Over time, some move on with life, but never experiencing a real turning of their sorrow into a fullness of joy again.
My personal experience leads me to believe that true healing comes from God. Through prayer, God’s Word (Bible scripture), and other people.
Let’s start with prayer.
If prayer really works, how do you know? And how do you pray? I prayed for my son, and God didn’t spare his life.
I’ll be the first to tell you that prayer in the midst of grief is messy and sloppy. And often very brief. And an absolute beautiful sound to God. Because he isn’t interested in eloquent words and “trying to say the right thing” to appeal to him. He simply wants us to come to him, and he promises to hear and help us. Grieving prayer can sometimes sound like this:
“Oh God.” (followed by intense weeping)
“I CAN’T. DO THIS.”
“Why did you let this HAPPEN, GOD?!”
And heads up to anyone who thinks it’s wrong to get angry at God-
“Why did you CAUSE THIS, GOD?!”
“Where WERE YOU, GOD?!”
And sometimes- prayers are just tears. When words aren’t sufficient to utter what the heart truly feels. But God hears those, too. (See Psalm 56:8)
What I’m saying here is that prayer does not need to be a controlled, carefully, fancy-worded, long, quiet monologue before the Lord, with your head bowed and hands clasped.
You can be quite real with God. He knows your pain, your heartbreak, and he’s not at all intimidated by your anger, even when it’s directed at him. When my son died, I told God that I wanted to die. That I didn’t know if I could believe all I thought I believed about him. I told God he’d have to show up and do something, or I was DONE with him. Yes. I did say that to him. And here’s what came of that-
God gave me a vision. (The first of many, actually, during the first year after Billy’s death. He spoke to me in visions AND dreams like I’d never heard him before. Don’t freak out when people talk about visions. It’s just a picture that comes to your mind that generally isn’t something you were thinking of on your own and which might speak to your current situation.) This was a vision of me, huddled over the ground, thousands of tiny pieces of my broken heart scattered before me. Hopeless, I cried as I tried to mend even just 2 of the pieces together. Then I lifted my head. And I saw Jesus sitting there right beside me. He had already fused a portion of my heart back together. It was then that I knew he was there. He was real. He cared about my shattered heart, and he’d bring a healing that I’d never be able to do or find on my own.
God’s Word plays an integral part in healing as well. Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
This verse is powerful. What other literature is “living” and “active?!” What does that mean??
I’ve heard this verse used many times in the context of the Word convicting of sin in our lives and shedding light on our character and intentions of our heart. I believe it also means that God’s Word has power to bring healing to our hearts and minds through the promises of His Word and his love and goodness that are perpetuated throughout Scripture.
So in my desperation, I tested it. Friends would text me verses....I’d speak verses aloud in my loneliness and despair....God even brought verses to my mind in dreams as I slept.... and the scriptures would bring an unexplainable peace. Somehow, they gave me enough comfort and hope to make it through.
Here are a few that really spoke deeply to me-
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” -Psalm 34:18
“Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.” -Psalm 88:1-2
“I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.” -Job 30:20
Now THAT one spoke to me! Talk about getting REAL! Thanks, Job! There were times I’d cry, pray, read scripture, and feel NOTHING. I could identify with real people in the Bible who also questioned God and wondered if their cries to him were making any difference. So then this helped:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.” -Psalm 40:1
“I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word” -Psalm 119:147
There were many verses filled with hope for walking through suffering. One of my favorites is “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain...” - Rev.21:4
The truth and hope of salvation for those who believe in God (and our babies who never had the opportunity to choose Him) also brings the miraculous hope and comfort of knowing that we’ll be with our babies again!
“Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.” - 1 Cor 15:42-43
“But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are His... He uncovers mysteries hidden in darkness; He brings light to the deepest gloom.” - Job 12:13, 22
More healing scriptures can be found on our resources tab at http://sidsamerica.org/sids-resources/healing-scripture-for-sids-families.
Finally, friends and family play an important part in the healing process.
We don't have family geographically close. But almost from the moment we arrived at the ER, we had friends by our side. A friend colored with our 2 year old daughter and helped keep her little world stable and secure while we spent our last moments with Billy in the room next door. The nurses told us that the waiting room was full of friends there to support us. Two pastors from our church (whom we'd never met) came immediately and spoke words that strangely comforted us as we began to come to terms with the fact that we were saying goodbye - forever on earth- to our beloved son. A chaplain spoke words of comfort to us at the hospital, too- and then she would call and check on me for months afterwards. She helped me process when the replaying of events would haunt my mind. Family collected and protected Billy's clothing, blankets, pacis, etc., so that I wouldn't make some rash decision in my state of shock. Family helped us decide how and where to bury our son when we hadn't even thought about where we ourselves would be buried. When we put our house up for sale, a friend offered to paint Billy's room (making it more neutral for buyers)- covering over the beautiful nursery mural that Billy's aunt had spent so much time and love creating and painting.
Weeks passed. Family and friends brought meals. They played with our 2 year old daughter when I needed to just allow myself to fall apart. They texted short notes of encouragement, love, songs, and scripture when I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. They called, visited, and listened when I was ready. They helped me get out and involved in other activities. They remembered Billy. And enjoyed hearing Bill and me share stories about him. They asked about him. And they still remember special days like his birthday today. When they didn’t know what to say, they said, “I’m sorry.”
Counselors helped us tremendously, too, because for one thing- wow- men and women/husbands and wives/moms and dads grieve differently! And past experiences and thought patterns have a significant impact on how a person grieves. Counselors were great guides on our new, ugly-but-beautiful journey of grief and healing. Many churches offer free grief counseling. (If you are a relative or friend of someone suffering and grieving, please recognize the wonderful ability you have to be a part of true healing in your loved one's life. It doesn't take much. Just being there is a great start.)
While finishing up this post, I was delightfully surprised when I read the “Verse of the Day” on my Bible app:
“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.” - Psalm 145:18-19
That’s it. Calling on God.
To say that time itself is what heals us would leave out the crucial element of falling on God and experiencing his miraculous healing DURING that time.
I believe true healing comes from God. And he longs to bring it to us.
Through his Word.
In time. ;)