Though I Walk
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. “ (Psalm 23:4 KJV).
The curtain over my mind opened just a little, letting in the searing light of reality. The light painfully pierced the darkest corners that were not yet ready to accept it. I was grateful when the curtain closed again. Every one in awhile, over several months, this would happen, each time remaining open a little bit longer. I remembered when I was pregnant that I had false labor weeks before the actual onset. The contractions gradually increased in length and duration, developing a higher and higher tolerance level of pain. I knew that my mind was trying to help me reach acceptance of every parent’s worst fear: the loss of a child. I was allowed 21 years with my first son, Kevin. Many times as I remembered his life, I blamed myself for things I should have said or done differently. No other event pulled me harder or humbled me more than his heath. Those first few weeks after he was gone, I was so numb that I felt nothing—no emotion at all, neither high nor low, neither happy nor sad. I just watched things happening around me. I still had a younger daughter and a younger son at home. My oldest daughter was away at college. I knew I had to focus on helping these three to cope with the loss of their brother. I encouraged us to talk about Kevin—anything that they wanted to talk about, whether memories, or feelings that had to have a name and be looked at directly. I quit my job that summer in order to be at home with them.
Looking into the face of each angel who came into my life, I sang softly, “Sleep my child and peace attend thee, all through the night. “ The words of this old lullaby soothed my own being as I repeated, “Guardian angels God will send thee, all through he night.” Watching each new baby sleep, I wondered what life would hold, what roads would have to be walked. Would I be able to give the guidance needed?
I preyed often, “God, watch over and keep this little one in Your hands. Guide his footsteps. Give me the wisdom and strength to know what to say and do. And, please, Lord, undo the mistakes that I make. Make right what goes wrong.” I felt such inadequacy for such an awesome responsibility.
The Bible says to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV). I prayed every for each one in my family: “Lord, place a hedge of protection around them. Keep them safe from harm and evil. Guide their teachers in giving the children’s lessons today, and help my children to learn and understand the things they need to know. “
Sometimes, there were nights when bad dreams would come. One would wake up crying, and I would bring a drink of water and talk awhile and say a prayer. “Do you know what to do when you are afraid, when you wake up from a scary dream?” I asked the wide, dark eyes beginning to glisten with tears. The perplexed shaking of a small head would be followed by a look of incredulity as I and were, “You sing?”
“Yes. Sing songs of praise to the Lord for His goodness. Sing the Lord’s Prayer. A song is like a prayer. God hears you and the devil runs away. No more bad dreams.” So we sang together, and soon went peacefully back to sleep.
Of the four children, Kevin came with special needs and special gifts. His above average intelligence was accompanied by dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Experts considered everything “borderline,” and his problems weren’t recognized and tested for until he reached the third grade. By then, they were interfering with his school work and personal relationships. He obtained the services of Special Ed and the Gifted Program at the same time. He had inherited his dad’s photographic memory, which helped him through a lit of exams when he hadn’t turned in his homework.
When school started in the fall of the year that Kevin passed away, I started a new job. I became a teacher’s aide in a Special Education classroom at the middle school. Helping those children was very therapeutic for me. It gave me the outlet I needed as I worked through my grief. I also learned quite a lot about my son.
The teacher I helped bubbled with the energy and vitality of the young/ I didn’t have to talk much—she did most of it. She was not married yet and had no children, so she did not mind when I shared “Kevin stories” of his escapades growing up. I had discovered that talking to other parents about my grief generally made them uncomfortable. They did not know what to say, and of course, no parent wants to think about ever having to go through such a thing. I loved working with these children so much that I continued for many more years.
We went through some extremely tense years in our family. My husband is Muslim, from Bangladesh. Getting married was a very risky thing to do and guaranteed more problems than not. The clash between two cultures created rocky ground. Our expectations and methods of working through issues differed greatly, although the goals we wanted for our family were similar. Crossing cultures is difficult enough, but differing religious beliefs make the going a whole lot tougher.
When we married, my husband was not following any religion, and I thought that our lice and respect for each other would help us over the rough places to find common ground. It does not work that way when the basic concepts of marriage and family have completely different expectations for the roles of each member.
More than any other factor in my life, my husband has kept me on my knees in prayer. The reality of my faith has been pushed to the test such that even Muslim friends testified that only God could have done the things that were done.
A time came when we separated for about a year. How do you explain to a young child when he looks into your eyes and tells you, “Mommy, I need tow parents, not just one”? It breaks your heart. That separation shook the foundations of our children’s security for a long time afterward.
I tried to reassure them many times that I would not abandon them, that Dad and Mom needed to work through some problems. It was not any fault of theirs. Both of us still loved them. Their dad would always be their dad, and their mom would always be their mom.
It was difficult for my husband to talk about his son’s passing. When he did, he was sometimes lashing out, blaming others, including me. There were a lot of questions about the events surrounding the accident. It took a while to make sense of everything. Many stories were around that exaggerated the incident. Young people all over town were upset. Kevin had many friends.
I call part of the grieving process “the broken record>” Everything leading up to the accident, and a little while afterwards played over and over and over again in my mind. It became impossible to focus on the mundane things of daily existence; it was a struggle to process, resolve, and finally accept the reality.
Kevin left the house about 4:00 a.m. with his girlfriend and met up with three other friends. They drove about an hour and a half out of town, pulling off the road at a large bend. Kevin then walked into the road in the pre-dawn light as a semi-tractor trailer rig came barreling around the curve. The skid marks were close to a hundred feet long. To try to go around him would have put the truck into the path of oncoming traffic. Four hours later, someone from the sheriff’s department knocked on my door as I was getting ready to go to work.
One year before, I worked part-time for an agency doing housework and giving personal care to the elderly. As I was driving to an assigned client’s house, my mind wandered in and out of many things. This day one thought kept interrupting and pressing in.” What if one of your children was taken Home? What would you do? Would you be angry with Me?”
Finally, I could take it no more. I broke into deep sobs, hardly able to see the read. I answered, “Lord, it would devastate me more than anything I know; but if You had to rake one of them, there would be a good reason why. It would hurt like crazy, but no, I wouldn’t be mad at You.”
I remembered this sometime later and thought about it a lot. God found it necessary for me to address the possibility early on, partly in preparation, but I think also because my relationship with Him is very important to Him. “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (11 Peter 3:9 KJV). He did not want me to turn my back on Him in anger and resentment. I realized that life on this earth is temporal for all of us. Eventually, I wanted to make it to Heaven, too.
It’s a myth that most couples will pull together when a child dies and have a much stronger relationship. That can and should happen, but in a large majority of cases, divorce will follow. There has to be a solid foundation to begin with. Sensitivity and support must be shared. Each spouse must be allowed to grieve in his or her own way.
Being with others who have shared a similar crises or loss is a great support. In the months that followed, I met several people who, in sharing their experience, encouraged me. In turn, I was also able to comfort others. One evening, I talked at length wit a friend who had lost her daughter. As we compared experiences and feelings, I suddenly realized that my husband was sitting close by listening to every word. Not only was I giving expression to her feelings, but also to his.
It can be very hard to say how you feel, or know what to call these feelings. I discovered that even though the circumstances differ, the emotional process is basically the same. The tears welled up in his eyes, and I saw a release in him.
We had reached an agreement in our family. I told the kids that Dad and Mom both believed in God, but in different ways. “Your relationship with Him is between you and God alone, not between you and us and God. You will need to do your own searching and questioning—He doesn’t mind being questioned—and find your own relationship with Him?”
So, they went to church with me one weekend and to the mosque with their dad the next. I wanted them to see an alive God, real and loving and caring. That requires coming to Him the way HE provided. Being food, being religious, ore being charitable isn’t the way, even though these things are commendable.
One evening at church, we had a visiting preacher. He delivered a good message about needing Jesus in our lives. Every so often, as the minister spoke, he would seem overcome with emotion and his voice would quiver. After the service, everyone got up and left, except Kevin.
He remained there, pale and somewhat shaken.
“Did you see it?” he asked.
“It was moving around the minister. Sometimes it would be on his shoulder. Then his voice would change.”
“What happened to it?” I asked.
“I don’t know. It just left.”
“Left how? Through a door or window?”
“No., It was just gone.”
I attempted to explain to him about God’s Spirit, the anointing power on a minister, and that not everyone can see Him when He is present. Then I brought in the pastor and the visiting preacher who also tried to explain to a ten-year old boy what the Bible says. Kevin told me later that for some time after that, whenever he saw car lights approaching in the dark, it would shake him up. He had been baptized at age seven. It’s a bit young, but young hearts are tender. He expressed a desire , and I was hesitant to stand in the way. Now, however, Kevin was seeking God earnestly and asked to be baptized again. This time he understood that it was a public confession of faith in Jesus Christ, a symbol of repentance, of inward cleansing, of dying to oneself and living to God.
The first year is always the hardest to get through when a family member passes on. Holidays and birthdays are difficult. Life goes on, but it starts over as well. New memories are made. Siblings have a rough time. Our second daughter had been an A and B student. She failed every subject in school that year. However, she found a friend who had also lost a brother, and they became inseparable. Our younger son did not talk much, but he wrote a tribute to his brother and dedicated it to me when his class was learning to make books.
I drove 75 miles every month to the cemetery. I cleaned, planted flowers, and walked among the tombstones, appreciating the stillness. I spoke often with the Lord. The hope that took away the cutting edge of my pain was in knowing that separation is only temporary. I will see Kevin again. I came to know the Lord first as a teenager. My immediate family never went to church at that time, although my grandparents did. My mother was especially antagonistic, insisting that I was being gullible and brainwashed. However, I wanted to know whether God was real. If He was, then I didn’t just want to know about Him, I wanted to know Him personally—as a friend to Friend. When He came to me, it was a Light coming on in a dark place. Everything around me seemed to glow. The glass box that I lived in within my mind shattered into a thousand pieces. People around me saw the difference and asked questions.
The journey has not been an easy one. I have fallen down many, many times and gotten bruised, but He promised to be with me always, “even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20 KJV).
Barbara Ali lives with her husband in North Georgia, where she teaches Special Ed. They have three grown children and three grandchildren, who occupy much of her spare time. She writes children’s stories and poetry, and she is involved in a local church. She has frequently ministered to bereaved parents and children.
God Bless You
Sister Barbra Ali
From Loss to Hope (2nd Testimony)
I was thinking about how I decided what to write for “This I Recall.” There have been so many instances of God’s intervention in my life over the past 58 years. It was hard to choose. I prayed about it and thought about it for days. Then one morning on the was to work a song came on the radio. It was about a parent remembering his child through growing-up years into the going-away years. Tears came to my eyes, and I knew at that moment what I wanted to say and how I wanted to present it.
Many years ago the Lord let me know that there was something special He wanted me to do. Not indicating exactly what it was, He said that He would lead me to it. He brought me through years of learning compassion, of forgiving, of accepting people non-judgmentally – no matter how differently they thought and acted from what I considered my “norm.” He kept pulling me back to His Word, which gave m hope in times of distress. His Word helped me in learning patience – with myself, with others, and with God.
Over time, I lost grandparents, brothers, aunts, uncles, and my own Dad. As difficult as those times were, nothing hit me with the hurricane force of losing one of my own children. Yet in His grace, God had been preparing me to accept it way in advance. For a ling time He refrained from telling me what was coming (for my own good!).
The bottom line of how I worked through loss and grief has been HOPE. I found it in His Word an in His Spirit, and I found it to be a sure and strong hope—not just wishful thinking.
Thirty-seven years ago He had said to me, “Give comfort as you have been comforted. Seek not comfort for yourself—I am your comfort.” I transferred those words to the fly leaf of each new Bible I got. Nothing can take the place of a n intimate relationship with God—I trust Him with the souls of my children. I believe that I will see each one on the other side. He knows what I do not about each one, and His decisions are prefect.
For those who have not gone through it, the worst thing to do to grieving persons is to try to tell them how to grieve, what they should and should not feel, or to try to diminish their grief by removing all “remembrances” of the one lost. In effect, it makes them “lost” that person all over again. It is very painful.
Do not use Scriptures to tell them what they are doing wrong. Stand with them by helping them to get through the little mundane things every day, such as remembering where stuff was laid down, and reminders of things that need to be done, or , “it’s okay if you didn’t get around to such-and-so.”
Get them out of the house from time to time, but allow them to keep busy doing for themselves. Work is therapeutic.
If they feel like talking, listen. If they don’t feel like talking, share in the silence. It is a very individual process. Everybody is different. Mostly, let them know you care, even if you don’t fully understand, or know what to say. What grieving people need the most is hope—knowing that the loss is temporary—and that they can stand on the promised=s of God’s Word.
Allow time for crying, but mostly allow as much time as they need, because healing can sometimes takes years. Some people get stuck in the process. They need prayer and counseling to make it through. Support groups are great because knowing that someone else has experienced what you have, and hearing how he came through it, it tremendous encouragement. This is the basis for my story—pointing towards hope.
“God never wastes pain. He always uses it to accomplish His purpose. And His purpose is for His glory and our good. Therefore, we can trust Him when our hearts are aching or our bodies are racked with pain. Trusting God in the midst of our pain and heartache means that we accept it from Him….An attitude of acceptance says that we trust God, that He loves, and knows what is best for us. “ Jerry Bridges-----Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts.
God Bless You
Sister Barbra Ali