When tragedy strikes, we are often at a loss as to what to do and where to turn. For those of faith, tragic life events can leave us at a crossroads, wondering how we can maintain our hope, and whether we even want to.
When you look at me, and particularly, when you see me with my son, Luke, you will never guess that almost eight years ago, I planned my death.
It wasn’t much of a plan, actually. I just decided I’d stop eating and wither away. No one would blame me, you see, as I’d just lost my first son due to childbirth complications. I didn’t want to die, necessarily — but losing my Matthew simply left me not wanting to live.
My husband and I had tried many different ways to build our family over the prior 13 years, and after a successful IVF treatment and textbook pregnancy, we lost him to a rare condition — vasa previa. Approximately one in 3,000 pregnancies may have vasa previa, but it’s hard to tell because it’s typically unknown until the baby dies, and the placenta is examined.
After an emergency C-section that left me nearly dead as well, my son died the day after he was born. He was beautiful and perfect, but he’d lost too much blood and oxygen in childbirth to survive.
I went home with an empty womb and empty arms — questioning the God I’d loved and believed in my entire life. I’d spent the ten months before giving Him repeated thanks for the miracle of motherhood I was FINALLY experiencing, and as I got in my car and looked at the empty carseat, I honestly was too broken-hearted to even be angry with God. I no longer believed God could be real.
I was lucky enough to have a strong support system. While I received my fair share of platitudes such as, “God needed him,” (blech!) or “God had a plan for him,” (double-blech!), I also received some of the best support there is — honest and sincere questioning of faith between me and my friends.
Many who face tragic times know there are no answers, so when people try to supply answers, they are often not helping. Sometimes the answers comes off as arrogant speech for God — speech you don’t have the right to share.
So many of our friends and family members were just as stunned as we were that we’d lost Matthew, and many would say, “I just don’t understand: why you? Why would this happen to you?” What they meant was, “Why would this happen to such good little church-going people?” and I admit, I understood where they were coming from.
But not long after Matthew died, a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti, and night after night on the news, I’d watch innocent families torn apart and devastated forever. I thought to myself, “Why them?” and realized that no one is immune to tragedy. Those poor people didn’t deserve the heartache they were given any more than I did, and this was just a broken world in which horrible things happened.
I also realized that when tragedy struck, though the faith I’d believed in and lived my entire life left me with questions that will never have good answers, it also left me with the strong belief that each new day could bring hope. That I breathed moment to moment was as miraculous as Matthew’s conception and brief life, proof that even in the darkest of times, where there is hope, there is light.
Those who loved me and lived my faith with me were some of the ones who let me grieve and struggle with my faith without judgement, and in doing so let me come to a place where my faith again regained its important place in my life.
So I’ll say this: When your friend is struggling in whatever hurt or loss or tough time she is going through, just be there with her. Let her ask the hard questions, and be humble enough to say, “I just don’t know, but I am with you as you figure it out.” Know that she is not exactly sure where in her faith she stands, and that she is desperately looking for things to make sense, even if you both know they may never.
The best gift you can give her is light to lead the way through it all.
I promise, she’ll never forget it.