An Open Letter to the Parent Who Has Lost a Child
This article is part of the Open Letters series.
As a parent whose child died four and a half years ago, I want to offer you two hopeful words about that wound in your heart that will never fully heal on this side of eternity.
In the year after my son, Cam, suddenly died, an anguish and sorrow cut my heart with an intensity I never knew was possible. I can remember my heart hurting so badly that, at times, breathing was physically painful. Basic functions like getting out of my car or standing up from the couch seemed overwhelming.
As I grieved his absence, an emotional sadness ruled my inner life. I lived with a persistent fear that this pain would never subside. How could a pain this immense ever go away? How could I work through a fraction of the damage that this emotional atomic bomb had levied? I feared that I was trapped in misery for the rest of my life.
God Is a Healer
Nine months after Cam’s death, my wife, Lauren, and I went to a respite retreat, which David and Nancy Guthrie host for grieving parents who have lost children. Nancy said something to us parents that was simple and powerful.
Nancy said, “God is a healer.”
I intellectually accepted this doctrinal truth. I knew the Hebrew name of God, Jehovah-Rapha, the God Who Heals. However, there was something palpably comforting about hearing this truth from a woman who had lost two children nearly fifteen years before my own loss. Nancy expressed this truth as a functioning, healthy person. She was not “damaged goods” or ruined. Certainly, this mother continues to bear a wound in her heart that will never fully go away in this life, but her words opened the possibility to me that God could, in fact, heal my sad estate. In time, I could make some progress.
God is a healer. If you trust the Lord, cry the tears, and process the grief, God will move you forward.
My first word of hope to you: Nancy is right. God is a healer. If you trust the Lord, cry the tears, and process the grief, God will move you forward. You will make progress. You will look back at where you are now and be able to see with gratitude that God has healed your heart in some measure. This promise can give you hope.
The all-consuming sorrow that dominated my days in the first year no longer rules my life. It comes situationally—on anniversaries, during transitions, in unexpected moments. It’s always there below the surface, but God has healed me to the point that I have a functional life, a life in which my focal mission is not just making it through the day and surviving the immense grief.
God Blesses You with a Wound
The second word of hope: God will not completely heal you in this life.
As crazy as this may sound, a day will come when your fears will change. You may worry that the pain will go away and you will struggle to remember your child.
Three months after Cam passed away, I met a man named Martin, who had heard that I had lost my son. He introduced himself and told me that he had a daughter die eighteen years ago.
As he told me the story of Mary Katherine’s sudden death while standing on the double-yellow line of a quiet neighborhood street, he started to cry. Martin explained, “I’m so grateful for these tears. You see, God will prevent this small part of your heart from ever healing. When those moments come when you re-encounter the pain and you cry as I am now, you are so blessed to see how much you still love your child. That unhealed part of your wound is a gift from God.”
Martin is right. The enduring wound that latently resides in your heart and emerges from time to time is a blessing.
In Christ’s economy, we see and experience love through wounds. After Jesus rose from the dead, he took on a glorified body as the first to enjoy the resurrection of the dead. He had a fully redeemed body, but he retained the ultimate sign of his love for humanity: the wounds in his hands.
When Thomas needed verification that the mysterious man before him was, indeed, Jesus the Christ, what did Jesus tell Thomas to do?
“Touch my wound.”
Therefore I Have Hope
This book considers 12 life-giving truths that Christians can cling to in the midst of tragedy—truths that brought vital hope and comfort to the author when grieving the sudden loss of his 3-year-old son.
This wound tells us about the deep love that the Father had for his lost people. It tells us about the pain that the Son endured to bring sinners into fellowship with the holy God. It tells us that God grieved a child, too.
In Revelation 5, the apostle John sees the triumphant Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world. How does he describe this Lamb who is standing in victory? It appeared “as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). The glorious son of God bore the evidence of his wounds.
In time, the wound—which may be crippling you today—will begin to heal by God’s grace. You will progress and emerge from the crippling early grief. However, this wound, which likely stands as your enemy today, will become your blessing down the road.
It will be the wound that you present in your heart to your child to demonstrate just how much you still deeply love him or her. When you haven’t seen your child for decades, that remaining wound will make you feel connected to him or her because it reminds you of just how much you still love your precious child.
Your wound will become your friend.
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