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Bereavement Support Services
When Prayers Go Unanswered
As a beggar shares his bread with another beggar I share my heart on a difficult subject with the loss of a child; when there no miracle.
No parent should have to go through the loss of their child; there is no greater pain on this Earth than to experience the death of your child, no grief harder to bear. There is no easy way out, no medication, placebo, no therapy, no shortcut or prayer that can take away the pain, it has to be experienced, you love hard you grieve hard. It is totally unfair and life does not seem worth living...but we need to live.
Some people blame God for taking away their child, some glorify God; that God picks his favorites to be with Him in Heaven and that they are in a better place, and that the good die young. Some people blame the devil for sending evil our way and that we were not faithful enough. Regardless of the cause of death; by disease,accident, suicide or murder, as parents we blame ourselves. We are the responsible parents who failed to protect our children from their death, no matter how you cut it, we blame ourselves. We are responsible for their welfare, and in some way we failed and our child died. No matter what facts can be brought before us that we did nothing wrong,we still rationalize our guilt. I believe for most of us we as parents are guilty of one thing: loving too much.
If you think back just a hundred years in this country or currently in many third world countries, life is much more egregious and harsh. Medical care may be many miles away by foot or nonexistent, no electricity, and no penicillin, not much in way of helping to save lives for the average person. Many people die and have died from lack of any medical care, most of them children, even our wars take our children year after year. This planet is cruel and harsh and although high in intelligence and many advances have been made, we as humans are very fragile and death is a continual oppressive enemy.
Six million Jews prayed to their God to release them from their captors and save their lives. Why no answer? Enemy Christian soldiers in many wars have found themselves both frightened and both praying to the same God that they won't get killed. The Muslim prays to Allah for protection in a country racked with war. Whose prayer gets answered? The families at home on 9/11 praying their loved ones survived the blast, the hundreds of individuals scared for their life running down fire escapes praying to get out. Why did some survive and not others? Pleas to God to find escape from earthquakes, fires and floods, again no answer. A prayer for a miracle for our child in the hospital, the child abducted or lost, simply our prayers for their protection at night. No answer, no miracle. Why does the omnipotent force of all good not answer our gut wrenched beseechments in prayer? We are good people, what did any one of us do wrong? We become very, very angry at God for taking our child. He did not answer our prayers, He gave us hope, only take it away, allowing us to love, only to give us this unending agony. What kind of a God would do this? How could He allow my child to die?
We even begin to question the very existence of God, but the paradox we find is if we do not believe in God, then who can we be angry at? We need to let out our anger in a healthy way, screaming at God is one way; He cannot be hurt and will not scream back.
I think we tend to make God out to be some powerful magician like the Wizard of Oz; that if the faithful bring their requests to Him in earnest, their prayer will be answered just as requested. I don't believe God throws lighting bolts and curve balls to hurt us or give us disease so that we can experience spiritual growth or fulfill some nebulous destiny. Conversely I don't believe He makes a choice of which soldier in the trench to save, or which child is cured of cancer. Prayers are answered through the hearts and hands of those all around us. If the right doctor is found, the right medicine is administered, the life guard is on duty, the scientist finds a cure, the soldier frees a captive,the fireman, the police officer, your neighbor, or the man on the street are all agents of God, whether they know it or not. Many times there is no miracle, there is no cure, there is no hero or savior and our loved one dies; our prayers seemingly ignored. We become very angry that we were lead to believe that our fervent prayers would be heard and yet they were left unanswered.
I am reminded of a story that illustrates this point. There is a man atop his house caught in a flash flood with rapidly rising waters and he pleads with God to save his life. Soon a boat comes by and pleads with the man to get in the boat. The man responds "that's all right God is going to save me," the boat leaves. The water is getting higher and soon a helicopter appears and drops a line to the stranded man, again he refuses help saying that God was going to save him. The rising waters soon overtake the house and the man drowns and goes to heaven and asks God why He did not save him. God responded:” first I sent you a boat, then I sent a helicopter, you refused both so all I could do was save your soul”. Sometimes there is no boat or helicopter available and our loved one dies despite our prayers. As much as we would like to believe that God can magically reach down his mighty hand and rescue us, we intellectually know that is not going to happen. God is not a physical entity; He is the combined love of this planet. Just as He used Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and Moses to speak his words, he uses people to carry out the answer to prayer. If those boats and helicopters are simply not physically available at the time, or the right medication is not found we die, life is cruel, life is harsh.
My nine year old son Kelly died from a malignant brain tumor called Medullablastoma. We prayed and prayed that he would not die and that he could be cured. Though many medical breakthroughs in cancer have saved many lives, most children with this diagnosis, like 17 years ago, die from this form of cancer. Kelly lived almost two years following his diagnosis. Did God answer our prayers? Yes, he did. Was Kelly cured? No, he was not. Was Kelly healed? Yes he was, for when there is no miracle, death is the ultimate healer.
A hundred years ago, Kelly would not have even been diagnosed. He would have suffered more terribly and died much sooner. Our prayers were answered with what was available to us geographically, with an outstanding local children's hospital, wonderful doctors and nurses and excellent insurance that covered over a half a million dollar medical bill. Our prayers were answered when our town of Bayport raised money with a benefit for us and with Make-a-wish who sent us to Hawaii for two weeks. Our prayers were answered in Mexico where we traveled there to find a cure and Kelly's tumor disappeared. When the cancer came back out of control, my prayers were answered that God would take him from the pain. My prayers were answered when I asked Kelly for a sign that he survived death and that he could hear my lamentations. My prayers were answered that I could find some path out the valley of the shadow of death and embrace life again. Yes, God exists and answers prayers. My son has communicated to me after his death in a very real way; if Kelly survived death, than there is no doubt in my heart that God exists. By whatever name you call your personal omnipotent deity or how that universal force answers your prayers is as individual as a snowflake and different for everyone.
Your child dies at 3 months old from SIDS, is killed with no warning at 18 by a drunk driver, or by the onset of a sudden illness. What prayer can possibly change those horrific facts? There was no inkling of their fate or time to pray to prevent it; we are vulnerable to our physical limitations with every breath we take. Why did it happen? Like trying to comprehend that there is no end to the universe, there is no answer our intellect can understand. As long as this world turns our love ones, including our children will die, we cannot escape it. When this happens we feel guilty for not preventing it somehow, and feel totally empty inside, feeling far away from the God who failed us and took our child.
Believing in God is a personal choice and whether or not you believe in God or not, death will claim lives and we shall all experience the pain of loss. I don't believe God takes our lives but I do believe He receives our spirit. God does not punish us, he picks us up when we fall and carries us when we cannot walk. Our destiny is a work in progress, just as melting snow from the mountain top finds the ocean, nourishes the landscape or forms a mountain lake, it will be what it will be and dependent on what it encounters on the journey. I don't blame God for my losses and I accept the fact that life is harsh and is terminal from our birth.
Because of my personal experience I choose to believe in God and thank Him for every minute that I am given to experience life. Every moment is an opportunity to feel love by sharing hearts with one another. Even through all the pain of losing my son, my parents, two siblings, and two nephews I still feel His love through his children on this earth. That belief has sustained me in my deepest sorrow and the only thing that assuaged the pain. I believe there are Angels all around us, living and breathing as we do and although they cannot bring our child or loved one back they can help to heal the hurt and if you help to heal the hurt of others so shall your hurt be relieved. If you don’t believe in God, believe in love, to me it’s a matter of semantics.
Victor Frankle, author, doctor and survivor of a concentration camp said in his book "Mans' Search for Meaning”: 'To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.' We cannot change what has transpired, as we live we shall suffer. We cannot go back and change the past but we can change the future as we move from loss to legacy, substantiating our loved ones life by the way we live ours. We can honor their lives and allow them to live on through our actions, in our grief we are given the license to take emotional risks, and express the feelings in our heart. Other than the death of another child nothing can hurt us more than we have already been hurt.
I wanted to die when Kelly died, but I chose to live, who else would keep his memory alive? If we do not choose life, than ultimately two lives are wasted. Grieve hard, scream loud, feel every facet of your loss as long as you need to, grieve openly, express your lamentations and frustrations; you love hard, you grieve hard, it is supposed to hurt. Know that your grief will lesson as time moves on but you will always be a bereaved parent and like living with arthritis you will live with flare ups of pain the rest of your life.
God bless you on your long journey and continuing passage of pain, and know also that although our now children live in one sphere of existence and we in another, with faith, undying love and the desire, we can meet at the seam where our worlds connect, love never dies.
The death of a child is a huge leveler; we all walk this road together.
Love and Light,
Author of "Letters to My Son, a journey through grief"