Life was good. Envision a backdrop of huge beautiful trees with summer-green leaves, soft grass, lovely flowers, blue skies and being embraced by glorious Georgia sunshine. My husband and I have three adult sons whom we cherish. My greatest joy is to watch my guys interacting, cavorting and carrying on as only they can do. There is nowhere on earth I’d rather be on any given day than basking in the presence of my family. We had planned a family barbecue for Saturday of Labor Day weekend 2011. The last time we all were together was in the middle of May. Since then we had been together in groups of two, three or four, but this would be the first time in a while for all five of us to be together. My husband planned his elaborate menu and happily purchased enough food for a small army. My heart sang as I cleaned, vacuumed, dusted and prepared for the special, long-awaited following day of merriment.
Then we got the call, there had been a serious accident. Nothing could possibly prepare a family for such unfathomable tragedy. We were told that our eldest son was in critical condition and on life support. We were about to embark on a journey that no one would volunteer for. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. Our 30 year old son had taken his life. No one even remotely saw this coming; it was completely out of character. He was intelligent, handsome, funny, and well-loved. He had lots of talents, interests and a passion for music. He enjoyed time spent with his girlfriend, his brothers and lots of good friends. He was his own person and didn’t take guff from anyone, but he also had a heart of gold. He was a giver who always went the extra mile both literally and figuratively speaking. An example of this legacy is when each day, for months on end, either before work or after, he willingly helped a friend with her newborn. Among all the other selfless gifts that he bestowed on others, he once traveled 45 minutes to bring soup to a sick friend only to immediately turn right around to get to work on time.
Nothing could prepare a parent for such an unspeakable nightmare. It was surreal. There is no way to pave the way for something like this. Or was there? I had survived a difficult childhood and got married at 19 to a Marine and we uprooted our household many times over the years. I kept the home fires burning during deployments and found myself caring for three children under the age of ten while my husband served in Desert Storm. We had experienced 35 years of the ups and downs of life complete with accomplishments and defeats. There had been the joy of births and the sorrow of deaths. God was faithful to sustain me throughout all of these years. I had found Him to be trustworthy and had already learned resilience through trials and tribulations.
There were many years of involvement with Bible studies, my Moms in Touch prayer groups, and all those times sitting in church listening to homilies. Although I didn’t memorize scripture by chapter and verse, bits and pieces of scripture nourished me and were unconsciously hidden in my heart. I knew that He was a strong tower that I could run to in times of trouble. I was also aware that somehow all things would work together for good for those who loved Him, that nothing could separate us from the love of God, and that He sent His son so that I could enjoy eternal life. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t learned to quote where the passages could be found. I had everything I needed tucked away in my heart. This was the preparation that was already in place.
My family was there for me. We had taken turns squabbling over the years but despite disagreements or hurts the love was always present as the underlying thread holding me and all of my siblings together. We always stood by each other’s side when it really counted. Over the course of 53 years, I had gathered friends from all over the country. One of God’s hand-picked treasures for us is my friend Jessica who has three daughters. We helped raise each others children and they call each other brother and sister. Our families had been through thick and thin together. Also, inexplicably, I joined FaceBook several months before our son’s death. I had been adamant for years that I was not interested in entertaining the possibility. Within weeks I had reconnected with friends that I’d lost touch with, some from decades ago. My family and friends were already in place. God reminded me that faith had held me up before and it would hold me up again. When Moses could not hold the heavy tablets up any longer, his friends on both sides of him held up his arms. The Lord has put family and friends alongside us to hold us up when we are too weary. I have since met many wonderful people who have tragically lost a loved one and are now fellow travelers on this grief journey. Our new friends include parents who have lost children. We are now members of a club that no one wants to be a part of but these supportive friends also help us to persevere.
Many days and nights I couldn’t quiet the incessant chattering of my mind. I fell asleep and awakened to the recurring litany of what had happened, where we had been at what time, who had said what and all the other heart wrenching details of our story. Over time, interspersed with the merciless tape which continued to play, I would find myself hearing lyrics of peace, hope and comfort floating around in my head as I went to sleep and as I woke up. Music that had been sustaining me without my even realizing it…strains of “when everything falls apart, Your arms hold me together, when everything falls apart, You’re the only hope for this heart, when everything falls apart, and my strength is gone, I find You mighty and strong, You keep holding on” from lyrics by Fee and also those from a newly discovered song by Mercy Me with echoes of “ So here I am, what’s left of me, where glory meets my suffering, I’m alive, even though a part of me has died, You take my heart and breathe it back to life, I’ve fallen into your arms open wide, when the hurt and the Healer collide”. God has given me the faith to not be blind to the good that still exists in the world and the faith to trust that there will be softer days of happiness ahead as we find our ‘new normal’. Love will see me through, love for my husband Mike and our sons Timothy and Daniel, love for my family and friends, love for my Christopher who will always be in my heart and love for my Lord who planted the seeds of faith and love in my heart a very long time ago to prepare my heart for such a time as this. Faith has sustained me before and it would have to continue to give me strength now. What other reasonable choice did I have? My life has been changed in ways that I wish weren’t true and yet where my strength comes from is a truth that will never change. It looks like in unplanned ways I was prepared. Life is not how I yearn for it to be once again, but I am able to see that it can still be good.
by Irene Rowland
Irene Rowland lives in Georgia with her husband of 35 years. They have three adult sons. Irene is currently a student at North Georgia College & State University finishing a master’s degree in Community Mental Health Counseling and has found writing to be therapeutic in processing her grief.