Life, Death, and Faith

My heart is heavy today.  The older brother of a classmate of my twins died very suddenly yesterday.  I learned about it on Facebook (what a world we live in!); details are still emerging, but apparently it had something to do with his heart, and although I’m not sure, what I’m gathering is that he was not known to have had a heart condition, so it makes the shock of someone so young and apparently vital dying all the more unsettling.  He was 14 years old.

I do not know the family.  I know the little girl in Daisy and Annabelle’s class by sight, and her mom and I exchange greetings when we pass each other on the way to or from school, but that’s the extent of it.  So I can’t stake a claim of personal grief – and yet, hearing about anyone losing a child brings on grief, doesn’t it?  It is unfathomable to me what this family must be experiencing right now.  I asked Kevin if he knew the boy, because although they attended different high schools and were a grade apart, they would have attended elementary school together.  Kevin didn’t know him, but when I told him what happened, he said, “Let’s be thankful that everyone in our family is alive and healthy.”  He’s right, of course.  And yet, to think that, to feel that, feels cheap in a way.  As if to say, “I’m thankful that happened to someone else and not us.”  To believe that somehow, fate has favored us above them.

Inevitably, sentiments of faith are being expressed on Facebook regarding this tragedy.  The faithful believe that he’s with Jesus now, that he’s in a better place, that God needed him more than his family did.

The usefulness of faith is perhaps never more apparent than in times of grieving.  Holding onto such beliefs offers comfort in a time of great turmoil and pain.  If one really believes those things – that there is a better place after this earthly life, that a wise and merciful god is merely carrying out his divine plan – it can dull the pain of astounding loss.  It can make it all seem as if there is a good reason behind it – a purpose.  And the faithful are comforted also  by the belief that they will one day meet their loved one again in the Great Beyond.

But faith has another side to it.

When my dad died almost fourteen years ago – I was still a believer then – I agonized for months about where my dad’s soul had ended up.  He was agnostic, and to my knowledge, never “accepted Jesus Christ as his savior,” and so, based on what I was taught, his soul must have gone to hell.  Images of torture and fire and eternal cries of agony tortured me.  On the other hand, I had also been taught that God is compassionate and merciful, and so I argued with myself, “God loves everyone, he wouldn’t send someone to hell who was, underneath many flaws, a decent human being.”  And so I tried to believe that Dad went to heaven.  I went back and forth for a long, long time.  It was probably one of the more painful aspects of losing my dad so suddenly – the not knowing where he ended up.  Finally, I decided that of course he went to heaven.  Because that’s what I needed to believe to get through the grief and go on.  I would see him again one day after my earthly life was over, and that was all there was to it.  Because I needed to believe that, I could adjust my beliefs accordingly.  Faith seems to work that way.

I look back on that time now and feel something close to anger and disgust that I had to expend so much energy and time worrying and agonizing over the final resting place of my dad’s soul – all thanks to my faith, which had mostly been spoon fed to me.

We are all born and we all die, and between being born and dying, we all experience sorrow and loss and pain, as well as joy.  That is the natural order of things – that is life.  It seems that, were there any fairness at all though, no parent should ever have to bury a child.  That seems atrociously unfair and unnatural.  And yet, it happens all the time, all over the world.   So we try to make sense of it the best we can, and we take comfort wherever we can.


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13 Comments on “Life, Death, and Faith”

  1. Miriam White
    November 22, 2012 at 2:32 am #

    No matter what one believes regarding life after death….a child dying unexpectedly is just awful. Even a strong believer will go through a living form of hell before being comforted by the after life. How sad for this family. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…..I like the clarity of your thinking.

  2. Amen!!
    November 22, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    With a child in a 50% heart condition population it makes me want to see a cardiologist every few years. No joke. Plus we had calcification in utero but I don’t think my risk averse mind would be too different if he didn’t have this issue.

    Echo was done at birth but he’s never seen a cardiologist.

    Just too too powerful & sad thoughts to even say anything. I read your blog as the dad passing and kept returning to that…

    • Amen!!
      November 22, 2012 at 8:57 am #

      I find your turmoil about your dad very telling and a SAD commentary on religion too. Where were your faithful clergy to ACTIVELY guide you through the stages of grief & help you see the higher forms of religious theology that is likely the only real way to wrestle with these life events. Where IS mine four years into a beautiful but poignantly challenging (remarkably healthy) DS orientation?

      Anyway, that story is brilliant & phenomenally written but horrible too.

      Yes I’m wrestling these forces but with strength in my confusing non-Christian convictions

      I did face that hell-fire crap as a Christian in college though. I saw the baptist principles being used in narcissistic or greedy most likely ways and was able to console a friend who was told she was going to hell because her parents were divorced. End of story if she didn’t embrace or maybe even if she did who knows.

      Someone blogger that in CO their apparently republican church in same town had VOTE FOR AN AMERICAN. She said that she didn’t think people took what trump said that seriously until that sign…

      • Carolyn Gabriel
        November 23, 2012 at 10:12 am #

        As a Baptist mother of a man born with DS, I received no kindness or understanding. The first pastor I talk to asked me “did you know we are expecting?” 1962 In 1965 I called Central Baptist in Lexington Ky, spoke with the Educational Director. I asked him if I could start a Sunday school class for retarded children. He advised me to go to another church that had a class. Well, what about the church I belonged to? Now the Southern Baptist Convention has a policy that if there is one person who needs a special class, it should be arranged. I just gave up on it. My son asked me once if it was really true about heaven, I told him I did believe it was true. In Daytona Beach the pastor decided my son could pick up bulletins from the pews between services. Well, he wouldn’t learn anything doing that and it would have inconvenienced us. My minister Dad understood, but to a large degree, I don’t think the other pastors get it unless they have a disabled child. lst Baptist in Daytona Beach has a class, but we don’t want our son hearing all that come to Jesus sinner stuff. We went once, he cried and went forward. I think Episcopalian or Catholic is the best solution. Though we did go to a local Presbyterian church for a while. They asked my son to do the reading about gifts of the spirit on Christmas Eve. His speech is not too intelligible, so I helped him, read the scripture and had him say the ‘gifts’-was very effective. People are just not informed enough to be of any real help. Maybe Parent To Parent could have a church outreach ministry. The Church of God has special services for the developmentally disabled, called “The Special Gathering”. They meet during the week. It is a good program but segregates the disabled from the general church community. I don’t care anymore about going to church-we are old, I have MS. I did go to a Grief Share program at the Methodist Church, ecumenical and helpful. It doesn’t take away the grief but helps you grow stronger emotionally and spiritually to deal with it. That would have helped Lisa after her Father died. Maybe it would help now. We parents have the grief of loss of the child we expected to have, though we love the child we did have. One has to become emotionally and spiritually strong enough to bear that grief, though I have never gotten ‘over it’.

    • Liz
      November 23, 2012 at 9:29 pm #


      I have followed your blog since Finn’s birth and have posted comments over the years. This post really hit home with me. In terms of tragedy, my family has had it’s share of it this year. In August, my 45 year old brother died at home, alone, of alcoholism. Specifically, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, basically his heart just stopped. I had been estranged from him for about 5 years due to his life choices and never told him I loved him one last time (I have tremendous guilt about this). I too, had nightmares and worried myself sick about where he went after death. Raised catholic, I struggled with thoughts that my brother who at the core was a beautiful person, might not have made it to heaven and would spend eternity in purgatory or worse hell because he had not “made things right” with God.

      Then, two weeks ago, my 16 year old daughters friend committed suicide. I have not been able to get the question of his afterlife out of my head either, again because I was taught by my faith that suicide is a sin and and he will forever be damned to hell for taking the life God blessed him with.

      Unbelievably, on Tuesday two co-workers of my husband were killed on the job when an out of control car hit them as they stood on a sidewalk discussing their work plans for the day (my husband is a Heavy/Highway Contractor). Needless to say, my faith is definitely being tested and I’m struggling with justifying the loss of two men who got up that morning expecting a typical day at work only to leave behind stunned wives, children and co-workers. It’s difficult for me to say they’re in a better place or God needed them more. One of the gentlemans wives is pregnant, I’m quite certain she needs him more than anyone right now. So, on what should be a weekend of thanks and time spent with family, we will be attending two funerals and trying to accept that two men died senselessly, years before their time.

      Sorry to babble, I needed to get this off my chest. We’ve had 4 deaths in less than 3 months. It’s hard for me to believe. I feel horribly for the family you wrote about, there is never a good time to lose a child.

      • Lisa
        November 23, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

        Liz, no need to apologize. I’m glad you found a place here to share these things that are weighing on you. My heart goes out to you.

  3. Carolyn Gabriel
    November 22, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    There is a song in The Lion King about the Circle of Life. That is the natural order of things, but losing a child is not in the natural order and is very sad. My Dad was a Southern Baptist minister. When he preached my mind used to ‘float’. I recall one thing he emphasized over and over again “Nothing can separate you from the Love of God”. Now, I truly believe that….when the agnostics and atheists die they have an opportunity to accept Christ. What I cannot reconcile is the ‘favor of God’ vs misfortuness of life. Who can say if God has favored one over the other? When it comes to disabiltiess, DS and other things, I think of the scripture in the love chapter of Corinthians “now we see through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face”. I don’t understand and don’t expect to understand. I see this life as the back of a tapestry with no discernable pattern. But…..on the other side of the tapestry….the one lwithout knots and snarls, there is a distinct pattern not seen during this life. I was always taught also of the forgiveness of God, as well as his love. Has my son’s life been a catalyst in the social revolution for the developmentally disabled. Certainly, no doubt about that! Was he sent by God for this purpose? We will know in the next life. For right now, this life is all he has and as parents, we must work on his behalf to better the lot of the disabled from birth to death. Mostly, I like forgetting about the disability, enjoying life, being thankful for all the blessings that we have, and having my son for 52 years. I feel like God loves us all. I love you and the clarity of your thinking as the depth of your feelings and caring. Thank you for this blog. Don’t miss out on The Love. Love, Carolyn

  4. Carolyn Gabriel
    November 23, 2012 at 2:24 am #

    Down Syndrome children that are reading? Are these mothers crazy? “if they do read, they don’t know what they are reading”–that was part of the excuses in the 60’s and 70’s for not teaching DS kids reading in school. When Chris was 4 and 5, we lived in Kentucky. If a child at Blue Grass School wanted to read, they were encouraged to learn. Blue Grass was used in a study that U of K did of physical activity increasing reading ability. Later, we moved to upstate NY. We had a friend who had taught her four year old to read. She showed me how, and I taught my little son, In order for him to learn at public school, he had to be segregated and there were disagreements among the administration about it. I was tired and after my daughter was born, too tired to continue teaching him, too tired to power struggle with these unaccepting peole and felt that paying a tutor was ridiculous, though we did that for a year. I called and called a Catholic school, finally got an interview. They didn’t like to take children that didn’t start out with them. We were not Catholic. I asked the Principal, Sister Seraphine, if any of her children read. Her response was “all of our children read”. Well, they were all taught reading. Fortunately, they accepted our son and he grew up at Holy Childhood in Rochester, NY; changing classes from Jr. High on, having homework, and learning good attitudes. Thank God for that school! My son did eventually convert to Catholicism with out blessing. It was such an atmosphere of love and miracles. The nuns accomplish things that no one else would attempt, because they were not thinking of the effort on their part, or the expense of the readers, or locked into a grid like the public schools were. Little children today are being mainstreamed, having inclusion, will grow up and surpass the accomplishments of my son’s generation. I expect, if any Down Syndrome persons are allowed to be born, that every succeeding generation will build on the one before. Thanks for listening. The love brings the miracles, probably as well as the prayers of dedicated teachers. One public school administrator told me “we tried that, but the effort seemed too great for the results”. My son Chris’ reading helps him in his life, as well as in his recreation. Now he only reads magazines and some of the newspaper, but likes getting information just like anyone else. It’s all about the love.

  5. Carolyn Gabriel
    November 23, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    What was my point? That love can bring about progress that were once considered miracles. Prayer and devotion guide dedicated teachers and parents. Meditation can center one’s thinking and help them to figure out what to do. As life long Baptist (a preacher’s kid, supposed to be notorious!) we in our religion practiced the Love of God, and were shown the Love of God by the Catholics. It made all the difference in my son’s life. God’s love to me is so awesome and incomprehensible. I never loved anyone enough to sacrifice my only begotten son in order to redeem someone. That’s Love for Humanity to the Max. Would not do it if I could.

    Yeah! I know, my head is in the clouds. All these hell fire people need to concentrate on The Love of God. We see the effects of evil in the world, as well as the effects of poor choices (what could be called sin). The Love is the Greatest.

  6. Carolyn Gabriel
    November 23, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    Faith in God is ‘blatant’ in my philosophy of life and social conscience. I don’t want to offend non-believers. I have a lot of thoughts to share, am pretty much home bound with multiple sclerosis, can still walk though. We have to care for one another, hold one another up, and believe in each other………celebrate life. One’s beliefs are so personal, arrived at through great soul searching. One comment I have heard about nonbelievers is quaint ”
    God believes in You”. I believe in you too and in your power of love to conquer the sad and unexplainable occurrences in life. Thank you for your patience. As Tiny Tim said “God Bless Us Everyone”. Praying especially for comfort for those who have lost children prematurely. ❤

  7. Isabella
    November 24, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    Hi Lisa! In 2010 I lost my younger brother who commited suicide. Needless to say, it was devastating on all my family, but there was an author who really helped us in our grieving process: Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She wrote many, many books on death and grieving and reading them helped my mom and I tremendously.

  8. Meredith
    November 24, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    No parent should ever have to bury a child. I’ve had two friends in recent months who have lost infant sons. One lost theirs to a known heart condition when he was only 10 days old and the other lost her 5-month-old to what I believe was SIDS (I haven’t heard the details so I don’t know for sure). Every mother’s heart constricts painfully when they hear of another mother’s child being lost, b/c we’ve all played the what if game. It’s unimaginable to think of losing a child. I’ve cried many tears and prayed many prayers for my friends, because that’s all I can do. I only wish I could do more.


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