of the LOSS of HER SON
On a Sunday morning in 2004, the girls and I were in the car heading to afternoon church. Lou, my husband, had already left for church. Josiah, my 17-year-old son, wanted to run an errand with his older brother and a friend and show them what his new car could do. It had been raining, and his tires were very bad. The car had trouble running well for a couple of weeks after he brought it home, but then began to work fine. They were going to meet us at church. When I got to church, someone grabbed the girls, who were nine and eleven years old, to take them inside. Lou came out and told me to get in the car and started telling me, in bits and pieces, that Josiah had been in a car accident. They couldn’t get a pulse.
On the way to the scene accident, we were stopped by a train, and when we finally got there Josiah had been medevaced to Cox Hospital. My other son and his friend were in an ambulance. They wouldn’t let me see the site, but Lou went up and talked to the emergency crew about what had happened. It was pretty upsetting, and I just thought I would lose it, physically, right then and there. It was extremely difficult! When we got to the hospital, I shifted into emergency mode going to my oldest son and his friend’s cubicles at the hospital. The boys were describing the accident to me; the car had spun around on wet pavement and went through some fence posts. They went through one fence that had solid wooden beams cemented into the ground, so it didn’t budge but the beam came through the back window of the car and hit Josiah in the back of the head. My oldest son and friend bent over, folding in half, so the beam didn’t hit them. Josiah didn’t die that day and was breathing on his own for a time but had severe head trauma.
I was so thankful it was on Sunday, because so many family and friends were available. Everyone gathered at the hospital, and we were surrounded by friends and relatives. We found out later that we broke all the rules in the waiting room because we filled the waiting room 24 hours a day and had so many people there with lots of food, bedding, pallets on the floor, etc. I felt so strongly that we needed to pray, so every half hour we joined hands and gathered in a circle to have prayer for him (and others in the waiting room). A couple of Josiah’s friends (who were girls) were like Jesus’ hands and feet as they took care of our girls! They got jammies for them, told the girls funny stories about Josiah, laughed and cried together, and played games. Josiah loved Josh Groban music and had listened to the CDs while doing his school work, so we played his CDs in the room.
A really nice male nurse started talking to us about organ donations, which I had never been interested in, but seeing the movie Remember Me had planted a seed. When Josiah was actually declared brain dead, we made the decision to donate his organs. When we announced we were donating his organs, we had so much support. The organ donation team came in, which was very difficult, but it was like a lifeline for me! Tuesday morning was his surgery, and they played a Josh Groban CD during it. I had asked for a clip of his hair, and I’m thankful that another nurse was aware of the memory kits for children who were in the hospital; so she was able to get his hand-print and a clip of his hair for me and put them in a special box.
OUR ORGAN RECIPIENTS
I was a health nut, more so than now, so I didn’t have sugar or white flour in the house, and I raised my kids on fresh fruit, whole grains, home grown meat, eggs, raw milk-- healthy food. Josiah’s organs were in such good shape that one of the transplant surgeons told us that in 30 years he had never seen an organ do so well. That helped me to feel like I hadn’t wasted all that energy but that it was very helpful in the healing of others. His organs went to St. Louis, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Later we received some letters from the recipients. The gentleman who received his lungs started breathing on his own the next day after surgery. One man was a Christian, and it was very comforting to hear how his timeline of illness, prayer, and receiving that call could mesh with our experiences and see how God used a tragedy to save his life!
JOSIAH’S CELEBRATION SERVICE
Josiah was attending James River’s youth services, so we had a celebration service there with over 400 people attending! I don’t like traditional funerals so ours was a celebration! We got a casket that was wooden, and before the service we had sharpies for people to write notes to him or whatever they wanted on it. I really wanted lots of flowers and plants, so family and friends sent all kinds of arrangements for the service and the meal. We put some on all the tables for the dinner afterwards. We had praise music by the teen friends and relatives and an open mike for people to come up to share. I learned things about him that I didn’t know, but we laughed a lot, and that was a special time of sharing. A friend of mine, who lived in Colorado during the Columbine incident, said Josiah’s service was so similar to one of the girls there: the sunlight shining through the skylight at a certain time, the praise music, the testimonies, writing on the casket, and the picture slideshow. We had an amazing celebration service!
WALKING THROUGH THE SHOCK
The hardest thing after the accident was coming home without him because his laundry was still there and all of his stuff. It was really hard, and I felt so utterly alone. In the following weeks, life after the accident was so difficult. I spent about two hours each night talking, singing, and praying with the girls in order to help them get to sleep, and then I would play solitaire so my brain would numb enough for sleep to come to me. I didn’t sleep much and didn’t eat for about four months. I just drank water and Ensure.
MEMORIES JOURNAL and THANK YOU JOURNALS
I was panicky that I would forget Josiah, so I started a journal of memories and wrote things down whenever I thought of him. I also kept a thank you journal and gave each of the girls one. I wrote what I was thankful for in the midst of all of this. For me, it was about three years until the cloud lifted, and I could sing and feel hopeful again. (I must add that during this time I had a couple of events in my family that were both tragic and life changing, so my heavy grief seemed to last longer than most.)
CHOOSING to BELIEVE
I remember, at the beginning of this journey, the moment when I came face to face with my faith. I felt like this was so bad, and questioned whether I still believed in God, if He was good, and if there was a Heaven. I had to make a decision whether I did or didn’t believe, and I just cried out and said, “What else is there if I don’t have you, God?” That was the point when I made the choice and said, “Yes, I still do believe.” After that, so many things happened when I could feel his presence, and I saw God’s hands at work numerous times!
READING BOOKS on GRIEF and LOSS
Eventually, I did some reading about grief and death. There were two books that were especially helpful, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Jerry Sittser, and Life After Death, by Tony Cooke (except one chapter that I didn’t agree with).
GRIEF SHARE CLASSES
After eight months I started going to Grief Share classes. It was so hard and we felt worse at first, but as we went through the process we could tell a difference. You need lots of people to help, more than three, because you burn out your friends. I learned also that there are a lot of people who are there for you at the beginning, but after a month you can tell there are fewer prayers. Very few people can let you hurt for long; they don’t want to be uncomfortable, and they don’t want you to be uncomfortable. There are a chosen few who can actually walk with you through that journey.
GRIEF COMPANION VOLUNTEER
FOR THE MO TRANSPLANT ORGANIZATION
After taking Grief Companion classes, I was a volunteer for the MO transplant organization. That was one thing I wanted to do to help, especially with moms who lost their kids. You are trained just to listen and walk by their side, not to fix or give advice. Taking those classes and being able to help others through the transplant process was very healing to me.
NEURO TRAUMA ICU and RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE
When the anniversary of Josiah’s death came around, it was important to me to do something in Josiah’s memory and honor. Every Spring we would go shopping and make care packages containing t-shirts or pj’s, water, snacks, card games, toys, fast food gift certificates, etc., to give out at Cox South’s neuro trauma intensive care unit waiting room where we had been cared for by so many. We had many opportunities to share with people, pray with people, and talk about organ donations. Some family members had stayed at the Ronald McDonald House when Josiah was in the hospital, so we also went there and handed out packages to the families of children going through a crisis. A group of us did that for about 10 years. It was so great, because we got to share and love on people. It was neat to see how God orchestrated what we purchased each year and the people who received it. There are good memories of a special game or stuffed animal touching someone who was going through a painful time.
JOSIAH’S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS
On Josiah’s birthday a group of us would go to Lambert’s to look at pictures, share memories or just be together. When I told the staff why we were there, they would give us a cinnamon roll and balloons. So we ate the roll and took the balloons to the cemetery. This year we went to Andy’s Frozen Custard, because Josiah used to work at a frozen custard place.
OUR JOSIAH GARDEN
I also have a Josiah garden. People gave us plants, bushes, and trees so I have a garden with a plaque which says, “True friends hold you up with both hands.” Friends helped to plant things at first, and I’ve added a little each year with help from a grandmother.
JOSIAH’S “WISH LIST”
One thing I’m thankful for was the completion of Josiah’s “wish list"that he was working on. It is helpful for me to know that he had just finished getting everything on his list. He wanted a bean bag chair, an entertainment center, a TV, surround sound system, drum set, and a car. I took drum lessons for a year after the accident both because I’ve always loved drums and it was a way to be close to him, playing his new drum set.
HOPE THROUGH THE JOURNEY
I was told by a woman who lost her parents that grief goes in waves. That prepared me for the instability in my emotions that I would feel. I’d be going along seemingly OK and a wave of grief would knock me down. But I didn’t stay down. At times I felt I was going crazy, and that’s why I took grief classes. I needed to know if what I was experiencing was normal. I had to live in the moment. At times I couldn’t cope more than one minute at a time, but then it became an hour at a time, and then the moments and hours got longer. When my feelings were so raw, even when I did things I love to do, I went to that place of vulnerability. How empty and hopeless it would be to go through this kind of experience without God. It is a process; you never get over it. It changes you, but God can use it!
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others”
(2 Corinthians 1:4, NLT).
See Mike's article: "God's Promise in Grief and Loss"