Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Do You When the Unthinkable Happens?

Recently I read a very eye-opening article in Parents Magazine entitled, "You'd Never Forget Your Child in the Car, Right?"  It highlights the stories of three parents who have done what most of us probably consider unthinkable: they have left their child in the car, causing the child's death. 

As I read this article, I couldn't help thinking how taxing this sort of experience would be on a marriage.  I was reminded of something I read somewhere that said divorce rates among parents who have lost a child are something like eight times the norm.  I wondered if those rates would sky-rocket even more if one of the parents inadvertently caused the death.

I can't imagine what these parents must have felt when they realized their mistake, nor can I imagine how difficult it must be to go on living afterwards.  There's no doubt they would experience crushing grief and guilt.  As one mom put it, after her daughter died, there was a part of her that wanted the ground to open up and swallow her.  "I wanted to die, but I couldn't," she said.  She had a three year-old son to take care of and made a commitment right away to do whatever she could to be a healthy parent for him.

There's also no doubt that in order to stay married, and what's more, have a healthy marriage, it would take an enormous amount of intentionality and commitment from both parents to walk through it together without blaming, drowning in guilt, or "keeping a record of wrongs."  It's likely that it would also take a willingness to utilize outside resources, such as therapists, support groups, and the like.

I hope you never have to go through something like these parents did.  But the death of a child is not the only devastating and taxing thing that can happen.  So just in case you ever find yourself facing a situation that seems beyond words, I've included a resource below titled "When Bad Things Happen."  It comes from and is a way to start talking about the difficult events that sometimes come our way. 

When Bad Things Happen by Susan Vogt

1. Take a moment to remind yourself of the presence of God. Pray in your own words or use the following prayer: Loving and compassionate God, are you really loving and compassionate? Sometimes it doesn't seem that way. If you really are all knowing and powerful, how come there still are tragedies and other horrible things happening to me and the people around me? Help me to understand. Amen.

 2. You're not the first one. Throughout history, human beings have tried to make sense of the bad things that happen. Some cultures dealt with this by creating gods like the Greek gods of the Sun (Helios), Water (Neptune), War (Mars), and others. Some turned to witchcraft or mythology.

Christians, who believe in one God united in the Trinity, also struggle to understand the reality of evil and pain. To help put this issue in perspective, consider the following biblical stories. Skim through the designated chapters in your Bible to get a more complete sense of each story.

  • Noah and the Flood (Genesis, chapters 6–8). Although building the ark allowed Noah, his family, and selected animals to survive the flood, it didn't turn out so well for the rest of humankind and the other creatures.
  • Abraham Prepares to Sacrifice Isaac (Genesis, chapters 21–22). Even though God eventually provided Abraham a lamb to substitute for Isaac as the worship sacrifice, this brinkmanship may seem inconsistent with God as loving Father.
  • Joseph in Egypt (Genesis, chapters 37–50). Joseph's brothers plotted to kill him out of jealousy, but sold him into slavery instead. Joseph eventually saved multitudes of Egyptians and his own relatives during years of famine. When Joseph was in the well and in prison, however, he didn't know it would turn out that way.
  • Job Loses Everything (Job, chapters 1–2, 42). Job lost his children and his property, his animals and servants. He experienced severe physical pain. Job started out strong and accepted his losses: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). Eventually, though, Job fell into despair. His saving grace was his honesty and humility before God.

3. Whose fault is it? Think of a problem or tragedy that has befallen you, someone close to you, or the planet. (For example: loss of a job, divorce, serious illness, war, natural disaster.) Write it down.
  • Can you claim any role or fault in this situation? If so, consider how you might make amends. Is there anything you can do now to rectify the problem?
  • Is this situation no fault of yours? If so, practice the spiritual discipline of acceptance. Write your own mantra or phrase of acceptance. Repeat these words to yourself as needed.
  • Can I do anything? Many tragedies are beyond individual control. There's no way to bring a loved one back to life or undo an accident. Before you spend undo guilt and worry over a problem, ask yourself: Can I do anything about this situation now—yes or no?  
If your answer is yes, then do something. Take a step, even if it is a small step, to fix the problem. Write down the step you will take. 

If your answer is no, make understanding and prevention your goal. Reflect on why the situation happened. Was it just a fluke accident, the way of nature, bad luck? Even though you can't change the past, is there some way you could work with others to prevent a similar situation in the future?

For example, if your child died from an accident or illness, you might donate to an organization that is dedicated to accident prevention or medical research. If your marriage is on the rocks, you might become involved in a group that teaches communication skills. If the situation is too big to tackle on your own—poverty, war, climate change—your role may be to join an organization that works to improve such situations.

If no means of prevention seem plausible to you at this time, rewind to Step 3b above and practice acceptance.

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