Forty years ago, August 29, 1978, was the worst day of my life―the day my eight year old daughter, Alden, died from injuries sustained in an accident.
I was no stranger to personal loss. I remember as if it were yesterday one Tuesday afternoon in late November when I was a graduate assistant football coach at UGA. I was making final preparations for practice before the annual Georgia-Georgia-Tech freshman game when Coach Erskine Russell came in the office to tell me my father, only forty-seven years old, died of a heart attack. At twenty-three, I was not prepared to live without my Dad, but I felt I needed to be strong for my mom. I played the tough guy role, pushing beyond. Then, my mother died seven years later after a short battle with cancer.
The death of my daughter was different. This was my child, my first-born, a special delight in my life. This loss was a deep, dark hole from which I thought I would never again see the light of joy. The pain was so bad I wanted to die, but I had a wife and a younger daughter who needed my support. I could not fold up and quit. The gumption, which came from athletic training kept me moving, but it was not balm for my soul. It did not illumine my darkness or heal my hurting heart. It only kept me moving.
Two years to the day after my daughter’s death, August 29, 1980, my best friend died in his sleep. He was only in his forties. At the same time, my marriage failed and I felt very alone, my dark hole had gotten much deeper and darker. On a bridge behind my home, I met with my friend Jim and asked him how much pain must I endure before God would let me die. Jim told me God loved me and on that same day, August 29, I prayed a prayer of surrender with Jim and asked God to help me live again. After we said Amen, in an instant of time, I felt joy I had not experienced in two years.
From these experiences, here are things I learned in recovering from and living with devastating loss.
1. Remember and celebrate the one you’ve lost. I failed to do this at first and it made things worse. I took pictures of Alden down and felt guilty for ignoring the fact she lived.
2. Allow yourself to grieve. I didn’t. We have to go through the process of grief. It is easier if we cooperate with the process. A good resource for this is Good Grief by Ganger Westberg. The book helps us understand what we’re going through and not get stuck in any stage of grief.
3. Don’t Blame God. I was quick to blame God, when I had not given Him the time of day for over a decade. I knew things about Him, but didn’t know Him. If I had, I would have known God is not the author of death but of life. Assessing blame toward God separates us from our only hope of healing.
4. Don’t Blame Yourself. Most of us try to blame someone. If we don’t have a good prospect, we’ll probably blame ourselves. Even if we are guilty of some judgment lapse, we make mistakes, which brings us to the next point.
5. Forgive. We must forgive everyone, everything, if we want to be free and appropriate God’s power to help us live with loss.
6. Humble Ourselves Before God. When I prayed that prayer of surrender, I asked God to give me the faith of a little child. My younger daughter, Mari, and I were driving from Laramie, Wyoming to Denver to fly home the day of my best friend’s death. I couldn’t stop crying, and Mari would wipe the tears from my face with my handkerchief and say, “Daddy, don’t cry, now Alden has a friend in heaven. “ I wanted that faith and in an instant God gave it to me. Death was losing its grip on me as I surrendered myself to the one who overcame death.
The next morning I got out the pictures of Alden and began to celebrate her life and remember the good times we shared. I cried, but this time, they were tears of joy. Now, I not only believed in God, I believed God, so I began to see my loss as temporary. We will be together again, and friends that’s the hope that keeps me going and gives me joy.
So grateful for all God is doing with Faith in the Fashion District--how one woman's life on Seventh Avenue launched a lifetime in ministry. If you don't have a copy or need one for a gift, HERE.
The Key to Everything has just released as an ebook. Available HERE.
A key can open more than a door.
A story of forgiveness.