Always Real, Faith

A Flaw

When Papa George mentions his oldest son George Bryant, he always tells how at age three, he could sing How Great Thou Art word for word. As he proudly tells this story, his eyes twinkle and his face fills with light.

In his far away look, I can tell it is George Bryant’s face that he sees. But in the next second, his eyes grow moist and his voice cracks with an ancient sorrow that is never put to rest. Papa George lost his little boy to leukemia before he was four-years-old. Fifty three years later, he still misses and grieves his little boy.

Last year, Memaw and Antique Daddy and Sean and I were all going somewhere in the car. Memaw and Sean were in the backseat. We were talking about how Sean loves seeing the garbage truck come pick up the trash. Memaw recalled how her oldest son, Billy Wayne, loved garbage trucks.

Her face filled with light and her voice sparkled as she recalled how he used to tell her that when he grew up, he wanted to be a garbage truck driver. “I told him that if he wanted to be garbage truck driver, I wanted him to be the best garbage truck driver he could be.” And in the next second, she began to softly weep. Memaw buried her oldest son in 1975. He was 27-years-old. Thirty-three years later, she still misses and grieves her little boy.

Yesterday I went to the funeral of my dear friend, Margaret. She was 58-years-old. I sat in the pew of this beautiful tiny Catholic church and watched her 87-year-old father, tired and hunched over with the burden of grief, walk slowly up the center aisle as the organ droned and the church ladies sang. I thought of how for all the remaining days of his life, he will miss and grieve his little girl.

I know that death teaches us about life, but what is to be learned when a parent buries a child?

There is a flaw in God’s divinely created universe. Parents ought not to have to bury their children.

72 thoughts on “A Flaw

  1. You have me crying in my coffee this morning. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your dear friend.

    Several years ago I lost my father. At the time, my grandmother had recently suffered a stroke. Within the span of a few months, my grandfather lost his son and his wife. As a young woman I knew that must have been unbearable, but only now as a mother do I think I’m beginning to understand what he might have been going through.
    I definitely understand how sharing stories of dear lost loved ones can bring a bit of comfort, though bittersweet.

    Wishing you comfort and support as you grieve your dear friend.

  2. My grandmother lost two grown sons before her death. She clung to her faith, but I know for a fact she questioned and shook her fist at the sky, too.

    We have the word orphan for a parentless child. Widow or widower, for the surviving spouse. But there is no word in the English language for the parent of a deceased child—probably because it is too awful to comprehend. Too awful to name.

  3. My heart is breaking today as I found out yesterday that the 12 year old daughter of a former co-worker and friend took her own life.
    I now live 800 miles away but have spoken to my sister and friends and we are all in shock.
    It just makes me want to hold my own 23 year old daughter a bit closer and tighter. She is in Atlanta but my heart reaches out to her to tell her I love her.

    Losing a child has to be the greatest grief ever.

  4. I have a job probate estates and I see some amazing people enter my office. A young mother of 4 just lost her husband unexpectedly and is now dealing with more than I can even bear to watch.

    As you know, losing a loved one changes you.

  5. I agree with Gretchen from Lifenut, there is no name for the parent of a deceased child because the idea of it is too awful to be named. It upsets the natural order of things. I have a friend whose 14-year-old son took his own life over a year ago. Her grief is still so fresh, still so profound, I fear that she may never be whole again. Surely, she will grieve for her lost son for the rest of her life, and nothing will ever be the same for her again.

  6. So sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. And you’re right–some griefs are never forgotten, and too horrible to contemplate.

  7. I will never forget sitting beside my grandmother, five months ago, at my dad’s graveside service and thinking that at age 64 – he was still her baby boy.
    Also, I thought how beautiful it was that she held his tiny hand when he was born and she held his weakened hand when he died. She indeed saw the cirlce of life for her child. I choose to see the beauty in that tragedy.
    When I worked in the mental health field many of the women in our facility had their first commitment into a facility after the death of a child. When I became a mother, I understood that a lot more.

  8. I would agree that there is nothing more heartbreaking or unnatural. We have had child deaths in both mine and my DH’s families–my mom’s brother died at age 5 from meningitis and my husband’s brother died at 11 months from complications with cerebral palsy. It is something you never, ever, EVER get over.

  9. My older brother died 2 1/2 years ago. My father had dementia, and everytime he “found out” that Bob was gone, it was like it had just happened. The grief was never dulled for him. He never was able to get past the crying to start remembering the fun times. My mother and step-mother still weep, but they can, also, talk about the funny stories and good times.

    Parents should not have to bury children! BUT we have to store up the good times, the funny stories, the cute mannerisms just in case.

  10. My condolensces to you on the loss of your friend. I agree that the loss of a child is an unspeakable sadness that one will never fully “recover” from, no matter what the age.

  11. I look at my boys, who are just about perfect in my eyes, and I am always thankful for their lives and good health. I cannot imagine the pain of losing one of them.

  12. We tend to forget how tenuous life is; it really is a recent thing in our country that parents did not bury children who died from things like polio, whopping cough, diphtheria and the like. My Grandparents (born in the early 1900’s) did not lose any children, but at least three of the four of them had siblings and cousins who died before adulthood. I remember looking at old family photos and being told that ‘Kenneth died a few months after that, after the hay wagon ran over him ‘, and I have some quilt blocks that were pieced by a great aunt who died at age 18…I don’t remember now what from(I wonder if she was piecing that quilt for her hope chest). It’s so easy to take our lives for granted; we need to fight that inclination with all our hearts every day.

    My condolences to you on the death of your friend, and thank you for a very beautifully worded reminder to keep fighting that fight.

  13. My brother and his wife lost their oldest son to cancer–at the age of 19, just a couple of years younger than my own daughter. There are no words adequate to comfort the parent of a dying child–no matter the age. It just isn’t supposed to be.

  14. You also have me teary eyed!

    My husband’s 1st cousin just passed away at 59 years old from lung cancer, having never smoked a cigarette in his life. I sadly watched his 77 year old mother grieve for him at the viewing service and my thought was, no parent should ever have to bury a child. My husband’s sister died at age 23 & I remember the many years it took my mother-in-law to heal from her grief. Life is not fair…but it is not for us to judge or understand. God is the great Healer & Physician…

  15. AMEN!! Last year I watched my 102 year old grandmother say good-bye to her 83 year old son. Daddy wasn’t gone yet and was still lucid enough to know what was going on. He just held her hand while she stroked his head with her other. It was beautiful but heartwrenching. At the funeral she stood by his casket & cried because her little boy & that’s what she called him had gone home before her.
    It wasn’t right.

  16. I will never forget the look on my grandfather’s face as he sat in his living room after returning from my mother’s funeral. I was no more than 6 years old at the time, and the nearly 40-year-old memory of his look of utter desolation is with me to this day.

    My worst nightmare is just such a thing. I think I could survive any hardship but that one.

    My mother-in-law commented yesterday at how lucky she is to be with us to celebrate her baby-boy’s 50th birthday with us. She’s still young — she had him young — but what a blessing to see your child turn 50! I did the math; I’ll be 90, and my husband 96 when Noah turns 50 — I’m hoping I live to see it!

  17. Having experienced the pain of losing a child, a parent, almost all my grandparents and many friends (most way too young) I long for Heaven where there will be no more death or sorrow! What a glorious time that will be!

  18. Thank you for that post. We lost our little boy before he even drew his first breath and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, even though it’s been over five years. The pain fades but the grief never really goes away.

  19. Reading your post, my heart was filled with such fullness I could hardly breathe. You have a beautiful gift, and you use it for good things. I’m sorry about your friend.

  20. We lost our first son at three days and my mom said at the time (my brother died at three) it doesn’t matter if they are 3 days or 3 years the grief is the same.

  21. That reminds me of something Anne Lamott wrote in her book Operating Instructions after he son Sam was born. I’m paraphrasing here. She looked at him and thought, “Please, please, let me die before you.”

  22. My aunt buried my cousin, her youngest son, earlier this year. Some years before that, my grandmother buried my aunt, her oldest daughter. The idea of losing my son is so heartbreaking it makes it hard to breathe.

    I’m so sorry about your friend, and your friend’s father.

  23. As others have said, you have a gift – just a few days ago that pain slammed into me again in such an unexpected moment as my sweet son tried to explain what ‘the babies’ was to a kind soccer daddy from our team. I go on, and give my living children many happy moments, but that pain is never far from the surface. Gretchen is right that there are no words. June, it seems like our losses were close in time. Keary and others, I pray that we all find peace. Big angle mom hugs.

  24. That is, almost verbatim, what my grandfather said when we found out my aunt had died. She was in her early fifties, and I remember what happened when my dad told me. I arrived home just in time to hear Dad telling my mom and her parents. “No parent should EVER have to bury their child!” Grandpa said.

    Years later, I repeated those words to my other grandmother…as we buried my father.

  25. It’s not a flaw in the design…it’s a perfect design twisted horribly out of shape by the machinations of our Enemy and by Sin. (Sin in general, not in the individual lives you’re speaking of.)

    Losing a child has to be the one single most agonizing experience in this life. And I pray to God daily, selfishly, that I never have to experience it. Never.

    My prayers are with your dear friend, and with you…

  26. As one who has lost a child I agree – the pain never ever goes away. You just learn to live with it, but every now and then the pain resurfaces and you have to face it all over again.

  27. 15 years ago I buried my 7 year old daughter,Annie, after a 9 month battle with Leukemia. I cried when I realized she would have become a teenager, when she would have started driving, when all her friends graduated from HS, when the first of her friends got married, when she would have turned 21, AND I cried this morning when I read your post. I will never stop missing my precious child, but I know I will see her again. Heaven gets more precious every year with the addition of these loved ones. THANK YOU FOR WRITING ABOUT THE HARD STUFF (death, infertility, etc.) and giving us a venue to write about it, too.

  28. Oh Gini my heart breaks for you and for every parent who has lost a child. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how I have Sean today but I may not tomorrow. God owes me not one more day with him. I would like to think that if he is taken from me that I would be grateful for the days that I did get, that I ever got to be his mama… but I think I would die myself of a broken heart instead.

  29. We were not created to face death. My oldest son, 18 years old died 3 weeks ago. He was hit by a drunk driver while riding his bike near his college. He had been at college for 2 weeks. I am so thankful for the gift of 18 years with him. I have beautiful memories. I hope my eyes shine when I speak of him, but I’m sure I will continue to weep for years to come.

  30. I agree. I know that someday God promises we will understand these sorts of things, but right now I really don’t. I do know He understands though. He watched His own Son die.

  31. The two worst nightmares of my life were dreaming my children had died. I was so relieved when I woke up and could go and see them alive–in their beds–dreaming untroubled dreams. The unfathomable pain–inexpressible–is hard enough to even imagine. I can imgaine that it’s also unexplainable–like trying to explain what it is to be a parent to someone who never has been. I pray for us that we don’t have to endure that pain.

  32. I think you would never “get over” it….at best,the very best, you would “get through” it with only God’s strength, certainly not your own strength. I don’t see how you could even put one foot in front of the other. I think the road to Heaven would become more precious each day knowing that you were one day closer being reunited with your child. And when I hear on the news about a child being abducted or simply disappearing, I have to change the channel….the pain for their parents is….well , there are no words for those parents. No words. Prayers, yes…..prayers for strength to endure.

  33. My first baby was a full term-stillbirth. My second, a son, was killed in a motorcycle accident almost 20 years ago. After his birth, I had five other children, including a multiply-disabled son. I still weep thinking of these first two–the baby girl buried in an unmarked grave, and the adult son cremated. Our disabled son still lives with us.

    Each child is a gift of inestimable worth. Each is loaned to us by Father God to further His Kingdom and to eventually inhabit a heavenly home. The exquisite pain of a child’s death cannot be told, can hardly be endured. But we do endure, and grow, and learn, and celebrate and remember, always.

    Thank you, AM, for your sensitivity to this and other hard issues. It’s good for us to be able to comment on our own pain, which in some untellable manner becomes part of your pain. We are united in painful humanity, in this glorious gift of life. Good living involves the contrasts of pain and joy, worry and peace. All, all, all, is a gift.

    Blessings to you in your grief. Love wins.

  34. My niece died 12 years ago. She was 5 months old. I don’t think my sister ever really recovered- the cut heals but the scar is always there.

  35. My brother died of polio in the Panama Canal Zone where my dad was stationed in the Air Force. Butch was 4, my sister was 5 and I was 1 year and some – you can tell from photographs after that time that things were never the same again. I remember none of it.
    My mother died 2 years ago – she grieved her son for over 50 years.
    Wouldn’t you want him to be the first person she “saw” when she got to Heaven?
    I like to think so.
    ~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

  36. I so agree with you. My sister-in-law was killed in a car accident when she was 27. Her son was only 19 months old. It practically broke her parents apart. It has been 19 years and they are just now slowly putting the pieces back together.

  37. You really hit a nerve with this post… many of us know people who have lost children — it is the unthinkable for us. I watched my great grandmother mourn over her son, my grandfather, she kept saying “It is not supposed to be this way – I was supposed to die first”. So hard…

  38. This is something that hits so close to home. My family buried our youngest sister/daughter almost 5 years ago. She was 17 and died in a freak accident when a horse kicked her at work. She (and all of us) spent our lives around them and she knew what she was doing. However, when God calls you home it is your time to be with him. The impact on my parents has been life altering and we all still miss her greatly. The grief comes back…when I went to look at wedding rings with my then boyfriend and realized she wouldn’t be a bridesmaid in our wedding, when I got to tell my family I was expecting and realized my children will never know their aunt here on earth. However, God does provide comfort. My newborn son has developed the lightest little mark on his back. If you just glance at it you would swear it was the mark of lips…I told my husband that I think his aunt kissed him as she sent him down to be our baby. I have no doubt that she helped pick out him and our future childen…she had opinions on everything and God probably let her have a part just to get her to give his ears a break! 🙂

    Thank you for such wonderful posts and peace to you as you grieve.

  39. So very very true. No matter the age of the parent, any parent at the funeral of their child is simply too much. And, I’m pretty sure it really isn’t part of God’s design. (I don’t mean to preach) I just think it is part of this flawed world we live in, and God weeps and grieves with those parents, too. But, yeah, God would definitely be in the line of people I would be seriously ticked with if that happened — actually, probably at the head of that line…

  40. Your post was beautiful, and I agree that you do have a gift and use it wisely; but I also agree with Faerylandmom– there is no flaw in God’s divinely created universe. God is perfect. I thought it was a beautiful point that Linda made– God does understand because he gave His Son to die. There are so many heartaches that we cannot, cannot, cannot understand here on earth. I admire the faith of those who manage to continue to serve Him with joy after the death of a child. As one Christian mother who lost a son told me, it was like part of her life-blood was drained from her body. I must remember to pray more for those who have to face missing loved ones every day.

  41. Your post was beautiful and the comments have really touched me. So often I hear people say things like, “I wouldn’t be able to survive it” or “I couldn’t go on if that happened to me.” My parents buried their only son–my brother and best friend–34 years ago and they have gone on, day by day, putting one foot in front of the other, and trusting God. I think they did this for the three remaining children that they did have. But they haven’t forgotten, and neither have I. I still miss him.

  42. How absolutely true, AM.

    (This next remark is an odd connection that just came into my head.) When I was asked Sunday what stuck out to me the most regarding John 3:16, I said “The part where it says that God gave his only son. I can’t imagine giving The Boy to die. He’s my only son…” and then I started bawling. I can’t imagine what God was feeling/thinking/willing to surrender his precious son all for the sake of rebellious, stubborn people.

    You’re right. A parent should never have to bury a child, but I’m glad that one Father did.

  43. AM,
    I am so glad that I am at home reading this post, because the tears are just streaming down my face. My grandmother buried her husband and her younger son before passing away herself (leaving me father an orphan). Whenever she spoke of my uncle (very rarely), it was with that light shining in her eyes followed by clouds. I know that my uncle and my grandfather were both there to greet her when she arrived in Heaven, just as I know that all three will be there to greet my Dad and, eventually, the rest of us…

  44. There are no flaws in God’s Tapestry we call our lives, we see only the threads from the bottom, he sees his beautiful creation from the top. I believe the poem “The Master Weaver” says it much better than I.
    My heart goes out to anyone that has suffered the death of a child, spouse, parent or a good friend. While our hearts weep, Angels in heaven are rejoicing 🙂

  45. My mom died at age 54, and I’ll never forget my grandma saying, “54 years, and she was never out of my mind.” So true. So true. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  46. My grandmother lost her 15 month old son many, many years ago, and told me yearningly the other day of how the first thing she’s going to do when she gets to Heaven is to hold her baby again.

  47. we just spent the weekend celebrating the short life of the daughter of our dear friends. you’re absolutely right: parents should not have to bury their children. i am absolutely heartbroken — and i hold only a piece of their heartache.

    but, at the same time, i am honored to have carried their grief with them. it’s a privilege to be able to walk closely and intimately with friends at such a time as this.

    i am sorry for your loss.

  48. I am sorry for the loss of your friend.

    I know God says he will never give us more than we can bear. But I don’t know how any parent could bear the loss of a child. I know I would die from a broken heart.

  49. In 1968, after 10 years of trying, my mother finally got pregnant. She didn’t know it until she was nearly at term, because I guess they didn’t do ultrasounds in those days, but she was carrying twins–myself and my twin brother. Toward the very end of the pregnancy she started bleeding and she went to the doctor.

    “It turns out there’s two babies,” the doctor told her. “They’re very, very small. You’ll probably deliver early. We’ll need to be very careful.”

    On New Year’s Eve she went into labor, and in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 1969, I was born weighing five pounds. My brother, the smaller baby, was stillborn. I know that today, almost 40 years on, both my mother and my father still mourn that baby boy.

  50. Neglected to say I have a very dear friend whose 17-year-old daughter was killed at the hands of her boyfriend 20 years ago. My friend amazes me with her strength to go on day by day after suffering such a terrible loss, but her faith has never wavered. She is an inspiration to me.

  51. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. May our heavenly Father comfort your heart. Your eloquence is beautiful, and the surpassing eloquence of the sympathy and care of our loving Father is ever so much more wonderful. How else could a bereaved parent go on? Sin has made so many flaws, and the only salve is the love of God.

  52. A flaw most definitely, but not on God’s part. He did not create the universe for death – especially death of a child. We human beings brought death into the world due to our sin. God grieves death as we do. Remember He also lost His child – His one and only Son, therefore, He knows all too well the agony of losing a child. Someday it will be the perfect design that He planned and there will be no sickness or death. Until then we must cling to His grace and draw on His strength to get us through those horrible situations.

  53. My throat has gotten so tight reading these poignant posts. My dad, who died in 1983, told me that his mother lost a child to meningitis at the age of 2 and that she never got over it, and that happened in 1899. I remember that comment more than about anything else my dad told me. My heart goes out to all here who are grieving.

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