Our Stories Don’t End with Grief; They Begin
By Patcine McAnaul
Grief is not discriminatory. It’s like an ocean, it is always there, but it is not until the tide comes in that I feel overwhelmed by its presence. I have been navigating the child loss journey for almost 7 years with emotions raging out of control, swinging from one extreme to the next, my fears often magnified and ‘new normals’ to continuously explore.
It’s easy to focus solely on my pain and loss, to get swept up in the suffering and heartache and fall into a pit of self pity, feeling alone and misunderstood. I think we all come to that same crossroads in life at one point or another, regardless of the reason for arrival, the feeling is universal.
There came a time when I realized I had a choice. It happened to be while standing over my son’s grave the day he was buried. Faced with the seemingly impossible and daunting task of simply taking the next breath, when the warmth of the sun penetrated my face, I felt it as if I’ve never experienced it’s warmth before. I knew. I knew my only choice was to live, to share my ‘taboo’ and unspeakable story and to allow God to piece me back together as He saw fit, in His time, like only He could.
My life has consisted of many layers, difficult chapters, and hard seasons, and its ultimately up to me how long I allow each one to dictate me.
Grace makes us strong to bear trials, but we still have to bear them
– Charles Spurgeon
My strength is not my own. That was a very early discovery for me after being tossed into the grips of grief, losing my little man, Will.
On July 21, 2009, my beautiful 3 1/2 year old son died of a gunshot wound, of a wound that leaves me paralyzed at times to even think about. As loving, careful, protective, nurturing, hands-on and dedicated as I am to my children, I now have to live with the reality that my son (who would be 11 this year) is no longer here in my arms due to a tragic accident. I had to endure and witness what no mother could ever begin to comprehend.
I prayed fervently as I held Will’s almost lifeless body that he would be healed, believing with every ounce of my being that God could do it in that moment. I prayed a prayer of utter confidence in my God to do a miraculous work, to ‘take this cup’. Yet, I held the weight of his body in my arms for the very last time that tragic day.
I lived the next few years clinging to God but also very disappointed and confused that He couldn’t have just answered those cries for a miracle that day, to spare my family and me from this tragic fate. When I saw someone else’s miracle and answered prayer, I felt a sting of jealousy and my sorrow that much deeper. As awful as that may sound, it’s true. Jealousy, bitterness, anger, and doubt, mixed with pain, grief and sorrow is quite the medicine for self-implosion if kept brewing within. I’m not ashamed to bring those raw feelings I had to the light because I knew that if I exposed them, they couldn’t hold me captive in my own misery. (And maybe someone out there is afraid of what admitting feelings like this would look and sound like.)
Shame is often times the enemy of healing.
Then there was the moment that I finally realized my prayer was answered that day. Will was healed. Will was okay. Will is healed, and he is okay; it just doesn’t look like I had envisioned. God came near to me in that moment and every moment thereafter, the brokenhearted, just as His word proclaims.
God’s faithfulness and character didn’t change because my world was turned upside down. God is good always. It’s easy to shout that from the mountaintops of answered prayers and fulfilled dreams. But how about from the cemetery? Is He still good while I stand over my son’s grave? Can I shout of His faithfulness even there?
Jehovah-Jireh. God provides. He sees the Big picture while I see and feel shattered hearts and dreams. He sees the beginning and end, while I see the here and now. My finite mind cannot begin to comprehend His infinite being. I have to keep my eyes fixed on the cross.
When the ‘what if’s’ come flooding in like a tidal wave of destruction and the ‘should have’s’ won’t seem to subside. When the ‘could have’s’ play in the forefront of my mind like a never ending picture, I have to trust and know that He is in control. He weeps with me. He predestined us all before time, knowing our beginnings and our last days (Job 14:15). Though my time with Will will never seem like enough, He came and defeated death so that I and we may grieve with hope.
This world is not my home. I can feel displaced some days as I yearn for the eternal place that has been prepared for me, but I know that as long as He puts life into my being, I have a purpose to fulfill. It will look different than anyone else’s, and that’s okay because we are all unique and beautiful, knit together by a perfect God. Comparing and sizing myself up to other’s callings and accomplishments won’t gratify or enable me to run and finish my race or fulfill my purpose. There is purpose in my pain… And in yours, too.
I’m learning that storms in life can ultimately quench a weary soul when endured in the right spirit. The realization of how temporary and fleeting this life is is a special offering from Him to me. I don’t have every question answered, and I don’t need to. That’s faith.
I’m almost seven years into this grief journey, and the reality of God being bigger and greater than this crushing pain is taking up permanent residence in my heart and mind as the years of yearning and grief have perpetuated. The constant ache can establish a desire for heaven that wouldn’t exist without suffering.
Romans 8:28 is a verse that has encouraged me at my darkest hour, a verse that I clung to when nothing made sense. I had it printed on Will’s memorial program for his funeral service and have declared its promise over our loss since day 1. “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
It doesn’t say ‘some things’ or ‘most things’, my loss isn’t out of the realm or grasp of this promise. So I stored it in my broken heart and frazzled mind, knowing that He would make good on this promise in my life.
I cannot sit here today and claim that Will not being here is ‘good’. I cannot say that I wouldn’t change what has happened if I could. But I can say that through this suffering I have seen God do and work some pretty miraculous things. He has strengthened me on days that I just couldn’t, and people now know Him who didn’t before. He has used me to help the suffering and poor in spirit, just as He used so many others while I was downcast. That’s what this community is for.
We cannot allow the pain to overshadow the promise. Beauty will rise from the ashes of our broken dreams, and we will come alive in the midst of devastation.
Though our losses here seem so concrete, and those we love are irreplaceable, it’s not permanent. When despair rears its ugly face, know that there is a hope that can’t be extinguished in Christ.
Patcine McAnaul is the mother of five children, four on earth and one in Heaven. She is the founder of #thewilltochoose ministry that supports bereaved parents with funeral costs as well as selling t-shirts with God’s Promises printed on them. Shirts are also available upon request to donate to bereaved parents. Find her on Instagram.