On December 16, 1976, our oldest son came home for the Christmas holidays, got the shotgun and went to the adjacent woods. At 7:10 p.m. we heard him scream and then shoot himself to death. Four months later I wrote a booklet titled Grief which went into a world-wide ministry. The booklet is now out of print and I offer it to you, dear reader, in God’s name and grace. May it help give you peace in a world that has become very confused and sad.
In Loving Memory of our son Chuck and in thanksgiving for our sons Richard, Robert, Danny and Mike
His days were yet in spring of life,
Yet doubt had scarred his growing reasons.
In full he knew the banal strifes
That touch each man in each the seasons.
His teachers charged the grievous words
Of hate, despair, and godless fear.
What hope, he cried — I can’t be heard
Above the world of scorn and jeer.
So to the woods he went, my son —
A gun in hand, his heart full spent.
In peace he rests, my golden son —
O God, dear God, my heart is rent!
Nineteen — so young to bear earth’s weight
On heart and mind still pressed with child.
O World, why do we decimate
The hearts of those unreconciled?
Patricia Erwin Nordman
I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she,
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me.
Precious Friend, is your heart broken? Are you in utter despair, not knowing where to turn or whom to trust with your crushing burdens? If so, then please read this message of comfort and hope for yourself and others passing through the waters of trouble and fires of affliction.
Isaiah speaks of the “day of grief and desperate sorrow” (Isaiah 17:11). But, my dear friend, “The Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear” (Isaiah 14:3). Yes, I realize that in your anguish it seems impossible that darkness will again be light and despair will turn to hope.
My grieving brother or sister, I walk in the valley of grief with you, for we lost our oldest son in a terrible tragedy. Because of this I would like to share with you the love of a most merciful and tender Father, as He led me through the valley of sorrow on to the mountain of hope and trust again.
My “day of grief and desperate sorrow” began at what is supposed to be the happiest season of the year. Chuck called from his out-of-town college to tell us he wanted to bring his girl friend home two days later to spend the Christmas holidays with us. That evening and the next day I cleaned and shopped, happily anticipating their arrival. We would be crowded–Chuck had four younger brothers–but we would manage very happily. Imagine the shock when, a day earlier than he was expected, we found his car with all his possessions, but not him. Then we heard his heart-tearing scream and the shot that killed him immediately.
It’s a rending experience to close out your child’s life, to add a death certificate to the birth certificate. Chuck’s life held so much promise. He was a brilliant, stately, dignified young man who often said he wanted the best in life.
Chuck’s books revealed perhaps more than he would have wanted us to know. He had marked such lines as “Fortune, honor, beauty, youth, are but blossoms dying! All our joys are but toys … All is hazard that we have! … Secret fates guide our states … ” I’ll never know what one circumstance or combination of circumstances prompted this desperate final act. It was over three years later that one of his friends finally told me that he was trying to get off drugs when he descended into the depths. (Oh friend, if your child is on drugs, God help you both! We had no idea. Back then we knew so little about the drug culture.) Beside the passage on suicide from MacBeth he wrote in small, close letters, “Life has no meaning, no purpose,” and on another page the word “nothing” was written and scratched over many times.
The night Chuck died I sank to my knees and boldly demanded of God, in a grief I didn’t think possible, that He keep every one of His promises of comfort. In the midst of the demands I kept saying over and over, “Thank You, Father,” for what, I really didn’t know and doubted that night if I ever would know. But I was convinced that if I didn’t say those words then, right then, I would never say them again. I thought of all the sons, husbands, and brothers who have been killed in all the wars, whose loved ones will never know their whereabouts. At least we knew. I was grasping for straws of comfort! I would like to share with you another thought that surely the Holy Spirit gave me when my brother-in-law came out from the woods and told us that our son was dead: God our Father was there when His Son died. For the first time in my life I felt I understood what our precious Father must have felt and it overwhelmed my heart. How strange that I never gave it any thought before! Perhaps it was because now I felt I could understand in a small way.
That night, after the police and the ambulance were gone, I sunk to my knees and I begged God to work, through this horror, a good that at that moment I did not think possible. Romans 8:28 became my strength in the hours, days, weeks, and months ahead, and for the birthdays and holidays that would no longer be Chuck’s to enjoy. I had to know that all things do indeed work together for good, or lose my sanity. Dear friend, I want you to know that God provided in many marvelous ways. It was only God’s grace that enabled me to carry on in the face of such totally unexpected anguish.
I learned to lean on my precious Father as never before and God indeed granted me the gift of knowing for a certainty that much good would come of the evil that Satan had wrought. We were told shortly after Chuck’s funeral that someone had slipped LSD into a drink Chuck had set down while at a party in Daytona Beach. Chuck himself admitted to me a few weeks before his death that he smoked marijuana. This has convinced me that one of Satan’s most powerful weapons against our priceless young people today is drugs. How sad!
Someone at his funeral told me I must accept “God’s will.” No, friend! Our God does not “will” the agony of mind, heart, and body that has plagued the earth since Adam and Eve lost faith that God knew what was best for them. It surely was not “God’s will” for my son to die by his own hand. But it was God’s will that I accept what happened and use this tragic circumstance for His glory and for the comfort of others who suffer heartache that seems never-ending. What God always wills for us is to be happy and whole in mind and body. He wants His men, women and children to be at peace with Him and each other. But this peace depends upon our own will and willingness to let Him guide our lives, fortunes, and even, at times, misfortunes.
Many question God’s love when something seemingly unbearable happens. I try to view tragedy as a lost-and-found department. We lose someone or something very dear to us, but in the loss we find a treasure far more valuable. I found a loving Shepherd who wants me to live with Him for eternity and will carry me through. Until we are to the point in life when we are forced to admit that there is absolutely nothing we can do about this, then I wonder if we have given ourselves totally to God. The night Chuck died I felt so helpless. My son was dead and there was nothing I could do about it! What a frightening feeling! Another agonizing aspect of sorrow is the possibility that we will never know the answers to many of our whys on this earth. I had a very hard time with this. But we eventually learn that the whys become unimportant. It is what we do with the troubles and sorrows that matter.
I learned to thank God as never before for blessings I had taken for granted all my life. Particularly in grief, a spirit of thanksgiving is a simple yet most profound antidote to the self-defeating feelings of anger, resentment, guilt, and self-pity that so often accompany an incredible sorrow. It amazed me what was in my heart. I was to discover that grief is a sieve that brings up out its swirling waters the deformities of our hearts that we didn’t even know existed. I was amazed at the anger and hate that gripped me. My Christianity was certainly in question!
I discovered that no matter how bad my problem is, others have suffered worse trials. How my heart ached as I listened to other parents recount the years of agony they have gone through with children on drugs. Some end up in mental institutions. Some struggle to recover a normal life. Others rest as our son is resting. I will never forget the agony of a father as he sobbed out the horrible details of how his son, on drugs, shot himself to death in the house and the blood ran down the boy’s bedroom door. I don’t know how that poor father kept sane!
I learned that only in sharing comfort are we comforted: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Everyone has problems, deep wounds of the spirit. “The souls of the wounded cry out for help” (Job 24:12 NIV). I found many wounded souls! I also began to understand that the person who truly cares about others doesn’t constantly load them down with his own aches and pains, either of body or heart. This can be selfish and cruel.
William Barclay, in The Letters to the Corinthians, relates the story told by H.L. Gee about two men who met to transact some business during the war. “The one was full of how the train in which he had traveled had been attacked from the air. He would not stop talking about the excitement, the danger, the narrow escape. The other man said quietly, “Well, let’s get on with our business now. I’d like to get away fairly early because my house was demolished by a bomb last night.”
A certain mental picture helped me greatly. Picture yourself carrying in one hand your suitcase of troubles. It’s heavy, and you feel weighted down on one side. Along comes another, weak and tired, with his suitcase of troubles but, unlike you, he can barely walk under his load. The Christian thing for you to do is to offer to carry your brother’s troubles, thereby freeing him and balancing your own load.
Alexander Maclaren beautifully expresses the strange conjunction of joy and sorrow: “The highest joy to the Christian almost always comes through suffering. No flower can bloom in Paradise which is not transplanted from Gethsemane. No one can taste of the fruit of the tree of life, that has not tasted of the fruits of the tree of Calvary. The crown is after the cross.” Kahlil Gibran, in his essay on joy and sorrow in his book The Prophet writes: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy it can contain.” And Homer observes: “Even his griefs are a joy long after to one who remembers all that he wrought and endured.”
“Being punished isn’t enjoyable while it is happening–it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character” (Hebrews 12:11, TLB). We all flinch from the unexpected, from pain and suffering. But “the Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14); “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5); “Affliction will not rise up the second time” (Nahum 1:9). What beautiful and encouraging promises!
In 2 Corinthians 4:8 Paul says: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.” How can this possibly be? Let’s consult Philippians 4:6 and 7: “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Here, Friend, is the practical way to deal with despair. It covers all the circumstances of life and gives us the solution: prayer and thanksgiving. The word “supplication” means to pray for a particular need. What a great Father we have!
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us in his book Spiritual Depression, Its Causes and Cure, “Would you like to be rid of … depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ. Never look back … again. Say: “It is finished, it is covered by the Blood of Christ.” Thank You, Father!
Matthew and Mark tell us: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Luke gives us more hope: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46. But John, the beloved of Jesus, gives us the insight: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Indeed, the sacrifice has been made and the work of redemption finished so we can have hope of everlasting happiness. It is finished! Whatever happens in between is covered by the bookends of Jesus? birth and death
(Continued in Part Two)
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