On October 12, 2009, just three years ago, my husband Chris (who was then Senior Counsel for HSLDA) passed away after a 15-year battle with multiple sclerosis. The last year of his life was probably the most difficult. The MS had caused lesion activity in his hypothalamus (extremely rare in MS patients), and he gradually but increasingly suffered from severe hypothermia.
Our last trip together was to Colorado Springs that September, where we were attending a national homeschool leadership conference together as a family. Chris never came home. After spending a weekend in ICU because of a drastically low 86.6 degree temperature and the multiple complications the life-threatening hypothermia caused, he only lived another two weeks before God called him home.
We were surrounded by many friends, homeschooling families and leaders in their states, and their overflowing expressions of love and care were used by the Lord to buoy us in the face of losing our husband and father. My children had long been aware that God could call dad home at any time, but death is and will always be a terrible blow. I am so very thankful that all seven of my children could be there at the end of their dad’s life. He was such a remarkably giving, loving, godly father, and his impact on their lives has shaped in great part who they have and are still becoming.
Many people have asked me these past three years how my children worked through the death of their father who they were all very close to. I’ve given that some thought, especially since I’ve talked with others who experienced the death of a parent while still young. Unfortunately, these people haven’t always adjusted well. 20 or more years later, for some of them, they still have regrets, feel like they were cheated out of something with the loss of their parent, or still experience great pain, like a deep wound that won’t heal.
What priorities did God most impress on my heart for my children after their daddy died?
- Each one of my children experienced genuine grief, but needed to do so in their own way. Some needed to talk a lot; some needed quiet places to ponder and process. Some of my kids seemed to tackle the reality of his death immediately and could move on with their lives with genuine faith in the Lord; others need to feel his loss regularly. New experiences in their growing lives are fresh reminders that their dad is no longer here to walk with them through those, and their grief is once again rekindled, though thankfully to a lesser degree. A couple of my children have yet to really grieve their dad’s death. God’s timing is to be trusted. My prayer, however, is that He will help them walk through the grieving process when they are spiritually ready to deal with it in a faith-filled way. My priority in losing their dad was (and still is) to let my children grieve the way they need to, and to encourage my children to accept each other’s expressions (or lack of expression) as valid.
- Do not try to rush back to normal life. For us, this included scaling back on our school schedule for a year. For the first five months, I observed we all seemed to need inordinate amounts of sleep! We also needed the freedom to just let everything come to a halt at times so we could simply be together—talking, remembering, crying, praying, even playing—finding God to be with us through it all. Trying to keep up a normal school year would have been detrimental to my kids’ emotional and spiritual health and well-being.
- Give your children the truth of God’s Word. In addition to your listening ear, your healing touch, and your loving words and prayers, your children need truth. The greatest spiritual battles are won and lost over what we believe. Lies are the enemy’s trademark. Grieving for a loved one lost is, at its root, a battle. Besides possibly have some real questions about death and what comes after, your children might be tempted to think God is not all-powerful or that He turned His back on their mommy, daddy, sibling, etc. who died. They may struggle to believe that God is good. They may feel like He has abandoned them. Here is where you can give them the truth and the power of the Scriptures. In my next post, I’ll list a few Bible verses you might share with your children.
Some weeks after Chris died, my youngest son John and I had a lot of time to talk about the end of his dad’s life. We talked about the particulars and timing of Chris’s death and how God’s hand was mercifully and lovingly superintending all the details. John, as well as all of our children had a great peace about the circumstances of Chris’s homecoming. Not one of the children, as we look back over those last days with our beloved father and husband, would ever want Chris to be back with us because MS was such an intensely difficult disease. They all know he is experiencing the greatest joy and peace and completeness in heaven with Jesus that we could ever know!
“Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” ~I Peter 1:3
It has been exactly three years now since God called my dear Chris home. Thankfully, as I look back, I can see that God has given us so much grace. Amidst the pain of loss and the many, many ways we still miss Chris, He helped us find glimpses of hope for our new life together. He has surprised us with moments of joy and laughter, like the little fresh shoots of flowers that pop up in our yard each spring. How I thank God for His lovingkindness that enabled us to grieve freely, yet still have hope and joy!
There's no place like home,