Why I’m Okay 26 Years After My Son Died

by | Sep 2, 2022 | Faith | 13 comments

Why I'm Okay 26 Years After My Son Died

On Sunday it will be 26 years since my son Christopher died. I like to remember him on some way on the blog around that time, and since Monday is a holiday, I’d like to do it today.

I wrote a piece back in 2016 that meant something to me. I was trying to explain why I think I’m okay today, and why being okay doesn’t mean that I did something amazing or that I don’t grieve.

I hope I articulated well, but I’d like to run it again.

Since I wrote this, my grandchildren have been born. The first was a boy, Alexander Christopher, named after his uncle. I remember the day he turned 30 days old–he had now lived longer than Christopher. Both Rebecca and I sighed huge sighs of relief, as if we had been holding our breath that whole time.

Watching them parent reminds me again how terribly young we were. And yet, I’m okay now. I really am.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Miscarriage and Chrissy Teigen

Saturday was a tough anniversary for me. My son Christopher would have turned 20. He was a month old when he died.

I posted about it on my Facebook Page and I was just blown away by all your kind messages and responses and even the personal emails. Truly blown away. Thank you very much. It made me feel so supported! I wanted to publicly acknowledge that, because I don’t know if you all realize how much personal comments, either here or on the blog, really mean to all of us bloggers. When we just type onto a screen while we’re sitting in our living room, it can feel really impersonal. And then all we can see if numbers–how many people read this or saw this.

But when you comment, I feel so much better, like, “those are real people! And they care not just about what I say but about me, too.” That meant a lot to me this weekend.

My daughter Katie was away this weekend doing hair for a wedding, so she wasn’t around on his birthday. But she texted me (unprompted!) at 7:30 in the morning, which was very kind. She’s a good kid.

I sometimes find my emotions around Christopher confusing when it comes to Katie.

We wouldn’t have had her if he hadn’t have died, and we love her so much. That’s a funny thought, though, isn’t it? As if you’re choosing between two children or something.

But as the years go on I find it much easier to just hold the two of them in separate hands. What I feel for the one doesn’t impact what I feel for the other, and I can be sad about him and still be happy about her without betraying either. Our human brains can’t quite hold all of these emotions, but I think God somehow helps me to sort them out.

The really big feeling that I had on Saturday, though, was one more of gratitude.

I was thinking back to his delivery and how scared we were (we knew that his heart was really bad before he was born, so we knew it would be difficult). We were so young. So very young.

Sheila and Keith holding Christopher the night before his surgery

We were only in our mid-twenties, and we had to make so many difficult decisions and handle such difficult news. And somehow we did.

And as the years have gone on we’ve been okay. We really have. Yes, we’ve cried and yes, we’ve mourned, but we’ve honestly been grateful too: Grateful for the family we have, grateful for the time we did have to spend with him, and grateful for how God brought us through that.

And, really, God honestly has brought us through for the last twenty years.

I received an email from a woman this weekend who told me that she had a “complicated relationship” with God and the church, but she likes reading my emails anyway because I don’t make her feel condemned.

I’m glad. I know that many of you who read me faithfully are having a really rough time with God right now, so thank you for the liberty you’re giving me to talk about this today. But yesterday, as I was out for a walk I was just trying to isolate what it was that helped Keith and me heal from those wounds of losing a child.

And a few thoughts came to me.

Our perspective certainly helped.

I remember the first time I visited the graveyard shortly after he died. And I had this overwhelming feeling that Christopher was not there.  It was almost an empty feeling as I looked down at his grave. But at the same time, I had this vision of a little bubbly boy in heaven, and I felt heaven for the first time. I can’t explain it, but I knew that heaven was real because I knew that my son was there. It wasn’t just some intellectual thing where you know that heaven is where you’ll go when you die, way off in the future. Heaven was NOW.

And knowing that God understands suffering and hurt somehow made me feel that when I was sad, God was sad right there with me.

Death was never his intended plan. It only came because humanity chose to live without God and do our own thing, and so the real intimacy we were supposed to have was broken. And that brought death.

God gets mad at death, too. So it’s not wrong to feel sad. And knowing that Jesus Himself is called “The Man of Sorrows” meant that I could talk to Him about it and He wouldn’t be upset at me for not “getting over grief” or dismiss me. He’d sit down with me in my pain.

 

And finally, just feeling loved by God helped tremendously.

To think that the God who created the universe and holds it all in His hands sent His Son to earth to live with us and laugh with us and die for us, and now wants to have a relationship with us–that really is amazing. To think that God cares about injustice, cares about our pain, and entered into it to show us. That I can pray, anywhere I am, even in my head, and He hears me. That’s awesome, in every sense of the word.

But those things–knowing there’s a heaven; knowing God understands pain; knowing that God hears prayers; while true, and while certainly elements of faith, are not the whole package.

They started the journey towards peace that I really do have, but they are only a part of the story.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain the big part, the central part, because all the rest is dancing around the edges. It’s necessary, but it’s like a prequel to the main thing.

And then I remembered a neat story in Acts chapter 16. Paul and Silas had been telling people about Jesus and they got in trouble. They were put in jail, and their feet were chained up to the walls. And while in jail they started to sing praises and pray. About midnight this earthquake came, and every prison door flew open and the chains came loose.

That’s how I feel.

When we praise God, we break chains.

Paul didn’t break those chains. He didn’t pray the right thing so that the chains were broken. He didn’t have the right perspective so that the chains were broken. God broke those chains because Paul gave God room in his life.

Let me explain what I mean, because this is so crucial to understand. Praising God in a situation like that doesn’t mean saying that everything is peachy keen and life is great and I’m absolutely ecstatic about being in chains. Praising God in a situation like that, I think, simply means saying,

God, this is really tough, but I know that you’re with me. I love you, and I want to serve you, and whatever happens, I know that you’ll still be there and bring something good from it. But, oh, God, it hurts right now! I can’t do this without you.

Praising, I think, just means acknowledging WHO God is and who we are in response to Him. He’s the Big Guy; we’re not. We don’t have to be in control.

When we say that–I don’t have to be in control–then we give Him the authority to do stuff in our lives.

Sure, God has the power to do whatever He wants, but He doesn’t just barge in unless we invite Him. He doesn’t do things unless we really want Him to. There’s that whole free will thing.

And when we say, “I can’t do this on my own, I can’t fix this, so I’m going to just lean on you, because you are God,” God does amazing things.

They praised–they gave up control. And God did an amazing thing.

That’s what I think happened to me. The more I said to God, “I am yours,” the more room He had to work on my heart without me even seeing it. I can’t even explain it except to tell you that even though I had to watch my son die I am a whole person, I am at peace, I am strong. And I feel it’s something that God did in me.

I know many of you have that same “complicated relationship” with God and the church. I just want to tell you today that it’s okay to be confused and it’s okay to not have everything sorted out.

And it’s okay to be really upset and angry. It’s okay to feel betrayed, and to feel hurt, and to feel alone. So many of the Psalms are written by people (especially David) who were lamenting about being alone.

But I guess when I was at my lowest, I realized I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to feel that not only had I lost my son, but God had abandoned me too. And deep inside, as hurt as I was, I knew that God hadn’t abandoned me. That God was so upset at death and destruction and grief too.

There is something so powerful when we say, “I am yours, even if I don’t undersand right now,” or even, “I am yours, and I’ll cling to you, even though a large part of me doesn’t want to, because you have the words of eternal life. Where else can I go?”

When we decide to surrender, we give God permission to break chains.

Too often when we think of God we think of sin–I did these terrible things, and I have to fix them. That makes God seem angry and us seem like we have such a huge hill to climb, sort of like how smokers who are trying to quit feel or how people who join Weight Watchers feel. “This is going to take so much will power and discipline.” That sounds awful.

But it’s not like that. It’s more like a father who just wants the best for his children.

He isn’t asking you into a relationship with Him so that you can straighten yourself out and be perfect. He’s asking you into a relationship with Him so you can be totally honest before Him and authentic and real, and let Him be in control so He can start His work on your heart.

I’m okay today because God made me okay. That started with me giving up control, but it ended with God doing His thing.

Now, I wouldn’t say that I’m better because my son died.

I would say that I grew in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise, but I would never say things are better because of some big tragedy, and I don’t think God wants you to say those things either. You don’t need to be able to say, “my marriage is stronger because of the affair”, or “my faith is stronger because of the abuse.” No, sometimes you would have been much better off if those things had never happened! Bad stuff is still allowed to be bad stuff.

But what we can say is that the bad doesn’t need to be the end of the story, but also that we aren’t responsible for making ourselves all right.

If there’s anything on this blog that I really want you to get, it’s that. God can be your strength to get through hard times when we cling to Him in anything.

And He really is there, waiting for you. If you don’t understand that, that’s okay. I know so many have real trauma from the church, and I get that.

But I hope you can just talk to God, ask Him if He’s real, tell Him how you feel. Just be honest. And that gives God permission to work.

Grief: Why I'm Okay 26 Years After My Son died

Have you ever felt God holding you during a hard time? Or that you got through it not on your own strength? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Comments

We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!

13 Comments

  1. MaureFranck

    Thank you, for sharing. It was so helpful to read can have a lot of hard emotions and still be okay. That don’t have to be grateful for death, but grateful for what God has done inside of us as we walk thru tragedy.

    Reply
  2. Laura

    Thank you for sharing this story again! Everything you expressed here ministered to me and reminds me that God is always with us, even in the hard times. One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 13:5, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” Then you just have to read the next verse because here is why God will never leave us nor forsake us: verse 6. The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

    Paul and Silas got this. While they were in prison, they knew that they could be content in their circumstances (prison) and that God was their helper who would never leave nor forsake them.

    Yes, it’s okay to grieve. Unfortunately, well-meaning Christians have said hurtful things to me regarding grief and someone I knew told me that people from her church told her she should be over her dad’s passing because he had been gone a year. When she told me that, I told her that grieve does not have an expiration date and it is different for everyone. I do not know what it’s like to lose a child so I cannot say anything about that. I do know what it’s like to lose a parent. Losing my father over nine years ago was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. I still experience grief from time to time, but it’s not like it was during the first year of losing him.

    Have a blessed and relaxing weekend.

    Reply
    • Diane

      Sheila you have expressed beautifully some of the pathways to peace after the death of a child!
      When our son died in a car accident we found that a lot of people have unresolved grief even after years that came up in conversations.
      My husband and I made very conscious decisions to cling to God for comfort rather than push him away: Running toward him and receiving a big gift of faith because it certainly wasn’t something we could have muscled up with will power!
      In some ways some styles of Christian teachings about loss and grief can be just as frought with guilt inducing sayings or trite answers as those about sexuality that you have been dealing with over the years.
      The blessing we found in the middle of the anguish is knowing Loving God in a way that we didn’t comprehend before. It brought a depth and richness to our relationship with him. I guess that comes from going through tough stuff together.
      I appreciate this conversation Sheila. Thank you

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Diane, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. I honestly can’t imagine.

        I’m glad that you feel I summed this up well. Sometimes life is so, so hard, and I’m so glad God can hold us.

        Reply
  3. Phil

    Sheila – I was around for this. I was fairly brand new around here but I recall this post. Here is what I was thinking about today as I saw your post title. Because of you I know Christopher. We as humans have a primal need for wanting to be known. We want to be known by God. But we also want to be known by people. Too many times I have witnessed people shove their grief under the carpet and they just won’t even talk about their loved ones who have passed. I had a friend of mine die 25 years ago in a car accident. I still have a cross I made with his name on it hanging in my shed as a reminder of him. His twin brother is my best friend and ironically I am the one who always brings up his brother not him. I keep it in front of him. He is always thankful and expresses so when I do that. I know Christopher because of you Sheila. I don’t know much about him but I do know you. I pay attention around here. I pay attention real close for one simple reason. Jesus is present here. So I recall that you like to take milk and put chocolate chips in it and eat it as a snack. ( I tried this once just because of you it was meh lol) You shared it…lol. I also know that you struggle with gift giving – another personal note you shared around here. BUT – Keith knows all of you. Your family knows you just as well and I know that you have allowed God to have all of you. Including Christopher. Just like you, I imagine him being held and raised by the hands of God. What a wonderful place to grow up? Just think of how protected he has been. So while I don’t “know” Christopher, I know Christopher. He is one of God’s special children who is most like a Disciple in Heaven. What a wonderful thought. Look – I also recall your post on this anniversary about people saying stupid stuff to people when people die. I certainly try not to do that. I just turned 50 this past Monday. My brother called me and reminded me that I have out lived my father who died at 36 by 14 years. He shared with me that he stills holds his breath at each birthday. I recalled doing that when I turned 36 and that lasted for a few years, but I have since out grown it and its not something I think of typically on my birthday unless I am reminded. I go where you did with this post. I grew differently because of my fathers death. Not sure but I like to think I grew better because of it. That thought gives me peace. I hope that I have brought some joy to you today and that you too can have some peace. Have a wonderful day Sheila. Grab a glass of tea( cuz I know you drink tea) and raise it in the name of Christopher and say Thank You Jesus! :). I will too!

    Reply
  4. Debi S.

    So sorry Sheila and Keith. You expressed well the central issue of “moving on” while holding the tension between “bad” and “good”.
    I do enjoy your thoughts, ( and your husband’s thoughts), and really… your words articulate what I cannot.
    It is difficult, with the gates of hell chasing at your heels, to address the misogyny in the “church”. But, I am realizing that there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing hiding in the church. Thank you from my heart- for addressing this. ❤️

    Reply
  5. ELIZABETH

    As I reflect upon what Christopher has meant to each of us over the past 26 years, an expression came to mind that I think describes what both you and Keith have become; ‘Wounded Healer.’ This title of Nouwen’s book fits the two of you well. You are different people today because of the 29 days he spent with us.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Mom! That’s beautiful.

      Reply
  6. Stefanie

    The complex emotions and thoughts around Katie & Christopher is so relatable. Our youngest wouldn’t be here if River hadn’t passed in the second trimester. We get to feel many things at once, it’s always nice to see that normalized.

    My dad died when I was 7 and though my little kid memories around that time are fuzzy: the feeling of KNOWING God was with me is my clearest memory. Knowing.

    When we left our church, quite traumatically, nothing seemed right and just knowing that I did know God and God was with me even though a miracle didn’t come our way anchored me.

    It was the hardest experience of my life. Losing everything I’d built my life (work, finances, career, community) around was almost deadly for me.

    Hearing that it was because I did ______ or didn’t do ______ was so hard, but I feel fortunate that I still felt anchored to Jesus in that mess. I know not everyone feels that way in the midst of tragedy

    Reply
  7. Virginia Allen

    My youngest sister, Rachel, died at three months when I was nine, and I remember her death vividly. That was 57 years ago, and I still miss her.

    My first grandchild died still at full term twelve years ago. As my 19 year old daughter was laboring to birth precious Lily, I told her I could see Heaven in her eyes. My youngest daughter, 15 at the time, told me and her laboring sister that it was 3:16. When we looked at her perplexed, she said, “Like John 3:16.” Both of us were awed at that revelation. The presence of the Holy Spirit in that birthing center was sweet, and it felt as if Jesus was weeping with us as the rain poured down.

    Reply
  8. Lisa Johns

    Oh, you too! ❤️❤️
    When I lost my second daughter in 2005 (I miscarried), I grieved hard. I was so excited to be pregnant, and we had just told her older sister and brothers. The miscarriage itself was about a three-day process, and the night after it was finally finished, my husband and I went to the Thursday evening prayer time at church. The people there gathered around and prayed for us, and when we were done, we went into the room where the worship team was playing. I was thinking of my baby, and as I walked in the door and began to sing the song they were playing, I had the clearest knowledge of her in heaven, happy and joyful beyond belief, and she was also aware of me being aware of her in heaven. I can’t explain that either! But we were connected in our knowledge of heaven that night, and I so look forward to seeing her face to face when I get there too!

    Reply
  9. Lisa Johns

    Also, I love the picture of you with Christopher. You can tell how much he looked like Rebecca.

    Reply
  10. Kay

    So glad I read this post. Thank you for your transparency about the loss of your son. I’m just a month removed from a miscarriage (my first pregnancy) and there’ve been so many emotions and questions. I’m not angry at God but I’ve struggled with how to relate to Him, what to pray,etc. I really want to believe that He loves me and has good plans for my life. Taking it day by day but I appreciate your testimony and the renewed perspective on faith and God’s love.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.