On the Monday morning after Mother’s Day in 2013, life began as normal in the Lowe home. We were rushing around getting ready for school and work, taking care of our menagerie of pets, and making a list for the day’s agenda. We live a full life with five children, two dogs, two cats, three birds, and two bunnies. I was on vacation and looking forward to rest from work and time to tackle things I never have time for.
But my day did not turn out as expected. By noon, I was watching seven fire companies make a frantic attempt to save our house. Unfortunately, it was not to happen. For five hours, we watched a fire ravage its way through our entire home. Memories we had made over the last seven years flashed through my mind as everything burned away. I experienced overwhelming grief and guilt because I had not been home when the fire started. I wasn’t there to save our cherished pets.
I watched fire fighters risk their lives to save our home, while neighbors took videos and pictures of our tragedy. I was in a state of utter disbelief. My mind quickly rushed to my children. How do I tell five children that all they had left behind that morning is now gone? How do I prepare them to face the fact that their toys were destroyed, the pets they adored were dead, and the place we gathered together as a family was gone?
It is hard to paint a vivid enough picture of what that day was like, let alone the ongoing experiences that have followed. That day I began to feel a range of emotions I was unprepared to deal with, and I often still feel the repercussions of our loss. It was not so much that we lost all our material and physical possessions: the wedding albums, family photos, favorite Bibles, heirlooms, and childhood treasures. Though losing all that was difficult, the most significant loss came from the trauma of watching so much that I loved destroyed right in front of me. It’s the memory of watching that fire go from bad to worse. It’s the hours spent standing in front of a crisis, incapable of changing its outcome. It’s living with the “if onlys” and the “what ifs.” And it’s replaying the day over and over again as though I could bring about an alternative ending.
The trauma of the fire stripped away the sense of safety and stability I had. There was this blunt realization that the world is both a dangerous and precarious place. Any sense of security I held onto was a pretense. Life was turned upside down in so many countless ways that it became hard to quantify and difficult to capture for others to understand.
Yet, life kept going. And the challenges kept coming. Within weeks after the fire, our son was diagnosed with a progressive and degenerative eye condition. The fragility of life was in our face again. We were reeling. We did not doubt God or his goodness. We did not become angry at him. I’m not even sure I could bring myself to question him, though I did have many questions.
We were simply hurting. What did we need? What does processing loss look like? We needed to find the ability to grieve and find comfort in the Lord. To shed tears and still trust. To be confused but know our hope was sure. To hold onto both sadness and belief. This, I believe, is the complexity of living with loss. Sorrow couched in hope.
We needed people to understand, to help us think clearly when we were incapable, and not to judge us unfaithful when we struggled—and we did struggle. This reminded me that God calls each of us to empathize with other sufferers—those who have lost a child, a spouse, survived a tragic experience, lived through a war or genocide. As believers and biblical counselors, we must walk alongside and offer ourselves as sufferers process and heal. It takes time to understand, to listen, and to help survivors find comfort and hope. Tragic losses aren’t overcome in a few weeks, or even a few months. With each new life event or season, the loss is experienced at a new level. This has definitely been my experience.
So as we hurt and as we minister to the hurting, may we be people who point one another to the One who is in control, redeeming all that has been lost. And may we be comforted that though we will endure numerous, heart-wrenching losses, we will never lose the One who loves us and who never leaves us.