The death of a beloved child is the unthinkable for parents. It is so unimaginable that people often say if it happened to them, they wouldn’t be able to go on.
But in the heartbreaking event it does happen, it tests one’s bedrock faith as nothing else.
“When you lose a child, you join a very exclusive club you never wanted to be in,” Greg Laurie told LifeZette in an interview. He’s the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, one of the largest congregations in America with campuses in California and Hawaii. The pastor, author, filmmaker, father and grandfather lost his adult son, Christopher, in a tragic accident in 2008.
“If you lose your wife, you’re a widower,” he said. “If you lose your husband, you’re a widow. If you lose your parents, you’re an orphan. But if you lose a child — there is no word for it. And in a way, it’s almost like it’s so horrific that no word could describe it.”
Losing a son or daughter is such a devastating affront to the natural order of things it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around the reality, much less talk about it.
Having suffered it himself, Laurie is uniquely positioned to offer insights on this sensitive topic.
“It’s shocking to me at times when I speak on this subject — the responses I get,” he told LifeZette. “I realize there are so many people that this has happened to, and I think they’re all looking for someone to talk with about it.”
Well-meaning friends and family often struggle to find the right words or the right way to express their love and concern without causing more pain. On Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, for example, what are the social norms around this? Do people wish a happy Mother’s Day or Father’s Day to someone who no longer has a living child?
Just under 12 percent of Americans ages 50 and older will face the death of a child, according to a study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, as reported in The New York Times. Within the membership of that small group, people of faith regularly find themselves questioning God — even pastors are not immune.
“You have this loss and it makes no sense. ‘Didn’t I already do enough suffering? Do I have to go through this?’” said Laurie, describing some of his initial reactions to the news of his son’s death.
For Laurie, those natural reactions were soon accompanied by a sense of God’s presence, and confidence that God was with him as he faced the horrific reality. (Even Jesus cried out to the Father for relief at Gethsemane as He faced His own death.)
“The day I sensed God’s presence more than any other day was when I heard the worst imaginable news, that my son had died and gone to heaven,” Laurie told LifeZette. “If God didn’t come through for me after I heard this news, which obviously was the worst day of my life, trust me when I tell you I would have given up preaching. I would have given up everything.”
At some point after the loss, Laurie said he and others in grief who are able to move ahead with their lives stopped asking God, “Why?” and starting asking, “What now?” The Bible says you can comfort others with the comfort you’ve received, said Laurie — adding that his personal experience gives him a great deal of empathy and compassion for others who have suffered similar pain.
As we approach Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we might ourselves consider offering an extra portion of love, support, and compassion for this very special group of parents.
Laurie will be leading what promises to be a record-breaking event next month. Harvest America 2018, a nationwide crusade, returns for the second time to AT&T Stadium in Dallas on June 10.
Shortly after that is Father’s Day, and one month after that, Laurie and his family will face the 10th anniversary of the death of Christopher.
“God was with me and He sustained me, and it wasn’t easy,” said Laurie of his loss. “And it still isn’t easy. It was very hard. But He went with me through it.”
He added, “I have taken this pain, and I’ve used it as a tool to help other people.”
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.