What is the difference? To put it very bluntly, she actually got to die, and we didn’t.
Debbie Reynolds seemingly willed her own death Wednesday, telling her son before the stroke that claimed her life, “I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie.” Todd Fisher tells us Debbie cracked early Wednesday morning from grief. She was at Todd’s home during the morning hours, talking about Carrie’s funeral, when she made the comment. Fifteen minutes later she had the stroke. Family sources tell us Debbie actually had several strokes this year and was in failing health, and they believe Carrie’s death was too much to bear. (TMZ 12/28/16 7:57 PM PST)
Apparently, these were Debbie Reynolds’ last words spoken. Her age and health allowed her broken heart to actually send her to be with her daughter.
After my daughter passed from this earth, I experienced the exact same desire. “…So kill me, God! Do it now, please!” is something I actually wrote in my journal.
Right now I am seeing many bereaved mothers writing things like, “Why did Debbie Reynolds get to die and I didn’t?”
Or “She is so lucky she doesn’t have to go through what the rest of us have to.”
Or, “I still want to die, and it has been over three years since I lost my daughter.”
Many Facebook groups for grieving parents are posting about how the world finally gets to see that having a broken heart from the death of a child is a real thing. And it is.
After we lost Becca, I began to study the physical changes deep grief causes in our bodies. I wrote about it in my book Come Grieve Through Our Eyes.
I did not know until a year and a half after Becca’s death that a person can literally have a broken heart. It affects the left ventricle, even changing the shape of the heart, as part of the heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. And as a note, based on the research I have done, it happens almost exclusively with women. It causes heart attack–like symptoms, and is called broken heart syndrome, stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy (based on its official discovery in Japan). Other names for it are transient apical ballooning syndrome, apical ballooning cardiomyopathy, and, Gebrochenes-Herz-Syndrome. With all of those names, how did I not know it existed?
The deep grief of the death of our child also compromises our immune system and causes our brains to “misfire”, bringing much confusion, disorientation and forgetfulness that is very scary at times. It can be so bad, that many of us think we have an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. I still deal with these things five years later.
There are no words to describe the suffocating darkness we find ourselves in after our child dies. And as seen recently with the death of 60 year old Carrie Fisher, it doesn’t matter how young or how old the child is.
I am so very thankful that the death of our children did not blindside God. He knew the exact moment our child would leave this earth, and He also knew the darkness that would come over us.
In His love, mercy and compassion, He also made a way for us to have hope, light and life again, beyond the death of our child.
For most parents (especially the mothers) it can take several years to see any of this penetrate through the darkness. And it doesn’t help when people start telling us after a few months that we need to start getting past our grief, or that we should be “over it” by now.
Grief is not an event, it is a process. And grieving the death of a child is definitely a life-long process.
It is like having am amputation. Our daughter had her left leg amputated at age three because of cancer. Yes, she learned how to function and even live a full life around her limitations of not having a leg. But every single day was filled with reminders that an entire leg was missing from her body.
Those of us parents who are living life without a son or daughter because of death has had a part of our very being cut off from us. It can take a very long time to learn how to function with that part of us missing. It can be done, but every single day there are reminders of our missing child who was cut off from us.
I wish God would just speak a command and make it all better, but it just doesn’t happen that way. As much as I want Him to, God hasn’t brought a giant eraser and removed the pain of my daughter’s death.
Instead, He is teaching me how to walk through it, leaning on Him and allowing Him to carry me when I have no strength. (And isn’t that what our Christian walk is supposed to be?)
Within these last five years, so much of my Christian theology has been challenged and shifted.
One of the most amazing things I have discovered in this very slow process of God healing my shattered heart is that peace and pain can both reside in me at the same time.
So many scriptures have new meaning to me now. Not the ones being quoted at me as Christian clichés, but ones that the Holy Spirit breathes life into when I am being held in His arms in the depth of my darkness and pain.
I have also learned how important my perspective is. For instance, when Becca first died, I almost couldn’t breathe when I started thinking about still being here on this earth for a year, five years, ten years or more, getting further and further away from her. But one day, the Holy Spirit spoke to me that I am not getting further away, but closer to her. Every day I am here on this earth is a day closer to my own departure and seeing my daughter again.
And at some point, I made a conscious decision that while I am here, I refuse to let my daughter’s death keep me from living. I refuse to live in a shell, waiting to die and be with her. I have fought and will continue to fight to have a full life, enjoying my other children, my growing legacy of grandchildren, my marriage, and the calling on my life to embrace other grieving parents in their pain and be a light of hope in their darkness.
So what is another difference between Debbie Reynolds and the rest of us who have lost a child?
We get to live!
- We get to live in a way that honors our child and keeps their memory alive!
- We get to join arms with other bereaved parents who are some of the most incredible people on this earth.
- We get an exclusive front row seat to the depth of God’s love for us, as we realize that God Himself chose to suffer the death of His own Son in exchange for an intimate relationship with us.
- We get the opportunity of knowing Christ in the fullness of His resurrection power by also knowing Him in His sufferings.
- We get to know the depth of the reality that this world truly is not our home, and the joy of knowing we have made a precious deposit in heaven who is waiting to welcome us to our eternal home.
The pain of burying my daughter will always be an undercurrent that can explode into my life at any given moment. But so is the peace that goes beyond anything I can ever understand.
If you are a bereaved parent who is struggling in that suffocating darkness, please connect with us, or another group of parents who can be the light and the hope you need.
It is possible to live beyond the death of your child. There is life after death, both for our child and for us. After all, bringing life from death is God’s specialty.
If you would like to receive chapter 7 “Does Losing a Child Have Any Physical Effects?” and chapter 10 ” Why Can’t People Understand That I Can’t Quit Missing My Child?” from Laura’s book Come Grieve Through Our Eyes (referred to in the article) please submit your name and email address below.
Expressions of Hope is written by author and speaker Laura Diehl to bring hope, light and life to bereaved parents. If you would like more information about Laura as an author or speaker click here.