After Charlie’s death, we had many questions about life, death and faith. I, being the paranoid person that I am, had spent countless hours once I became a mom agonizing over all of the plausible scenarios of death; car accidents, drowning, cancer, drug addiction… I had come up with a plan to best attack each…. Five point harness car seat in a large SUV, swim lessons starting at age 2, annual wellness visits and calls to the doctor with the first signs of recurrent fever and leg aches or body aches. I think the best indication of my paranoia was the 20/20 specials I would watch about drug addiction and conversations I would have with my husband Michael about arming ourselves with talking points on how to discuss drug use with Charlie… Charlie, who at the time was no more than 4 years old. But still, I would say never too early to prepare. Michael would say, “ Let’s try to at least make it through kindergarten before we worry about that.”
In my weird mom brain (we all have them… you do too!), if I planned enough and anticipated the hazards enough, my child would be safe from harm, right? But no… he wasn’t. Unfortunately, regardless of how much I padded his world with big orange warning signs, Charlie still died. Michael and I have cried through every scenario possible in which Charlie would have lived that day, and nothing would have changed the outcome. As a parent, it’s next to impossible accept that I couldn’t stop his death. We are his parents, protection is our ultimate job…
How many times have we asked “ God, why us?” Why did Charlie die? We did everything we could as parents to love, nurture and protect him. What did we do to deserve this?
It’s taken me 8 months of questioning, pleading with God for answers to find some comfort in “Why us?” The seeds of comfort were planted in my trip to Ethiopia this summer…
While traveling around Addis Ababa, researching for Charlie’s Heart Foundation, I met so many wonderful Ethiopian people and families, most of whom were marginalized and living in poverty in the slums of the city. What I noticed was not their lack of basic necessities or meager lodgings, but their joy. While serving breakfast to some of the most impoverished women and children in a community living on the edge of the city landfill, I met the kindest mother. We chatted about our families and children and she naturally asked how many children I have, “ Two, I said… One in heaven and one on Earth.” I told her about Charlie and she began to cry… I was so humbled by her response to my loss. She, a mother herself, living in extreme poverty, suffering from malnourishment and loss of her own, cried over my child, my loss. She looked at me through her tears and said, “Losing a child is the worst loss we mothers can experience… I will pray for you and your sweet boy that you will find joy.”
She was an angel to me that day. I will never forget her or the words she spoke, not because I haven’t heard condolences before, but because of the message she sent with it. An Ethiopian woman, living it what most of us would consider uninhabitable conditions, with little chance for her situation to improve showed me empathy and let me into a part of happiness I never understood.
What I realized about this kind Ethiopian woman many months later, was she is closer to God than I have ever been. She understands what it means to be a believer in Christ, to be a Christian. Living in a third-world country, she is exposed to poverty and loss on a daily basis and yet her faith in God is strong. While I, living in a first- world country where loss and poverty are not expected but feared and hidden, have struggled with my faith and belief in God because of Charlie’s death. She understands something that I am still having to learn that God NEVER said, “if you believe in me, you will be protected from hurt, loss and pain.” In fact, the Bible states the opposite.
Romans 5:1-5 NIV
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b]boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Just because we are Christian, doesn’t mean life will be easy and void of pain. Only in our first world mentalities, do we believe this. “If I do all the right things, life will be good to me.” That’s what I used to believe at least. We are the only country that believes that extreme loss, pain and suffering is not an expected part of life but a choice or consequence of something we did wrong. I am so thankful for the kind Ethiopian woman that I met during my trip… she opened my first world eyes to the truth of the Bible. God does not want suffering and pain for us. However, we are born into an imperfect world of suffering and pain. He wants love and peace for his children. Although we suffer, sometimes daily, our character is built, our love grows stronger and hope and faith keep us going so that even in the darkest times we find joy.
PS: I do not say these things lightly, my friends, because the grief and pain I experience over the loss of Charlie is so deep, it can be debilitating at times. However, knowing that this suffering is a part of the world, not a question of “why us,” makes living in this grief a little softer.