Faith to Move Forward

I am traveling the road of grief and loss.  I don’t know if I will ever get to the “other side” or if that is even possible, but I would like to share with you the lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn.

About six years ago my only child was in a bad place and making bad choices.  He was arrested and went to jail for a short period of time.  While he was there, he decided to turn his life around and did so very well.  Now let’s fast forward to three years ago at 7:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning.  There was a knock on my front door.  When I looked through the peep hole I could see three people in uniform at my door.  I opened the door with the question, “Is he OK?”  The officers wouldn’t answer me and asked me if they could come inside.  In the next several minutes, I got the worst news of my life.  I don’t remember most of the conversation, but I remember the four words that brought my life to a screeching halt…”AND HE IS DECEASED.” My son had been killed in a single car accident where he missed the turn and his car rolled over.

How would I ever survive this?  I didn’t know.  I couldn’t think.  I was numb.  I couldn’t even cry!  I went through the next several months in a fog.  I had the funeral to plan, the things from his dorm room to go through, work to get back to.  How was I going to do any of this?  Some things just fall into place.  With a lot of help, the funeral got planned, I went back to work because I needed to do that for a lot of reasons, and his things are still in boxes in my garage.  Life moved forward, but I was feeling physically terrible and couldn’t figure out why.  I went to the doctor and was eventually diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Could life give me one more thing to deal with?

breathe, sister

When I think about this difficult journey, what I am most thankful for is my faith.  But for a long time, I didn’t feel that way.  In the beginning, I felt like my faith had betrayed me.  I turned to support groups and anything else I could get my hands on, but not to my faith.  It took me a long time to realize that all those things I turned to were there because I had the faith to believe that there were people, places and things that were there to take care of me in my grief.  The Brave Girls Club was just one of those things.  Making art helped me.  Spending time with friends and family who “got it” helped me.

I will always love to talk about my son and one of the things that I did is to open up my home to other people going through the loss of someone in their lives.  I helped them make a scrapbook of their loved one.  It was helpful to them, but it was even more helpful to me.  We would go around the table as we were making the scrapbooks and I would ask each person to tell me about their loved one or about that particular picture.  We have spent many hours around my table laughing and crying and healing together.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy

If you are going through a similar journey, and feeling alone, and without hope inside of it, what I most want to tell you is that there is light.  Somewhere, maybe in the far distant future, but there is light!  Every day I learn to deal with things a little better.  That’s not to say that I don’t still have really bad days, but they do get fewer and farther between.

In the beginning, all I wanted to know was why.  I thought that knowledge would somehow make it better or make the pain less.  I have come to believe that it wouldn’t lessen the pain and that I may never know the answer to that question.  There is a peace in not believing that I should have the answer.

When he first died, I felt alone and abandoned and like no one really got it.  My friends may have experienced the loss of a parent or a sibling or a spouse, but most of them had never experienced the loss of a child.  I thought I would feel angry and alone forever.  I decided that I had to find the common ground so that I could feel comfort and comfort others again.  I just could not do this alone.  I didn’t want this experience to harden me.  I had to be brave enough to let people in.  Every day I have to make myself tell my story in a way that people can relate to, and I have to be open enough to their pain to see the similarities.  It is easy to think that I’m the only one going through this particular pain and isolate myself.  That feels righteous, but it only leaves me feeling alone.  I had to allow my friends and family to “love on” me and I had to learn to “love on” them.  When I feel like giving up, I remind myself of how my son lived his life.  He sought out experiences that would allow his life story to encourage people.  I can do nothing less.

Now I know that every day with my son was a gift.   The entire 26 years of his life were a gift, but I am so grateful for the last three years.  He had voluntarily gone into a life changing program and then was accepted to a university and was getting his degree in psychology.  He was on the leadership team at his university.  He had been able to travel to Cambodia to work with a group of children that had been sold into sex trafficking.  He had become a man that I was proud of every single day.  Every bit of life is a gift, but some parts of it are harder to see than others.  I would encourage you to open your eyes and look for the gifts everywhere.  Even in the most unlikely places.  Had my son not gone through the rough times, he may not have chosen to turn his life around.  When I am struggling with my own illness and possible death, I try to remember to look for the gifts everywhere, and that the people around me are witnessing my journey and learning.

A lesson that I could not have learned without going through this experience is that there really are no answers.  That the life we live has to include having faith in something other than ourselves.  That we really cannot do this alone.  And that we have to move forward, no matter how painful that may seem at the time.  Isn’t that what faith really is?  Not having the answers, but doing it anyway.


  1. I am so sorry for the loss of your son and your medical diagnosis. I greatly admire your attitude about it and how bravely you are going through it. I am trying so hard to be brave right now and finding myself coming up short! I keep working on it and your story made me feel more empowered. And yes, we need faith desperately. Thank you for telling your story and I wish you love and peace.

    • Donna Woodard says:

      Sheila, I don’t know what kind of loss you are experiencing, but please hang in there. Thank you for your well wishes for me.

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