By Kathleen A. Barr
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted . . . (Isaiah 61:1).
Barbara’s life could be defined by her losses:
• Loss of vision due to retinitis pigmentosa
• Loss of sensation in her hands as a result of surgery
• Loss of two granddaughters because of a child custody battle
• Loss of income because of her husband’s disabling joint illness
But nothing could prepare her for the calamitous events she dealt with in 2001.
Shocked by Tragedies
On Mother’s Day 2001, Barbara’s sister-in-law was driving several relatives home from a restaurant when the car went off the road and over an embankment. After flipping four or five times, the van was destroyed and several of Barbara’s family members were killed, including Barbara’s mother. Her father was severely injured.
After the shock wore off, anger toward God became an issue. Barbara had eagerly anticipated a visit with her parents, whom she only got to see once or twice a year.
The second accident occurred on December 29, 2001. Barbara’s father had recovered from the Mother’s Day tragedy and was going to a nephew’s wedding. On the way to the wedding, Barbara’s sister-in-law (the same driver as in the last accident) hit black ice and the car spiraled out of control and ran into a tree. The impact was so intense that tree prints were seen on the vehicle. Her sister-in-law was instantly killed; Barbara’s father died 90 minutes later. Later that day, Barbara’s aunt (who wasn’t in the car) happened to die of natural causes.
Coping with Loss
Barbara fell into depression. She was gripped with fear of what might happen to the rest of her family. She lost her interest in life and had no energy. Thankfully, she was blessed with an understanding supervisor who gave her the time off work she needed.
During this time, she realized how desperately she needed God to help her survive these losses. Although she believed there was a God, he was not a part of her life. She had grown up attending a local church, but experiences that caused her to feel excluded made her decide to stop attending. Fortunately, God brought people into Barbara’s life who encouraged her to reach out to him.
One day she found a religious station on TV and started watching. Sermons she heard encouraged her to reconnect with the God she once knew. Barbara prayed she would find a church where she could grow. Three years later, after moving to east Tennessee, she found a group of believers at Mountain View Christian Church who have helped her strengthen her relationship with her heavenly Father, learn about the Bible, and find opportunities to use her God-given gifts.
“God was working to put me in this (geographical) area,” she said. “I’m really proud of my church.”
Barbara’s conception of God has changed from believing he causes tragedies to recognizing that he can bring good out of the worst situations. She has seen God work in her life to make her more compassionate to those who have suffered loss.
Putting Faith to Work
Barbara’s newfound faith has motivated her to become involved at her church in various ways. In spite of her visual and other health challenges, she has helped in the card ministry, assisted in keeping the church building clean, and provided food for Sunday school and potluck dinners. She is currently working on starting a support group for the blind. Her desire to become as involved in her church as possible has been an inspiration to many.
In addition to her church, she’s involved in a telephone service for the blind called The Chat Line. Some of its programs include devotions, Bible studies, and Bible trivia games. Barbara is grateful for the encouragement and companionship she’s received from this service.
What advice would Barbara share with others who are grieving? “Your faith will get you through it,” she said. “You do need to grieve.”
And her advice for those who want to comfort the grieving? “Let [them] talk and cry. Help them to deal with their grief, hurt, and anger.”
Some people create memory books about loved ones that bring back fond memories and help tell their stories to future generations. Others have found that memorializing parents by donating to their favorite charity or becoming involved in a ministry that was important to them helps to bring good out of tragic situations—and continues their legacy.
Finding Strength for the Journey
Barbara has learned that faith makes an incredible difference: “When I was handling problems on my own strength, it led to anger, depression, and bitterness. Now I know my faith will get me through any problem.” She learned that prayer, Bible study, and Christian fellowship in times of crises make a major difference.
Recently, Barbara was told she would need emergency gall bladder surgery. “I had no fear,” she said. “I knew [God] would take care of me.”
Twelve years later, Barbara still misses her parents, especially her mother. However, the feelings aren’t as intense as they were at the time of their deaths. She finds that sharing these feelings with other family members, such as her sister, helps her to cope. And she is grateful that when she finishes her journey on this earth, she will be reunited with them and other loved ones and friends who share her faith in the Lord.
Kathleen A. Barr is a freelance writer in Ooltewah, Tennessee.
Resources for Painful Times
When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty
by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes
A Grief Observed
by C.S. Lewis
Where is God When It Hurts?
by Philip Yancey
Relentless Hope: Extracting the Precious from the Worthless
by Beth Guckenberger
“Dealing with the Loss of a Parent”
Christian Standard, May 12, 2002
by Victor M. Parachin
The Chat Line
(The phone service for the blind where Barbara serves.)