On September 25, 2015, my wonderful 30-year-old son-in-law, Patrick, suddenly passed away from an unknown heart related condition. He left my only daughter, Brittany, who was 25, the mom of 3 small boys. The oldest son, Peyton, was one day from turning 3-years-old, Evan was 1 1/2 years old, and Nathan only 3-months-old.
My wife was out of state so it was just Brittany and I at the hospital crying together. My tears were not for Patrick because he knew the Lord and was in heaven, my tears were for my daughter and 3 young boys without a father. God immediately placed in my mind and heart that I must do my best to provide a father figure for those boys.
At nearly 58-years-old and with a busy life of my own as a realtor and flipping houses, I was already spread thin, so I prayed for God to help me help them. They stayed in our home for approximately 6 weeks before they went back to their home and then stayed with us a lot of weekends and holidays. I also stopped by to see them as they live only 25 minutes away.
It has now been almost 4 years and these 3 boys are well balanced, good kids that I believe will do great in life despite not having a father in those early years. These are 3 of my 14 grandchildren, at the time of Patrick’s death, all were 5 or younger and 12 of them are boys! During the early days it was obvious that I spent more time with these 3 than the rest and my 3 sons and daughter-in-laws graciously understand that.
At times, I was their 3rd mom behind my daughter and wife, but most of the time I am just “Pops” to them. I was, and still am, very intentional about everything I do with them.
Her 3 boys are young and resilient and will be good God-fearing successful men with their own families someday soon enough. I’m glad that God somehow gave me the time, strength, energy, and wisdom to be there for them in this season of their lives.
I was not alone in the quest to help these boys, they were blessed to have their other grandfather, several uncles all living nearby, and other men who had also been intentional to pour into them. They are loved and prayed for by many of us and that all combines to make for a great support system for them.
These past.4 years, especially the first 22 months, I changed many diapers, got up during the night more times than my tired body wanted to, fed, cleaned up, clothed, bathed, and did what a father would normally do with them and what their amazing father, Patrick, did for them. We also played, wrestled, rode the 4-wheelers and zip line, went fishing, did routine house chores, like taking out the trash, repairing things, and have many other great memories.
We cannot control what God allows to happen to us but we can choose to make the best of it. I choose to embrace the task and enjoy the journey and that makes all the difference!
I met my husband on a blind date. Sounds ordinary enough. But it wasn’t. A long-time friend of mine called me one day and said, “Sit down. My wife and I have prayed about this, and we want you to meet someone. He’s a widower with three kids.” Ugh. And then he told me some of the awful details. Cancer. A four-year, hard-fought battle. Three beautiful kids and this strong man of great character left behind. I couldn’t comprehend a person my own age having gone through such a trauma. And what about the kids?
The gravity of what they had lost began to set in the very first time I met them. A picture of their mom and her obituary was framed in the entryway of their home. Her handiwork was everywhere. She had made the curtains in the kids’ rooms, and hung the wallpaper. She had decorated every room. I looked through albums, and more albums, of the birthday parties she had thrown for them and the hairstyles she had fashioned for the girls. The Christmases, dance recitals, soccer games, baseball practices–all of them captured her smiling face, loving touch, or playful sense of humor. Her hand-written recipe cards were in the kitchen; her coat was in the closet. But the warmth and security of her presence was most certainly gone. Now what?
One out of seven children will lose a parent or sibling before the age of 20. That statistic overwhelms me.
My kids were 6, 8, and 10 when their mom died. I fell in love with their dad, and I fell in love with them. They were 9, 11, and 13 when I became their second mom. I made most every mistake a person could make in trying to navigate them through their grief. I didn’t know what I was doing. Our lives seemed too frantic, at the time, to try to figure it out. I was desperately trying to make a home for our kids, while also trying to manage the effects of their trauma. I see everything more clearly now that they are grown. I’ve learned a lot, both from Scripture and from experience, about broken-heartedness. What does a broken-hearted child need in order to heal? To re-engage with life? To prosper? To believe in God’s goodness again? The short answer is Jesus. Revealing Jesus to our sorrowful children is our privilege and our calling. The long answer, well let me take a crack at it:
In fifth grade our oldest daughter, Kristina, was placed in a grief group at her public school. The school counselor was trying to facilitate some discussion by pointing out the kids’ body language and what it said about how they were feeling. Our daughter looked at him with fury and said, “Did your mom die?” When he replied, “No” she said, “Then you don’t know anything about how I’m feeling.”
Grieving kids often feel alone. They think no one understands what they’re going through. This gets magnified in their thoughts and sometimes manifests itself in a tornado of angry outbursts, tantrums, obstinacy, and other tempestuous behaviors. Sometimes it manifests itself in depression, withdrawal, apathy, or panic. Don’t take these behaviors personally. I did. Big mistake. This is just what childhood grief looks like. It’s rough and raw. Your child doesn’t hate you. She hates being in pain.
At times my kids’ overblown emotions made me want to pull away, to punish, or to control. But when I think back on it, I know they were just trying to communicate how traumatized they felt. They were too young to tell me with words. They couldn’t articulate their inner turmoil so they showed me with chaotic behavior. In those terribly hard moments, I wish someone had told me how important it was to calm myself first, and then try to sympathize. What would it feel like if I had lost my mom at their age? Correction of their bad behavior might be necessary but I’d say double down on love and empathy. Oh what a stretch that is. But it works. Then help them, by asking many, many questions, to tell you what’s in their heart.
Another thing I found very helpful, when my kids felt all alone in their pain, was to ask them about their mom. What was she like? What do you remember about her? How did she make you feel special? I found they were eager to tell me. You know those recipe cards I said were in the kitchen? Kristina and I went through every one of them. We saved her favorites. I ended up learning to make one of their mom’s recipes, the one the kids liked the most, Korean flank steak. So let your kids tell you how much they loved the one they lost. Doing this created a very deep bond between my kids and me. I think they would tell you that sharing their mom with me made them feel less alone.
Their souls are swarming with unrest. Inside they may be screaming, “Where is God?! Why has this happened to me?!” And because of their experiences, they will often conclude God isn’t real . . .God doesn’t love me . . .God isn’t kind. Eventually these kids will want answers to some pretty sophisticated questions about God. Mine did. Why does He allow people to die? If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world? What will we do in heaven? Does God answer prayers?
Someone has to anticipate and answer these questions with the hope and comfort of God’s Word. Our faith, our knowledge of the Word, and our personal relationship with Jesus are critical in helping our kids through their dark valley. We can use the Bible to tell our kids about people who lost loved ones or were trapped in terrible circumstances. We can point to David, Ruth, Joseph and so many others to show them how God healed, blessed, and delivered them, and gave them extraordinary futures. We can teach our kids about death too, and how it originated. That way they will never have to wonder if the death of their loved one was their fault, or God’s fault. God hates death. They must know that.
Ultimately behind all of a grieving child’s questions is a deep need to be reassured of God’s goodness. We have the love of Jesus, living inside of us, to give them that assurance. We can all testify of the extraordinary ways God has been good to us, especially when we’ve faced difficulties. The revelation of God’s goodness produces faith and hope for the future.
Finally I will share with you one revelation that has revolutionized my understanding of broken-heartedness and its remedy.
“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” Proverbs 15:13 (italics mine)
“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (italics mine)
A broken heart and a broken spirit go hand in hand. Grief is a spiritual issue. If a child’s spirit is broken by sorrow, who can mend it?
“He (Jesus) heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
Jesus heals broken spirits. He does this by revealing His character and nature to us. It is not as important for children to understand their grief as it is for them to know their Healer.
Kristina’s reflection on Jesus’ crucifixion was the turning point in her grief. That’s because there is no better comfort than knowing Jesus’ heart for us. When a child no longer doubts His goodness, the healing begins.
I am extraordinarily blessed to have three beautiful, loving kids who call me Mom. What ultimately led my kids back, from despair into faith and life, was knowing Jesus is good, Jesus loves them, Jesus is with them, and Jesus has eternally good plans for them. Jesus. He’s the short answer. He’s the long answer.
To order the great resource for children click here: Emily Lost Someone She Loved
For more information helping children grieve, contact Kathleen Fucci Ministries
Kathleen Fucci earned a B.A. in Psychology from The University of the South and an M.A. in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. She is a conference speaker and has taught Bible studies for churches in Southern California, including The Vineyard Church of Anaheim and Rock Harbor Church.
Her special areas of interest include: Christian apologetics, Biblical exegesis, eschatology, and health and healing, with extensive research in human physiology and psychoneuroimmunology (the effect of thoughts and emotions on the body’s immune system), as well as neurocardiology and neurotheology. She has a passion for helping others discover and walk in their full inheritance in Christ Jesus.
Kathleen is an award-winning children’s picture book author, and recently finished her second picture book to offer hope and healing to children grieving the loss of someone they love. She is a wife and mother of three adult children, who lost their mom when they were young.
 Findings from http://www.hellogrief.org/about/life-with-grief-research/ 2015; 5:5
Sadly, children are not exempt from suffering, especially when they are faced with the death of a parent. Over the course of their lives, they will experience the many stages of grief, and as they grow, grief can grow and pop up in surprising ways. Shaping their perspective will play a huge part in producing positive fruit from their grief. Children must be directed and encouraged to see that God is both in control and a loving, kind, and gracious Father. Through that lens they will be able to see that God gives purpose in their pain—ultimately to know Him in a way they never would without the pain.
In a perfect world, childhood is a time of joyful innocence, brimming with family activities, warmth, and wonder at all you’re learning and experiencing. Yes, my childhood included many of these things: a loving family, fun activities, sports, crafts, vacations, church, school, friends, birthday parties, girl scouts.
I was ten years old. It no longer mattered to me how good my life had been, or what I had learned at Vacation Bible School. Death taught me, “God doesn’t love me!” The loss I felt screamed in my ear, ”God isn’t good!” And the pain I carried whispered,“Things will never, ever be good again.”
I tried so hard to reconcile a good and loving God with the death of my mom. Deep down I wanted to believe that God was real and kind. That my mom was in heaven, not buried in the ground. I wanted to believe more than anything, but it felt as if there were a gulf separating me from God.
I turned inward with my feelings. Everyone was falling apart around me, so I resolved that no one would see me cry. I would remain stable. Steady. Only I wasn’t. My anger was so overwhelming, I could not manage it. I was mad at everyone. God. Why did He allow this to happen? My family. Why wasn’t I told more about what was happening with my mom? My friends. Why did they all have whole families when mine was torn apart? Didn’t they know how lucky they were to still have a mom?
To cope I began doing the things my mom used to do – making sure my brother and sister were okay. That they had eaten dinner, done their homework. I did laundry. I cleaned. I did all I could to maintain order amidst the chaos churning all around me, and within me. I grew more and more bitter. What ten-year-old has to endure these things? Why is my life so hard compared to those around me? Why did this have to happen to me? Will things ever get better? Is the rest of my life going to feel like this? Will I ever feel joy again?
In the months after my mom’s death, I decided that either God wasn’t real—or He wasn’t good. Since I prayed for my mom to live, and she died, these seemed the only possible conclusions. Either way, I wanted to know. I wanted to know more about this God I didn’t even believe in. Months turned to years as I sat in this place of anger, pain, and brokenness.
Without my praying, without my asking, without my even dreaming it could be so, God blessed me with another amazing mother. A mother who sat with me for hours to talk about the loss I had experienced. A mother who would allow me to ask any question about God I wanted—or needed—to ask. A mother who took me to church, but let me make my faith my own. A mother who cooked for me. Cared for me. A mother who loved me unconditionally, as I had been loved before. Without my even asking, God redeemed. Without even knowing it could be possible, He restored to me what I had lost.
As I processed my grief with my new mom, I began to grow in a true knowledge of who God is.
One summer my life-long best friend invited me to a church camp. Sitting in the crowded chapel, I listened, stunned, as the speaker walked us through Jesus’ crucifixion. I had no idea that Jesus had suffered like this. The truth rang loud and clear in my heart: Jesus was familiar with suffering. The man continued, “It does not matter what has happened to you, God was with you. He wept when you wept.” This time, my faulty paradigm shattered. God wasn’t distant. He wasn’t bad. He didn’t hate me. He was intimately aware of my suffering. He wept, too, in fact. When I would scream into my pillow at night, when the tears wouldn’t stop flowing, when the hole in my heart threatened to undo me, Jesus was with me. He cared. He loved me. He had, in fact, never left my side.
Being reassured of God’s goodness, His mercy, His love—it changed my life. He has provided for me, and restored to me what I lost. He has mended my broken heart. These miracles are proof to me of who He is and what He can do. He is much greater than my ten year old mind had allowed.
My new mom is like one of those stones the Israelites took up as they crossed the Jordan River—a symbol of God’s goodness. I can look back on my past and, instead of seeing a shattered life, a broken heart, I see the hand of a loving Father—restoring, redeeming, and healing.
To order the great resource for children click here: Emily Lost Someone She Loved
For more information helping children grieve, contact Kathleen Fucci Ministries
Kristina Fucci earned a B.A. in English from Westmont College and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Talbot School of Theology. Before joining Kathleen Fucci Ministries, Kristina worked in Christian publishing as a contributing writer and marketer for a number of children’s ministry resources, including Sunday School and Vacation Bible School Curricula. She has also worked in Christian radio.
Dear you, who is starting college without a dad,
Here you are at the start of a new school year but still without a daddy. I can remember going off to college like it was yesterday–the freedom of a new world opening up to me! I remember move-in day with my family and the excitement of a new chapter just about to begin. However, I also remember feeling sad because I knew my dad wasn’t experiencing it with me. He would have been so proud of my accomplishments and proud to send me off to find my way in the world. I desperately wanted him to be there with me. If I had been in control he would have been there to share in my joy and my nervousness, but God had other plans and those are the ones we must trust. Many times we make our plans then wrestle with God over His better plans. He directed and is still directing my life without a father, and I’m finding that it’s turning out to be the most beautiful story.
“Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
We may never know the reasoning behind what God allows, but trust that His plan is always to bring us closer to Him and to glorify Him.
I know the idea of college without a father might be daunting. People will assume you have a dad and talk about things that you might want to stay away from. But, let them ask the questions, let them wonder where he is, and then tell them what happened. I found that the more I was willing to open up with people and talk about my father, the more I healed. God will absolutely use your story to bring Himself glory, and that’s what our life is about! Claim your story with God as Father because it is a privilege and a joy.
Another thing: If you claim to be a Christ-follower then God is upholding you with His right hand and covering you with His wings. Fact. This means that He is in complete control and is protecting you. His very nature is that of a Father. Before time began, God had Jesus Christ as His son. Father is His first name! Cling to that in every single part of your life. Tell Him about the joys in college, and how you got an A on a test you studied hours and hours for. Cry to him when you feel homesick, or when you feel like you messed up in a class or on a team. He can handle your emotions, and as your Father, He wants you to pour them on Him. You shouldn’t have to go through it alone, and who better to talk to than your Creator, Father-God. He desires to hear your voice and have a relationship with you. Don’t let that fade, okay? He’s closer than our breath and wants us to be in His presence. Allow Him to work in and through you, and know that when the times get hard…He is there.
You’re going to change a lot in college, and I am excited to hear about how God uses you as a light. We’re called to be a “city on a hill” and live in a manner that glorifies Christ, no matter what. Use your testimony of God as your Father to point others around you to Him. There are hundreds of other kids who also have a story like yours and might not know how to deal with it. Show them the secret place found in Christ and allow yourself to be used of God. In the end, we’re broken vessels and if God can use you in any way to show others Himself then every bit of hurt, sadness, missing your dad, and misunderstanding is worth it. I promise you!
I’ve had God as Father for 18 years now, and I would look you in the eyes if I could and tell you it’s worth it. Very hard, and I’m not even completely healed – but I wouldn’t change it. God is faithful, and He’s going to carry you through the next season of your life as His precious child. Let this new season of fresh beginnings allow healing to take place in your heart. It may not feel right and it may be isolating, but you are not alone on this journey.
With God as Father, you’ve got this!