Twenty years ago this June we set out with our five kids, ages ten-years-old down to 16-months, on a much-anticipated road trip to visit family in Minnesota. We planned many adventures along the way, including visiting Yellowstone Park and Mt. Rushmore.
On our first day, we drove to Lake Coeur d’Alene, ID to camp. As we busily set up our campsite, we lost track of our youngest daughter, Margaret, for a minute. After a few minutes of frantic searching, we found her face-down in the water at the edge of the lake. A doctor who was camping there with his family performed CPR, and she was air-lifted to the hospital. Four days later, with our kids, family, and friends standing around her bed singing and praying, she went to be with Jesus.
That was the hardest thing we’ve ever gone through in our marriage, but God showed Himself to us in so many amazing, tangible ways through it. You, the body of Christ, were a huge part of that.
I’ve often been asked since then how to minister to someone who has experienced a tragedy. Here are just a few of the things we appreciated so much.
You Sent Cards
We received piles and piles of cards. One day it took me two hours to read the mail! I especially appreciated the cards and notes that came months and even years later on her birthday or the anniversary of her death. Thank you for remembering with us.
You Used Your Gifts
Many people made meals, someone came and worked in our garden, and a neighbor came over and cleaned the bathrooms. I didn’t ask her to, but she knew bathrooms need to be cleaned regularly and I wasn’t in the state of mind to do it, so she just showed up and started cleaning. Someone changed the water in all the vases of flowers, and someone planted all the living plants we received. A friend coordinated making a beautiful memory quilt with each square hand-crafted by a different friend. It was displayed at Margaret’s memorial service just six days later! Several people stopped by to pick up my kids and just play with them or take them to a birthday party. I love that each person stepped up and just did something that they were good at and blessed us.
You Remembered Our Kids
One day we came home from church and there was a gigantic bouquet of brightly colored balloons on our porch. My kids loved that! Our oldest son had a birthday shortly after the accident. One friend baked a Lego brick-shaped cake and others helped run the birthday party. My kids were hurting too and we appreciate that you ministered to them.
You Held Us Accountable
Being in church during worship time was incredibly difficult for me for the first couple of months. I just felt so “raw.” Usually, I ducked out of the sanctuary and found a place to be by myself. One morning, just as I was preparing to make my escape, a friend grabbed my elbow, put her arm around me, and declared, “You and me and God are going to make it through this service together.” We did, and it was a turning point in my healing. I appreciate so much that people checked up on us to see how we were doing spiritually.
Knowing that people were praying for us was so comforting. Sometimes we received cards with prayers written out. Other people prayed with us at church. About a month after Margaret died, I was enveloped in sadness one day. The only way I can describe it was like a huge bubble around me that I couldn’t escape. I tried singing, reading the word, praying, hugging Bill, and ignoring it, but nothing would make it go away. I finally called Pat Lind and asked her to put me on the prayer chain. (This was back in the days before email, and the prayer chain literally had to be called from person to person.) I remember sitting on the stepstool in my kitchen about 10 minutes later (just enough time for the prayer chain to go through) and I physically felt that bubble lift up off of me. What a testimony to the power of prayer!
You Weren’t Afraid to Ask
One of the hardest times for me in my grief was three weeks after Margaret died. The mail dropped off dramatically, and it seemed that everyone else’s life went back to normal except ours. I appreciated it so much when people would ask me weeks and months later how I was doing. I think some people are afraid to do that because they think it might upset the person or maybe they themselves will end up crying. It’s okay if there are tears! Romans 12 says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor…rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer…rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”
And so, body of Christ, even though this note is 20 years late, THANK YOU for ministering to us. We appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.
– Bill and Laura Chase