Trusting God When You Are Grieving
Our baby girl, Brittany, was born with Down syndrome. To provide for my family, I was on the road a lot doing stand-up comedy while my wife, Brigitte, worked and cared for Brittany. That’s when I heard that Brittany was sick with leukemia. Thank God we had family to provide support and especially surround Brigitte. Sometimes you feel God’s presence through the love of family members.
Brittany went into remission and we moved from Chicago to LA. But Brittany’s cancer returned. During all this, I shared very little about my personal life outside of family. I had to block out the real world in order to still go onstage and make people laugh. As my sweet daughter declined, I had less and less laughter to share. I felt angry—at myself, at life. I did not rail at God, but I was confused.
One morning I leaned down and gave Brittany a kiss, and she looked up at me with her sweet eyes. I left the hospital briefly and when I returned, Brittany was in Brigitte’s arms. She had passed. I was hurting, but I didn’t want my child to be in pain anymore. She was at peace.
I didn’t know how to grieve, to process my immense pain, to be a father who no longer had a child, and to be there fully for my wife. We were in cocoons, cut off from each other and our own feelings. About ten years later, I began emerging from my cocoon. Grieving doesn’t have a time limit or expiration date. I don’t know why the fog lifted right then. It was just time.
It was during this time that I was diagnosed with mutliple sclerosis. These experiences helped me become stronger in my faith. I understood that tomorrow is not promised, so you must love and enjoy everyone you’re with today. I now realize that I’ve always been watched over by God (see Joshua 1:9). I can see that my path has always been guided.
Knowing that doesn’t stop the hurt. It’s okay to have whatever emotions you have. I tell people that, hey, if you want to cry, if you want to get mad, if you want to shout out, God’s shoulders are big enough. It’s okay. He still has you. I became a stronger believer because the Bible became real to me through the stories of people facing challenges with God’s help. I will see Brittany again. I’m here now but not forever. That helps. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18.)
As I’ve learned to talk about Brittany’s life and death, about my struggles with MS, and other challenges, God has met me there and walked with me through it. (See Joshua 1:9.)
Brittany’s disposition as a baby was one of pure delight. She loved to laugh, loved to giggle. I loved being around her. I was so enmeshed with her that I couldn’t distinguish where she ended and I began. We were completely synchronized.
When Brittany was diagnosed with Down syndrome, we continued to move forward with our lives and to enjoy our little girl. When I noticed that Brittany was sick, I picked Anthony up at the airport and we took her to Children’s Hospital. It was leukemia. At the end of Brittany’s treatments, things looked good. I was elated, but I protected myself emotionally for the sake of my sanity. Slowly, I allowed myself to take little bites of joy until I felt emotionally safe to enjoy more.
Going to LA was a fresh start for us. When Brittany’s cancer returned, I wasn’t surprised. I had braced myself for this probability. Life in the hospital was so grim. Anthony was on the road a lot and I was away from family. Some days she would be so sick that I would say to God, “Just let her fall asleep and not wake up.”
On her last day, she began to hemorrhage. She had an expression of panic, like a child drowning. Years later I learned that I had PTSD from this experience. Yet I also knew I had honored my daughter. I’d been there when she was born, and I considered it an honor to hold my child as she transitioned to a place of holy healing.
I entered a period of chronic heartache. I felt abandoned by Anthony and angry that he seemed to be getting on with his life. Reuniting with Brittany became my paramount thought. All I wanted was to have her back. But I dared not say the “s” word aloud. I was raised Catholic and Muslim, so I was very confused. I constantly had to pray, read the Word, and talk myself out of ending my life—this opened the door to the Holy Spirit. (See Romans 8:26–27.)
I was in a fetal position emotionally for at least nine years. As I emerged from the darkness of my grief, I chose to go to graduate school and start a new career. Along with reading the Word, I found strength in helping others and in watching Anthony process his grief. I was proud of him when he finally opened up and told Brittany’s story, and I was patient with him until he was ready to talk about his MS.
Describe the most painful experience in your life. How did that experience impact your relationship with God?
How can prayer, reading Scripture, and sharing your experience with trusted friends help you process grief? How can doing this help you see God’s love and care for you as you grieve?
What pain do you need to talk to God about today?