Today’s post is from Kathi Ward. She is leading the breakout session for women called “Hope Through Heartbreak” at WHOLE. This breakout is on the topic of child loss and Kathi has a powerful story of hope to tell through her experience of losing her daughter Ella Grace.
It’s important to know that at WHOLE, every woman who leads a breakout has personally experienced the topic she’s addressing. These are real women who have found wholeness in their specific area of brokenness. There’s hope for whatever you’ve faced or are currently facing and for that friend, sister, mother, etc. that you don’t feel equipped to help today.
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Breakout: Hope Through Heartbreak (Child Loss)
Leader: Kathi Ward
When I think about how much my life has changed in three years, it still amazes me. It doesn’t sound like a long time ago, yet in some ways it feels like an eternity. It was back before our world was forever shaken. Four beautiful children and pregnant with our 5th, a girl, and she was set to arrive by induction on July 28. I don’t remember having any fears about delivery, after all, I had been there, done that four previous times. I had faith in my doctor, the medical professionals and belief that all would go as planned. At the hospital I had all the expected preparations–IV, epidural, and then wait until it was time to push. When I got to that phase, I pushed a few times and then began to experience pain in my side. It was sharp, and not normal. I felt like I was going to pass out. My doctor came in to check on me, and that’s when it was clear that all was not right. Heart deceleration from the baby. Pain in my side increasing. My doctor urgently saying we would need to have an emergency C Section. In the operating room they said they were going to put me out so they could get going faster. I remember counting backwards as instructed. Little did I know how life would be different when I woke up.
When I woke up several hours later, everything was fuzzy. As I looked around the room, I had no idea where I was. I had a tube in my throat and I panicked when I couldn’t speak. After they removed it, I found my husband, and even though the ICU nurse told me to try not to talk, in a scratchy and confused voice, I asked him where Ella was. The look that followed was one that still haunts me. Eyes overflowing with tears, he said she did not make it, and had passed away. I thought I was dreaming at this point, and wondered when I would wake up. Judging from the looks of everyone in the room, this was not a dream, but my new reality.
After a while my doctor came in to see me. Compassionately, she explained to me what happened. The pain I felt in my side was my uterus rupturing. Totally vertical from one end to the other. A total rarity, since my body had never had any kind of surgery before. She said I came close to not surviving due to blood loss. She said that they were giving me transfusions as fast as they could. At this point I recall thinking I would gladly trade places and be the one to have died if I could bring Ella back.
The days to come were far from pretty. Thinking about funeral songs. Preparing scripture to use at the service. Picking out an outfit for her to be buried in. Selecting a cemetery. Choosing a casket. Trying to stand when you want to crumble. The non stop crying. Watching your other children process the loss of their sister. The funeral itself. Watching your child be buried. Physically gone forever. Wanting to make this nightmare go away.
However, even in this, I felt God’s hand of protection covering us. It felt like a blanket. Warm and comforting. Safe and assuring. We could feel Him working through others. I could go on for great lengths telling you about the wonderful things friends did for us during this time. Loving, sacrificial and compassionate things. We got through the first month in a haze, but still able to see all the blessings and the ways He uses people to minster to others. About six weeks after Ella’s death, a friend caught up with me at church and told me about an organization she read about that had a support group that helps parents deal with life after the loss of a child. She told me I should check it out when I felt I could. It took me a few weeks to muster up the courage to go. During the first meeting I just cried the entire time. Yet there was something oddly comforting about telling your story to people who could understand. They had also travelled the road that no parent ever wants to walk. I met some incredible women who were on the same journey I was. Not how you planned to meet a new friend, yes. But God knew what He was doing. Attending the group was a beginning to figure out how to move forward.
In the book of James, he says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2). While we don’t welcome or enjoy the heartbreaking things that come our way we can still know what joy in the midst of our darkness is. God allows us to go through pain, then surprises us with joy and peace. He will give us “beauty for ashes.”( Isaiah 61:3). I had to come to a point where I trusted Him with my heartbreak. As crazy as it sounds, joy and pain can exist together. You have to trust Him to take care of it.
Almost a year after losing Ella, I was driving to pick something up at a friends house, and praying along the way. I remember telling God that Ella was suppose to be getting ready for her big birthday party and how much we missed her. I asked Him to guide me through the next few days. When I got back in my car to go home, I was driving along and turned a corner, and there was a giant rainbow. At first it didn’t register with me, but when I saw it was a double rainbow, I knew God was sending me a personal message. If you know about the story of Noah, the rainbow symbolized a new beginning. While life without her wasn’t what I wanted, after seeing the rainbow, I felt a little bit more at peace. Not the kind of peace where all is fine and dandy and that everything was perfect and my life was going to be smooth sailing from that point on. But the kind of peace that comes after a hard fought battle. It’s where you didn’t think you would live to share your story, you have a lot of scars to prove it. The type of battle that you were not going to give up ever, kind of peace. I’m not giving it up because the price I had to pay to get this peace was way too high. Traveling that road would have been impossible without the peace that only He can provide.
Just days ago, we celebrated the day our Ella would have turned three. Anniversaries are hard, and the days leading up to them are filled with much anticipation as to what the actual day will hold. What I have learned in three years is that I don’t have to be brave and put up a strong demeanor. Her life and death will always be a part of me, just as my leg or arm is a part of me. It will always sting, and always hurt. I have learned to find my way over and over. God brought others into my life to help me make it bearable, but I rely on Him to give me the strength to get through. I look forward to eternity and the chance to make up for lost time. Philippians 4:6-7 is one of the verses we held close when we had to say goodbye. It talks about not being anxious and telling God what you need. His peace will wash over you and let you know that He’s in the driver seat. You never have to go through it alone.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7