In February 1988, our lives as a family were going well. We had three beautiful children, and I was moving up the ladder in my career with a retail chain.
I have always been an early bird, and my morning routine before leaving for work was to check on our youngest son Jamie, who was 13 months old. On the morning of February 9, I left for work but for some reason that day, I did not check on him. I arrived at work and just after 9am, I received an urgent phone call from a neighbour who said, ‘something has happened to Jamie, you need to come home.’
The details were not clear at that point, so I jumped into the car and drove home like I have never driven before. As I was racing along, the word ‘death’ kept coming into my head, and I screamed out to the Lord, ‘No, Lord… no, this CANNOT be true.’
As I arrived at home, the front door was open, the paramedics were working on Jamie, and I could hear the desperate cries of my wife. I still did not know what was going on, but I learned that our son Richard, who was 10, had found his brother unresponsive in his bed. The paramedics took Jamie to hospital, blue lights and sirens blazing, and my wife and I followed behind in the car. When we arrived at Casualty, we were met by the doctor and were not allowed to see Jamie while they worked on him. Eventually a doctor came out and we could see by the look on his face that it was not good news. Our beautiful son had died at 13 months old from sudden infant death syndrome.
We were numb, confused, angry and had many questions. Jamie had been for a routine check-up just a few weeks earlier and was fine. Had we done something wrong? Could this have been stopped? It felt as though we were trapped in a nightmare and we struggled to understand.
The hospital staff eventually told us that Jamie’s body was in the Chapel of Rest and asked if we wanted to see him. My wife did not feel able to go, so I went to spend some time there on my own. As I stood there, my heart cried and ached, and I said, ‘God, I KNOW you can do this, I know you can bring him back.’ As I prayed, I suddenly felt a strange tap on my shoulder. I immediately looked around, but no one was there. This happened three times, and each time, there was no one behind me. But then very clearly, I felt God speak into my spirit. I cannot say for sure if it was an audible voice, but I know God spoke:
‘He will not come back to you, but you will go to him one day.’
I learned years later that these were words spoken by King David in 2 Samuel 12:23 after he lost his own infant son. Although I did not recognise at the time where the words came from, I knew God was saying there was nothing more we could do. He had taken Jamie home. In one sense, it released me from the burden of praying for God to restore Jamie to us, but that did not stop us from feeling the desperate agony of grief.
In the days ahead, although our lives were shattered, we tried to keep things as normal as we could for our children, Richard and Natalie. Our church family gathered around us, and our pastor, John Mosey, was a wonderful friend, supporting us through the many practical arrangements we had to make. Little did we know that John would face his own terrible family tragedy toward the end of the year, but I will talk more about that in another blog post. The church’s support was incredible, but we still had so many questions. I felt God speak to me clearly one day: Stop asking me why. Ask me what I am going to do through it.
Two weeks later, I had been due to speak at our church. Our pastor said I did not have to do it, but I was able to share a short word on Romans 8:31: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us.’ I asked our church family to pray for us, and I also encouraged them to be as normal as they could with us. We didn’t want people to stay away or think that we did not want to see their children or their babies. We knew this would be an important part of rebuilding our lives.
Throughout all that time, I can say that I felt God was lifting me. I had to grieve, but I also had the responsibility of caring for my wife and children too. My mother gave me a copy of the famous Footprints poem, and I knew that despite our shock and grief, God was carrying us through the darkest time of our lives.
Today as a family, we live and enjoy a good life. It is a different life which will always be scarred by losing Jamie, but we are not broken. We have been through many stages of grief, and up until recently, I was struggling with many private emotions. In a future blog post, I will share more on this and how I feel God has set me free from the burden of guilt which I carried for many years.
If you are facing your own tragedy today, then if you are a believer, you can know that God is with you and will carry you through it. As believers, we are not protected from pain, and we should not con ourselves and think we can go through this life without heartache. But God can hold us together powerfully through the most terrible times of our lives and give us strength to keep going.
After a terrible loss, your life may never be the same again, but with God, it can still be a good life. He is the reason for our hope, and we know that one day we will see Jamie again.