29 June 2009

Losing My Child: Living In and Through Grief (Pt 4)

While I know I promised to go through more information on how the little booklet "Good Grief" is being beneficial in the grieving process, I thought it also relevant to point out another book that I began reading last week that has also been found to be a help in this matter. "The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good?" by R.C. Sproul is a book dealing with the providence of God.

I won't go into very much detail at this point, as I have only read the first four chapters so far, but I wanted to touch on it some at this time. Chapter four was read today, and it dealt with the issue of the "What if?" mentality, which as I mentioned in previous post has been one of the aspects that has, and does still plague me. This single chapter helped me to come to grasp with just how much God is in the details of everything. It was quite comforting to say the least.

Now, in continuing with the second chapter in "Good Grief," it looks at the idea that following the state of shock, we tend to fall into a state of emotion. One of the shortest chapters, it talks of the need to let the emotions go, to let it all out, to cry, even if today's culture looks down on men crying.

This chapter didn't hold much advice, since I guess I am not a modern enough man to worry about the crying game. I have cried...daily...for weeks. So, let's call stage two accomplished...or an ongoing process.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

26 June 2009

My dearest son...I love you!

The Broken Chain

We little knew that morning that
God was going to call your name.
In life we loved you dearly.
In death we do the same.

It broke our hearts to lose you.
You did not go alone,
for part of us went with you
the day God called you home.

You left us peaceful memories.
Your love is still our guide.
And though we cannot see you,
you are always at our side.

Our family chain is broken
and nothing seems the same,
but as God calls us one by one,
the Chain will link again.

A poem someone gave us yesterday that hit home greatly.

I am ever so glad you are now safe in the arms of your Savior, Jonathan; though I greatly miss you each and every day. You are free to fly with strength and grace now, never to be limited by your condition, but I long to see you, hold you, and be with you as soon as I am allowed to do so.

(Read Jonathan's story HERE)

24 June 2009

In Memory of...

My wife and I were surprised at what we received in the mail this week. A large envelope addressed to our deceased son Jonathan brought a curious look to our faces. I opened it to find a small stack of pages stapled together, with a photo on the cover from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, and words saying "In the memory of Captain Jack Sparrow of Imperial Fleet."

My son Jonathan was a huge Star Wars fan (as is his brother Alex), and he was a huge fan of online game play with others around the world. There are many, many Star Wars based computer games available, and I believe we have probably owned most all of them. For many years they have played all of the various versions of the games Jedi Knight and in recent years had become active in online teams and group play.

This stack of pages was a series of short comments and writings from people from all over the world, who had been a part of the Jedi Knight team and server play that my sons had been involved on. My son Jonathan's character screen name was Captain Jack Sparrow (another movie he liked). He had joined and played on the Imperial Fleet Clan for quite a while, and the people of that team, upon hearing of his death, put together this little memorial and mailed it to us, Jonathan's parents, as well as to his brother Alex.

As I read through page after page of comments, mostly from pre-teen and teens, I was seeing how my son's life had effected and been recognized by others. I wish to share some of these comments. There was a page with a map showing the location of most all clan members as well as an introductory paragraph stating:

This is a letter of remembrance to the family of Captain Jack Sparrow, a player on our Star Wars: Jedi Knights Jedi Academy server, Vengeance Lugormod, and an active participant of our community on and off the server. Now that we understand he was sick, we understand that his playing on our server and membership in our clan, Imperial Fleet, must have given him a lot of joy, which we are honored for providing. In no particular order, this letter compiles everything that our community has to say about his unfortunate and terrible passing. He is in our hearts, and we care about him, and will always care about him. We hope you are all feeling well.
Now here is a snippet from some of the comments from various members made about him:
Jack was an excellent member, and excellent friend, and an excellent contributor to this community....He was a great merc - a great sniper. He was respectful, honorable, nice, honest, and dependable. He was patient and consistent, he was alert and aware, he was humble and responsible. He was calm, he was optimistic, and always in a good mood. He was encouraging to lower ranked members, and a great warrior.


He was a friendly guy and a great guy to have around on the server. He always helped me entertain and keep order, but do it in a good way. He never hurt anyone and he always tried to help everybody out, even people that didn't like him.


Jack Sparrow, you were a great friend and an AWESOME clan member! We all love you! I can't believe I'm hearing this, Jack, you were one of the best members in our clan, and we all loved you. May the force be with you.


Uhhh, this is horrible, I'm crying. I am also so sorry for this. Jackie'O was a good friend of mine. Always so happy, funny, never angry, never told about his sickness....I was a bit angry at him, I don't like people who quit stuff without telling about it, but I never thought the reason is anything like this.


Tell Jack's family that he was a great friend, and never once did I think, oh darn, Jack is coming on. Whenever I saw JackSparrow is connecting it would make my day a little better, and the server won't be the same without him around...We'll miss you Jack, you were always cool, and calm and collected, we will miss you greatly. I am a little dizzy from all of this...Rest in Peace.


I am also deeply saddended by this. Jack was a good friend to me, even before I applied to IF. He was a friend, a buddy, a pal. He was on the server a lot, always happy to help someone with an issue or something someone didn't understand...Jack was one of my best friends in JKA, and now he is gone, and it feels like something was taken from me and the whole Vengeance Community.


I am truly sorry about your loss. Jack was by far the nicest guy I have ever met in this game. I never heard a mean or hateful thing from him ever; we can all learn a lesson from him.


I'm gonna miss this guy. I remember that Jack was one of the many members of this community who kept us (IF and P) from turning against each other when our relationship was less than pleasant.
It was great to hear how his loving and caring personality was seen even across the electronic world of gaming. We really appreciate hearing these things, and were amazed that an online community of young kids would be so thoughtful as to put together and mail this memorial document and mail it to us.

23 June 2009

Losing My Child: Living In and Through Grief (Pt 3)

OK, now turning attention to the book Good Grief as previously discussed. The book is basically an examination of a ten step process that most all people in grief experience in some form or another. So, let us start with step one: State of Shock.

Most everyone experiencing a traumatic experience...a life altering experience, go through a period of shock. During this time, the pain and grief may not hit home, and we don't immediately feel the effects of the situation in front of us. While this stage of the process can vary in the amount of time it from minutes to hours to days, it should not last for weeks. If it last too long, it can become unhealthy, not just mentally/emotionally, but also physically.

This stage can help us to to maintain some rationality in the face of tragedy; to keep from breaking into complete panic. Often times, people who have never experienced grief of extreme nature, will view those who have and are in this stage, as having great faith and strength. This can be seen as a great emotional mechanism in times like these, and glory be to God for giving us this short time of "control."

The important point with this stage, is that it should not last long, and one of the ways to break through this stage is to get back on the horse and get active with life again. If we allow ourselves to be too idle, or refuse to proceed on, then it can prolong this stage to unhealthy ends. Loved ones, in a effort to "help out" can often prolong this stage, by trying too hard to take over the normal life processes in an effort to relieve your stress. The important thing to do is to get back to life, get back to being busy, get back to a normal pace.

Unfortunately for me, this stage was forced upon me and quite painfully so. Since I run the mail order book store, orders didn't stop during this time, and getting them out quickly is required often, so I had to get back to business the very day of my son's passing. On top of that, I had spent the prior two years teaching my son Jonathan as much about the business as I could, and he was the one responsible for the daily pulling, packing, labeling and mailing of all packages. This was his main source of income, since he was basically too weak to get any other normal job (though he greatly desired and spoke of his wish to get a "real" job. So, for me to get back in and take over the packages, I was essentially doing my son's job, and that tore me up even more each and every day I did it. I still, to this day, over six weeks later, can see him sitting at my desk doing the job, and it brings tears to my eyes for me to do so.

After about four weeks, I finally got the will power and desire up to begin teaching my son Alex this job. Beginning from scratch, teaching someone all over again, was also a painful process, as it too brought back so many memories of the way Jonathan did things, and the depth and understanding that he had acquired that I now had to walk through in small steps for Alex. Fortunately, he has caught on quickly, and is doing a fine job now, so it has helped.

So, while I still feel a twinge of that shock, mainly do to my unanswered questions I can't seem to let go of, I do feel that for all intents and purposes, I did quickly pass through this first stage, into the second stage...emotion.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

18 June 2009

Losing My Child: Living In and Through Grief (Pt 2)

In beginning to continue to deal with the issue of grief, and this little book I mentioned in part one, called Good Grief I wish to start by being transparent, to a degree that might be somewhat embarrassing to me, but hopefully somewhat therapeutic in the end (according to the book).

The past four-plus weeks since my son's death have been pretty horrible emotionally, as would be expected, but the oddest thing has been the struggle between the mental me and the emotional me. This was an aspect of grieving I never expected to be this way. I have been through deaths in the past, with my mother who I was very close with, passed unexpectedly a bit over six years ago, and all four of my grandparents have passed in the last twenty years or so (one grandmother just last year).

I occasionally wonder about the true spiritual estate of those relatives that have passed, especially my mother, who talked-the-talk of Christianity, and was regularly in attendance at a local, though fairly liberal church. She was loving, kind, caring and helpful to just about everyone she met, and spoke often of the things of God. It is just that she spoke of things that were outside the realm of orthodox, biblical Christianity, such as odd spiritual events and happenings, and ways God would "speak" or communicate with her, guardian angels, things like that. Her knowledge of biblical Christianity seemed shallow, and I often wondered if her faith was "true" enough to get her to heaven.

With Jonathan, my mind and heart play different games with me. My greatest fear is, did I do enough...did I live as a good enough witness to the faith to pass a true faith to my son? Did I teach him enough for his salvation? Did I instill enough truth in him to get him into God's loving arms? In looking back, I see how with each new child that came along, the older ones got a bit less of my attention. Jonathan being the oldest, had I lost connection with him? Did he know just how much I truly loved him? Did I say/display it enough? Was I close enough to him in his later teens years as I should have been?

Many weeks before his death, I had been giving serious thought to how best to begin a one-on-two Bible study with the two oldest boys, with the intent of giving them more attention for the struggles they were to meet in these teen years, and the coming young adult years; some "man" time and discussions to prepare them. Not getting to do this just leads to more "did I do enough" thoughts in my mind. This is what my emotions were (and still are) yelling at me.

My intellectual, theological mind was fighting in an opposite direction. Salvation and faith come from the Lord, and not from my works directly. Jonathan professed a faith in Christ; he spoke openly about his faith. He lived based on his faith, and was a very good son. His medical condition came with an aspect of anti-social behavior, so it was harder for him to make friends. Therefore, he wasn't very active outside the house with other young boys, or out and about getting into who-knows-what possible trouble when outside my sight. His condition kept him home and with the family more than usual, which is where he was actually more comfortable it seemed. So, I knew he wasn't out living a scandalous lifestyle. Every time my wife or I would try to instruct him on things to not do or stay away from, his most common response was, "why would I even think about doing that?" as if the very idea was too stupid to consider. All this to say, externally, I am pretty confident he was not involved in any grievous sinful living. So mentally, I recognize he lived an externally faithful life; but emotionally the thought was, had I taught him enough.

The other aspect of the emotional verses the intellectual struggle, was over the realm of his actual death. Intellectually, I know God is sovereign, and every aspect surrounding my son's death was in his hands and controlled...there were no accidents or way to have prevented this. Yet, my emotional side keeps throwing out the "what if" thoughts. What if I had checked his oxygen level when I came home at 3AM...was something noticeably wrong then that I could have corrected? What if we had pushed to start the latest IV treatments a month earlier? What if we had taken him to the hospital Saturday? Should I have stayed home Saturday night to monitor him myself instead of leaving? Would I have been able to do something? What if...what if...what if....!

Then there is the constant search for an answer behind why he passed unexpectedly. Was the last IV treatment somehow responsible? Was it the oxygen, or a malfunction in the machine? Was the diet right; did we miss some other important food allergy that could have caused this? Was there anything in the last few meals he ate that could have caused it? With all aspects of Saturday night being so positive (his oxygen level, pulse, good sleep, etc.), how could this have happened? Why...why...WHY?!?

These questions plague me, yet I know mentally that no matter what the answer to any of these is, no answer will bring him back to me. In trying to relay the emotional feelings in this to others, I have told others it feels like one of my kids is wounded, and I need to go find help and bring it back to rescue them. Yet with each and everyday that passes, I get further and further away from my wounded child, and the hope of getting back to him in time to save him become less likely each day. This of course makes me not want to go on another day longer (let it be known, I have a melancholy temperament, so depression can set in easily); even though I know I have five more little ones (and a wife) that need me even more now (I keep having to tell myself what Spock said...the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the one). Mentally, my mind says "what the heck are you talking about...stop it!" but that is kind of what the feeling is like. I tell myself no matter what the answer, no matter any of the "what if" responses, he is gone and nothing will bring him back to me. Yet this mental knowledge gets overshadowed by the emotional day after day.

Then there is the aspect of the physical versus the spiritual. My mental, theological mind knows all of the standard biblical answers: he is with God...he is in a better place...he is no longer weak or limited...he is happier now than ever...he awaits me on the other side...etc. etc. etc.. My emotional side though, has that little voice saying...is he? What if I am wrong about my religious beliefs? Is there really hope? These thoughts make me wonder if I am having a crisis of faith? Has this tragedy pushed me over the edge, away from God?

Well, that is one aspect of this little book "Good Grief" has been helpful. It turns out that pretty much every one of these feelings, questions, and crisis issues are discussed in the book as being typical to varying degrees. While that doesn't take away the pain or the struggle, it does give me hope that I can survive this with mentally and emotionally as many other before me have. I will share more specifics on what the book says, in upcoming posts.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

17 June 2009

Losing My Child: Living In and Through Grief (Pt 1)

Well, it has been just over four weeks since my oldest son, Jonathan Charles McCormack unexpectedly passed away, drastically effecting me in ways I would have never expected. A lot has taken place in the past four weeks, making it feel like many months of time.

I have not posted anything on this blog in the past few weeks for many obvious reasons, the biggest being lack of desire to do much of anything, much less deep thinking, theological discussions, or much of anything.

Shortly after Jonathan's passing, a friend shared with me a story of a local pastor that had lost a son and had written a detailed blog about their struggles during their time. He mentioned a book called "Good Grief" that was mentioned as being helpful to this pastor. I did not give much thought to it beyond that. Then about a week and a half later, out of the blue, a co-worker came to my office and handed me a copy of this very book, asking me if I had heard of it. I told her oddly I have, and thanked her for the copy.

The booklet is a pocket sized, 64 page work, with short, easy-to-read chapters. I finished reading it today.

While I can't say the book made me feel emotionally any better, it did reveal that the very feelings and thoughts I am going through on a daily basis are very common to what most everyone goes through in grief. So, I am normal it seems, and am acting normal considering; but it points out some things to look out for in the grieving process. If not handled correctly, grieving can impact life negatively for years to come, which is not the way it should be.

The book is written by a minster named Granger E. Westberg way back in 1962, so while it is older than me, it appears that nothing has really changed in the dealing-with-grief area of life. His comments were not only applicable, but were so dead on in many places, that I swore he knew me and my current situation personally.

What I would like to do over the next few days of postings, is to relay some of the key issues from the book, and how they hit me where I currently am. Even though I have finished reading through this booklet once, I believe reading it again, and putting down some thoughts here will help me to apply it further, and hopefully aid in the grieving process I am still currently stuck in. I hope you will allow me to indulge my emotions some here, and not flee from reading any of my blog postings. I promise, once I get my mind back in line with my emotions to where I can think again, I will be writing on more interesting things.

For those following our progress, the family is fine, all things considered, and we're trying each day to get back into a normal life mode. My head still swims around the event, I still cry almost daily, and have to keep reminding myself that life must go on (yes, I must keep reminding myself of that). Fortunately I have five children (man, that is so odd to say after being so used to saying six), and a wife, so my attention stays more focused on them, which helps. I still have very little desire to do much but mope around, and even with my great love of music, I often wish to just quit it also. But, the book directly addresses that, so it gives me hope as we shall see. It is the alone and quiet times that are the worst battle, but battle them I must.

Thanks to all my family and friends who have been a big support during this time. As always, your continued prayers during this rough time is much appreciated.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7