June 2011

InexcessTV article: Perhaps this shows some of the changes in my experience of bereavement, as the first few years have passed. Philippa Skinner

Keeping Faith.

A personal reflection on grief by Philippa Skinner, whose son died four years ago, aged 21.

When tragedy hits, people react in any number of ways. Hidden among the many unearthed emotions there are often questions lurking, with no easy answers: 'Why me, what did I do wrong, how could I have stopped this from happening?' It can feel as if we have lost our compass as we enter uncharted territory and negotiate our way across a landscape that is dark and unfamiliar.

When Jim died, suddenly and unexpectedly, after an overdose of heroin, this was just how I felt. I lived a reasonably ordered life and I thought at around fifty years of age I knew who I was and what I believed. Some thirty years before, I had decided to become a Christian and had lived as best I could, trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. That's not to say I ever thought I understood everything or got everything right, but I thought I could believe some things at least... that God loved me and wanted the best for me and my family. My part was to trust and to keep walking on in faith even when I wasn't sure where I may end up- or where my children may end up. Although I knew- intellectually and by experience- that as Christians we were as vulnerable as anyone else to the knocks and bumps of life, I just continued to trust that somehow all would be well. So I prayed day by day for all my loved ones- or any other matters I thought needed a bit of God's intervention!

When Jim died all of this, all my understanding of the way the world and my life worked, fell dramatically apart. What had happened? Had God taken his omnipotent eyes off the ball for a moment and scored a horrendous 'own goal'? I was angry- with myself, with God or with anyone who offered me spiritual clich's along the lines of 'God must have loved your Jim very much to take him so young' or 'He took him to spare him from greater pain' or even worse, 'In the future you are going to be able to use your experience to help others'. Then of course, I was even angrier with myself for being angry with people who were only saying stuff because they didn't know what else to say. All in all, a bit of a mess.

Now I can look back with a little hindsight and realise I had to go through all that mess. Intellectually and spiritually there was no other way for me to go facing, as I was, a situation that represented one of my worst nightmares. I dare to say now that though I have no answers to the 'why' questions, I believe God was present in all that mess too and I do have hope for the future.

Every person will respond differently when facing the ultimate questions of life and death and it can feel quite scary and destabilising, potentially even more so for those, like me, who thought they were reasonably secure in what they believed. At such times some may turn to spiritual support for the first time, while others may turn away, even after years of belonging to a faith group. Both responses are understandable reactions to cataclysmic life events. My personal experience - and in such situations all reactions must be personal, not dictated by others- felt very scary to me as I stared into the abyss and wondered if I could still believe God was at the bottom of it. Eventually, after one or two years of hard questioning, arguing and metaphorical fist shaking at the Almighty and others, I decided to trust that God did know, did love and hadn't abandoned Jim at his point of need. It still isn't easy of course, and I know my own bit of suffering is just a drop in the bucket compared to the oceans of loss and need in the world. I choose to believe, however, that ultimately, one day, God, whose very essence is love, will make all things new and mourning, crying and pain will be things of the past..

Link to InexcessTV website

Published in Carers Community Magazine: