Book Review: Even in Our Darkness

Book Review: Even in Our Darkness

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From the moment that I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. I read the first half last night, until sleep finally overtook me. I read the second half this morning when I woke up. I informed my husband “I will just read one chapter, then I will have breakfast.” My husband however knew me well enough not to expect me downstairs until the book was finished. As soon as I’d finished the book and had breakfast, I went at the housework like the Duracell Bunny, trying to make up for lost time!

I had read a review of this book a few months ago here. The fact that’s it’s recommended by Ann Voskamp, Matt Chandler, Dr John Townsend and R. T. Kendall along with Sam Storms’ very positive review convinced me that I needed to place this book on pre-order with Amazon, as it had not yet been published in the UK at that time.

Even in Our Darkness ~ A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life  is essentially the life story of Jack Deere. Jack grew up in Texas in a very dysfunctional family, the oldest of four children. His mum was volatile and at times beats him mercilessly. His dad was his childhood hero, but died by suicide in the family home when Jack was twelve years old. Jack then became a “wild child”.

At the age of seventeen, Jack became a Christian and his life changed dramatically. On the outside he lived an exemplary Christian life and was a role model for other young people. In private he continued to battle his besetting sins.

Jack has a brilliant mind and is a gifted communicator and within a few years he secured a prestigious teaching post at Dallas Theological Seminary, while also pastoring a church. He married a woman that he loved deeply and they had three children.

Jack subsequently was asked to leave Dallas Theological Seminary due to his association with  John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement. Jack wrote several popular books and thousands came to hear him speak. Jack and his wife ministered side by side and witnessed miraculous healings. Sadly, their younger son Scott was a troubled young man, who died by suicide in the family home Christmas 2000.

All Jack’s wife ever wanted out of life was to be a wife and mother, her son’s death pushed her over the edge. She went into a downward spiral of addiction and substance abuse. She interpreted Jack’s attempts to help her as him trying to “control” her. She accused him of being abusive towards her and left.

To find out how the story ends you will have to read the book. There are so many threads running through this story that I found it riveting on many different levels. There are currently 97 reviews for this book on Amazon.com and 83 of these are five star reviews. I haven’t read all the reviews, but from what I’ve read it seems that each reader interprets this book through the lens of what is relevant to them personally.

Naturally I read the book through my lens of being a bereaved parent. These are a few of the thoughts that came to me while reading this book: It is possible to experience trauma in life and subsequently become a Christian and believe “Everything is okay now, all that stuff that happened in the past doesn’t affect me anymore.” Everything does indeed appear to be okay until tragedy strikes, then you find yourself teetering on the edge of sanity and wondering if the version of Christianity that you’ve known up until now really is sufficient for such a time as this.

Hopefully however, as you walk through your own personal valley of the shadow of death, you will discover the theology of suffering and feel the nearness of the God who sticks closer than a brother, just as Jack Deere and many others have done. I will conclude with a quote from the penultimate chapter of the book:

The people who recover from the wreckage of their trauma are the people who can write a new story for their lives where their pain betters them. ~ Jack Deere 

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An Unexpected Treat

An Unexpected Treat

We weren’t expecting to be able to avail of a therapeutic short break for bereaved families at Daisy Lodge this Summer. We had the privilege of being there for Mother’s Day earlier this year. We also had the opportunity of a short break there the past two summers. We felt that now that it’s been over two years since Leah died, that maybe it was time for us to step back and let other more newly bereaved families benefit from this amazing facility.

Then last Wednesday, out of the blue, we got a call to say that there had been a cancellation and they were offering us the option of going there at the weekend, if we were available.

My heart leapt with excitement. I quickly scanned both my work calendar and my personal calendar. Thankfully any commitments we had were ones that could easily be rescheduled. Simon unfortunately was unable to accompany us and Rachel couldn’t stay the entire Friday until Tuesday, due to her work commitments. Other than that we were good to go.

I couldn’t stop smiling for the remainder of the week, eagerly anticipating this most unexpected treat. When we first went to Daisy Lodge in 2014 I found it a very emotional experience. I probably cried for most of our first stay. Just being there was such a stark reminder of the journey that we were now on, one that I definitely didn’t want to be on.

However I now primarily look on Daisy Lodge as a place of healing for me and my family. A place where each of us is helped to relax and to heal, a place where we are encouraged to have fun interacting with each other, to feel like a family again, after the trauma of witnessing Leah endure such gruesome treatments and then eventually die. Daisy Lodge is a place where we feel supported, both by the compassionate staff who are on duty 24/7 and by our interactions with the other families who all walk a similar road. A place where no explanations are ever necessary.

Daisy Lodge.jpgI know from talking to other bereaved parents on private forums, that the devastation of child loss often results in the fragmentation of family relationships. A therapeutic short stay at Daisy Lodge goes a long way towards the healing and rebuilding of these fragmented relationships.

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On one of the days during our stay this past weekend, we went into Newcastle to the Pleasure Lands Amusement Park (Rachel’s boyfriend Matt also joined us that day). Horace’s face was a study as he and the ‘kids’ spun wildly on the Waltzers. It was his turn to laugh at my facial expressions when I went on the Roller Coaster with Rachel and Matt.

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Despite all the spinning around, our stomachs were settled enough to indulge in some award winning Maud’s ice cream while we were in Newcastle.

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That night there was a “Photo Booth” back at Daisy Lodge, where Horace and I were ‘swallowed by a big fish’!

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On Monday morning Horace and I enjoyed a trip to the nearby Burrendale Hotel swimming pool and spa. I tried to compensate for all the wonderful food I’d been eating all weekend by swimming 22 lengths of the pool, but before you start thinking that’s really impressive I need to tell you that it’s quite a small pool, not an Olympic sized one!

Monday afternoon saw Horace and I engaging in archery – the last time I recall shooting with a bow and arrow was while staying with my cousins in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, when I was about ten years old. We used to make our own bows and arrows in those days, then climb trees and shoot. The ones at Daisy Lodge weren’t homemade of course. I was so engrossed in competing against my husband during the archery session that I forgot to take any photographs, but he beat me anyway!

Monday evening the four of us participated in a craft activity and worked together to produce these:

Craft Activity

Tuesday morning it was time for the four of us to say a fond goodbye to the staff and the other families. We were by now well rested, well fed, refreshed and ready to face the world again. Thank you to the Cancer Fund for Children for once again refuelling us on this most difficult of journeys.

God on Mute

 

I Wondered How She Was Doing Now

I Wondered How She Was Doing Now

When you lose a child

A few days ago I found myself thinking about somebody who I used to know. She and I met at a Parents and Toddlers group sixteen years ago, but our paths hadn’t crossed in recent years. Her youngest daughter is around the same age as Leah.

Two years previous to us meeting up at Parents and Toddlers, her only son, a toddler, had drowned in a tragic accident. I was heartbroken for her. I could not imagine the enormity of her loss. However I always appreciated her openness and her honesty as she recounted to me the awful details of that day and the days that followed it, while our little ones played happily together and sang nursery rhymes.

She told me of how traumatised her older daughter was, from the events of that terrible day. She talked about the many ways in which grief was affecting her children and her marriage. She spoke about her efforts to source grief support for her children and how frustrated she felt at times about the suitability of what was available. Those were very difficult days for all of them.

This past week I unexpectedly found myself recalling these conversations and wondering what life was like for her and her daughters now. I wished that I could ask her how many years the sense of ‘brokenness’ had persisted.

Today when I was in Tesco paying for my groceries I noticed that she was beside me! We walked out of the shop together and chatted for several minutes. I asked her how her two girls were doing. It sounds like they are both doing really well. I’m so happy for her and for them. I asked her how she had coped with her older girl leaving home and the fact that her younger girl will soon be leaving home also; I got a very positive upbeat response – she’s really happy to see them both doing so well.

I wanted to ask her how many years it had taken her to actually start feeling okay again, but I wasn’t entirely sure that she knew about Leah’s death and I knew that I would just start crying. I really didn’t think it was fair to dump my emotions on her – she’s had more than her fair share of dark days. To be honest, maybe it was enough for me to know that they have all survived emotionally and that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel.

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The Playground Incident

The Playground Incident

Recently when listening to adults talking to me about some of their adverse childhood experiences, what has really stood out for me in their story, is how their distress was compounded when the significant adults in their lives didn’t provide the nurturing that they needed at the time.

This was either because the parent was not emotionally available for whatever reason, or because the parent simply did not believe the child regarding the situation that the child was distressed about.

I’ve thought a lot about this.

These adults are very traumatised because of what happened to them as children. I can’t help but wonder how much less traumatised they would be, if at the time that the adverse event was ongoing, a significant adult in their life had nurtured them through the situation, even if it was something that they were powerless to change.

It is so difficult to watch our children struggle.

If it’s something that we genuinely cannot change, then it can be easier to look the other way and have ourselves believe that our kids are doing fine – after all, they’re “only kids”!

Last week’s “playground incident” involving my youngest was not resolved as quickly or as easily as I initially hoped.

It required a lot of ongoing nurturing on my part.

It was complicated by the fact that she ended up being off school sick, so then she couldn’t go to school to resolve it and everything escalated.

A few years ago I’m not sure if I would have had the emotional capacity to provide nurturing to the extent that I have provided it this past week.

In years gone by, I think that I used to be in too big of a hurry to jump in with my quick fire solutions. I thought that every problem had an obvious solution.

Through Leah’s illness and death I have learned that there are many situations in life that can’t be fixed, or can’t easily be fixed.

I have learned that sometimes the kindest thing that we can do for someone, is to not try and pretend that we can fix things, but to verbally or non verbally communicate: “I feel your pain, I care and I’m here for you.

Thankfully, with the help of an amazing teacher, everything appears to finally be resolved and the smile has returned to my little one’s face.

I will continue with a bit of extra nurturing, just to be sure.

I’m also thankful to those adults who entrust me with their stories, because I’m learning so much.

I just wish that I could start and raise my children all over again though, now that I’m older and wiser!

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Shopping in Belfast

Shopping in Belfast

Before Leah became ill I had never driven the 140 mile round trip to Belfast. Leah’s illness obliged me to acquire that skill, but I only know one route – the one from our house to either Belfast City Hospital or the Royal.

I wanted to spend a day in Belfast with our eldest daughter before Christmas. Conveniently for me, she lives quite near Belfast City Hospital.

Yesterday was Friday, the day that Leah and I always spent at the City Hospital from we returned from Bristol until she died. I left the house at the time that Leah and I always left and drove the same roads, only this time I was alone.

Unusually for me, I kept the music off in the car for the entire 70 mile journey – I needed to be alone with my thoughts and memories.

I drove on to the motorway and remembered how on Friday 27th December 2013 Leah suddenly became violently ill at that stage. Once the vomiting had stopped Leah insisted that she wasn’t sick, that she had merely drank some water too fast. She desperately wanted to be able to attend a large family get together in Donegal that evening.

On the outskirts of Belfast I passed the sign for Belfast Zoo and remembered how Leah longed to visit either Bristol Zoo or Belfast Zoo during her illness. Finally on Friday 13th December our Belfast haematologist told Leah that her immunity was now strong enough for a zoo visit. However, by this time Leah had developed a spontaneous spinal fracture and she would have needed to go in a wheelchair. She was in a lot of pain and could only walk short distances. Leah became ill and died before there was time to organise this.

As I drove into the many lanes of Belfast traffic I remembered how Leah used to look at the map that my husband had drawn and how her gentle calming voice ensured that I was always in the right lane.

Yesterday I prayed and asked God to help me.

I passed the turn off to the City Hospital at the same time as Leah and I would have taken that turnoff this time last year.

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You might wonder why I do these things, why I expose myself to this pain instead of running away from it? It’s just my way of processing it all, because sometimes I still can’t even believe that all of this has happened. Sometimes I feel as if a part of me is still in shock. The trauma feels too great for my mind to comprehend.

In December 2012, three weeks before her first blood test – the one that changed everything – Leah posted these amazing song words on her Facebook page:

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Rachel and I spent a lovely day together in Belfast. The last time I shopped in Belfast at Christmas time was in the 1980’s. Rachel got various bits and pieces. I spent all of £1.99 on a pretty candle holder – I love scented candles.

We had our lunch in Cosmos – I hadn’t been there before but Rachel described it to me as being similar to ZaZa Bazaar, a restaurant in Bristol that I particularly liked. I really enjoyed the main course in Cosmos, but for desserts the rice pudding and whipped ice cream in ZaZa Bazaar wins hands down.

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Rachel came back to Derry with me and she drove thankfully – I was feeling quite exhausted at this stage. Once home we did a bit more shopping from the comfort of the couch in front of a nice warm fire.