The Grove – Sorrow

You’d never guess it when you meet her.  She’s a vivacious, “life of the party” kind of gal.  Her laughter is as bright and full as her head of red curls.  But my dear friend, Brooke Holliday … she knows sorrow, the kind of pain I can’t bear to imagine.  For years now, I’ve watched her walk with this sorrow, and I’ve seen her do it with a grace that amazes me.

Brooke Laughing Cropped

Six years ago Brooke and I lived across the hall from each other.  We parted ways for the summer, each headed back to the States.  Brooke was on her way to Texas where she would give birth to her second child.  We planned to meet up in Toronto at the end of the summer for a shared layover before making the long flight to back Beijing together.

In the middle of the summer I got an email that left me stunned and weeping.  A month later, we met in Toronto as planned, but Brooke’s arms were empty.

Brooke, can you tell us about what happened?

At 8 am July 22, 2008 my son Andrew was born.  When they pulled him out, I noticed he was a bit limp and his cry was muffled.  I kept asking the pediatrician, “Is he ok? Is he ok?”  The nurse said, “He’s having a hard time breathing, so we’re going to keep him on oxygen.”

An hour later they thought he had congestive heart failure, so they moved him to the NICU.  They kept wanting us to hold him, but we just wanted them to keep working on him.

Then they said they needed to life-flight him to another hospital.  They lost him in the air, but were able to bring him back.  My husband, Scott, went to the other hospital with Andrew, while I stayed in recovery from the c-section.

When Andrew left the first hospital, his oxygen level was at 20%.  When they arrived at the other hospital it was up to 80%.  We rejoiced.

We never doubted that God would heal him.  Not once.

At the other hospital they discovered that Andrew had sepsis, an infection of the blood that affects the organs.  His only chance was to do a procedure called an “echmo.”  But as they were getting ready to do this, Andrew had cardiac arrest.

My husband called to tell me we had lost him.

Andrew Holliday

When you think about that day, is there a moment you continually go back to?

It was a very dark place.  In the maternity ward, I heard other babies crying and people laughing, and I wondered, “Would I ever feel joy again?”  I questioned, really questioned if I could still say, “God is good.”

I remember when my 15 month old daughter came to see me at the hospital.  She ran up to me and climbed on the bed.  And I actually smiled.  It was then I knew that I needed to keep going.  That I had to keep going for her.

Can you describe the days and weeks that followed that day?

I was definitely in shock.  The hardest part was how it rocked my faith.  I come from a church background that says, “If you believe, you will be healed.”  I had believed…with all my heart.  And look what happened.

I asked, “Is God good?”  “Is he really for me?”

The only way to describe it was a very dark place inside myself.  There was no way to reach my heart.  It was just dark.  Everything, every topic related back to the loss I felt.  And that was more than weeks or  months.  It was years.

People questioned your decision to come back to China after this.  What was your response to them? 

Shortly before Andrew died, God gave us a very clear decision that China was our home.

After he died, Scott and I looked at each other and said, “What do we do now?”

Finally Scott said, “When God called us to stay in China, he knew that Andrew would die.  He was calling us then.  And he’s calling us now.”

Someone told me once that God will heal you where he calls you to be.  I’ve found this to be true.   It was definitely a rough time when we came back.  But by God’s grace, we were moved out to a new area, where no one had known that I was pregnant.  God ordained that time and place, that I didn’t have to tell people over and over again that our baby had died.

As you’ve grieved and walked with this sorrow, what has helped you through?  How have you found joy again? 

For the first couple years, I couldn’t shake it.  I couldn’t let go.  Because I desperately wanted to know why.  I wanted his death to mean something.  I wanted to know why I was so hurt.  When people would talk about God and his goodness I would almost get upset with them, because I thought, “He’s not always good.”

Then one day I was talking with Scott and he said, “Brooke, you will never know why.”  In that moment that truth rang in me.  I knew that I couldn’t let go or heal while needing to know why.  And deep down, I knew that there would never be a why that was good enough.

I was finally able to say, “God, I don’t know why, and I don’t have to know why.  But I do know that you are good.”

I can call him good, not according to my definition of good, but His.  My definition of good is that I get whatever I want.

On the last day of my life, I know I’ll look back and see how this sorrow shaped me. Sorrow is building in me the ability to look into my future and be okay with not knowing.

That is the biggest change in me.  I can now say, “God you are good.  I trust you and the plans you have for me, knowing those plans are not mine.”

What would you say to those that are trying to walk alongside those in sorrow?

The worst thing you can do is the ignore the loss.

The people I’m grateful for are the ones that weren’t afraid to ask me how I am doing.  Saying nothing is more painful than any awkard comment would be.  Just hug the person and say, “How are you doing?”  “Is there anything you want to talk about?”

Don’t act like it never happened.  That’s so painful.

What would you say to those who are in sorrow now?

Give yourself time to heal.   Let God heal you, and don’t try to heal yourself. Don’t rush into ministering to others through your pain.  You need time.

And then remember these words that another mom shared with me.  She too had lost a child, and she told me, “The pain will never go away.  It will always hurt.”

Those words comforted me.  It made me realize that I didn’t have to wait for it to go away.  I could carry on and be who I am meant to be, even with the hurt.

And it does still hurt. The pain of the loss will never go away.

One of the hardest moments of my everyday existence is when people ask me, “How many children do you have?” I smile and say, “I have two daughters.”  But in my heart I cry, “I have a little boy.

Now I anticpate heaven like I never did before.  On this earth I never held him, but in heaven I will.  I will know him there.

Brooke, I’m wiping away tears now.  Thank you.  Thank you for sharing the story of your sorrow.  


Now let’s here from everyone on our prompt “Sorrow.”

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  1. Kimberly Todd April 3, 2014

    Brooke, I love you.

  2. Liz Schouten April 3, 2014

    Thanks so much for sharing, Brooke. And for affirming that He IS good.

  3. Jennifer April 4, 2014

    Life is sorrow. Sorrow is life. There was a time when those were the words I could easily have said and known to be true. A friend, on the other side of the world at the time, suggested that I read some books about grief, giving me a suggested reading list of what ended up being wonderful, though challenging books, speaking to the heart. What I came to see, relatively quickly and very clearly was that the challenging events, one on top of the other which I was trying to process in my thinking at the time all had the common thread of grief and loss, and because at the times I had simply failed to really process any of them well, and added to them with the next challenging event, more than anything else what I had was a lot of unresolved and complicated grief to deal with. A task at the time made all the more challenging because included in that mix of loss were two of the people most significant to me in my journey of healing to that point in time. I have walked one day at a time since recognizing that and learnt much. I have succeeded and failed. I have learnt that feeling hurt and pain is ok and not to be afraid of, even if many other people simply run away from it, and from hurting people. I have learnt that feeling pain, does not mean that you need to stop living, though you need to be sensitive to what it is wise for you to do and not to do, and be sensitive and care about yourself. Needed to learn both to be patient and not to be afraid to step outside what felt safe, when God enabled it.   I have learnt that some people simply do not get it, and sometimes the best thing that we can do, hard as it is, is to simply let go of what they say, and simply not allow them to hurt you any more. Actually I think if I am honest with myself, the last one is something I am working through right now, with regard to a specific situation, rather than something I have done. Something I am being challenged to do, rather than have done. This is not an easy time.

  4. Amy Young April 4, 2014

    Brooke and Danielle — I love that Jesus is “The Man of Sorrows” … yet also “the man who goes to weddings and makes wine” (doesn’t roll of the tongue quite as quickly, does it? He is both. And as image bearers, so are we. Brooke, in so many ways, you reflect this dance between sorrow and celebration in such authentic ways. Thanks for letting us see a bit of it here!

  5. Amanda April 4, 2014

    Brooke, thank you for sharing your story, for being open about the really, really hard things, and for sharing the hope in it now. Thank you for teaching how we can walk alongside those who are suffering. Love you!

  6. Celena Travis April 4, 2014

    Brooke, THANK YOU for sharing your sorrow. I too remember that year as the darkest year of my life.  Just a few months after you lost Andrew, I lost my daughter, Erica, on September 11, 2008.  She was 36 weeks and was stillborn. No one can EVER prepare you for that type of pain.  I remember crying out, screaming at God for that same WHY question everyday and feeling so alone because the majority of people were so afraid to talk to me about my loss. So they chose to ignore the situation altogether.  So THANK YOU for bringing that to light.  Just as we lose siblings, parents, or grandparents, we keep their memories alive by talking about them.  The same is true for those who lose a child to miscarriages, stillborns, or even after the child is born. We want to remember them and need to remember them. The pain never goes away and like you, Brooke, the question of how many kids do you have is an everyday reminder of who I am missing in my family. Yet, it will be that much more glorious when I am in my Father’s presence and get to meet my Erica and never have to say goodbye.  May God continue to use our sorrows for His purpose!

  7. Naomi April 4, 2014

    Thank you Brooke for sharing your story. I have often thought that there’s no greater sorrow than the agony of losing a child.

    The word sorrow brings a lot of faces and memories to my mind, sounds, smells.. As a M midwife serving in Asia for 11 years, still-births, babies born too soon to survive, terrible infections, pregnant children, healing and resurrections that could have been but were not..Sorrow falls far short of capturing the depths of grief and torment of soul. Yet, strangely, in these sorrows the great mystery of redemption unfolds within our Father’s broken heart. It was for our heartaches that He willingly offered His perfect son 2,000 years ago. The price is paid, death is defeated. Somehow in the middle of our mourning and sorrow we find our way into the arms of a God who feels our every heartbreak and is the source of every joy, who won for us eternal victory and bore for us our every sorrow. He already wrote the book, cried oceans of tears and won every battle. Thank you for reminding me today!

  8. Sarah Moulding April 5, 2014

    Thank you Brooke for sharing your story, and for being willing to talk about the realities. I take comfort in the way that God wastes nothing, no we may never know  the why, and yet God still is able to take the bad and make something beautiful from the scars if we are willing to let him.

    My own sorrow stems from 3 miscarriages, each of which caused a different reaction in me in how I dealt with it. The first was through an ecptopic pregnancy, and our first child. It broke us, it hurt both physically and emotionally, it took time to heal, yet I wasn’t crushed, I knew God was sovereign, I knew he was in control and I knew that I didn’t have the right to demand answers that I would never probably get anyway, I took comfort in focusing on the ways in which God had been in control in putting restrictions on how and where, so that we were surrounded by people who loved us and who cared and who were just there.

    The second was a blur amidst the adjustments of settling into a new culture. The third floored me, I couldn’t accept it, I was angry, it wasn’t fair why did He have to take away 3 of our children, particularly when we had given up everything in order to go where he had asked us, what more did He want. The internal battle continued, my heart was broken, I couldn’t even talk to God anymore.  It wasn’t until we had returned to the UK for a visit that I was able to move forward when someone who didn’t know me that well, dared to suggest that I was allowing bitterness to take a hold of me. Too right I did, I was bitter and angry at God. Yet God used that as a wake up call, as I began to think about it and chew it over and see what the bible had to say about bitterness I began to see it was eating me up from the inside. Over time I was able to move out from the self pity that had formed from my sorrow, and was able to see once again how God had still been in control by us having been in a more developed city with better medical facilities, my in laws visiting at the time so that my husband I were able to have much needed time together whilst they took care of our daughter, and once again key people who were there for us.

    The picture is my own reflection of what that sorrow was like for me. Like a heavy weight pulling my heart apart, yet nobody can get close enough to really help, they don’t understand, they don’t really know what its like, I can’t explain it so how can they understand, I just don’t have the words, I want to get out to get away, but I can’t, I’m trapped, I’m alone.

    I am just thankful that there was a way out, and that my heart has healed, the scars are still there but its functioning again.

  9. tami April 7, 2014

    Sarah, I felt very similarly when my mom died last year–angry at what seems unfair–how could He take her away from me, when I had given up living on the same street as my parents, and moved across the world willingly?  Hadn’t that been enough sacrifice on my part, and hers as well?!?!  oh, aargh.

    i think for me, the most awkward thing was that when she died, it seemed to me that people around me would think that our prayers hadn’t worked.  she’d been 3 yrs in and out of chemo, and so at times, we’d been able to rejoice that God was healing her, and had shared that joyous news w/neighbors and friends when they’d asked.  They had even been offering up doua’s (request prayers) for her.  i didn’t know how to face people, and didn’t really want to talk about it while picking up and dropping off kids at the school gate.  thankfully my husband stepped in and covered that for me!

    it has seemed to me that after tasting and digesting this sorrow, there is a deepness or rootedness that i didn’t have before.  maybe an added dimension better describes it.  i hope that it will be useful someday.  certainly my tears will pour out with others who mourn.

    can’t wait for Jesus to come!

  10. NK May 15, 2014

    I too am journeying the road of sorrow- albeit a different one. Four days before our wedding, my fiancé called the whole thing off. I had moved countries to be with him and although I could follow his reasoning why, I could not understand why God had allowed this to happen. I felt completely uprooted and alone. And I was furious at God. I too asked the WHY question.

    I got a lot of the usual answers from people such as the all things work together for good quote, which quite frankly had me wanting to punch something (or someone!).  It has made me realise, sadly, that the church on the whole is ill equipped to help people going through hard stuff. I’ve spent the last four years trying to come to terms with what has happened – sometimes silently, other times loudly and messily (people don’t like messy, but I’ve learnt it’s better out than in) – and asking questions most daren’t voice out loud such as is God really good and can I really trust him.

    One of the most helpful things anyone said to me is this:

    I don’t know why, but I know why I trust God, and he knows why.

    I’m still learning to trust God again. I still feel like I’ve lost my best friend and a whole lot of other friends as well along this hard road. I’m still waiting for my heart to heal and the pain to subside. I can’t yet see how this is working out for good, but there are glimpses of light in the dark.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 15, 2014

      Oh, NK!  I had someone close to me go through a similar broken engagement experience.  So, so heartbreaking.  For years we couldn’t see the good working out for her, either.  You’re right, it’s not about knowing why, it’s about trusting…

      Hurting for your pain. Thank you for sharing.  Your mess is welcome here.

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