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.
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.
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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