Ecclesiastes 9:1-2 states that all mankind shares a common destiny; Death comes to all.
When Archway contacted me about sharing my story for those who are dealing with sudden, unexpected death, I was willing to tell my story because I understand the trauma and pain that accompanies such a loss. I desperately want those who suddenly find themselves hurled into this horrific place to know they are not alone and there is hope of finding a way to move forward. Thirteen and a half years later, I am telling my story of profound loss as a lifeline for people who have lived through the suicide of a loved one.
In the beginning God...
From my earliest recollections God has always been present. I was born and raised in a Christian family. At the age of seven with a firm Christian foundation, I personally became a child of God. At the age of 17, I found myself pregnant and unwed to my childhood sweetheart, and I knew that I needed a Savior. This is when God proved to me that his love and forgiveness was enough to cover my shame and guilt. We married, and in one fell swoop I became a wife and mother. God remained faithful as that precious life made its way into the world. He was perfect in every way. Even his Apgar score was a perfect 10. We named him Steven Bradlee after his very proud father. We called him Brad.
Through the years, life had its challenges, trials, and struggles. For instance, our second child was diagnosed at age 7 with type one diabetes, but I embraced my calling of being a wife and a mother and had three children by the age of 24. At the age of 39, “a surprise pregnancy” became our fourth child. Timing of this precious boy became more evidence of God‘s love toward our family. At this time, Brad was 22, James 20, Sheridan 15, and Brett was a newborn.
When Brett was two months old, our family had its first introduction to sudden, traumatic death. My aunt and her family came to Texas to visit our surprise baby and on their return home, the driver, my 23-year-old cousin, was hit by a tire that flew off of an 18 wheeler. He was killed instantly and all other family members survived. We were shocked, devastated and reeling from the pain of this loss, and our oldest child Brad took it the hardest.
Brad was saved at the age of four and he trusted Jesus as his Savior. However at the age of 22, he was struggling to find his place and vocation in this world. Unbeknownst to us, Brad’s inner turmoil was taking its toll on his decision-making, and he was spiraling rapidly. The same God who is always faithful to protect and prevent was going to show a side of Himself that we had never experienced.
On March 8, 2008, Brad‘s struggles were over, and mine began when I walked into his room and found his lifeless body. Time stood still as I heard sounds come out of me that I had never heard before. I heard my voice cry out and ask God, “Is he with you?”
His response, as he spoke truth to my heart, was “once saved, always saved” as referenced in John 10:28-29. But what about this kind of death? Suicide?
God reminded me of the truth in Romans 8:3-39. He showed me that I nullify his grace when I try to determine what sin is big enough to separate us from Him. Then God gave me the immediate awareness that Brad was in His presence, safe with no more suffering. He was home with Jesus.
At that moment as a mother, I knew that if Brad was okay, then I could be okay too. I have had to remind myself thousands of times since that day that I am suffering, but Brad is not.
As I reach back to people walking the path of profound loss behind me, I want to offer some truths that might help sustain them.
1. Time doesn’t stop! In my first moments of horror as I was holding my son’s lifeless body, I realized that time does not stop for pain. At the time of his death, Brad‘s favorite brownies were baking in the oven and I could hear the timer of the oven beeping... proving that time kept going even though it felt like life had stopped.
2. God‘s presence is present! As I experienced the most horrible horror I had ever known, my Creator, my Redeemer, God showed up. He immediately began speaking life and truth to me, filling my heart and head with exactly what I needed.
3. Keep your eyes and faith fixed on him and not people! I wondered how my family and I would ever survive this. There were so many questions: Do we need counseling? Medication? Books on grief? How do you control your thoughts?
Since I was nursing my four month old at the time, I could not take any medicine that might affect my milk supply, and waking up through the night to nurse kept me exhausted, so sleep was always welcomed. Holding our precious baby in my arms was so comforting and we wholeheartedly knew that he was a gift from God for our family. We called him our blanket of comfort. In the first days after our loss, I was given books about grief and death, but I continued to seek God about what to do because suicide was new territory for all of us. God directed me to Psalms 73:24 which says that “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” I am in no way discounting Christian counseling, but for me, God’s Word was my constant source and counsel.
4. Seize the moment! Don’t get stuck on grief and missing. God opened my eyes right away that I did not need to become obsessed with missing Brad and make him my idol. As we were collecting pictures for the funeral, I realized that Brad was just a memory. I screamed and cried and threw his picture across the bed. At that moment, I realized that my existing family was in the present. With God’s help, I chose to “be present “for them as a wife and mother. Jesus helped me to step up for my family because they were also missing their Bradlee.
As minutes turned into days, and days into years, I’ve had to learn to yield to God’s script for my life because it was His story for me. I have been honest with Him and confessed that I didn’t like how His pages were turning out. I always thought that with this kind of horror, surely some kind of ministry or platform would have come from this. But in all of these years, I have only been asked to speak at three gatherings, and now Lorna invited me to share my story with Archway.
Because I trust in God‘s sovereignty and love, I know this is God’s best for me. His own unique plan designed for me is that I get to personally experience Him every day. I see Him in everything, even in the ordinary and mundane, and that is His beautiful gift to me.
And today, my arms are once again full with my first grand baby named Lane Bradlee. He is the son of my daughter Sheridan who was 15 at the time of her brother’s death. Sheridan is now 28 and expecting her second baby in October which will be a girl. At my age, I am experiencing lots of hormone changes as is my 13 year old “surprise” baby. It’s a new adventure every day, and God continues to sustain us and guide us.
My final call back to anyone reading this who is suffering is that death is yours even though you didn’t choose it. It is yours alone to process as you find yourself thrown into the worst kind of pain and grief. The one thing we all have in common is that God is present and we are not alone in our pain. He is our hope and our means of survival. He willingly gave up His only son Jesus so that we all might have life, and have it abundantly. He is real and we can expect to experience Him and His love in the darkest of times. My prayer is that all may see and know Him. I truly believe that the best is yet to come. Every day brings me closer to seeing my Jesus and my precious Bradlee face to face. Oh what a day that will be!