What Good Grief Looks Like When a Daughter Dies
The phone rang late Wednesday night near the beginning of the New Year, January 11, 2012. It was Sarangan Sankar, Christy's boyfriend. He was barely intelligible because he was crying so much. He had just been on the phone with the Durham, North Carolina, police who had cordoned off Christy's home. The words he spoke were, "Christy is gone. She was found dead in the house. Christy has passed away."
I was desperate for more information. But Sara was in Philadelphia trying to board a plane for Durham, so I had to let him go. He didn't know any more at that point anyway, and it would have been unkind to press him for details. What did details matter if the fact was certain? Christy was dead.
I hollered to Ann, my wife, who was downstairs in our Lexington, Kentucky, home. Suddenly we were hugging each other for dear life. Ann kept saying, "I knew! In my heart, I knew!"
Since Monday she had been carrying around a premonition that something was wrong. On that day, she listened to a voicemail from Christy's boss at IBM, Paul Haberman, who said Christy had left a message for him saying she wasn't feeling well. Attempts to call her had failed. That wasn't terribly unusual, but worries arise when you know your child is home alone.
Later we learned that Sara had talked to Christy Monday night, and she had seemed fine then. But she did not show up for the weekly Tuesday night board game party that she so enjoyed. By Wednesday, Sara was worried and asked a close friend to break into the house if necessary. James climbed in through a window. He found Christy lying on the floor upstairs and called 911, but he knew she was gone. Sara arrived at midnight, but he wasn't allowed in the house, a potential crime scene. All he could do was stand outside and talk with the police chaplain. Finally, around 3 in the morning, officials decided there had been no foul play or crime, so they removed the body and took it to the medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill.
We felt a deep need for companionship. Given that we have no family within 500 miles, we called our dear friends, Bill and Susan Arnold, who stayed and prayed with us until midnight. Finally, we lay down in our bed, trying to comprehend the reality until the dawn. My heart was pounding; my breath was short. We both cried; we both prayed. Every parent's worst nightmare had come to pass.
So many thoughts and feelings run through your head and heart when you get a phone call like that. My mind darted through instant replays, from waving goodbye to Christy as she drove off to North Carolina on December 31 to holding her after her birth on August 14, 1979, in Durham, England. She is gone from this earth until the Resurrection. Until then, she will not come back except in the form of memories.
Was This God's Will?
From the day Christy died, I was determined to be open to whatever positive thing there might be to glean from this seeming tragedy. I clung to the promise of Romans 8:28, that "God works all things together for good for those who love him."
The first point immediately confirmed in my heart was theological: God did not do this to my child. God is not the author of evil. God does not terminate sweet lives with a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms are a result of the bent nature of this world. As Ann kept repeating, "God is not the problem; he is the solution."
One primary reason I am not a Calvinist is that I do not believe in God's detailed control of all events. Why? First, because I find it impossible to believe that I am more merciful or compassionate than God. Second, because the biblical portrait shows that God is pure light and holy love. In him there is no darkness, nothing other than light and love. And third, the words, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away," from the lips of Job (1:21), are not good theology. According to Job 1, it was not God but the Devil who took away Job's children, health, and wealth. God allowed it to happen, but when Job said these words, as the rest of the story shows, he was not yet enlightened about the true nature of the source of his calamity and God's actual will for his life. God's will for him was for good and not for harm.