In January, a sixteen-year-old girl from my community was tragically killed in an ATV accident. But she was not one of those unknown faces or names that we see on the news every night. It was a classmate and teammate of my own kids, a dear friend that they lost suddenly.
Because my children attend a small Christian school, I knew the administration would, like us, point the kids to Christ. Also comforting was the fact that this beautiful young lady knew Jesus, and we are confident that we will see her again someday.
Watching my teenage children walk through this journey of grief and come alongside a family and friends suffering a tragedy that no person—young or old—should have to bear was both painful and inspiring to me. I personally had never experienced the loss of a friend during such early years. I have walked with friends whose parents have passed, but not a peer in their teens. This was new territory for me, and I had to rely on what the Bible says about death and comfort. I also learned several important lessons through this experience:
- I learned that, in moments like this, teenagers often need each other more than they need the adults. Yes, our kids leaned on me and my husband, and we helped them process the situation and answered questions. But they needed each other more. This young lady was one of them. They played volleyball, basketball, and softball together. They went on field trips and Pine Cove retreats and studied together. They have done life together, and now they needed to process death together. As much as I wanted to swoop in and comfort my kids or provide parental wisdom, I learned that I needed to let go of my expectations and allow them to grieve in community. There were many sleepovers with friends huddled together on floors at various house—crying, talking, looking at pictures and staying up all night. I admit to wondering at times whether this approach was healthy—seemingly reliving the grief every time they got together. But in hindsight, I know it was not my place to decide how (or how long) each of the kids needed to grieve.
- I learned that everything I had been taught about God as a child (and now strive to teach my kids) was true. He really does comfort the broken hearted. He really does give peace that is beyond understanding. And He really does give the amount of grace you need in any given moment. I saw it over and over again. I watched the body of Christ (made up of kids and adults) work tirelessly and efficiently in unison with what seemed like no real effort or planning. Food was provided, name tags were printed for the ministers, and chairs were set up for the memorial service at the school. There were some who were praying over students, hugs were given, and others were just asking what needed to be done. Spiritual gifts were at work like I have never seen before. It was truly a taste of heaven on earth.
- I learned that kids grieve differently. I knew that on the surface, but I watched it unfold as the days passed. I asked God for discernment to know when to speak and when to be silent. I reached out to resources provided by a parent who deals with grief every day. While some needed late night talks or encouragement, I learned that sometimes the best thing to do is to hug tightly and let people cry.
- I learned that teenagers will step up. My own kids and many others rallied around each other like I have never seen. They were compassionate, prayerful, encouraging, and most importantly—there. They were there at the hospital for long hours as they waited for the aggrieved family members to return to Dallas—so smiling and supportive faces were the first the family saw as they walked into the hospital in the middle of the night. They were there at the memorial service on Monday at school. They spoke softly and fondly of the departed, and what she meant to them. They were there at the visitation which was scheduled for two hours but lasted four. They stood in line for hours to hug grieving parents’ necks when they wanted to run and sit in a corner. And they were there en masse at the Home Going service to support the family in their darkest hour, and celebrate the truth of God’s promises. Many went in the rain and cold to the graveside to stand by weeping parents. Teenagers who weren’t even old enough to drive or vote rose to the occasion to comfort the grieving and to show that others mattered most.
- I was reminded again how important it is to point our children to Christ as long as they live under our roofs. We must heed Deuteronomy 6 and “teach them diligently . . . and talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down, and when you rise.” This life is short. James tells us it’s a vapor and uncertain.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from the past three months is that we need to trust our kids to do hard things. With God’s help, they can handle it. I learned that my perseverance as a parent paid off in moments like this. All those years of morning devotionals, pointing to Scripture, and insisting we go to church and dig deep were important.
The moments that are unexpected and perhaps dark may be where our kids’ faith is cemented. Will they still falter and have a million questions? Yes. Will their faith grow stronger with every trial? Oh yes! Teach them diligently, parents.