by Tamara Harvey Braswell and Lloyd Braswell
Where was God when my 19-year-old son Logan died from severe bleeding and broken bones hours after he slammed his truck into a tree? I think God went on vacation that summer morning and left no miracles behind, at least not for Logan and me. Against my will, my soul was deposited on the grief trail, a journey no parent should ever have to experience…but many of us do.
Even the most perfect of parents and best of kids draw the short stick in life and bad things happen. I used to have high hopes. No matter how bad things got, there was always God’s life preserver to bring in that miracle. After Logan died, hope dwindled to getting by. God was clearly absent, checked out and I felt utterly on my own.
But was I?
One day, as I was plowing through social media, I saw one of these typical inspirational quotes of the day that ended with, “Know all things work together for good.” Obviously, someone who didn’t experience true loss posted this and I thought, “What good could come out of my son’s death?”
Little did I know the message came from another bereaved parent, Lloyd Braswell, who lost two of his four children. Lloyd is also a pastor with a firm faith in God and God’s love. I wanted to know how God worked in his life and how he was able transform his pain into something good.
Lloyd, tell me about your loss?
Much of my life has been wonderful, including an idealized childhood and very supportive parents. But I have had deep loss. My daughter Kaitlin, born with special needs, lived only 13 months and she died in 1995. My 18-year-old son Matthew died by suicide in 2010. This was followed by my genetic heart issues and complications, including three open heart surgeries and a stroke happening in just a two-year period (thankfully, in good health now). My wife deserted me emotionally, which led to divorce. There have been other struggles along the way.
I don’t view these as part of God’s plan, or that everything happens for a reason, but I truly believe God brings good from all the pain if we turn it over to him.
You have said your son Matthew’s death is the most tragic event in your life.
Where was God at the time Matthew died?
God was right there with Matthew and I believe God also had a broken heart. Matthew probably didn’t feel God’s presence. When you are going through tough times, you may not feel God’s presence, but God is there. He never leaves you even if you think he does.
I believe God was working in Matthew’s life, but Matthew had tunnel vision and he couldn’t see beyond his pain. Matthew made a choice to end his life. Following the breakup with his girlfriend and other issues, he spiraled into a deep depression. He was in such pain that he turned to drugs to make things better, but they made things worse and he died of an intentional overdose.
God felt Matthew’s pain and never left his side.
Sometimes in the midst of pain, we can’t feel God’s presence. We blame God, pushing him away because we are angry, asking, “Why did you, God, allow this to happen?”
Then we reach out, asking God for help. We tend to go back and forth between two extremes.
I didn’t get mad at God because he gives us free will. You can’t have love without free will. I believe God is with us regardless of the choices we make.
How can hope come from your child’s death?
Hope comes in knowing God is always with us. He gives us the strength when we need it the most and when we are in midst of great pain. You can grow from your pain and use your pain to help others.
Two passages in the Bible speak to this: Isaiah 40 verse 31 and Romans 8 verse 28. These passages speak the Hope of the Lord. God gives us the strength to walk and not faint and God can even bring good from all that we experience.
There are times people ask me how I was able to function after Matthew’s death. I didn’t know what else to do. I had to keep going and God gave me the strength I needed to keep going.
I am a much more compassionate person. I relate to people in their pain and their struggles because what I have been through.
I can relate to most anything.
I was taught as a child if you have faith and pray, God will take care of you.
Was it that I didn’t pray hard enough?
The Bible doesn’t teach all things will be good, just that God will be with us in whatever we experience. When I look at the Bible, people who persevered in their pain are my role models. Joseph, from the Old Testament, is my biggest role model. He did everything right, yet he was sold into slavery, then falsely accused of rape. He spent 13 years in prison, yet he continued to be faithful no matter what happened. God never left Joseph in his pain. By age 30, Joseph was second in command in Egypt.
How has God been with you since Matthew died?
I felt like I was able to become more dependent on God in some ways. Not sure how I became dependent. I spent more time in solitude and learned the importance of silence to be in the presence of God and he be in the presence of me. I came to the realization that regardless of what happens, God is with me. This is something I always believed, but that belief became real as I went through hell on earth.
What helped you to get through the death of Matthew?
It’s not something you get through. It’s a journey. After the death of my daughter I spoke to a pastor friend about how I hadn’t gotten over it. Her response was so helpful. She said you don’t get over it, you work through it. With the death of a child, you are constantly working through it.
Is God punishing us for losing our children?
No. I don’t see God as a God who punishes. There are a lot of bad things that happen, sometimes because of free will and things we will never understand. God is with us and gives us that inner strength to keep going. He loves us. Think of it from a Christian prospective, God is a bereaved parent with the death of his only son Jesus.
What helps in the day to day life to cope with this pain?
I have to keep going, to make a difference. I get my energy from helping people in need and helping others who are hurting or in pain similar to mine.
Is there happiness after Matthew’s death?
Yes. You have to go on with your life. Matthew would want me to and he would want me to be happy. Even after Matthew’s death, there was a series of other traumatic events, including my younger son, Blake, going through struggles. There were my health issues and my separation and divorce.
I have to keep living. If you keep living, you have to really live and not just exist. I find happiness in spending time with God, spending time with my children and being in relationship with others.
I am a social person, but I can’t depend on others. I have had to work through things myself. For several years I saw a counselor. I continue to meet regularly with a spiritual director. Every session begins with a simple, yet powerful question – how is God working in your life?
How has Matthew’s death and the other challenges in your life strengthen your relationship with God?
It is primarily through realizing God is there and will give me the strength that I need. There will always be pain, but I can see how He has been with me and even how He brings good from all the pain.
How has all of this changed you as a pastor?
I can connect to so many difficult situations and help people see God is there and that God can help them in their deepest struggles. Too often people have this false belief that if you are a Christian everything will be good. I try to help those in church see the pain in the world and to be real about their pain. I have connected more with others outside the church…people who see the church as not connecting with them in their daily pains and struggles.
I think my pain has helped me to be more empathetic with people who are hurting, being there without judging or telling them what to do. Be present. Listen.
Pain relates to pain.
Lloyd is the father of four, Kaitlin and Matthew who passed away, and his living children, 26-year-old Blake and 19-year-old Madison. Lloyd is also the pastor at Chester Baptist Church in Chester, Virginia and devotes his time to helping others cope with their struggles, including grief, mental illness, addictions and sickness. His faith is grounded in love, peace and forgiveness from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the example set by his parents.
Tamara is Logan’s mom. She lives in Denver, Colorado, close to her brother, and she spends a great deal of her time working to save lives in her role with the Colorado Department of Transportation. She also finds peace in the natural beauty around her. She writes about her grief inloganshoes.blog
Lloyd and Tamara found each other on the grief trail through Emotionally Naked.