Waves of Agony and Grace

Waves of agony have become our new reality over the past seventeen days. The waves vary in size, intensity and duration, but they continually come.  Thankfully from the very beginning, intermingled within the waves of agony have been waves of grace.  Grace to enable us to breathe when we were certain we could not.  Grace to do unthinkable tasks.   Grace to continue to parent our other three daughters as we grieve the absence of Sarah.  Grace to still see good in the midst of the terrible. Today was an exceptionally difficult day, for me on some level it really rivaled the intensity of the pain in those first couple of days after she left.  So I’m sitting here now, more for myself than anyone else, remembering some of the grace that has served to help us keep our balance in the midst of the staggering waves of agony.  A testimony to myself and my children, and anyone else who needs it, that though He allows the agony to continue to flow, He is faithful to send grace in the midst of the agony.

Seventeen days ago the tsunami hit as Sarah abruptly left us to go home to our Lord. That same night a wave of grace rushed in as we read her last journal entry and text message to her cousin, and realized they were God’s grace filled gifts to us. More grace rushed in through precious friends who drove and flew to be with us and minister to us that night.

Sixteen days ago a wave of agony crashed down upon us as we prepared to leave Atlanta without Sarah and then struggled unnecessarily with the powers that be to have her released to Huntsville. Then grace washed in through precious friends and family who rallied around us again.  Some drove over an hour to the hotel just to drive us twenty minutes in our own vehicle to the airport, because we just could’t do it. Another flew us home in his personal jet so we didn’t have to endure the four hour drive, another joined us on the flight just to be there for us despite his fear of flying. Another agreed to drive our vehicle home from Atlanta, and then two more picked us up in Meridianville and delivered us home, then sat in our kitchen alone praying for us as we took some time to grieve together as a family.

Another wave of agony washed over us that day as we walked into our home the first time without her, knowing she would never be here with us again.  My heart was shattered as I longed to hear her singing and laughing again.  She was constantly singing, singing loudly and joyously all the time.  How can I endure never hearing her sing again? It was a crushing feeling sitting in the den and glancing at the door to her room, longing for it all to be a big mistake and for her to come around the corner singing once again.

Yet another wave of agony hit on that same day when Scott told me we needed to write an obituary for Sarah. I was paralyzed at the thought, how does one write a synopsis of their child?  Where do you begin and how can anything less than a book suffice?  But then a wave of grace followed in the middle of the night as I was lying there unable to sleep.  I felt the words coming to me, so I got up at 4:00 AM and started typing.  God in His graciousness poured the words out of me that I believe appropriately honored our precious Sarah.

Fifteen days ago another tidal wave of agony hit as we as a family went to the funeral home to make all the arrangements for Sarah. We had agreed that Sarah needed a white coffin representing her innocence and purity. A secondary wave of agony hit as we stood in the middle of a coffin showroom and learned a white coffin might not be available.  We huddled together as a family between the coffins and prayed that God would provide a white coffin. It still takes my breath away to say it, we prayed for a coffin for our daughter.  We waited for the funeral director to come back for what felt like a very long time, though I don’t know if it really was.  She finally returned and brought with her a wave of grace as she told us they were paying to overnight a white coffin to us for Sarah.  I’m pretty sure she had tears in her eyes as she told us, her empathy received as more grace.  We rejoiced over a coffin for our child that day, proof, as if any was needed, that our lives had been turned completely upside down.

Fourteen days ago a huge wave of grace rolled in as we discovered Sarah had recorded herself singing on her iPod, we got to hear our little girl sing again, a tidal wave of grace. But then as sure as the rising and setting of the sun, that night another wave of agony washed in.  This time in the form of someone sharing details of the accident that I did not want to know and that Scott had worked vigilantly to keep from the girls and me.  The words created an image in my mind that still painfully lingers.  As I tucked one of my sweet daughters in that night I prayed with her that God would guard our minds from the enemy during the night.   Nighttime had been unbearable to this point, so we prayed we would not see those terrible images but would instead be flooded with sweet memories of Sarah. A ripple of grace came in that night as our thoughts were stayed on sweet memories of Sarah rather than images of those terrible last moments.

Thirteen days ago a wave of agony rushed in as we prepared for the funeral, it was compounded by a now gripping fear that the girls and I would be bombarded with details about the accident that we did not want to know. But then another wave of grace washed in as I felt the Lord providing words to share in a post on social media to address it, “When you see us”. Once again I felt as though God poured the words out of me that would serve to protect our girls and me, but it turns out they also encouraged many others.  Countless people shared how much the words helped them as they prepared to come to the funeral that day, freeing them from worry about what to say to us.  Person after person spoke the words I asked to hear in that post, telling us they loved us, were hurting with us and praying for us, a gentle wave of grace.

The days between then and now have been a steady and constant flow of waves, in and out they roll, grace followed by agony and agony followed by grace.  Today was a larger than anticipated wave of agony as we prepared to go to church for the first time since Sarah’s departure. We knew it would be hard, but our imaginations failed to prepare us for how excruciating it actually was.  The wave washed over all five of us simultaneously, taking us to our knees.  We huddled together and prayed again, and then went to church without Sarah. Our hearts ached the entire time, but a wave of grace came in the form of sweet friends to walk beside us physically and spiritually.  Together they prayed fervently for us before and during church, and walked beside us at church distracting and encouraging us through the daunting wave still bearing down on us.

I’m told the waves of grief will gradually slow, I certainly hope that is true. In the meantime we press on, choosing to rejoice that despite the relentless battering of the waves of agony crashing over us, the waves of grace continue to roll in as well.

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Artwork: Sarah Harmening

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11 thoughts on “Waves of Agony and Grace

  1. My heart knows the agony that you describe. I am amazed that you can even describe the process of grieving while you are only days from the loss of your child. I thank God for each time He provides each of you with mercy, for He is an awesome God! God has blessed you with a beautiful family and as long as you live Sarah will be a vibrant part of each one of you. She is forever a part of your family and death can never take that part of her. No words are adequate so I will leave you with prayers and tears on my cheeks for I understand how terribly difficult it is to learn to live without your child. God bless each each of you with peace and comfort! Sincerely, Phyllis Pyle

  2. Dear Karen,
    I was thinking of you, Scott and the girls today as I so often have in the last days. My heart aches for you. While I Cannot comprehend the pain you and Scott are suffering, I do know so well the pain of your girls.
    Does the pain diminish over time? Yes, it does. Does it go completely away? No, it does not. It does become bearable. The happy memories make it so.

    Your Sarah will never be forgotten here, even long after you and Scott have gone to join with her again. She will continue to be loved and remembered by her sisters and they will share their memories with their children. She will be remembered by all those her life has touched.
    I am often astonished and blessed when I meet people even now who knew Joe and speak so highly of him. It’s been over 40 years since he passed away at the age of 19 and yet he is remembered with fondness! Such it shall be with Sarah!

    As so many are, I am keeping you and the family in my prayers. I have been sharing your posts with my church family. Through you, both Sarah’s beauty and God’s faithfulness are shining brightly. Thank you.
    Love, Lou Ann

  3. Beautifully written, Karen. Continuing to pray for each of you and your extended family members. God love and protect you and your family.

  4. I just want you to know that, even though we don’t really know each other–except through mutual friends and a trip to Holiday World one year, I pray for your family every day. I am sure that most families in our community are praying for you as well. Your faith is certainly one to be immulated in this world full of pain. As a counselor, I want to share a poem with you that I often share with grieving clients. It’s called Grief is like a Shipwreck. I hope there’s some value in it for you.
    Here it is:
    I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not.

    I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents…

    I wish I could say you get used to people dying. But I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it.

    Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

    As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

    In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

    Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

    Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

    May God bless your family and give you peace. 🙏

  5. Thank you for being so transparent – an allowing us to see how David may have felt as he wrote his Psalms – real feelings from a woman after God’s heart. I appreciate you sharing the hard with the good.

  6. My heart aches for you and your family. May God truly bless you as you so eloquently share from your heart. Praying for you u all.

  7. Prayers are going up for you and your family. Grace is coming down to you from our Lord Jesus. All I can say is my heart is broken for you and am broken to tears.

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