(Beverly is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in the State of Texas. Additionally, Bev is contracted by the DFW Church of Christ to provide Mental Health counseling and pastoral counseling to their members.)
SHOCK AND LOSS!
On Sunday, May third, 1981, my Evangelist, Humphrey Foutz, from the Central Church of Christ, Baltimore, Maryland, stood in the pulpit and quoted from Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” Just two hours earlier, my husband, Steve, and I had left the lifeless body of our infant, Charlotte, at the hospital. We were devastated. In shock. Broken. Confused. How could it be? But those words from Job, along with another promise from Romans 8:28, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” would become anchors for my soul in the journey of grief, loss and post traumatic stress disorder.
Earlier that morning I awoke from my sleep with a start. I expected to hear our daughter cry out and wake before I did. I went into her room to find her face down, cold and lifeless. I cried out and started CPR, subconsciously knowing that it was too late. Steve called 911. Paramedics arrived and began working on her and then decided to transport to the hospital to continue rescue efforts. Heroic efforts were to no avail. We entered the ER, were told that she was gone; nothing else could be done. Shocked, numb and in denial we spent a few more minutes with our daughter’s body and then left the hospital to return home and begin the task of letting family know that Charlotte had died, suddenly and unexpectedly—we were clueless as to what had happened. Later we were informed, after an autopsy, that her death was the result of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Upon arriving at our home, I looked at my husband and said, “what do we do now?” He said, “we need to pray.” We kneeled down, he prayed and then I prayed, starting with Romans 8:28, “God, you said that all things work together for good for those who love you and are called according to Your purpose. Charlotte’s death is not good. Please help me see good come from it.” From that point on I consciously and expectantly waited for God, daily, to show me good things to come from this horribly bad thing. We then decided we would go to church; it was still early enough to get ready. We called our dear friend Talbert Gwynn, the Campus Minister at Central Church and let him know what had happened, giving him permission to let others know about our loss.
I CHOOSE TO TRUST GOD!
We called our parents and asked them to meet us at our church (neither of them had visited church with us before). They agreed to do so. As the service started, Brother Foutz announced to the congregation, “We know that the Ozannes have suffered a terrible loss today. “In the spirit of true Christianity,” Foutz quoted Job 13:15, “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,” and we will worship the Lord today even in our tears.” I heard what Brother Foutz said, and remember thinking, “that’s what I need to do, I need to trust God in all of this!” The church wept, we sang, we listened…and I sat in my shock and numbness. I don’t remember anything else that my evangelist said that day, but that was all I really needed to hear.
WHAT AM I GOING TO DO NOW?
A few weeks later, after packing up Charlotte's baby clothes, I lifted the box up to place it on a closet shelf. Looking up I prayed, “God, what am I supposed to do now? I thought I was going to be a mom, what if I can't be a mom, ever? What if, God, everyone I love dies?” God whispered, “I will be with you forever, I won't die on you, I won't abandon you or leave you alone AND I have many important things for you to do in your life, even if you never become a mom. You will take my message of hope, love and forgiveness to others. You can always do that.”—I then thought, “what is more important than helping others know and love God, to find comfort and meaning in him and to be saved for eternity?” Remembering this amazing truth then, and even now, gives me great joy, peace, and comfort. Additionally, it comforts me to know that I will see Charlotte in heaven when I get to fly off to my heavenly home!
1981 was a difficult year. After losing Charlotte, we ended up moving to Chicago, Illinois, so that Steve could do his internship in general surgery at the University of Chicago Hospital. It was hard to move away from family and friends -- another challenge. But we were determined to trust God. Little did I know that I was in denial. Shock and numbness fooled me into thinking that I was ready to get pregnant again; we so wanted to start our family. God blessed. I learned I was pregnant in July 1981. The pregnancy was troubled from the start in the first trimester. Things seemed to settle down in the second trimester and all was going well until I went into labor at 29 weeks gestationally. I was hospitalized for three weeks trying not to give birth but eventually infection set in and I was in labor. Our son, Samuel was born at 32 weeks gestationally, was 3 pounds, 2 ounces, and other than the underdeveloped lungs, was perfect!
Samuel struggled to survive for three weeks in the NICU. Sadly, his life was cut short due to several medical problems that developed as a result of his prematurity. In less than a year we had buried two children…
WHY ME? WHY ANYBODY?
I remember the day after we buried Samuel, in early February 1982, watching the Chicago news on TV—someone had put a live baby in a trash bag and put the baby in a trash dumpster. I wept and looked up to God and asked — “God, why is it that You let some people have babies who who don't want them, and they throw them in the trash?” “God, I want a child and You don’t let me keep mine? Why me, God?” After asking, “why me,” I thought, “why anybody?” “You’re not the only one who faced struggles and tragedies in life.” Then I asked, “God, why do we have to suffer so much here on earth?” God then whispered, “look for answers in my word, study the Bible.”
Having been taught deep spiritual truths while in the campus ministry at University of Maryland, I also knew that the bible, God’s word, would guide me into truth with the help of the Holy Spirit. Using our Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, I read all the bible verses I could find that contained words related to suffering, loss, grief, trials, pain, and sadness. I also researched words related to comfort, healing, love and joy. (Remember, back in the early 1980’s there were no desktop computers, no laptops, no smart phones. Only books!)
Additionally, remembering Job 13:15, which was quoted by Brother Foutz, I was prompted to read the story of Job. Job had lost TEN children in ONE day. Job had suffered a much greater loss than I had. Oddly enough, reading Job’s story comforted me and helped me to understand that I was not alone in the loss of children. I thought, “If Job could work through his loss of ten children, then, with God’s help, I could work through the loss of one and find joy again.”
GOD NEVER WASTES A HURT!
All of this was a process that took time. I had access to the University of Chicago School of Theology’s library. I not only read from the Bible, but voraciously read about the early church fathers and how they were martyred for their faith. I began to understand that while Satan would love nothing better than to have me get angry with God, God’s intention was for me to see how much I truly do need him in my life! What God helped me to learn, bottom line, is this—Satan brought suffering, pain, sickness, disease, loss and death into this world. He tempted man to turn away from God, and mankind bought into the lies. Satan wants our suffering to cause us to become bitter and resentful towards God and to turn away from God. God, on the other hand, intends that our suffering will help us realize we NEED him in our lives and cause us to turn to the only Being who can help!
I NEED GOD!
We humans think we don't need God and that we know how to handle relationships and raise children and get through life without seeking and knowing God's wisdom, love, direction, comfort and purposes. Our Heavenly Father, unlike Satan, uses human suffering to get our attention and help us see that we need a relationship with him and to love and give to others. My Abba teaches, comforts, and loves me, He gives me a reason to go on living even when life is tough and gives me hope that things will get better, if not in this life, for sure in the life to come. I was fully convinced after all my study that I needed a relationship with my true parent (both Father and Mother in one being) more than ever, and that he could use any of my suffering for his glory and had provided me with the tools to help others through their grief and loss.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER!
After Samuel died, I began having panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and hallucinations. Driving along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, I was obsessed with trying to see if people were breathing as they laid on the beach in the sun. I couldn’t relax if a baby or person was sleeping in the next room. (This behavior is a symptom of PTSD known as hypervigilance.) I thought, “I am losing my mind,” and so did my husband! Repeated panic attacks in the middle of the night, which ended with me waking up Steve to see if he was breathing, rattled him and robbed him of rest. He couldn’t handle it, especially because his surgery internship had him on duty 36 hours straight, then he got 8 hours of sleep time before he had to return to another 36-hour shift in the hospital. Steve found a psychiatrist, set up an appointment and we went together. During that appointment the doctor suggested that we attend a support group for families who had lost children to SIDS. We went. As I listened to others share their experiences, I began to feel relieved; I was not alone, and I was NOT losing my mind! What I was experiencing was normal for what had happened to us! I had hope that I could get better and feel joyful again. I didn’t know that support groups like this were out there. What a blessing to be able to learn from others who were working through their own grief and loss. This was one of the keys to my journey of healing.
After Chicago, we moved to Muncie, Indiana, where we were part of the Fairlawn Church of Christ. Sheridan and Debbie Wright were the Campus Ministry leaders there from the Crossroads Church in Florida. They were a great support to us emotionally and helped us through further times of healing. After a year there, God blessed us with another pregnancy, which was scary! Would we get to keep this child, or would this baby die as well? Panic attacks worsened. I brought on panic attacks by thinking about how much I hated them. I felt so out of control! Every time Steve would leave for work, I would have a panic attack from worrying about him dying in a car accident. Rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, tense muscles…the panic and anxiety were debilitating.
I also was scared to death to get pregnant again. I’m glad that I didn’t let fear control me. I chose to trust God again. God allowed us to have a baby girl, Rachel, now 37 years old, who works as a History professor at the University of Texas in Austin. We were also blessed with a son, Benjamin, now 35 years old, married to Lucy. God has given us two precious granddaughters, Stella, 5 and Birdie, 3. Ben and Lucy, who are disciples, and their girls live in Fayetteville, AR. Ben is a successful chiropractor.
STOP, DROP AND PRAY—WITH THANKSGIVING!
God ministered to me in times I spent in his word. I spent time reading Philippians 4:4-8:
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
As I read, the phrase, “Do not be anxious about anything,” caught my attention. “God,” I thought, “is it possible to not be anxious?” Then, I thought, “This is in the form of a command. God would not command me to do something that was impossible, but how?” Reading on, what the Holy Spirit taught me was this, “…in EVERY situation, by prayer and petition, WITH thanksgiving, present your requests to God. AND the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, WILL guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” What I needed, to combat anxiety, was to pray, in every situation, with THANKSGIVING. When I obey that, then God will give me peace. From that day moving forward, every time I felt a panic attack coming on, I would Stop, Drop and Pray with thanksgiving! Over time, as I developed that new habit of praying with thanksgiving, I began to experience the peace that passes understanding! Reading on in verse eight, the Spirit also taught me that I needed to intentionally choose to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, instead of focusing on the things that I have no control over! (Psychologists call this cognitive restructuring; in other words, mind change!)
GRATITUDE FOR LESSONS LEARNED AND A CHANGED LIFE
Reflecting back over those challenging years of traumatic grief and loss, I can now say that I am thankful for all that God taught me from those experiences. What I learned from the deaths of my children about my own character (my prideful arrogance, my lack of compassion, my impatience with the suffering of others, my inability to relate to suffering, my arrogance in thinking that I was better than others…) were revealed to me through my own suffering. I learned that I need God and that he doesn’t need me, but he loves me and wants a relationship with me. Romans 8:28-29 says, “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son….” God wants me to be conformed to the image of his son as he works all things together for good, not just my good but for those whose lives I may touch. Suffering is required for me to become like my hero, Jesus!
I am thankful that suffering is never in vain. Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” God allows us to go through suffering so that we can, in turn, comfort others with the same comfort we have gotten from him! Now, when difficulties and trials come my way I often think, “God, what do you want me to learn from this so that I can in turn help someone else?”
ONE BEGGAR GIVING ANOTHER BREAD
Later in life, the year I would turn 50, I was compelled to get a Master of Arts Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling. My educational journey led me to work with addicts, alcoholics and their families. Reflecting back, I am certain, that my Abba was preparing me to go into this field of work. Because of the struggles early in my life, God helped me become a humble, empathetic, and compassionate therapist. I am able to recognize PTSD symptoms and provide help to my patients. I look at other’s lives through the lens of trauma, what happened to them to get them where they are now? I am grateful for the comfort Abba has given me so that I can provide comfort to others! I am grateful for the lessons I have learned and those that I have yet to learn. Because of the suffering, I am able to trust God and know, without at doubt, that He will carry me through and bring me out on the other side stronger so that I can stand firm to the end! Like Job, I now understand that God is my King and he can do whatever he chooses to do in my life, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him!”
Beverly “Bev” Ozanne has been a disciple of Jesus since March 1975, having been met and studied with as a college student at the University of Maryland, College Park. Bev is currently a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Church of Christ, South Worship Center. She has practiced in the counseling field for more than 25 years, first as a pastoral counselor, and presently as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor in private practice. Her niche includes counseling for mental health concerns in adult individuals as well as Pre-marital and Marriage counseling. Bev is EMDR Trained (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a therapeutic approach that helps individuals to effectively work through traumatic grief and loss; and specializes in Grief and Loss therapy as well. She supports the greater community by serving as a Board Member of TMA Physician’s Benevolence Foundation. She sings in her church’s worship band, loves Bible study, reads, power walks, enjoys movies, spends time with her husband of 42 years and her favorite topic is her children and grandchildren.