by Beth Saadati
It was a gathering I’d neither expected—nor wanted—to host.
From 5-9 p.m. the Mackey Mortuary visitation line refused to end. Truth be told, I didn’t want it to. In order to stand, I needed the comforting presence of family and friends.
One after another they paused then passed by. From Miracle Hill Ministries, where my husband worked. The places where I taught. City Church. My daughter’s schools. Jenna’s extra-curricular activities—orchestra, Awana, homeschool co-op, Upward and rec-league sports. And, at the end, the entire Southside High School marching band.
Beautiful faces met my gaze with unspoken questions and tears. With tenderness, “I’m sorry” was said again and again. A scent-blend of perfume and cologne lingered on my clothes as I cherished the warmth of held hands and hugs.
And I cried when a friend whispered the words I’d begun to doubt: “You were a good mom.”
But the unexpected occurred when John Burdick—Sterling School’s science teacher everyone loved, whom Jenna had confided in and considered a friend—and his wife, Kathy, stood there.
“John’s number is in the school directory,” Kathy said. “When things settle down in a couple of months and people stop coming around, contact us. We’ve lost a child too.”
I tucked those words away, journeyed through the weeks, and took too long to call. Seven months later, however, I picked up the phone.
John and Kathy issued an instant invitation to hang out at their house. While their 22-year-old son delighted and distracted my young kids with Mario Kart, we talked. About Jenna's after-school conversations and the familiar teen struggles she’d shared. About the happy memories we had of her and how it seemed wrong that she was gone.
The hours sped by. My husband, Komron, joined us after work. The Burdicks ordered pizza, then John asked the question few dared: “How are the two of you doing?”
We reiterated what our counselor had said—that the death of a child takes its marital toll. She’d cautioned us against blaming one another as we chased the elusive “why.” She’d warned us we’d grieve in different ways, at different times, and often feel unknown. She’d encouraged us to share the deep grief with other trusted friends, because it was too much for a spouse alone to bear.
I’d heeded the wise advice. Nevertheless, home, with memories of Jenna everywhere I turned, was often the hardest place to reside.
John listened and nodded his head. Then he told the story of losing his firstborn nine-month-old son, Jonathan, twenty years ago. Fresh tears fell as he recounted giving his namesake a ride in the baby trailer attached to his bike when a drunk driver struck.
“The grief changes shape,” said John. “You’ll never get over it, but you’ll get through it. And, while I may not be a happier person, I believe I’m a better person. For one thing, I treasure my students more, because I know how precious life is.”
The words resonated. He understood.
Then he smiled and looked at his wife. “Also, I stayed married, because there’s no one who would know our son the way Kathy did. There would never be anyone else who had walked through that with me.”
This time I was the student, sitting at the feet of the teacher Jenna adored. I pulled a tiny black notebook from my purse and wrote down the perfect words spoken at just the right time. It was what I needed to hear then. It’s what I remind myself of now.
From a daughter's three-year absence, part of my identity and future is temporarily gone. Feelings of helplessness arise from having been unable to protect and provide. Triggered anger, guilt, sorrow, and despair sometimes litter my marriage with emotional distance and conflict that shouldn’t be there.
Nevertheless, Komron has chosen to stay. So have I. Because too much has already been lost.
Is it easy? No. But we need each other. Like John said, there will never be anyone else. However messy marriage gets after a child’s death, with the grace God provides, this, at least, can be one vow—one covenant—kept.