Tell Your Tale, While We’re Waiting

Boitumelo Maswabi
CO-FOUNDERS: Jill and Brad Sullivan

Bereaved parents meet to share stories

Grief is an extremely traumatic and lonely experience that creates a void in one’s existence. I know that too well because since my daughter’s departure, I’ve found myself searching for the right soul to pour out my suffering to, with little luck.

Make no mistake, I have countless well-meaning friends and family around me, but not a single one of them or their words of comfort and sympathy suffice.

A relative related a short conversation between herself and her 93-year-old granny shortly after my angel transitioned: “You know, granny, there’s no pain worse than that of losing a mother” … to which the nonagenarian replied quietly, “Well, what I do know is that there is no pain worse than that of losing a child.”

My cousin understood in that moment that while she was familiar with loss, her grandmother’s candor awakened her to reality that she might never understand what I was going through.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler articulate this best in their book On Grief and Grieving – Finding Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Grief: “Your life continues, but you are not sure why. A different life appears before you, one in which your loved one will no longer be physically present. No one can give you words to make you feel better, there are none. You will survive, though you may not be sure how or even if you want to.”

The authors continue: “Grief must be witnessed to be healed. Grief shared is grief abated. Support and bereavement groups are important, not only because they allow you to be with others who have experienced loss, but because they provide another forum for talking about the devastating events that befell your world. Tell your tale, because it reinforces that your loss mattered.”

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So, by God’s grace, an upcoming event simply titled ‘While Were Waiting, for Bereaved Parents’ originating in Arkansas, United States of America, just might assuage this overwhelming loneliness, confusion and emptiness brought about by the loss of a child.

Scheduled for 23rd June to Sunday 25th June, 2023 at Ave Maria in Gaborone and organised by Brad and Jill Sullivan, co-founders of the faith-based retreats for bereaved parents, and her compatriots, Scott and Karen Harmening, the retreat is designed to offer a safe and supportive space for grieving mothers (dads, too) to share stories of their deceased children, as well as encourage each other to open up so as to help explore possible coping mechanisms.

“After our daughter went to Heaven in 2009, we realised very quickly that nobody in our circle understood us anymore and it was really helpful to be around other grieving parents, and we attended a retreat for bereaved parents in Nashville, Tennessee that was a very, very helpful thing for us. It was just amazing to spend time with other mums and dads who understood what it was like to have lost a child. We came back home with the desire to recreate that type of retreat,” Jill explained in an introductory video on their website.

Tell Your Tale, While We’re Waiting
SHARING IDEAS: A previous retreat in the USA

Speaking to Voice Woman via WhatsApp video call last Friday, Sullivan and Karen expounded the objective of the retreat: “We aim to share hope we desperately need because when you’ve lost all hope, another can lift you up. We will spend time sharing the stories of our precious children and talking about issues we face as bereaved parents. We have found no greater comfort than the fellowship of other Christian parents who truly understand the experience of losing a child. Our retreats offer that opportunity and also provide a safe place to work through some of the questions and struggles as grieving moms (and dads), all the while focusing on the hope we have of seeing our children again one day. It is a blessing to spend time with others who truly understand the loss of a child, who have dealt with the same difficult issues.”

Jill and Brad lost their daughter, Hannah, in 2009 after a one-year battle with brain cancer while Scott and Karen Harmening lost their daughter, Sarah, in a bus accident on her way to a mission trip in Botswana in 2017.

“My daughter was on her way to the airport, headed for Botswana, when I received a call about the accident. I had objected to her travelling, so it was such a tragedy especially since my husband was the one behind the wheel,” Karen said.

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Joining them on the weekend excursion will be facilitators, Lisa Armstrong, whose son, Jacob, died by suicide in 2018, as well as Larry and Janice Brown.

Tell Your Tale, While We’re Waiting

The Browns’ son, Adam, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

“Each of these parents is well acquainted with grief, yet love the Lord and are choosing to live well while they’re waiting to be reunited with their children. They are kind, compassionate, and personable, and I know you will be blessed by spending this special weekend with them,” Jill said.

Tell Your Tale, While We’re Waiting
MISSED: Adam Brown, killed in Afghanistan

Wrapping up the conversation, Karen Harmening reiterated that their primary objective is to point grieving parents to the God of all comfort, “who comforts us in all our tribulation” [2 Corinthians 1:3-4].

Tell Your Tale, While We’re Waiting

“Anyone who has lost a child is welcome. You are welcome if your child has been in Heaven for thirty days or for thirty years. You are welcome if your child was stillborn and never took a single earthly breath, or if your child lived to be an adult and had a family of his or her own. Come knowing people who care, understand, and will pray for you will surround you. This will be a place where we can honestly discuss our struggles, knowing we will not be judged, because every one of us has been there at one time or another. We will also share our victories, and rejoice with each other as we move along the road toward healing. What will we do over the course of the weekend? We’ll talk about our kids in Heaven and we’ll pray for each other. We’ll explore the beauty of nature around us, enjoy delicious meals together, discuss God’s presence in our grief, and form lasting bonds of friendship. Our time will be informal, but structured. Certainly, we will cry together, but we will also laugh together, worshipping and sharing God’s Word,” she concluded, and added that the free seminar, which will begin at 4pm on Friday 23rd June, is already fully booked, however, they have arranged for a supplementary session as many other parents have shown interest in attending the retreat. Lodging will be provided for attendants at the Ave Maria Hotel (if needed).

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