From Maternal Grief to Heavenly Glory
By Anna Gullixson
Simeon Karl is our second child. He has a big brother, Abel, and a younger brother, Elisha. He has beautiful eyes and soft blond hair. His cheeks are chubby and he has his Dad’s toes. He has the most precious voice. But most importantly he loves his Savior with all of his heart, mind, and soul. How can we be so sure? Because our baby has “seen his Salvation.” Our dear child is in heaven with his Lord.
Simeon was born on May 11, 2010 at 3:56 p.m. He didn’t breathe right away, but at the first sign of movement his father baptized him into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Less than a minute after his birth, he was reborn. It took about 10 minutes for his breathing to even out and his heartbeat to be regular. Through the tears we saw our “fearfully and wonderfully made” child (Psalm 139).
About three weeks prior to Simeon’s birth we were given the devastating news that something had happened to our child. He had suffered major brain damage due to a burst blood vessel. All the doctors told us not to expect him to make it full term and if he did, he wouldn’t live very long afterward. I still remember the doctor’s words as she told us this and the sound of my husband sobbing behind me. I remember smiling slightly thinking, “This has to be a cruel joke. This can’t be real!” It was....
The night we found out about Simeon’s condition as we lay in bed, guilt was a dominating feeling. Samuel felt it very keenly. He confessed that he had been taking God’s gift of life for granted. He figured that since our last child was healthy, Simeon would be too. So Simeon did not occupy his thoughts and prayers regularly. He knew that he had been neglecting his role as Simeon’s father and spiritual guardian. He had been failing our son. That same night, after he confessed, I assured him that his sins were forgiven on account of Jesus. He found great comfort in those words.
Samuel couldn’t sleep that night. As he was on his vicarage to become a pastor, he stayed up and started working on a funeral service. It was very encouraging for him as he read many passages looking for the Scripture lessons. The hymns were also very comforting, even those that didn’t make it into the service. During this time, we started memorizing more hymns so that we could have that comfort even when the hymn book wasn’t around.
The next three weeks were filled with many tears, fears, and questions. “Why our child?” “God wouldn’t let our child die!” “What did I do to bring this upon us?” But God gave us many opportunities to see his mercy. During those three weeks before Simeon’s birth there seemed to be a lot of tough questions: “Do we induce labor? Should we do a c-section? Should we put him on a ventilator? Should we just let him go?” However, when it came right down to it, God made the answers so clear to us. He took a lot of those tough decisions right out of our hands.
God also gave us many people who reached out to us, gave us encouragement through His Word and also through many hymns. He gave us our son Abel to love and hold and give us a reason to have to keep going every day. We also realized how blessed we were in each other. Neither of us could imagine facing such a trial with someone of a different (or no) faith. God used us to hold each other up in this time (“For if they fall, one will lift up his companion...” Ecclesiastes 4:10). When one of us was having a particularly hard time it always seemed like the other was able to encourage and support and vice versa.
The day of Simeon’s birth was at the same time so exciting, we were finally going to meet our child, and yet so heartbreaking, was he going to make it through the delivery, how long would he be here? Will he be in any pain? God graciously brought Simeon through and gave us twelve pain-free hours with him. His whole life he was cradled in loving arms and he died peacefully in my arms. It has now been about three years since our child died. The tears have subsided, the fears now rest with the Lord.
I would love to say that through all of this my faith was strong, that I never questioned “Why me?” or doubted God’s great love for me or my child, but then I would be lying. I realized through all of this how weak I truly was (and still am). My husband however, didn’t really dwell on the “Why me?” thoughts. This actually helped me in my grieving. When I did think, “Why me?” and doubt, he would gently guide me back to God’s Word and promises to never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5) to forgive me. He would show me my sin of doubt and also show me my Savior. There were many times I got angry or frustrated with this, but looking back I know it helped me from sinking into a pit of self-pity and despair (“If we are faithless, He remains faithful,” 2 Timothy 2:13).
The devil was working very hard on us. Even stronger than my feelings of anger were feelings of fear. If he would take my baby, what else would he take away? My other son? My husband? These were difficult thoughts for me to work through. It felt a bit like Job. But, as with Job, God had his hedge around us (Job 1:10). He never left us and never forsook us. Through His Word (Christ) He kept the devil at bay and stilled our fears. This isn’t to say we didn’t express our complaints or griefs to God. However, we learned through the example of many of the Psalms how to do so trusting Him to provide for and take care of us.
It is amazing the guilt one can feel in times like these, even for the little things that shouldn’t give you guilt. There wasn’t much we could do for Simeon while he was alive, but there were a few things. At first, things looked pretty normal for Simeon. The doctors thought that he might be around for a couple of days. When the nursed asked if Samuel wanted to change Simeon’s diaper, he said, “No, go ahead.” As it turned out, Simeon had only one diaper change. How he regrets not doing that.
After Simeon died, the hospital staff allowed us to stay with him for as long as we wanted. We gave him a bath, something we opted not to do earlier since it might be traumatic for him. We got to hold him between us as we fell asleep on the bed. The next day, we stayed until we felt there was no more point in staying. Walking out of the delivery area without a baby was incredibly hard.
After that, Samuel especially found it comforting to do as much as he could to provide for our son. The day before the funeral, Samuel dug Simeon’s grave at the cemetery, and after he was laid to rest, Samuel buried him. We also went to the funeral home and dressed our little child. This was probably the most difficult thing we did. We were able to hold him one last time and mourn privately. (Whenever anyone asks us what the best thing we did to help our grief, it would be getting him ready for burial.) We stayed there for about an hour until we had no more tears to cry, at least at that time.
A week after our son was born he was laid to rest. The day of the funeral was both easier and more difficult than I could have imagined. People kept telling me what a beautiful baby I had. I kept replying, “Yes, he was.” My pastor heard me and told me, “You know, he still is beautiful, even more beautiful in fact.” That meant a lot. While his body was lying in his tiny coffin, he was, and is, alive...I will get to see my child again, and he will be more beautiful than any picture I have of him.
I didn’t really begin to feel anything at the funeral until my husband and Simeon’s godfather began to take the coffin out. The bells were tolled and I just couldn’t believe that it was really happening...why hadn’t we woken up from this nightmare yet? I remember driving behind the hearse and telling my husband, “This isn’t right.” And we can see from Jesus’ reaction at the tomb of Lazarus when “He wept” that it truly isn’t right (John 11:35). Death was not part of the perfection that God had made us in.
When Simeon’s body was finally lowered and laid to rest, it hit me that I wouldn’t see him again, this side of heaven...how long will it be before I get to join him? If I live an average life span it could be as many as 70-80 years! Our pastor read to us a sermon by Johann Gerhard from his Sacred Meditations, “#44. Consolation in the death of friends. Life is gained in death.” (We would encourage everyone to read it.) While he read, hearing about the joy that he was experiencing and the evil that he would avoid down here, it made us realize a little bit more what St. Paul meant by “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). What glory he was experiencing in Heaven. What love! How could we want our child back to suffer sickness, pain, and death again?
While reflecting back on this time I can see how far I have come. Have I “gotten over” his death and moved on? Has the pain completely gone away? No! This is something we will never “get over.” Nor do we want to. We will never forget our Simeon, and there will always be that realization that someone is missing from our arms. God has been so long-suffering with us (especially me). He has continued to show His great love and mercy to sinners, who don’t deserve it. He has patiently waited for me to come to Him in prayer when before I didn’t have the words, but confident in His Word which promises...the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
We enjoy talking about our son. We want people to know we have three beautiful boys. Our home is filled with pictures of Simeon. This gives our other children (especially Abel) the opportunity to “know” their brother. These pictures were generously taken by an organization called “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” They were professionally taken and we were given the rights to all the pictures. We would recommend anyone to consider requesting this free service.
We have also started an organization called According to Your Word (words from the Nunc Dimittis or the Song of Simeon, Luke 2:29-32). We both felt a lot of guilt when we first learned of Simeon’s condition. Had we diligently prayed for our child or tell him of his Savior? We wanted to help other parents to never feel this guilt. Our goal is to produce materials that make having a family devotion or Bible study time together easier, or to supplement what people are already doing. (You can see more at www.accordingtoyourword.com)
There were many difficult days where we said, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?... Having sorrow in my heart daily?” (Psalm 13:1-2). The difficult days gave way to feelings of a new “normal” in our home. A hymn verse that has really stuck with me is from Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #466:
Well He knows what best to grant me;
All the longing hopes that haunt me,
Joy and sorrow, have their day.
I shall doubt His wisdom never;
As God wills, so be it ever;
I to Him commit my way.
As we were grieving many people tried to comfort us by telling us “What a strong faith you have!” This only points us to ourselves when we feel weakest. Our true comfort is not in our faith or the strength of it, but it is in the object of our faith, Christ. He died to redeem our death. He rose to raise us up. He lives so that we might live with Him. We find then what St. Paul said was true, “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” because in our weakness we realize our need for His grace and mercy. We also then find the truth in what Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9,11).
The Lord has seen us through and we can say (and mean) “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). This is the verse on the headstone of our son’s grave. We are more eager than ever to see the realization of the hope that we have in Christ and be united with our Savior and reunited with our son for eternity.
Mrs. Anna Gullixson, the wife of Pastor Samuel Gullixson, lives in Bishop, California, where she is raising her surviving children for their heavenly future.