“My biggest fear when David died was that I’d forget him,” said Carole, tears slipping, drifting silently down the edges of her cheeks. “The way he walked. . . combed his hair . . . what he liked—all the little things that make a person unique. I didn’t want to forget. Losing memory of him was scary because if I forgot, it would be like David never existed,” Carole paused to grab a napkin, wiping the tears away.
Five years ago, on December 9, 2015, nine-year-old David Winter, wearing a green T-shirt with the printed words, “In the Lord I put my trust, God is my refuge,” slipped out the front door in his roller blades to cross the road to the mailbox.
He never came back with the mail.
The black pick-up driver, barreling down a barren country road with a one-year-old child buckled in the seat behind him, hit David, killing him instantly. David’s thirteen-year-old brother, who was outside, heard the noise and ran into the house. Ashen-faced, terrified, he urged his parents, ‘Hurry! Something bad, really bad, has happened to David.’
“My husband, John, raced out with me right behind. I saw David and immediately turned around and ran back to the house to be with my daughter while John went to David . . . . I knew David was dead. There was nothing to be done. My thirteen-year-old son covered him up, and we waited for the paramedics who could do nothing for him. John crouched low to the ground with his arm around the driver, both of them weeping, while I sat on the living room couch with two of my older children, holding hands and singing hymns, our backs to the road where David’s body lay . . . . A friend called me. We were supposed to do something together that day and she started talking about what we had planned and I said to her ‘I can’t. My son just died.’”
I can’t. My son just died.
“After awhile John came to me saying, ‘I think you should meet him, the driver.’ I hesitated at first . . . .
How does a mother look at the man who killed her son?
“But then I walked down the front porch and into the ambulance where the man was sobbing. He briefly looked up, crying, ‘I’m so sorry” over and over again. I looked at him, the agony etched into his face, and my heart hurt for the memories he would live with for the rest of his life because he made a mistake. In that moment, God filled my heart with such compassion and I reached out to hug the driver and ask him to forgive David because he wasn’t supposed to be in the road with his roller blades. It wasn’t his day to get the mail—David made a mistake too. I felt no bitterness, no anger. Knowing where David was—with Jesus, his refuge—filled my heart with peace, gave me the strength to say to the man who killed my son, ‘You made a mistake and David made a mistake, and we all make mistakes—I forgive you.’”
Carole paused, remembering the grace of that moment.
“It’s true that the driver’s mistake had more devastating consequences than David’s mistake. The consequence for David is that he is in Heaven, which isn’t the place I’d like him to be right now, but it was the ultimate goal I had for him—to be ‘in Heaven with the Lord.’ God gives us children as a gift, to love and nurture, but He never says for how long. David’s joyful spirit brought so much delight to our family and everyone who knew him. We will always miss him.
“Don’t misunderstand—it hasn’t been easy. I wept and cried and asked all the ‘whys.’ There were times I’d be dreaming David was giving me a kiss and then I’d wake up and he wasn’t there—there was this emptiness, a Black Hole of longing for and missing my son. And then there was the anxiety for my other children too, for the memories they had of the day he died and the searing pain of losing their brother. But God wrapped his arms around us in so many ways. In the first month a girlfriend came to my house every day and gave me a quick hug or sat with me while I cried. Then, on one of those really hard days, sitting beside David’s grave at the cemetery, crying and pouring out my heart to God, I asked him, ‘Why, why did you let this happen?!’ and I felt God speak to my heart—“I did not do this . . . . I opened the door.”
“Those words—I opened the door—were like a breath of fresh air to me, and I understood that God opened the door for David to come to him and I could relax.”
“Then,” Carole looked up at me with a little half-smile, her eyes wondering how I might handle the memory on the edge of her lips. She dove in, “I got a Valentine from David too.”
“A Valentine?” I leaned in, curious.
“Yes, delivered in a dream three years after he died,” Carole laughed, “I dreamed David drew me a picture of himself and he wrote next to it, ‘Guess who is in heaven with the Lord? Me!—David.’ I was so puzzled at first because he said ‘Lord’ instead of Jesus, which would have been more natural for him, and ‘David’ instead of ‘Love, David,’ and he always signed his notes ‘Love David.’ But then I realized the word Lord means all of God—Jesus, Father, and Spirit—and in heaven, David is with God in all his fullness, and since God is love, David is in the midst of Love itself. David is submerged in Love. This truth has been very special to me.”
Carole paused again, treasuring the memory of Love delivered in a dream.
“Not only did God wrap his arms around us, but also the driver. A couple days after David died, the driver went to see the doctor (who happened to be our family doctor) in our small town. The doctor later told us that he shared the gospel message with the truck driver—that Jesus sent his one-and-only son to die on a cross in our place, so we could have forgiveness for our sins, and that Jesus didn’t stay dead but rose again. Those who believe in Jesus cling to the hope that someday, when God opens the door, we too will be with Jesus in heaven. While we wait for the day that God will transfer us to his presence, we can forgive others for their mistakes and sins because God has forgiven us so much.”
“That morning the driver, who had never heard the gospel message before, prayed to receive Jesus, and later that night John and I were able to weep and pray together with the driver on the phone, something that could not have happened without Jesus.”
Jesus wrapped his arms around us in so many ways.
“Just the other day I was at our homeschool Co-op, which we joined the year before David died. I was helping one of the kids with her art project—she was in Kindergarten when David died, and only knew him for a few months. Out of the blue she told me that she still remembers David and prays for our family every day. She talked about Jesus being love and asked me what I thought about us not being able to remember things when we were babies. She said she thinks it has something to do with Jesus and his love, that babies can be calm and still because Jesus is the one who holds them.”
Jesus wraps his arms around us in so many ways.
(You can read Carole’s Story, Part 2: How My Son’s Death Opened the Door to Forgiveness and Healing in my Marriage here.)
- Death and loss are difficult realities of this life–do you know anyone who is grieving the loss of a friend, relative, parent, son or daughter? The Holidays can be particularly painful as traditions, sights, smells and sounds trigger memories of their loved one. How might you draw near with a simple phone call or text, an offer to grab coffee and listen? How might you incarnate Jesus’ humble descent into this world in how you listen and speak (or don’t speak)?
- If you are grieving a loss of your own, how might the truth of the resurrection–that Jesus conquered death, that someday death will be no more and Jesus will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21-22) give you hope?