Mother writes of painful loss, offers help

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 26, 2011

“Joy in the Mourning: A Story of Life After Death,” by Deborah Wiiliams Rodenhizer. Tate Publishing. 108 pp. $11.99.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
SALISBURY — Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare.
Losing that child to suicide goes beyond nightmare and into hellish territory.
The guilt is enormous, only to be topped by the pain, then surrounded with misunderstanding, blame, grief.
Deborah Williams Rodenhizer’s son killed himself in 2004. Deepening her pain was the fact that Christopher had been molested as a child.
Her emotions must have been unbearable.
But she had the courage to write about her suffering in order to help others. It’s a very personal story.
She writes in her introduction: “You can find comfort and relief for your pain. You will live on, and in doing so, you will carry the best of the person that you lost along with you.”
Even as a baby, his mother writes, he seemed to be an old soul, but he loved nature in every form. She describes him as contemplative and caring, expecially for the underdog. Christopher expected a lot of himself and sometimes backed away if he was afraid he could not grasp success.
After his death, all his mother wanted to do was talk about him, remember who he was and how much he contributed.
Some people did not respond well. They were so uncomfortable about the circumstances that they did not want to hear her or talk about Christopher at all.
She writes: “I want you to know him for who he was, not how or why he died.”
As she learns about his death, she is shocked beyond belief to learn Christopher was the victim of a violent sexual assault when he was 9.
She beats herself up for not seeing the signs, admits she was rather naive, and begins to remember some conversations and reactions he had as a young teen. Still, he never spoke a word about it to her.
Christopher tells his wife, Carrie, about it, but swears her to secrecy, so she, too, never told his family.
Rodenhizer deals with searing anger at the rest of the world, then crushing guilt, then fear that something could happen to her other sons.
Carrie is pregnant when Christopher kills himself, and when the girl is born, Rodenhizer devotes her life to Cordelia, the last vestige of her son.
As Rodenhizer tells her story, she drops bits of hope along the way. She says it does not matter how a person dies, the loss is important and must be acknowledged. She urgers those in mourning to create memorials and ways to remember the good things about their loved one.
Life does go on, and Rodenhizer focuses on her two other sons who were deeply affected by their brother’s death.
She writes how men grieve differently: “In order to move on, they seem to have a need to put the event in a box and not look at it.”
Women want to talk and share grief, causing problems in a marriage, with survivors and even friends.
Although Rodenhizer was a church member, she did not attend Sunday school. Her other sons were unchurched, and so the church did not minister to any of them.
Of course, she was resentful, and when she confronted her pastor, she got little understanding.
Here she begins to develop her own close relatioship with God, relying on friends and family for prayer and support, and gladly receiving it from them.
She urges those who are grieving to find a counselor or adviser who is spiritually mature.
She begins to see Satan as the one who brings her down, brings doubts, anger and fear, spreading evil through her.
Increasingly, she feels the need to reconnect with God.
She blames Satan for clouding Chrisptopher’s mind and decides she is going to fight to turn back that evil.
“The key was focusing on God and his truths.”
In her epilogue, she writes that she has returned to her church and started a study group that meets her needs and the needs of other women.
In addition to writing this book, Rodenhizer has become more involved in a non-profit ministry; she has counseled people who are grieving; and she has allowed friends and colleagues to tell their own stories of abuse.
While none of this brings her son back, she has found a way to manage her suffering and celebrate his life.