By Ken Wilbanks
I thank God I had and have such a Godly man as Sam Kelly as we continue along this journey I wouldn’t wish on any parents. I will never forget the Sunday morning when we learned of the accident, seeing Sam there with his wife and daughters in the chapel, unable to fight back the tears but being the anchor for his family. I knew at that exact moment we were not receiving good news.
I probably don’t tell him enough, but I really do appreciate him, and the weekly Bible studies he holds for our students during the school year. Both our other sons attended and attend those Bible studies and are better young men because of Sam continuing to allow God to speak through him.
It feels like a nightmare that in absolutely no way could have been real. You could easily describe it as the most painful, hardest, and most difficult experience anyone could conceive ever happening. And it’s not just a momentary detour. It’s the road now traveled by each and every one of us who have experienced the loss of a child. Our children are supposed to bury us—not the other way around. I pray daily for comfort for those fathers and mothers who share this experience and those who have not, never do.
God knows the pain those of us who have lost a child go through and, I truly believe, He is the only answer in getting through something as devastating as this. Without His help, we cannot as parents get through the loss of a child and retain any sanity. We are never getting over this loss, but when we need it the most, His strength is at its best.
While the grieving process is different for everyone, I really think there is a common goal—acceptance of the loss and the ability to keep moving forward in a way that honors the memory of our sons or daughters. My heart still aches for my firstborn son. But while that ache has dulled some over the years, I understand the pain will never completely go away. There is nothing heavier to carry than emptiness. But it does—gradually—become a less raw and brutal emotion that is easier to live with.
Nothing can prepare you for what losing a child is like. And the reality is you will never “get over” the loss of your child, nor should you want to. You will heal, but you will never be the same. And that’s okay.
You will learn to live with your loss and you will get through this! Try and focus on all the wonderful memories of your son or daughter.
The “firsts” are always the hardest—first birthday, first holiday, first anniversary of the death of the child.
Grief is a process. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. Take baby steps. All you can do is your best. Let yourself grieve the loss of your child. Do not try to hold everything inside. Do not bottle up your emotions. If you are hurting, then hurt. It’s okay to cry. It’s normal and it’s okay. Remember to move at your own pace. Only you can know the distance of your healing and only you can know when you have arrived. Again, baby steps.
And always know you don’t have to walk through this alone. You have many people who love you and want to help you through this.
I don’t think it is wrong to ask “why” and admit I have done so many times since October 30, 2011. I don’t believe we have the capacity to understand why things like this happen. None of us are promised a tomorrow. But those who have asked and accepted Jesus are promised an eternity in Heaven. And I take comfort knowing God will hold me close one day and explain it to me in a way even I can understand.
Dr. Rob Futral said it best during the “Celebration of Life” for Mason, Sam Clayton, and Walker:
“Say the things you need to say. Hug the people you need to hug. Do the things you need to do—in matters of faith, in matters of relationships, in matters of the things that really matter. Be the person you need to be—who God created you to be—to receive all that He has for you. For your worst moments, He gave you His very best.”
Sam is one of the kindest, friendliest, humblest people I know. When I think of Sam, I think of the warm smile of a terrifically practical, down-to-earth servant leader who is constantly searching for God’s leadership and direction and always giving God the credit and glory.
Ken Wilbanks’ son Mason was one of the three friends who died in the automobile accident October 30, 2011. Ken lives and works in Madison.