No matter what you’ve experienced, nothing can prepare you for the loss of a child. “I had never had a lot of bad things happen in my life at all (before we lost our son),” says Lizzy Sibley, a senior auditor at Rabobank who’s married to Aaron, student minister at First Baptist Brandon
Lizzy and Aaron wed after graduating from Mississippi State, had daughter Ava Grace a year later, then had twins Addie and Aaron Jr. (aka Chipper, as in “chip off the old block”) two years after that. Life was good. The Sibleys were scared when they found out they were having twins — even one child is hard! — but God provided, Aaron says.
Then in May 2021, C hipper drowned in a swimming pool. He was 4 years old.
Last Christmas was terrible, and Lizzy assumed all future Christmases would be the same. But slowly, she and Aaron have gotten help through prayer, counseling, and the company of fellow believers who didn’t ply them with platitudes like “Everything happens for a reason.” As true as that is, it’s rarely helpful in the immediate aftermath of tragedy.
By the grace of God, “I’m actually excited about Christmas this year,” Lizzy says.
The Sibleys have done a lot of healing in the past year and a half. But they had to do a lot of lamenting first.
The life and loudness
The Sibleys were living in Yazoo City when Addie and Chipper were born in December 2016.
“You never think you’re ever going to have twins. It was so bizarre,” Aaron says.
“I was shocked, but right after the shock, I was really excited,” Lizzy says.
The twins made it to 38 weeks, full term, and had zero complications, which “was kind of a fear,” Lizzy says, “especially with a twin pregnancy.”
“From that point forward, being a twin parent became part of who I was,” Aaron says, and Lizzy agrees: She identified as a twin mom.
“Ava Grace was 100 percent the leader. I don’t know if that’s just big sister or her personality,” Aaron says. “Then right on her heels was Chipper. Addie would sit back, like, ‘Oooh, y’all are going to get in so much trouble!’
“Chipper was the life and loudness of our home. Every picture or video of him, he’s making faces, dancing and singing, playing with dinosaurs … ”
The family moved to Vancleave, Mississippi, in 2019. The next two years were a sweet time: “I got closer to my kids,” Aaron says, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the obstacles he faced as a student pastor. He’d pick up the twins every Friday at lunch and take them to a park of their choice to play.
We’d make a day of it,” he says. “That’s changed how I view my time now.”
Love in the wake of tragedy
On May 23, 2021, Aaron was driving home from a Disciple Now weekend where he had preached. Lizzy and the kids had gone to Arlington, Tennessee, for a cousin’s birthday party.
“Anytime they were gone, I worried,” he says.
“I was driving home and was on our road, and Lizzy called me.”
“Frantic,” Lizzy recalls.
She told him what had happened. Their little boy had died.
Immediately, Satan started throwing accusations at both parents: Aaron should’ve gone to Arlington instead of the DNow. Lizzy should’ve watched more closely.
“I was in such shock that it even happened on my watch. I felt a lot of extreme guilt. I had to receive a lot of counseling for that,” Lizzy says.
“Other parents who have children die in tragic ways feel the same. It’s only natural, because you’re their protector.”
After hearing the news, Aaron drove up to Arlington — but not by himself.
“My boss, Terry, was so good to us. He and his wife came to our house. He prayed with me, and he hugged me like a daddy hugs his son,” Aaron says. “And he wouldn’t let me drive up alone.”
From that moment on, church members joined relatives in rallying around the Sibley family.
“I can’t imagine going through that without those people,” Lizzy says. “Many people came and did yardwork, did our laundry, put goodie bags out, organized things like our pantry … we had my niece and her fiancé go down to Vancleave … I couldn’t go back to (Chipper’s) room … I asked her to put things away till I had time to deal with it.
“Nobody tried to make things OK. They just loved us. They were a model of how the church loves people through tragedy. They loved us the way Christ loves us.”
“Obviously God knew what we were going to walk through,” Aaron says. “And that’s why we were there (with those people).”
Learning to lament
Everybody grieves differently, and some folks delay it.
“Early on, I don’t know that I did an excellent job dealing with my grief,” Aaron says. “I cried the first week, then I flipped a switch. I felt called to preach my son’s funeral. I honestly don’t know how. I’ve never watched it.
“Then I did another funeral, a wedding, a camp … I didn’t give myself time to grieve. I was telling people God is still good. I think I believed all those things, but I didn’t meditate on it the way I should have.”
By the end of July, “Lizzy and the girls had done a much better job with their grief than I had (with mine).”
Meanwhile, “I actually grieved,” Lizzy says. “I spent a lot of time crying.”
Finally, Aaron sat down and talked with his supervisor and his pastor, who sent him home that very day and connected him with a counselor.
“(Counseling) was one of the key things I did,” Aaron says. “I went for a couple weeks, and then Lizzy started coming with me. He taught us about lament. I think the church as a whole doesn’t always teach that.
“He taught us what lament is, the purpose behind it, and he made us do it.” (“We didn’t want to,” Lizzy adds.)
In essence, to lament as a believer is to go to the Lord “and tell Him boldly what you’re upset about. And maybe you’re upset with Him,” Aaron says, adding that he and Lizzy both were upset with God over Chipper’s death.
“Then you also come back and know the truths of who (God) is. Scripture says He’s good. And you tell Him those truths as well. And you always end with praising Him and submitting to His will,” Aaron says.
“It changed the way I led my family.”
Aaron, Lizzy and their families all grew through that process of lament, and Aaron has pointed others to it as well.
“Over the next few months, I had students go through difficult things, and I would show them this worksheet about lamenting.”
Early in their grief, the Sibleys kept asking God how He would use Chipper’s death for His glory.
“After reality set in, that (line of thinking) just made us mad,” Lizzy says. “Now I think we’re at a place where we can think like that (again, though) I would gladly take his place.”
Aaron agrees: He’s glad he and Lizzy’s story has impacted others, but “I’d really rather have my son right now.”
“My biggest comfort is knowing that God is all-knowing and totally in control of all things, and that little man’s days were numbered to 4 years, 5 months and 17 days. There is a reason for that, and it’s bigger than anything I can conjure up,” Lizzy says.
“I have to hinge myself on that, or my faith would be swept out from underneath me. I don’t know best, but I know He does. I’m a mere person. He’s the One who works everything according to His purpose.”
Her other comforts are knowing that she herself has a purpose — “We all have a purpose as believers, and it keeps you going” — and that she’ll see her little boy again one day.
“While I do not like waiting … it’s not like he’s gone forever.”
Aaron has similar thoughts as he mourns things he won’t experience with Chipper on this side of eternity, such as “baseball, football, hunting, teaching him to tie a tie, teaching him how to shave …
“I also know heaven is unimaginable,” he says. “I wonder what kind of things I’ll get to do with my son there. He won’t ‘need’ us like he did here on earth (but) we know deep down the relationship will be perfect — whatever it may look like.”
Meanwhile, 8-year-old Ava Grace recently accepted Christ, and her new faith has given her even more certainty about her little brother. “(She says) ‘Yes, I will see him again,’” Lizzy says.
Chipper’s twin sister, Addie, “kind of adopted some of his mannerisms and personality (after he passed),” Aaron says.
“She’s come out of her shell,” Lizzy says. “He spoke for her a lot of times.”
“Yeah he did, didn’t he?” Aaron says.
One of the hardest things for Lizzy after Chipper’s death was “coming home without him and (his) big, loud presence,” she says. “But I’m telling you, it’s not quiet now. (When the girls) come home now, it’s a stampede again.”
Leaning on the Lord
This spring, the Sibleys announced they were moving to Brandon, where Aaron serves as student minister at First Baptist Church.
“We just longed to be (closer to) our families,” Aaron says. “Then when (First Baptist) Brandon called, a friend of mine said, ‘Do you think with your longing for your family, maybe God would move you?’”
After praying and seeking wise counsel, Aaron and Lizzy decided to move. “It’s been really good. It’s been a blessing,” Lizzy says.
“It takes a special church and special people to love a family who’s gone through this stuff,” Aaron says. “God has given us good churches.”
Lizzy recently spoke at a small women’s group at FBC Brandon called “Worship in the Waiting,” which ministers to women dealing with infertility, miscarriage and child loss.
Up until very recently, “it was too fresh” to talk about, she says. Even now, she and Aaron aren’t seeking out opportunities to share their story (they did not seek out this article). But they’re open to those opportunities when they arise.
“If (people) could see how we persevered and lamented,” Lizzy says, “could my story keep someone from turning from God?
“I don’t give credit to ourselves at all. … I think He was the one keeping us out of the pit.”
She and Aaron still wrestle with Chipper’s death every day. And like any other humans, “Our first inclinations are almost always to lean on ourselves, or even on other people,” Aaron says. But they have learned to do differently.
“Our first lean should be on the Lord.”