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Interview with Christy Lowry, author of "PAM, Life Beyond Death; Joy Beyond Grief"
We are so pleased to have with us Christy Lowry, all the way from Anchorage, Alaska, speaking with us today. She shares her incredible journey of experiencing the death of her daughter, the grieving process, and the healing that occurred.
Irene: Your book “PAM: Life Beyond Death; Joy Beyond Grief” is dear to your heart. Please tell us a little about this book.
Christy: “PAM” first recounts our family’s experience just prior to, and following, the death of our daughter in an auto-pedestrian accident the first day of school. Chapter One invites the reader into our lives by sharing who we were as a family the day we lost her. Describing the accident, how we each found out about it, and our initial, very individual reactions, created that common meeting ground–the human condition–and point of bonding grievers and readers both need so they can relate to each other.
Chapter Two, while opening with our family poised on the brink of despair and loss, contrasts sharply with those earliest dark days by moving quickly into the miraculous, awesome events that are the meat of “PAM.” By sharing one of life’s worst experiences, losing a child, I in effect invite the reader to walk with us through ‘new fields of experience,’ that progressively unfold God’s incredible presence and comforting grace which alone could heal our family by restoring us to wholeness of being.
These ‘new fields of experience’ rippled out to include the most mundane everyday details of our lives–and those of our extended families. How likely was it for my mother to randomly open her Bible to the beatitude ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted’ right after our Pam died? And statistically, what were the chances of our older son’s marrying a girl with the same first name as Pam? Or my east coast in-laws moving onto Pamela Drive after Pam’s passing? Such ‘coincidences’ I found immensely comforting during my family’s and my healing process.
Last but not least, throughout “PAM,” the reader will notice endnotes periodically appearing throughout the story line. Intended for both the skeptic and the seeker, they are Biblical confirmation of the unusual experiences that are part of our story. As these events happened, God brought the appropriate confirmatory verses to mind; I then included them.
Irene: Why did you feel that this book was important to write?
Christy: My husband Paul and I, with our boys, found out first hand how awful it is to lose a child and sister. Yet we also experienced God’s direct comfort in ways and on levels we didn’t know existed–hence never thought possible. Our loss deepened my awareness of, and appreciation for, the losses of others. How could I selfishly hide our light under a bushel without at least offering it to other grievers for consolation? Did the God I knew then and now, whose footsteps my family and I felt impelled to follow, want me to do that?
My heartfelt hope for those reading our story in “PAM” is that they, in some way, directly experience God as their ‘very present help in trouble’ and, as part of their healing, find His presence as irresistible as I did. As such, I feel both a God-given yearning and inspiration to share our story.
Irene: Tell us about your grieving process.
Christy: My grief process was anything but linear, was instead characterized by sharp jagged lines zigzagging up and down, with no rhyme nor reason–at first. It took weeks and months for me to discern small but gradually growing breaks in our cloud cover of grief. But as I gradually began living out the precedent of life without Pam, new and surprising insights came to me, such as the difference between shock and disbelief; the pitfalls of unresolved anger; the real causes of fear, blame, regret, guilt…before moving on to forgiveness as mentored by Jesus. Was there a culmination? Yes, through God’s teamwork with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, meeting and touching the hem of my soul right where I was–and awing me with their limitless compassion. With an irresistible God like that, how could there not be “Life Beyond Death; Joy Beyond Grief!”
Irene: There is an importance placed on having family and friends around you while grieving. Tell us more about this importance.
Christy: We don’t live in a vacuum; studies confirm that we’re wired to interact meaningfully with others, deriving energy, strength, and motivation from that connection. My faith system concurs.
My family background, which included living in an extended three-generational family of grandparents, mother, aunt, and a brother (our parents divorced when I was three), instilled the importance of family at an early age. My family’s adult members were also strong Christians who instilled that heritage in my brother and me. We consistently applied prayer to any life challenge large and small; and from our childhood on, my mother consistently shared faith stories from her own life as part of building my spiritual foundation and nourishing my growing faith. Little did I know how key this living foundation would factor in during my own life challenges!
Paul’s family was equally stable, without the destabilizing effect of divorce to deal with. He, his parents, brother and sister, lived in the same home and community for years, with one grandparent living downstairs. They all were faithful churchgoers.
Although Alaska is a very transient state, moving there in our case reinforced our family structure because most people come from somewhere else, have left their families of origin far behind, creating a need for surrogate families. Such non-biologically related family groups band together, creating new traditions and bonding together in a mutually reinforcive family atmosphere.
Because our immediate and extended families were able to visit each other fairly often, our ties remained strong. Our neighborhood community was well equipped and willing by Alaskan custom and tradition to act as family, scooping up the skeins of our disjointed and distracted lives (helping with home and child care, coordinating meals and phone calls) until members of our extended family arrived. Together, both groups formed a needed bridge of continuity that helped us move forward, their seamless teamwork helping us heal faster.
A final word here to an already lengthy answer: Older family members’ extensive experience with grief (then and now) comforted us immensely as they fielded our bewildered hurt questions with answers gleaned from their own real life experiences.
Irene: The role of a comforter is very important, however, most people don’t know what to say to the person that just lost a loved one. What were the most important words that you heard from those expressing their condolences.
Christy: Let me preface my reply by remarking that many would-be comforters fear that whatever they say will only make matters worse by increasing the berefts’ pain. Grievers who can realize and remember that will likely help their comforters get past their very real, often debilitating, fear.
The most helpful and insightful comments I’ll forever remember are, first, the woman who told me, ‘If you ever need to talk with someone without shame, call me.’ A second person’s infinitely empathetic comment also sticks with me to this day, ‘No one should have to endure the loss of a child.’ On a third occasion when my husband Paul’s parents were visiting shortly after Pam’s passing, I one evening told him to freely go join them in the family room and ‘be a little boy with them again.’ His unexpected, tenderly tearful appreciation caught me off guard because our society still expects men to be guardians of the stiff upper lip (stoic).
Finally, peoples’ open, honest confessions that they didn’t know how we felt, but were there for us anyway soothingly impressed me by their forthright respect for us and our situation. Similar comments, such as ‘I don’t have words to express how I feel for your loss…I don’t know what to say…I can’t imagine anyone’s going through such a devastating loss’ evoke similar healing.
Considering our culture, those supporters could easily have misunderstood our need to vent and process our loss. Instead, their emotional courage comforted us because their motive was to comfort and help, even at the risk of offending us.
Irene: On the other hand, are there things that people shouldn’t say to those grieving?
Christy: Now I can chuckle a little at this first faux pas, ‘You have to get over it.’ But fresh in grief, that comment (albeit meant to help) angered me. Recouping my wits long enough to inform one speaker that we first have to get through what’s in our lives before we can get over it helped me immensely: I had defused the situation with immediate and long term information that could potentially help others, plus vindicated what I felt.
Another unhelpful comment is ‘I know how you feel.’ Grievers often indignantly wonder to themselves, ‘How can so-and-so know what it’s like, never having been there? Besides, they’re not me!’
Two others that don’t exactly make sense are ‘She’s better off now…in a better place,’ and ‘Heaven needed her.’ Bereaveds, whether or not they protest aloud, often think, ‘If this place is so bad and heaven needed her more than we do, why did my child come here in the first place? And what about us?’ Grievers can help themselves by remembering that today’s adults often parrot what as children they heard their parents say, then don’t think those sayings through to know what they mean before passing them on.
What’s the final one I think is really sad? ‘After I die, think of me, but don’t grieve me.’ When you love someone, how do you do that? Trying to comply with that impossible admonition only doubles the griever’s burden, cutting off the one thing they need to do in order to heal. Similar to the ‘No service!’ dictate, we’re not to remember and grieve everything our loved one meant to us?! No, it’s unrealistic and impossible to even think we can micro-manage others’ feelings from beyond the grave.
All of this said, here’s something that helps both griever and comforter: Remember the golden rule by extending grace to each other as together we navigate volatile emotional territory.
Irene: Did you at any time, after the loss of your daughter, feel that you just couldn’t go on any more because the grief was so deep?
Christy: Oh yes. Those first hours, days, and weeks–even up to five months–I panicked that I could never stop crying, except to come up for air. That’s how I felt. But I vividly remember, just days after losing Pam, making a conscious choice as I looked down the flight of stairs to the front door. How steep they looked! And how easily I could fall down them–both literally and figuratively. Would I just give up and go with the flow of gravity? Or consciously choose to flow through my grief, trusting God to lessen the agony and heal me in His own time and ways?
It’s comforting to know that, as affirmed by many experienced grievers, this intense phase of early grief does pass. And we heal.
Irene: You feel that God was a major component of your healing. Please tell your reading audience how you were able to turn to your faith in a time of tragedy.
Christy: Again, our faith-building family background, built over time, created the strength we needed to cope, survive, and then thrive. Because our strong, experienced, committed family members mentored ‘the right stuff,’ when tragedy struck I knew what and Who I had to draw upon. I also discovered that foundation giving me permission to accept and relate to God on His own terms, in other words, be open to Him as He is, not based on some preconception of Him.
In all honesty, what would have happened to us without God’s direct help? I feel that I would have died of a broken heart, and our family wouldn’t be what it is today. Fortunately, God intervened and turned our lives around, producing in the process such ongoing positive fruits as a community park (renamed the Pamela Joy Lowry Memorial Park), and two inspirational self-help grief books that are out there helping to restore other hurting people.
Why do some people desperately yearn for similar help and don’t experience it? From here, the absolute why is beyond me. But I suspect it has to do with how receptive we are to God and His ways of doing things. Do we yearn for comfort offered His Way, then close off with an emphatic ‘No!’ to His first response? Or do we let go and let Him be God without micromanaging His process?
Irene: Thank you so much for sharing your process with our reading audience. Is there anything else that you would like to share about yourself or your book?
Christy: I think it’s vitally important for people to see and understand that, even in grief, we have choices–the more positive we make the better. Such positive choices set the tone, pace, and speed of our healing–for both ourselves and others, for we don’t know who may be watching us, yearning for consolation and help.
But above all, we’re not alone, even though it may feel and appear so, especially during our earliest, most intense, phases of the grief/healing process.
I invite readers to visit my website: http://www.love-4-books.com. And feel free to email me with questions, comments, and sharings, at: [email protected], as well as through Reader Views’ weblog.
Finally, I appreciate every opportunity to help and encourage hurting people everywhere for, while “PAM” happened in Alaska, its theme and relevance are worldwide. So Irene, thank you for providing us this invaluable springboard whereby we can console, encourage, and support each other!
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