“Bye, Dad. I love you.” “Bye, Kyle. I love you, too.” Little did Rick Taylor know that this normal goodbye to his 5-year-old son, Kyle, would soon become a precious memory. Later that morning, Rick saw their van barreling toward him. In one sweep, his wife, Judy, swung the door open and said, “Kyle’s dead. Eric’s dying. Get in.”
April 7, 1979 was the day “when life was changed forever” for Rick and Judy. Two-year-old Eric had fallen into a pond at the Christian camp where Rick was serving as director, and Kyle drowned trying to save his brother’s life. A high number of married couples end up divorcing in the years following the loss of a child. But in the following interview, adapted from a “FamilyLife Today” radio interview the Taylors tell how they remained committed to the vows they had made to each other.
Rick: I’ve had many dreams over the years that I actually was able to get back there and save Kyle. That’s just the father’s heart, but God’s design was that I couldn’t do that.
Do you wake up from a dream like that feeling like God’s played a dirty trick on you?
Rick: I sure did–for a long time. There was a rage inside of me. It’s one thing to feel; it’s another to understand those feelings. People would say, “Are you angry with God?” and I would say, “Absolutely not.” I was too theologically correct to admit that. But I had those feelings down inside of, “God, why him? Why not me? This just shouldn’t happen to someone who had such a passion for life and God at such a young age.”
What do you mean when you say you were “too theologically correct”?
Rick: It wasn’t proper to be angry at God or to question Him from the background that I had, a theology that kept me from being willing to admit anger. Because if I admitted it, I thought I would not be a mature Christian.
Judy, did you know any of this was going on with Rick?
Judy: Well, all of a sudden, I had a husband who needed to be quiet, and I needed to talk. Each time I tried to talk, he would turn away like I was stabbing him in the back with a knife. I just kept thinking, “How long is this going to go on?” It took about six months for Rick to be willing to talk. I couldn’t help him, and he couldn’t help me. There was nothing left.
At some point you had to wonder if you’d ever make it through this pain.
Judy: That’s true. Sometimes I would go to the park or the cemetery and cry. I had a new baby and two boys who needed a mom, not a cripple. Thank goodness I had some awfully sweet friends who were there for me and gave me some space. That was a great comfort to me.
Eventually, people began to ask, “Are you back to normal yet?” We finally started saying, “What is normal to you?” Because to me normal was getting to raise four children. And then people would say, “Maybe Kyle’s life was saved from something like leukemia or drugs.” And I went, “Or maybe he would have been a great little guy who pleased everybody. Maybe even the President.”
We like to use the illustration of your right arm being cut off and people saying, “Are you back to normal?” You’ll never be normal. You can learn how to live, how to comb your hair and write with your left hand, but you’ll never stop missing your right arm. It was a real part of you, a vital part. You just learn to live a different life, one that honors God also.
Was there ever a moment as you processed the pain that you ever wondered if your marriage was going to make it?
Rick: I can answer that fairly quickly. I never remember entertaining those thoughts. It had to do with the base of our relationship. From the very beginning, I knew this woman that I married and loved very much was committed to me and that she was not married to me for her convenience. We had made a lifetime commitment to this marriage. I knew nothing could separate us. That’s a credit to her.
Judy: Commitment means dedication to making it through the tough times. Knowing that in the end, it will all work out. The scary part is that in the midst of that I got tempted to lose my hope in God. Funny how the very thing I thought I was strongest in was shaken. It was like Satan was saying, “You’re believing in a joke. You’re not going to see this boy again. You’re not going to go to heaven. Heaven isn’t real.”
So, while I am trying to work out this deal with the marriage, I also had to work on myself. I faced a choice-to stand on what I believe or chuck it all. What kind of life am I going to have if I chuck it all? Miserable, full of bitterness. Every day, people who have chosen that road fight God tooth and nail, hating Him and trying to make Him pay. And every day is wasted when you are like that. We are given only so many days on this earth and we get to choose how we live them.
Let’s say there’s a couple who have lost their hope, and possibly even hate God for taking their child. What would you say to them?
Rick: They are like a man fighting against the wind, against a reality that can’t be defeated. Without God there is no hope whatsoever. I would remind them that if God is only real on our terms, is He really God? Is that a wise way to live life, only willing to accept God if He does what I want when I want? The truth is that God is who the Bible says He is-trustworthy and all wise. For whatever reason He took our son, He knows what He’s doing and He has love behind that.
Judy: I have lots of friends who have lost a child. Those who do not have faith usually base all of their talk about their child on their past. They only refer to the good times. I have challenged that by asking, “Do you think you will see your son or daughter again?” They just say no. Life stops without hope.
If you could tell people the greatest lesson you have learned, what would it be?
Judy: We have learned that our lives are a gift. Each day is given to be used for His service.
Adapted from an interview on FamilyLife Today. Learn more about Rick and Judy’s experience in their book When Life Is Changed Forever.