Grief and Loss: Giving Up Your Dreams
About the Guest
Tom and Dena YoheDena Yohe (pronounced YOY) has been a social worker, pastor's wife, and Cru staff member. She is the mother of a formerly troubled daughter, Renee´Yohe. Renee´ was the suicidal, addicted, depressed, self-harming girl whose situation led friends to start the well-known nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms. Renee´’s life was also portrayed in the 2015 Sony Pictures release by the same name. Dena is an avid blogger. She and her husband, Tom, have three grown children, enjoy being grandparents,...more
As their daughter’s struggle continued, so did the struggle for Tom and Dena Yohe. Eventually they realized they couldn’t choose sobriety for Renee-she had to choose it for herself.
Grief and Loss: Giving Up Your Dreams
Bob: As their young adult daughter, Renee, found herself in a downward spiral of partying, drugs, and depression, her parents, Tom and Dena, realized that, if they were going to be any help to her at all, they had to be on the same page.
Tom: We were very conscientious of getting together and creating boundaries that we were going to talk to Renee about and set and the consequences that would come. We would spend a long time going over those things—what we could agree on and be on the same page about—and also be equally as strong to enforce, if it came to that; because we realized that they were very good at finding which one was the weak one that was going to waffle a little bit. We didn’t want any division between us; we wanted to present a very united front.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 31st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey. I'm Bob Lepine.
What are some strategies that parents can use to more effectively deal with a son or a daughter who has gone into a far country? We’re going to hear from Tom and Dena Yohe today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve heard a hard story this week—and one that a number of our listeners have let us know they can relate to what we’ve been talking about.
Dennis: Life is hard, and I know we all get married to live “happily ever after.” I think that is a notion found in Hollywood; but in real life, there are great mountaintops—certainly there is a lot of happiness—but there’s also some deep, craggy, dark valleys.
We have been listening to a story of a daughter who, at the age of 12, started cutting herself and moved into alcohol abuse, and drugs, and multiple incidents of blacking out and overdoses. The parents, who were attempting to love her and show her the way, Tom and Dena Yohe, have been very gracious to allow us to peer into your lives—Tom/Dena, thank you for being so transparent.
Tom: Thank you for allowing us.
Dena: Thank you, Dennis. We’re glad to be here.
Dennis: They do have three children. The child we’re talking about is Renee, and her story is spoken of in the book that Dena has written, You Are Not Alone. Talk with me about how you got permission from your daughter to tell this story.
Tom: Well, her story had turned into a movement. When she was out on the streets and needed rescuing, there was a group from our church went and did—as they called and told us—the “come to Jesus” talk with Renee.
Bob: —an intervention.
Tom: —an intervention. They found her; and they went to her and said: “You need help,”—you know—“We’re concerned about you. We love you. You need to get into treatment.”
She was willing; but she was with this party group—that they had just put their money together / bought a bunch of drugs. She goes, “I’ll go with you tomorrow, but tonight I’m going to party hard,” and she did. When she woke up in the morning, she felt so guilty and so awful—she carved a profanity in her arm with a knife.
But they went—they showed up the next morning, and she went. They took her to the treatment center; and they said: “We can’t take her. She’s not de-toxed. We don’t have a de-tox unit, and she has fresh wounds. We’re afraid she’s going to trigger the other residents. Bring her back in five days.” They didn’t know where to take her—
—we weren’t in the relationship at the time. For the five days—they took her and just kept her in this one person’s house. As a group from our church, 20-something group, stayed with her 24/7, for five days. They did fun things together; they did Bible studies together; they prayed for her; and on the last night, before she would go into treatment the next day, she called one of the young men aside and she said, “I have something I want to give you.”
He goes: “Oh! Okay,”—followed her into the room. She pulled out a razor blade—she says: “This is my last razor blade. I’ve had it the whole time. I don’t trust myself with it. I’m giving it to you.”
Dena: And that young man, during those five days, felt that something really special was taking place. He asked if she would give permission for him to write her story and to write about those five days to encourage others. And she said, “If you think it’ll help even one person, okay.” So he wrote this very moving story—he called it “To Write Love on Her Arms.”
The thinking behind it was that, when people with hope go to people who look like they have none, we can write “love” on their arms, thinking about what she had done to herself.
Well, they showed it to a few people at our church. They were deeply moved by this story and said, “You need to put this on the internet so more people can read it and just be encouraged by it.” It was before Facebook®; so he created a Myspace page for the story. Within a few days, he was hearing back from people from all over the world saying, “This story encouraged me to get help”; because he was addressing the issues she was struggling with—suicide, depression, addiction, cutting. No one was talking about those things at the time.
One thing led to another—through T-shirts being designed with the name of the story on the front and the whole story imprinted [on] the back—to raise money to help pay for her rehab. So much money came in, because so many people wanted a shirt—they were just resonating with these issues and that they were finally being brought out into the open and talked about. They had so much money coming in—they had to become a non-profit.
That brought her story out into the open. That gave us freedom—we weren’t ready to do anything with it at the time, but it gave us permission and freedom to talk about things we never would have otherwise. And then, the movie being made about her, several years later, also gave us permission. She loves that we’re doing what we do, and she’s all about us using it to help other people.
Bob: And by the way, if our listeners have not read the essay you’re talking about, “To Write Love on Her Arms,” we have a link to it on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com so listeners can read that. There’s also information about the movie if folks are interested in watching the movie as well.
Dennis: You mentioned something earlier I want to go back to—and that is—you said you were “out of relationship” with Renee or disconnected to such a degree you didn’t know where she was / what she was doing. Was that a decision that you two made, as a couple, that: “We’re going to put some distance between us and her,” in hopes that somehow, maybe, that might save her?
Tom: Yes; we were very conscientious of getting together and creating boundaries that we were going to talk to Renee about and set and the consequences that would come. We would spend a long time in our room, going over these things—what we could agree on and be on the same page about—and also be equally as strong to enforce if it came to that; because we realized, if one of us was weak, they were very good at finding which one was the weak one that was going to waffle a little bit. We didn’t want any division between us; we wanted to present a very united front.
Dennis: And when you go out to the end of the matter and establish these boundaries, you have to go visit a very dark place; because you realize that by creating the distance, the phone call / the police knocking at the door may be one that tells you your daughter has taken her life or she’s dead because of the rough crowd she’s in.
Dena: Yes; we prepared ourselves for that. That was how I coped with this greatest fear and nightmare—was to face it, head on, and stop denying it or pushing it back—but to face it, admit that that was my fear, say it out loud, and let the Lord comfort me. That was when He reassured me that, no matter what happened, that He would be with me—somehow, I would survive.
A strategy He gave me to use to help with that fear is called the “God Box.” It is not original—we learned it in a support group that we were a part of. It was to—as soon as you’re aware of something that you are anxious or worried about—for me, with my daughter—that I would get a box with a little notepad / a box with a lid. I would take the notepad and I would write down what it was I was afraid of: “I’m afraid that Renee is going to have an accident and maybe die,”—put it in the box; put the lid back on it; and put it up on a shelf, surrendering these things and her to the Lord.
She was a gift to us—I was giving her back—I had to trust the Lord.
Dennis: We haven’t talked much about the providence of God; but in situations like this, when parents are going through an unspeakable agony/grief—the death of a dream—you really must cry out to the God of the universe, who is in charge of what’s taking place. In fact, I just want to read this passage. I was thinking about it as you guys have been talking about it.
It is Romans, Chapter 8, verse 31:
What, then, shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, with Him,”—that’s Christ—“graciously give us all things? —Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God that justifies.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died; more than that, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
That means Jesus Christ is praying for parents of prodigals, right now, who are so distraught / so numbed over with scar upon scar on their hearts, who can’t pray.
Dennis: You come to points in your life when you simply can’t pray—there are those moments—and it says right here, “There’s a prayer warrior!”—it’s not just any prayer warrior.
Dena: It’s wonderful.
Dennis: He’s praying according to God’s will—it’s Jesus Christ.
Let me continue:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?
It goes on to say, a little later in the same passage:
No; in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You were trying to convince your daughter that you loved her—that nothing she could do would keep you from loving her. The reason you can do that is you had to know you were loved—back to this passage right here—that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.
Dena: Yes; that’s right.
Tom: Yes/yes; and that intercession passage was a tremendous comfort, just as you explained. You know, we didn’t know how to pray—I didn’t have the words / I didn’t know how to pray—but I took great comfort in knowing that somebody else was praying that knew much better than I.
Dennis: What I just want to point out, too, about this group—this may be the result of the 50 people who’d been praying for her!—
Dena: Yes; yes.
Dennis: —a crowd of people surrounding her / rescuing her from certain destruction.
Dennis: So, just because we don’t see the answers to prayer when the prayer is prayed, immediately; don’t lose heart in well-doing. Keep praying, and praying, and praying for your child.
Dena: Yes; never give up!
Bob: They got her into a rehab facility the next day. This was not her first rehab facility.
Tom: Actually, her second.
Bob: What was different about the second time than the first time—anything?
Tom: I think she was more willing to work at the recovery.
Dena: It was more for her.
Tom: —more for her—yes; definitely for her.
Bob: And, ultimately, she was in and out of rehab four times.
Dennis: Let me ask you this question, at that point:
“Describe the sadness; because there’s anger / there’s grief that cannot quite be captured by the word, “sadness,” that a parent feels for his or her child.
Dena: It felt, to me, the same as though she had died. I wished that I had died—and, sometimes, even that she had—because it would have been easier than experiencing so much pain.
Tom: The times of weeping / the times of crying—the times I would go to the office and just walk through the motions. Lake Hart, at the time, where I was working, was out in an area where it’s a lot of vast wilderness around it. I just wanted to run out as far as I could, and just wail, and come back. It was deeply, deeply sad.
There’s no greater joy than to know that your children are following the truth, and I think the opposite can be applied as well.
Bob: So if folks ask you today, “How is Renee?” what’s your answer?
Tom: Today, I’d say she’s as healthy as she’s probably ever been, spiritually, emotionally, physically.
Bob: And you couch that by saying, “Today she is,”—
Bob: —because—do you think this is for good? Do you think that she’ll get to the finish line without another rehab in her future?
Tom: It’s certainly our hope, but we know people who have had years / decades of sobriety that have relapsed.
Dena: We know very well that we have to take care of ourselves and keep ourselves strong, because we have to take one day at a time. She would say, “Yes; I have to keep doing the next right thing. Any of us is always just one decision away from relapsing.”
Bob: So why would you say that, today, you think she’s in the best place ever? What’s different about this?—and she’s been sober for a year-and-a-half; right?
Bob: What’s different about the last year-and-a-half than about previous sobrieties?
Dena: She told me, when I asked her that very question, that she was finally ready to apply everything that she had learned over the years—sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Tom: And there’s another phrase that I had heard from Michael Hyatt, and it says, “You lose your way when you lose your why.” Renee has realized what her “why” really is, and she’s determined to keep it. You can’t be sober for other people / you can’t be sober for others’ expectations—you know, it has to be you—it has to be yours / you have to own it.
Bob: And has she been able to articulate for you all what the “why” was that spun her off for so many years into wearing black in high school, and hanging out with the wrong crowd, and starting to drink, and what headed her on this journey she’s been on?
Has she been able to put words to that?
Tom: I don’t think she has. She hasn’t come back to us and talked about those earlier years and what were the motivations behind it, other than the fact that she just wanted to do her own thing. That’s the limit I have to that information.
Dena: In her pain, alcohol and smoking was very soothing and calming to her—you know, it is like, “Oh, this helps,” at first; and then it becomes the beast on your back.
Bob: But the inner pain, in terms of being able to say, “Here’s what that pain was,” or where it came from—and maybe, she doesn’t know what the restlessness in her own soul was. I mean, I can imagine some, who would say, “I can’t tell you what it was that caused me to wander off into this place other than I was hurting and this soothed me for awhile.”
Dennis: And I don’t think the person, who is a prodigal, really has any concept of the sadness, the grief, the hurt that is being brought to the parents who attempted to bring life to them. I just want you two to comment on this, because we talked about it earlier: “What are some things to do for the marriage of parents of prodigals, as they’re in the midst of this hurricane of sorts? What can they do to fortify their relationship and enable it to go the distance?” You all attended the Weekend to Remember, right?
Tom: Yes; actually, a few times during that period of time—that was very helpful—because again, we have to focus on our relationship. It was Dena and I before Renee ever showed up—or any of our other kids. Lord willing, they mature and go off on their own—it’s still going to be Dena and I. So, this was the most important relationship as far as the family went—
—so we focused on our relationship / our marriage.
Dena: We also came to recognize that we were different. Sometimes, it would be: “Why don’t you feel like I do?! Why doesn’t this…” We just had to finally accept that—you know—“That’s okay; you don’t always have to feel like I do”; and give each other permission to not always feel the same.
Tom: We were able to come up with some sentences that really helped us during the times when the stress and the strain was getting higher. One of them was: “What do you need from me most right now?”—because, oftentimes, we want to fix / we want to come along with a solution.
Tom: And that’s not what that person needs—so stopping and asking, “What do you need most from me right now?” was one of them. And then another one we would use was, “Honey, I’m not the enemy.”
Tom: “I’m not the enemy.”
Dennis: We talk about that at the conference.
Bob: You learned that at a Weekend to Remember. [Laughter]
Dennis: And I think about the conference—I think of how it can help a couple, who are going through a challenge with a child or in their own lives—
—the conference gives you a “Why.” It talks about the purpose of marriage / the purpose of two becoming one—why you’re here.
Secondly, we talk about conflict resolution—healthy conflict resolution, where we give you some tools to be able to make some of those statements, where you can remove the [perceived] reality—that you’re not the enemy.
Then third, we also talk about suffering. We talk about how you either suffer together or you fall apart; because if you don’t link arms together, you are going to turn against one another. Sometimes, it just takes someone pointing out to you that, “Hey, you two are standing up in the fox hole, and you’re duking it out with each other. You don’t realize you’re about to become a casualty as well.”
Bob: Well, a Weekend to Remember getaway is kind of a marriage time-out. I’m just thinking about a comment that my son made—
—my son and his wife went to the getaway recently. They came back and they said: “You know, it’s not that we had anything going wrong in our marriage; but there are just things you’re never going to talk about unless somebody kind of directs you, and points you, and nudges you and says, ‘It’d be good to have a conversation about this,’ and ‘Here are some questions you can answer.’” He said, “Those kinds of projects that we worked on—was just a great tune-up for our marriage.”
Whether you’re in the middle of a crisis or not, it’s good to do that kind of preventive maintenance; but if you are in the middle of a crisis, like you guys have been, those times become kind of an oasis in the midst of what is otherwise a hard season to be walking.
Dennis: And they talk about this in their book, You Are Not Alone, which I think would be a great book for any couple, who do have prodigals, to be able to share together and talk about. And ,maybe, go to a Weekend to Remember to develop that plan we talked about earlier, where you, as a couple, have to decide what your boundaries are—how you’re going to protect your marriage—
—how you’re going to protect your wife / your husband from the prodigal—because they can turn / they can turn on one or both of the parents in a way that’s really pretty damaging.
I just appreciate you, Tom and Dena, for your transparency of allowing us access to your lives. I also am grateful to God for Renee. Before we’re done here, I want to invite our listening audience to pray for her, and I’m going to do it as well. We’re going to offer up a few hundred thousand, if not a million, prayers for Renee, in addition to those 50 that you have praying for her as well.
Dena: Thank you.
Bob: Before you lead us in prayer, let me let our listeners know how they can get a copy of the book that Tom and Dena have written for parents, called You Are Not Alone: Hope for Hurting Parents of Troubled Kids. It’s a book we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can find it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. We also have a link there to the Yohe’s website, which is called HopeforHurtingParents.com.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the Yohes’ book or to get more information about their ministry. You can also order the book by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY if that’s easier for you. Again, the number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Let me, also, real quickly, just remind folks—today’s the last day of May. This has been a month that we’ve set aside to try to raise a goal of $1.1 million. If you’ve not made a contribution to help put us over the top toward that goal, would you do that today? Go to FamilyLifeToday.com—make as generous a donation as you can, online; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Or, if you’d prefer to mail your donation, you can do that as well. Our mailing address is FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Dennis: Well, again, I want to thank you, Tom/Dena, for sharing your story. I do want to pray for Renee, and I want to invite our listeners—put her on your prayer list. Yes—wouldn’t hurt a young lady to know that there are people in all 50 states—who knows how many countries—praying for her right now.
Father, thank You for the Father’s love and how that love can be displayed through broken vessels called parents. I thank You for Tom and Dena and how they have faithfully hung in there and have assured Renee that nothing can separate her from their love—nothing she can do to earn it / nothing she can do to reject it—but that love is there. Would You convince her of that love? Would You bathe her in that and make that so inviting?—the enjoyment of that grace, that mercy, that forgiveness—that anything less would be unattractive / in fact, would be repulsive.
And I pray for her that You might supply just want she needs—the right friends, the right church, and the right purpose—the “why” of her life. We pray these things in Christ’s name; Amen.
Tom: Amen. Thank you so much!
Dena: As awful as this experience has been, we have come to see it as a gift from God.
Dennis: Yes; it’s not something you would ask God for, but it is something you can thank God for afterward.
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