Helping Kids Deal With Tragedy and Loss

By Jodi Bainter
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
iStockPhoto.com/gorodenkoff
A terrible accident showed the Bainter family how to help their son through tragedy and live with hope in a world where life isn’t fair.

Our lives changed forever on Good Friday, 2004. As my husband, Brett, mowed the lawn on our riding lawnmower, he didn’t see our 3-year-old son, Jake, run up from behind. Brett looked over his shoulder before putting the mower in reverse, but Jake was too small to see. In an instant Jake was underneath the mower.

I was at work when I received the call. “Something horrible happened,” Brett sobbed. He could barely speak the next words: “I backed over Jake with the riding lawnmower.”

In that instant, my world stood still. Thankfully, Jake had not been killed. But the blades had amputated three of his toes and done extensive structural damage to his right knee and thigh. Little did I know that his physical injuries would consume our family for the next six years. Jake would endure 16 limb salvage surgeries, and at age 8 become an amputee.

Although the physical damage was extensive, the emotional damage was more difficult. In an instant we found ourselves in unchartered territory. We called upon God, turned to His Word and sought counsel to survive each day. Eventually we discovered our new normal, and I have found comfort in sharing the lessons we have learned. Here are four ways to help your child navigate personal tragedy.

Offer your child a safe place to heal

The first time I saw Jake following the accident, he was in ICU. I could see the fear in his eyes. In that moment, I knew this experience would require my most selfless parenting. I fought back the tears as I looked into his eyes. Despite my own uncertainty, I said, “Jake, Mommy’s here. You are going to be OK.”

He closed his eyes and squeezed my hand. He felt safe.

Our words matter. Our children hold on to them. Our kids rise and fall with our hope and discouragement. It wasn’t that I couldn’t be sad, but my son needed to know that I was right by his side. Brett and I would continue to repeat those words, “Jake, it’s going to be OK” for years to come. Eventually, we all adjusted to the new normal and it was OK.

Validate your child's feelings

Years later, after the accident, Jake sometimes had bad days where he asked, “Why did this happen to me?” I remember many mornings where, after receiving a prosthetic leg, he would say, “I’m not wearing my leg today, and I’m not going to school.”

Rather than fight him, I would sit down on the floor, take a deep breath and say, “Jake, I don’t blame you. It has to be hard wearing a prosthetic leg. I would be frustrated, too. But you have to go to school, and I know you can do this.” I could not change Jake’s circumstances, but I could come alongside him and validate his feelings.

That empathy seemed to soothe his soul and make what he was facing seem manageable. Each time we offered validation, he built a little more inner resolve. Eventually, the day came when he put his leg on by himself, had a smile on his face and was ready for school.

Remind your child that God's mercies are new every day

After the amputation, nights were hard for Jake. His phantom pains made it difficult to sleep. But each morning, when we opened the blinds, the sun would shine and Jake would feel the warmth of a new day.

On his worst days, when suffering was great, I began reminding him of God’s promise in Lamentations 3:22-23: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

No matter our circumstances, God gives us the gift of waking up each day and starting anew. Sometimes this reminder is just the encouragement our children need to keep moving forward.

Be available

When tragedy comes, we can become distracted by adult responsibilities and forget how important our presence and undivided attention are to our children.

For several years following the accident, Jake lost his mobility and spent a lot of time on the couch, which must have been lonely and even confusing. I would walk by and he would say, “Mom, Cozy wants you to cuddle.” Cozy was Jake’s guinea pig.

In the beginning, I would say, “Cozy’s fine, give him some love for me” and carry on with my chores. I really didn’t have time to cuddle on a couch with a guinea pig. Then one day, I stopped and snuggled up next to Jake and Cozy. I could see the joy flood my son’s face. My presence offered him comfort.

When I slowed down and settled in to the moment, we shared some of our best conversations. We talked about his leg and his courage, and I reminded him that this was just a moment in time that would soon pass.

Jake is now a senior in high school, and every day after school, Jake gives me a check-in call. Whatever I’m doing, I make it a priority to answer. That little window of time allows me to hear about his life — homework, friendships and dreams. Our relationship got its foundation in those early days because I was willing to pay attention and be present.

The bigger picture

Helping a child deal with tragedy and loss is a difficult path. Jake recently wrote a college entrance essay that began with these words: “I learned at an early age that life is not fair; not everyone gets the same slice of pie. But I believe it’s those unfair experiences that shape you as a person. The question becomes: What are you going to do about it?”

After reading his essay, I reflected on all those difficult years. His suffering, deep sadness and longing for circumstances to be different. But through his battle scars, he began to find balance and peace. When we send Jake off to college, he will take with him the visible scars and the invisible burdens of his heart, and some days he will still struggle. But he knows he will always have a safe place, validation, the hope of our heavenly Father and the support of his parents.

Copyright © 2019 by Jodi Bainter. Used by permission.

Copyright © 2019 by Jodi Bainter. Used by permission.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

You May Also Like

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.