“Are you the ones who lost a child?”
The question stung with thoughtless curiosity, but I simply replied, “Yes.”
Yes, we are the ones who lost a child. Yes, I am a father without his son. Who I am is now defined by who I no longer have.
Some of Jesus’ closest friends were similarly labeled. After the death of her brother Lazarus, Martha was described as “the sister of the dead man” (Jn. 11:39). The grave forced new identities on this grieving family.
Death has a cruel way of changing who you are when it takes someone you love.
Losing my only child has further complicated this painful reality.
I became a father when my wife became pregnant. It was a fundamental shift in who I was, a change I assumed would be permanent. But losing our son has dismantled this new identity. I now have to surrender to the past tense when I speak of my parenthood: Eli was my son, I was his father. But who am I now? To claim “I am a dad” is both true and inaccurate at the same time. Yet to say “I was a dad” feels just as imprecise and incomplete.
It makes me wish for a proper label merely for the convenience of categorizing myself. Widows are spouses who lost their beloved. Orphans are children who lost their parents. We don’t have a term for parents who lost their child.
But I refuse to abandon this part of who I am, even if I can’t define it. Death has robbed me of my son and complicated my identity, but Eli made me a father. He will always be my son.
And while I am definitively marked by death’s assault, I grieve under the banner of a resurrected king who has power over the grave. Lazarus, loved by the Lord, had his identity changed one final time. He who was once “the dead man” became known as the one “whom Jesus raised from the dead” (Jn. 12:1).
Death marks us temporarily, but the resurrection will define us forever. But we ache in confusion as we wait for that day.