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Living With Hope After the Crisis

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

by Karen Pental, Registered Nurse

My story is my witness to the Lord’s Love, Strength, and Peace and how he makes amazing outcomes from devastating experiences.

As a single mother of 4 children with a blended family, we have had our share of joys and challenges. As a Registered Nurse, I have witnessed and supported people through experiences with health, illness, living, and loss. Before my son died it was at arm's length as a caring professional - now it is with a full understanding that grief is a very active verb which intertwines all domains.

In December of 1995, I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful and healthy boy named Matthew. His smile could light up the room. By 17 he was building and programming computers . He loved to work on cars and won medals for swimming. Matthew was very giving and helped others in need. Unfortunately, he did not know how to help himself.

Matthew got into drugs and illegal activity. He would come to see me sometimes, only to ask for money. These visits left me sad and angry. Through it all , I prayed for him to come home so I could help. Then one day in November 2013, the Holy Spirit nudged me to understand that Matthew needed Jesus to save him. And as his mother, I needed to pray for that. So I handed responsibility over to God. My prayers shifted to Matthew’s safety and salvation.

When he came to ask for money, I asked him to come home. I prayed…but he never came home. On February 12, 2014, at the age of 18 years, Matthew died by suicide. I was devastated! Thankfully, being in a relationship with Jesus, I reached for my Bible. I was given words from Exodus 19:4 to carry me throughout this agony. You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on Eagles wings and brought you to myself.

When I went to collect Matt’s belongings, I discovered he was living in a squaller drug house. That same day, a faith friend called me to tell me that Matt had given his heart to Christ about 2 months prior. This was the answer to my prayers.

Even so, the loss of my son by his own choosing incapacitated me. I made a goal to bring our family closer together and not let us be another statistic. February 12, 2014 became the “before” and “after” timestamp by which I gauged my life experiences.

Before Matt died I cared for people, yet I didn’t allow others (including myself) to care for and help me. After Matt died, for a few months, I could barely support my own head, let alone care for others . I had frequent panic attacks, trouble showering, cooking, and leaving the house. For a period of time, I could hardly speak a sentence. We enlisted others to help as needed. For a few years, I avoided physical activity because it felt as though I may have a panic attack when my heart rate increased. Today , my kids and I talk openly about issues. I regularly walk and dance, and encourage others to stay active.

Before this difficult experience, my ways of dealing with life’s stressors were often unhealthy. Today, I cope much differently with life’s ups and downs. I allow myself to experience the grief and pain as it comes; I seek formal counseling and informal support of others, which includes a shortlist of trusted people who I can contact when I need someone present. With the support of others, I made sure my children could grieve in their own way to be open with me and each other, and to find their own healthy outlets.

Most important though, before Matt died I met Jesus and established a relationship with God; after Matt died I learned how important this relationship is. God’s Word and prayer has carried me through the past 5 years. Sometimes a friend would text me scripture verses and my daughter placed them throughout the house where I tended to have panic attacks. I was reminded of God’s strength in my weakness.

Through all of these experiences, I have learned that in order to live with hope daily, I must lean into God’s love through relationship, be gentle with myself; and use effective strategies during sacred time for self-care.

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