Someone That I Used to Know

on the Life-Changing Death of a Troubled Daughter

“Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” said Gandalf. “I fear it may be so with mine,” said Frodo. “There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same.”—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

I had a friend back in the late 1980s. He was quite a bit older than I. I was in that stage of life where all of my children were very young, and we were consumed with all of the loving and raising and disciplining and feeding and diapering that goes with that phase of life. My friend was early in his senior years—the winter of his life was just beginning to set in.

My friend loved children in a kind of shy and awkward way. He kept his pockets loaded with candy and quietly handed it out in generous amounts to any small children who crossed his path. My kids called him “the candy man.” I just called him Paul.

Paul loved people of all ages I suppose, but he was known for his concern and attentiveness toward children. After I got to know him a bit and learned his story, I better understood some of what was behind his candy-filled pockets.

Paul and his wife had lost a child under horrific circumstances many years before I knew him. Their son, their only child, had been run over and killed in front of their house by a school bus. During the time that I knew Paul, when all of my children were young, the idea of losing a child seemed at once so terrible and so “out there” that I couldn’t imagine how Paul and his wife ever managed to recover.

So I asked him one time, “How do you ever get over losing a child?” His answer was immediate and short: “You don’t,” he said; “you just learn not to cry all the time.”

Gut. Punch.

Now in the Past

Last May marked three years since my own daughter died, an event that, had I any inkling of it at the time I knew Paul, would have filled me with unspeakable horror and dread. It is, as they say, “every parent’s worst nightmare.”

It’s one thing to have a person in your life, like Paul, whom you used to know. But it is different in every way when the person you used to know is your own child.

Shortly after my daughter died, I wrote these words to some friends:


Keith Lowery works as a senior fellow at a major semiconductor manufacturer, where he does advanced software research. He worked in technology startups for over 20 years and for a while was a principal engineer at amazon.com. He currently serves as an elder at Lake Ridge Bible Church in a suburb of Dallas, Texas.

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