Finding Strength in the Face of Death and Tragedy

ambulance architecture building business May 17, 1993:  Baylor Medical Center, Dallas Texas. “Oh, Larry! We lost her!” cried my sister-in-law Sally as her arms wrapped around me in a forlorn, comforting squeeze.

I became numb. My wife of thirteen years had just died. No! How could this be? I felt my knees buckle. If Sally had not been hugging me tightly, I would have crumpled onto the waiting room floor.

I heard a spine-chilling wail. My sister had also been told that Cindy had died on the operating table. The overpowering, unnerving exclamation caused me to reach for the chair behind me.

As I sat down, sharp pains hit my chest. My breathing became fast and shallow. “My heart!" I whispered to my brother Jason. “My heart is beating really fast, and I feel sick. Someone needs to check my heart.”

I was lowered into a wheelchair and pushed quickly into a room with a heart monitor. I had never felt so helpless. My life and family were being demolished. Listening to the erratic beep of a heart monitor, I was struck with the horrifying fear that my children Christian and Sarah could become orphans.

My worried brother came into the room carrying his bible. I asked him to read from Philippians 4.  If I was about to die, I wanted to hear a favorite, comforting passage from God’s Word.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!....The heart monitor became more and more erratic. My breath became labored. I had never had an anxiety attack, but I was certain this was a genuine attack of some kind.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near…. I determined to not look at the monitor, took a deep breath and tried to exhale slowly.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God… I don’t remember hearing Jason read, but I do remember praying as a sense of doom enveloped me. Dear Lord, be with us now. Help this to pass. Help me. Heal my heart.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…I glanced at the monitor. My eyes opened wider. Was my heart rate slowing? Please, Lord, let me know your comforting presence…

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…My breathing relaxed. I stared at the monitor. It continued stabilizing.

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Suddenly I realized that we would survive. I was no longer thinking about the despair of leading my whole life without Cindy and my two year old daughter Katie who died in the crash. I was thinking about how I could make it through this moment for Christian and Sarah. I would be content with that…with God’s help.

for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Today twenty years after the deaths of my wife and daughter God’s words of comfort and support in Philippians still speak to my heart and mind in good and bad times. I feel His presence in the “waiting room” of this life. I know His Son supplies all I need to overcome life’s crises.

“Christ gives me the strength to face anything.” (Philippians 4:13 CEV) .

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX