"My son died, and I cried and cried and cried..."

"Growing through grief has shaped my faith..."

by Dr. Burt D. Braunius

Peter Braunius

Peter was nine weeks old in 1973 when the doctors at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida, said that he had cystic fibrosis. We were young parents, twenty-nine years old. At that time, CF children lived an average of twelve to fourteen years, suffering with chronic lung infections and digestive disorders.

Almost twenty-three years later his earthly life ended, five months after receiving a double lung transplant. Peter's life was courageous, his faith strong. The doctors at Cleveland Clinic and Rainbow Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, could do no more.

Caring for my son for almost twenty-three years changed me. While the grief has been deeper and more profound than anything I could have imagined, God's grace has been abundant. The experience of giving care and growing through grief has shaped my faith, leading to four professions. A story or reflection follows each profession, most of which are supported by The Westminster Catechism.


I profess the power of the Word of God to provide direction for our lives (The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q & A 2).

Scripture contains messages of relief for times of grief. One of our experiences with Peter concerned Psalm 23. During one of the quiet times in Peter's hospital room a few days before he died, he told Marlene and me in a soft voice, "I was hoping to make it to Psalm 23." Marlene came close to him, hugged him, and said, "What do you mean, 'hoping to make it to Psalm 23?'"

Our family tradition is to read the Psalm corresponding numerically with that person's birthday. Peter was feeling the sadness of knowing that he would not live that long, and we were experiencing it with him. Peter died on January 28, 1996; eight days before his birthday.

I have paraphrased Psalm 23 and written it as I think Peter would have if he could:

The Lord gives me help and support.
He takes care of me.
He enables me to accept the challenges of my failing health and at times even to find humor in the midst of pain and uncertainty.
He gives me strength to live as a Christian
while in a hospital climate in which most everyone's hopes are based on medical science, the latest technology, and the greatest physicians.
Even though I am close to death, You, Lord, are with me.
You comfort me by your Word, by your Spirit, and by family and friends from church and community.
You are preparing a place for me where I will be able to breathe freely without even thinking about it; where I will walk and run without getting tired.
Even though my life has been surrounded by the lung disease of cystic fibrosis and attacked by chronic lung rejection, and viral and fungal infections,
You are with me. When my pain is so severe that I can't sleep and I don't know where to turn,
You give relief.
When I am discouraged by the constant blood draws and endless tests and procedures,
You give courage.
When I am so weak that I can only walk a few steps,
You give me inner strength.
Even though my pain is so severe that I do not know how much longer I can take it, how much longer I can live,
I still believe that your goodness and love will follow me and that I will dwell in your house forever.

We, with Peter, wish he could have made it to Psalm 23. Instead, he made it to eternity. He is in the house of the Lord, and we are looking forward to celebrating Psalm 23 and eternity with him someday.


I profess that our primary purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (The Westminster Larger Catechism, Q & A 1 ).

The creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the Presbyterian and Reformed community have given us a way of expressing our spiritual values. Peter memorized the Catechism for Young Children when he was three years old. I can still hear him answering questions one through three, "Who made you? God did. What else did God make? God made all things. Why did God make you and all things? For his own glory."

After Peter's death, I paraphrased the first question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q.What is your source of comfort in dealing with the life and death of your son Peter?
A. That our son Peter did not belong to us alone but belongs with body that was mortal and soul immortal in a life filled with the challenges of sickness and in death that was sooner and more difficult than expected to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus fully paid for Peter's sins with his own blood.

Jesus set Peter free from the manifestations of sin that were seen in suffering related to cystic fibrosis and organ rejection.

Jesus watched over Peter in such a way that nothing could happen
not hospitalizations,
not double lung transplant surgery,
not chronic organ rejection
without the will of his Heavenly Father.

In fact, all these things worked together for his salvation.

Because Peter belongs to Him, Christ by His Holy Spirit assures me of his eternal life, and this assurance continues to make me wholeheartedly willing and ready to live and die for Him.


I profess that by faith I can boldly come to God in prayer, may plead about the burdens that I bear, and am able to quietly rely upon His sovereign care (The Westminster Larger Catechism, Q & A 196 ).

Prayer is necessary at all times, but the need for it is especially evident during times of loss. I have applied the pattern of the Lord's Prayer to an expression of our needs and those of other grieving parents.

The Lord's Prayer: On Behalf Of Grieving Parents

Our Father - Merciful and loving God -
Who art in heaven - If our son or daughter cannot be here, we are thankful that he or she is in heaven with You.
Hallowed be thy name - Help us to reverence you even though we do not understand why our loved one was taken from us.
Thy kingdom come - May the compassion of Christ rule our relationships.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven - Enable us to accept and adjust to our loss even though, for heavens' sake, it is impossible for us to understand.
Give us this day our daily bread - Provide for our physical needs and empower us to care correctly for others and ourselves.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors - Unburden us from our regrets and guilt over words ill spoken and expressions of love that we wish we had shown and help us as well to lift the burdens of others.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil - Liberate us from destructive depression, empty grief, and uncontrollable anxiety.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. - For only in you, Lord, are we able to find faith to embrace your kingdom, hope to rise above our earthly weaknesses, and love to be enfolded into your heavenly home. Amen.


I profess the healing and hope-giving power of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

For months I was not able to sleep at night without Christian music playing in the background. While it is no longer necessary for me to have the radio on all night, music brings peace to my spirit. Now, I wake each morning with a song in my head and on my heart. It is almost as if a Divine Finger makes a daily juke box selection and I awake to a new song. I still remember the power of music during the night of Peter's passing.

The nurses changed shifts at 7:00 PM. That night a parade of them came through the room to say goodbye. We cried and talked about Peter and Peter's God and God's faithfulness. We were emotional; they were emotional --- wet eyes, tears, testimonies, Scripture, expressions of support. One of the nurses on this shift was Jan, who told Marlene about one of her favorite songs, "Life Without End - At Last!"

Around midnight she gave Marlene a photocopy of the words. As we looked at the song, Chaplain John Haspers walked into the room. Earlier in the night he had prayed and read Scripture with us. He became interested in Jan's song and asked her to try singing it with him. At Peter's bedside, within an hour and a half of his death, they began singing,

Can you see, with your mind's eye,
Peoples dwelling together?
Sorrow has passed. Peace at last!
Life without tears and pain.
Sing out with joy of heart.
You, too, can have a part.
Live for the day when you'll say:
"Life without end, at last!"

They sang all four verses and we all were strengthened by the song -- no professionalism, no accompaniment, no pretense. These two had never sung together before and probably never will again.

Scripture, catechism, prayer, and music: I profess these as basic to my faith and necessary for Christian living. While Marlene and I lament the loss of a son, we live in the presence of a loving God and profess a time of union with Him and of reunion with Peter.

Peter's Things

I go to his room and sit
with Peter's things.
The chair, his books, pictures,
his baby ring.
I feel a rush of emotion.
Something inside me stings.
Yet for the privilege of having
such a son,
My heart sings.

Dr. Burt Braunius is Executive Director of the RTS Extension Program at Spanish River Church in Boca Raton, Florida, where he is developing a church-based and competency-oriented program that focuses on training pastors in evangelism and church planting. He holds a B.A. from Barrington College, an M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in non-formal education from Michigan State University. He has also served as Vice President for Academic Administration and Professor of Christian Education at Reformed Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Last updated 3-30-1999.