A Reflection On the Death of My Son: A Lament of Promise

Gene Whitner Milner III
12/10/85 - 04/17/11


This coming Sunday will be the five year anniversary of my son's death. It was Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm. I went out to our pool to cut off the cabana lights. That is when I discovered my beautiful 25 year-old son on the bottom of the pool. My nightmare had begun, as the worst thing possible had just happened to me, the untimely death of one of my children. I remember feeling it was surreal as I observed myself from outside my body. Looking at a desperate, panic-stricken woman, not knowing what to do, until she let out a scream, a deep primitive guttural cry of defiance to Death and God.

Well, I have lived and breathed through the pain and survived. Some say we reach and adjust to a "new normal," but for me I will never be normal again. What I have found is a "new reality."  We never get over grief, but we do get used to living with it. Ideally, it becomes integrated into us as part of who we are, not our identity. A few weeks ago I went to Sedona, AZ to become a Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider with Dr. Joanne Cacciatore. This is part of my healing - to walk beside others as they grieve and mourn, being a loving and compassionate presence. The fact alone that I am alive and functioning, enjoying life while I still hold deep inner sorrow is enough to give others hope.

I would never wish this tragedy on anyone, and I certainly wish it had never happened to me, but I can say I am glad that I am the person  I am today compared to how I was before my loss. I often think of a gardener who prunes bushes with deep cuts to stimulate new growth and make the plant healthier and stronger, with the ability to survive. Pain has a way of growing you into a better, more compassionate, caring, and sensitive person with perspective on what is most important in life. That can be summed up in one word, Love.

I know if my son had a chance to come back he would not because he has already crossed God's Finish Line well. I know with confidence we will meet again one day face to face. Until then, I will serve God with all the experiences and gifts that He has given to me, so maybe on my last day I will hear the words we all long for: "Well done, my good and faithful servant," Mathew 25:21.

I wrote this sorrowful lament after my son died in response to the deep pain of grief and loss I felt. It does end with hope on the horizon so hence the title, "Lament of Promise." I pray my words bring some comfort to anyone who has suffered a loss of a loved one.

*My son died from underwater breath-holding in our pool succumbing to Shallow Water Blackout. My family has founded a nonprofit to raise awareness and educate in hopes of stopping these senseless, preventable deaths.

Please see www.shallowwaterblackoutprevention.org to understand the dangers of breath-holding underwater. You can also watch me tell Whitner's story here.

It could save your life or a loved one's.

Lament of Promise


My broken heart goes on beating.

My breath is not ceasing.

The sadness looms and hovers near--

a dash away, a moment's fear.


The shadow creeps from within

arising in the emptiness

where you once were, but dwell no more.


The memories languish laced

in my passing thoughts

echoing through my mind.


Timelessness hangs with me

swinging on the moment

where I think you still exist.


The dewy mist fills my eyes

with saltless tears of sorrow

emerging from the heart's deepest chamber.


A look, a face, a warm embrace

brings the remembrance of what once was,

but never now to be.


There is consolation

found in the touch and image of a hazy, foggy dream,

though that vision fades as a vapor

lost to the dawn's faint light and a red bird's call.


I wait for our unanticipated meeting again,

not to be missed--

my heart pines with longing

and yearns for days gone missing.


Muffled cries with liquid prayers

mourn in quiet desperation

surrounded by the black cloak of darkness.


The quiver of morning glimmers

to give a glimpse of hope

to find only a soft whisper.


But, from sorrow may spring a joyful song.

A secret silver lining may be submerged within the sadness.


Only You can transform

to the new birth

of a different time.


A separate reality

on the crimson horizon

rises from the dust of ashes

to a new day.


It is a mystery.


At last, a lament of promise lingers,

patiently to be awakened

and to be known.


- Rhonda Milner



"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.."Mathew 5:4