One of the greatest heartbreaks a parent can experience is the death of a child. However old that child is, it is not life’s natural progression to bury your offspring. Bruce and Catherine Toal of know firsthand how painful losing a child can be. Bruce is a Sidney businessman who is the owner of Everyday Technologies, Inc. among other interests. Catherine has been a stay-at-home mother to their children including: Jonathan, 27, Antonio, 27, who was raised in an orphanage but has been part of the family since he was 15, Zachary, soon-to-be 23, B.J., 19, and 15-year-old Lilly whom the couple adopted four years ago. But missing from the list is their daughter, Rachel Lindsey Toal, who died on Oct. 6, 1994, at the tender age of six.
Rachel was born on June 24, 1988. Everything appeared fine until she “was seven weeks old, when they diagnosed her with the biliary atresia,” said Catherine. She was “born pink and healthy and gradually became very jaundiced.”
“In babies with biliary atresia, bile flow from the liver to the gallbladder is blocked…An operation called the Kasai procedure is done to connect the liver to the small intestine…However, a liver transplant may still be needed,” according to the Website for the National Library of Medicine.
In baby Rachel’s case, the Kasai was not effective. “[She] actually had a liver transplant at 17 months ….She was a very, very sick little girl,” said Toal. “The match was not a good one. What actually took her life at six and half, she went septic,” explained her mother describing the infection that proved fatal.
“She was beautiful, with big blue eyes, long black lashes, and long, light brown hair. A typical ‘girly-girl,’ our Rachel loved anything pink and we lovingly called her Ray-Ray.” Rachel’s mom wrote these words in her 2007 book titled, Loving the Journey with my King. The large leather hardback also contains 3 CDs of 28 original songs that represent her pathway to healing.
It is apparent, that faith is what drives 52-year-old Toal, but her faith was shattered by her child’s loss. “Our family struggled to survive the pain of losing her, and I was at my wit’s end, with nothing more to give anybody. Depressed, discouraged, and incredibly angry, I waded through the trauma of such loss the best I knew how,” wrote Catherine. “Kind loving friends and family carried us through this trying period.”
Friends and family also pitched in during the years of Rachel’s chronic illness when she was often hospitalized. For those wanting to assist a family with a sick child, Toal suggests doing practical things like: “Cleaning up the house, cooking a meal, picking up kids from school, picking up the day to day routine so the focus of the caregiver is free to take care of that child.” As the situation grew even more serious, she says it meant a great deal when others simply told her, “I’m praying.”
For the parent dealing with the death of a child, the Sidney, Ohio, woman advises, “Trust the Lord with your heart, don’t turn on Him and forgive everyone up front.” She readily admits that some folks make insensitive statements. “Unless they walked it, they don’t understand.”
For Toal, a turning point for her grieving occurred when she was finally able to let go of the anger that she carried for a long time. Later, “An amazing thing happened—something that had never happened before. A song began to form in my heart,” she wrote. “God gave me a song from heaven…” Many more songs would come to her, “I would begin getting a tune and lyrics…and sing them into a recorder.” Not a trained musician, this musical journey began healing her.
With the assistance of talented musician Drew Cline and Dove nominated recording artist, Kelly Connor Spallinger, Toal was able to professionally produce her collaborated renditions of these songs in her book. They are melodies filled with praise, rather than despair. “The Word [Bible] tells us the spirit of heaviness is depression,” writes Toal. She cites Isaiah 61:3 as her remedy, “To appoint unto them that mourn…the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”
Today, you can often find Catherine Toal at Sidney’s Lion’s Rest Prayer Center. She has spoken at seminars and conferences, and tries to encourage others just as she once desperately needed encouragement during the dark days of losing her precious daughter.
In closing, my personal advice for comforting those grieving comes from Charles Swindoll’s book, Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns, “A little girl lost a playmate in death and one day reported to her family that she had gone to comfort the sorrowing mother. ‘What did you say?’ asked her father. ‘Nothing,’ she replied. ‘I just climbed up on her lap and cried with her.’”
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on Sept. 21, 2012.