Many of us knowwhat it is like to lose someone we love, but very few of us have any idea what it is like to lose an only child to a murderer’s bullet.
Marian Hammaren knows what that is like, and she came with her husband Chris to tell us her story. It was not an easy story for her to tell, and in some ways not an easy story to hear.
Marian and her daughter Caitlin were very close. Marian lived and worked and breathed for her daughter. But that ended suddenly on the morning of April 16, 2007 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute when Caitlin and 31 others were shot and killed.
I’ll give you a little bit of my background and then tell you the story because this has been a very, very hard road. I was born and raised Catholic, and yet I would have to say a disinterested Catholic. As for putting God first, we weren’t thinking of anything beyond this world. Sometimes God has to scream to get our attention, and that scream was the loss of our only child.
The months after the Virginia Tech shooting were extremely difficult. Sometimes Marian didn’t eat or sleep for days. She lost faith, she lost weight, she lost interest in her job and everything around her, and was exhausting her husband Chris.
Then something happened that proved to be a turning point. Marian was in the woods behind her house, when the depth of her loss overwhelmed her:
I got very, very angry, cursing out loud, crying. I started yelling at God, saying, "You know I taught her to trust You." I was furious because I had told Caitlin that God would take care of everything and He let her down. That’s how I felt: "I raised her to believe and trust in You, and where the heck were You that day?"
So it was getting very ugly. And all through the yelling and screaming I was also saying "I need to see her, to hear her laugh again, to see her smile again. I need this!"
Suddenly something caught Marian’s attention, and when she turned and looked, she saw it was a doe.
The doe stopped, turned her head to kind of scratch her little hiney with her nose and then she looked at me. I remember thinking: here I am raving and screaming and you’re staying here? Deer don’t do that; deer don’t like noise.
She stopped me long enough to get me to shut up. Then I heard a very, very clear thought: "You will see her again. Absolutely you will see her again. But you will have to go through Me first." Now I was not capable of having that thought on my own because I didn’t understand the story of Christ well enough. It was not subconscious, but very, very clear: "you will have to go through Me first." I never did see the deer leave. I never saw her come. But she shut me up long enough to hear.
That experience turned Marian to God and to the Bible. A friend started helping her through the Bible and other books, and it began to dawn on her that her life up to that point had been too focused on her daughter, and not on God.
My day began and ended with Caitlin. I realized that Caitlin had become my god. And now my god was gone so I needed to rely on something else. It has been quite a journey from thinking of Caitlin, Caitlin, Caitlin…to thinking Caitlin, Caitlin, Jesus, Caitlin, Caitlin, Jesus! So my journey is not over, but at least now I know when my Day comes, the first face I see is going to be Jesus. But then I hope He will quickly get out of my way so that I can get right to Caitlin! I guess what I am saying is when God wants to speak to you, it’s going to be loud and clear, and I’m starting now to recognize His voice, which is awesome.
They say that through tragedy something good occurs. Chris and I know that Caitlin is in heaven. But one of the biggest gifts of her death was saving her mom—and that’s honestly how I feel—because had she not passed away so sudddenly, I probably still would not be putting Jesus first. I have become much, much closer to Jesus in appreciating what He’s done for us. Now I understand His suffering and understand the suffering that we must endure here on this earth.
But the end-gain is so beautiful that it’s all worth it. I speak to a lot of people who are suffering in many ways, through the death of children, through suicide, through drunk driving and homicides and through illness. I am so blessed when I hear these stories—and I cry with these people and for them frequently—yet I am so blessed that I know the End, and that Chris and I will get there.
That doesn’t mean that Chris and I don’t still cry, we do. But we keep our eyes on the big picture, knowing what’s in store for all of us, and it is going to be beautiful. I was horribly grieving and in such pain, but I was stopped long enough to finally hear what God had to say. I'm hoping that my story can turn around one person or at least make someone scratch their head and rethink what this life is about. Then maybe I’ve done my job. And obviously I’m supposed to do more of this because I’m still here!
In one of her last letters home, Caitlin wrote about one of the songs she loved by Carrie Underwood, “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
'Cause I can't do this on my own
I'm letting go
So give me one more chance
Save me from this road I'm on
Jesus take the wheel