By Shari Howard McMinn,
trag·e·dy /ˈtrajədē/ noun
- an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe
During our homeschooling years, three tragic times our family has been devastated by unexpected death, and a fourth tragedy struck in the form of a serious car accident. Thankfully, home education allowed our family to grieve, heal, and find our ‘new normal’ during the years that followed these life-changing events.
I don’t know how we would have survived as individuals or a family if we didn’t have the schedule flexibility and faith focus that a homeschool lifestyle allows.
Twenty-three years ago – our first year of homeschooling – my youngest biological child died very unexpectedly on Christmas Day, 1995. She had contracted a one in a million virus that enlarged her heart while simultaneously developing pneumonia; her vital organs failed within 12 hours of onset.
Our happy, otherwise healthy 10-month, 17-days-old daughter went to be with the Lord, and we were devastated beyond belief. Yet, God walked with us on that journey, and we continued homeschooling.
Eight years ago, driving home to our rural farm from our nearby town, my 17-year-old daughter and I were involved in a one car rollover accident which severely injured me. Frankenstein stitches on my head and a badly mangled hand were nothing compared to the post-traumatic stress from which I suffered for years after.
Homeschooling moms need to drive at least a few times a week, and I couldn’t bear to drive, let alone ride in a car. We homeschooled on as God restored my body, mind, and soul.
Four years ago, two days after his 62nd birthday, my physically fit, energetic husband died completely unexpectedly of a heart attack in his sleep. What a shocker! Never would I have imagined he would precede me in death. God remained faithful, and we spent the summer laying low as a family, preparing for our upcoming 20th year of home education.
Two months ago, my 18-year-old daughter went missing. She was a believing Christian, full of life and facing a bright future, yet the trauma of her pre-adoption childhood remained a heavy burden on her emotional and social choices in life. She took a step off the straight and narrow path, chose a few unsafe friends, and quickly fell into a deep pit of dangerous sin. One month later, she was found dead.
For the fourth time in two decades I have shifted to ‘autopilot’ homeschooling. This will get us through, and it will be enough. If you are dealing with overwhelming tragedy in your family as you home educate, perhaps some of these tactics will help. No fancy curriculum packages, no special projects, just the simple stuff of everyday life.
- Spend time in daily family devotion: a time of prayer, bible study, and hymn singing. This season we are simply reading through the New Testament and are currently in James. We are also studying the Shorter Catechism for Children.
- Concentrate on the three R’s: Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic are the basis for lifelong learning. Daily study and practice leads to mastery in 12 years. Supplement with reading classic literature every day and a good science and history textbook each read aloud one day a week.
- Routine chores: Cooking, errands, house cleaning, shopping, and yard care are important life skills that need to be learned by doing. Have your kids help you do these for several weeks, then shift the work to their schedules with only your occasional correction and direction, allowing you time to grieve and process.
- Work together on family projects: Landscaping, house reorganizing, farm maintenance, and vehicle repair all connect us in relationship while we individually improve our skill sets. Tackling something together always provides for a few laughs and a sense of accomplishment.
- Enjoy ‘shoestring’ travel: Short vacations to visit the relatives and historic landmarks along the way provide a time of bonding and head-clearing. Fun-filled overnights at affordable hotels with a swimming pool for the kids and a hot tub for parents are just the refreshing break needed now and then without busting modest budgets.
- Live a slower pace: Eliminating any excess activities from our schedule is a way to prioritize and purge the distractions that first world living demands more and more from us. Church, grocery shopping, and essential appointments are generally the only things we need to leave home for any given week. Trimming excess events allows for more sleep, more down-time, and more family togetherness.
- Reduce outside relationships: Family should be priority. Close friends can text or internet message but other socializing can wait. Sometimes the phone rings too much and the doorbell too! A year of focused time together as a family, post-tragedy, will facilitate healing our physical, emotional, and spiritual beings.
- Seek joy and practice thankfulness: These two character traits above all others will reframe our attitudes about life and open our eyes to what God is showing us in our sometimes dire circumstances. We are to praise Him in the good and the bad. See this season as a time to find even the smallest things for which you and your children can be thankful and joyful.
- Lean in and trust: Find a church congregation that can come alongside you, with deacons who can help meet your physical needs and elders with whom you can share your most desperate thoughts. A prayer covering over you and love surrounding you will provide needed support in the struggle.
The above items are all forms of learning which can be considered school hours. Learning about real life, grief, recovery, each other, and God’s will for our lives is some of the most important education our children will ever have.
These don’t fit into a neat and tidy box marked ‘school subjects required by law’, but nothing worth doing usually does. Tragedy is a great opportunity to grow individually, as a family, and in Christ. It may be a very hard season, but your family can survive and eventually thrive as you stay unified and focused on what God has for each of you individually and as a family in the ordeal.