Fall 2018 / by Eric Pope

As parents, we often want to shield our children from the painful conditions of our world. We regard ourselves as their guardians, their protectors. But unfortunately, there are times when our children inevitably witness sufferings that we have no control over—trauma, disease, terminal illness, death—things that unavoidably bring heartache and grief to our doorstep. As a homeschooling family, how do you survive?

Last summer we lost one of our children—the youngest of three children—our beautiful eight-month-old baby girl, Everly Rose. She was perfectly healthy in the womb, but a rare pregnancy complication resulted in a traumatic delivery that left her clinging to life in the hours and days after her birth. The trauma that occurred resulted in severe brain damage and internal injuries that would eventually leave us with the hardest decision we have ever had to make. We could continue with interventions and advanced hospital care with little to no improvement to be expected, or we could bring her home with us to live as long and peacefully as God would allow. We consulted extensively with her medical team. We prayed for guidance and wisdom. We sought counsel from Scripture and from our pastor. But ultimately, the decision would be ours to make. And our decision was to come home.

We were provided with support from a hospice provider for children and given all of the medical resources necessary for treating a terminally ill infant. She was expected to be with us for only a matter of weeks, but through God’s grace, we were able to spend many beautiful months with her. Just before her ninth month with us, her body finally yielded to its injuries. The entire experience was the most difficult test of faith and endurance that we have ever experienced as a family.

How did we keep up our schooling through all of this? Well, when she was born our school routine had understandably ground to a halt. We were spending most of our time at the hospital, and each day was an exhaustive struggle. Our family was temporarily housed across the street, and the Christmas holiday was steadily approaching. Once the new year came, and we finally came home, we still needed several more weeks of adjustment as we dealt with the physical stress of caring for Everly around the clock, as well as the mental and emotional fatigue that comes with grief and stress. I can tell you with no regret—we didn’t jump right back into schooling. How do you find the time, patience, and mental stamina needed to homeschool two other children when you are barely surviving?

Somehow, we found our bearings and eventually picked up where we had left off. It almost felt like starting a new school year. But we made it through it, and in the weeks and months to follow, we learned the value of flexibility and adaptability. We found that quality schoolwork and education does not always have to be confined to rigid schedules, established routines, or strict timeframes. We even learned ways to incorporate Everly into our school day. Her presence in the classroom with her older siblings gave us memories we will cherish for a lifetime. We eventually found a new school routine. And before long, even though we were well into the summer, we successfully finished up the year with a grateful heart and a continued trust for the Lord’s provision in the difficulties we knew were still yet to come.

As summer began to wind down, following a few weeks of rest and what could undoubtedly be called our shortest summer break ever, we truly began a new school year, not knowing that the following week would be Everly’s last with us. Our homeschool routine, yet again, ground to a halt. In fact, everything ground to a halt. We clung to God and one another as we laid Everly to rest. And as we began picking up the pieces and trying to adjust to life without her, God gave us the strength to somehow move forward. Not the strength to move on, but to move forward.

How do you homeschool through seasons of suffering? You do it by pressing in—one day at a time, by walking one step at a time in the truth that God’s mercies are new every morning, that His faithfulness is great, and that He is the author of each new day. Homeschooling doesn’t always have to be pretty and buttoned up. When life happens, you adjust. You adapt. You thank God for another special day with your children and for the privilege of being able to educate them at home.

As for us, we are so thankful that God placed in our hearts the desire to homeschool our children, long before they were even school-aged. Homeschooling allowed us to spend some very precious time together as a family during those eight precious months that Everly was with us. It allowed us to learn and grow and love in ways that we would never have been able to do had our children been attached to the school system. In fact, a few weeks after Everly died, a grief counselor from our hospice agency underscored that fact when she came to our home to evaluate our other two children to see how they were coping with everything. Ella was seven at the time, and Caleb was five. After spending some time with them, she was encouraged to see that they were doing quite well considering what they had recently experienced. And she attributed their emotional stability partially to the fact they were homeschooled. She mentioned that most children who lose a sibling or a close family member usually only get a few days before having to go back to school again and unfortunately, essentially get thrown back into the daily grind. She said these children often get overlooked and can have a harder time coping with everything and finding long-term healing. Hearing this from her made us even more grateful for choosing years ago to homeschool.

Whether your family is dealing with a recent loss, a devastating illness, chronic disease or sickness, or even a serious burden, I want to encourage you to keep pressing forward—one day at a time. You are not alone! The seeds you are planting will one day bear good fruit. It will be hard. Perhaps, the hardest thing you’ve ever had to endure. Just keep pressing forward one day at a time, and you will slowly begin to see what God has in store for you. Have the courage to allow others that you love and trust help you bear your burdens. Allow God to comfort you as you continue to find healing and restoration.

Eric Pope is a career firefighter and proud homeschooling dad. He and his wife, Caroline, are native North Carolinians and have been married for twelve years. They enjoy the privilege of serving in their church and volunteering with several local civic and faith-based organizations over the years. They are entering their fourth year of homeschooling and are connected with a local classical community. Connect with Eric by email at carolinafireman@gmail.com.