‘Isn’t God wonderful!’ exults Norma, wife of John Dennis, of Whyalla, South Australia. ‘I would like to encourage everyone who is suffering grief and loss with these words from Isaiah 41: ‘Fear not I am with you always.’
Norma is eager to listen and help others even though her own heart is breaking. Her mother instincts are to love those in need. That mother love took her to depths that almost destroyed her.
To speak of her ‘other sons’ was an area Norma had not openly shared before with the world. She now felt it was time to share her story in the hope that others who found themselves in a similar situation would be encouraged to keep their faith. Norma kept her faith because she discovered it was God who kept her and not the other way around.
Norma’s story began in the 1960s when Whyalla was a city enjoying a mining boom. Work was plentiful and young men flocked there to get apprenticeships in the Broken Hill Propriety Ltd. Accommodation for single men was hard to find.
‘As we had a fairly large sleep-out built on to our house, we felt it was a good idea to rent out the room. At this time I had five sons at home. The eldest son was in the Air force.’ Norma says.
The sleep-out became a second home for Barry and Norma became his other Mum. Barry stayed for two and a half years and was then transferred to Sydney.
The sleep-out seemed very empty after Barry left.
‘We thought the room was big enough for two young men to comfortably share, ‘says Norma. So Ken took Barry’s place in the Dennis family and became the ‘other son’. Returning after the Easter holidays, Trevor was travelling with his younger brother, Arnold. The younger brother was hoping for an apprenticeship at the steelworks. The two lads were caught in a flash flood at Nectar Brook a few kilometres south of the city. Trevor was drowned and Arnold came within a whisker of losing his life.
‘This devastated my family and me. I’d never seen my husband cry as he did, the night we received the news.’ Norma recalls. ‘Trevor had become one of our ‘other sons.’ Each tenant came as a stranger but they left as a son. Such is the mother heart of Norma.
It was about six months later that Ken left to join the Navy as the fifth Engineer on an overseas ship. ‘We often heard from him and when on leave he came home to us.’ Norma said proudly.
While waiting for a berth on an overseas ship, Ken filled in for another engineer. The vessel was a transport cargo ship from Tasmania to Melbourne. Tragedy struck when the vessel capsized in Melbourne Harbour just as Ken was coming off duty. He was drowned.
Norma doesn’t want to try and describe the ensuing horror that swept over her heart, except that, ‘I began to have doubts about God. I think hard work helped to overcome our grief,’ Norma says of those first dreadful days.
Glen, a friend of one of Norma’s own sons, was next to make the sleep-out home. Glen filled the empty sleep-out but he could not fill the hole left in Norma’s heart by Ken and Trevor. Each one had their own special place in her affections and the loss was as devastating as if they were her own.
Several years later John and Norma decided to visit relatives living in Queensland. Glen drove them to Port Augusta to catch the India Pacific. ‘Little did we realise that it would be the last time we would see him.’ Norma’s voice is filled with sadness and there is a shadow in her eyes as she remembers.
GOING ON HOLIDAY
Arriving in Queensland they received word that he had been killed in a car accident returning home from Adelaide.
John and Norma were ready to return home immediately. However logic prevailed and they stayed their planned time in Queensland. Glen’s family lived near-by, even in the midst of their own grief and loss, they stood in as parents for Norma’s own sons comforting them in the loss of a ‘brother’.
‘It was when my hair went grey,’ said Norma. ‘After losing our third ‘other son’, all between the age of 18 – 25, I wanted to throw all my Christian beliefs out. I started to believe there was no God. How could such things happen to those lovely, dear young men?’ Norma questioned.
It was through a recurring dream that God spoke to Norma and she returned to the church. ‘During my time of anger with God, I saw a mass of clouds and down through those clouds came this great hand. For a long time, I could not reach out to this hand. This same dream was repeated again and again. I finally reached up to touch this hand. You see, even when we think we want to let go of God, he doesn’t let go of us. I want to encourage everyone with these words, ‘Fear not, I am with you always, says the Lord.’
A SON IN THE IMAGE OF HIS FATHER
God has one Son, Jesus, but His Father’s heart desires to have many ‘other children’. Jesus came to earth to win the ‘other children’ to the Father. When we accept Jesus, the Father acknowledges us as his ‘other children’. We become the beloved of the Father. Such is the love of God for his ‘other children’.
God, the Father, never left Norma and John, even though they took their out anger and grief on him. His love is freely given no matter what we say or do. God’s love is unconditional and unearned.
Time and the Lord has healed Norma’s grief, ‘I don’t question why anymore.’
Norma has surrendered the desire to understand and is content to leave the reason why in the hands of the Lord.