Feature Article

Transforming Tragedy Into Hope

Grief over a devastating loss won’t stop one woman from loving those in her care.

Joseph E. Miller November 1, 2021

Patricia Bigley looks out her apartment window in southern New Jersey as a gentle rain falls. Bigley, who lives alone, has just moved in—boxes are unpacked and decorations set up. On the windowsill stands one of her most precious possessions: an 8-inch-by-10-inch portrait of her son Brien. The sheen of his graduation cap and gown looks dull compared with his bright blue eyes and proud smile. Yet his face hides a heartbreaking reality: At the time of the photograph, Brien was using heroin. He died of an overdose in 2004.

Photography by Ben Rollins

Over the years, Bigley has learned how to forgive—pardoning the people who sexually abused her when she was a small child; forgiving her husband, who left when the kids were young; and releasing herself from the burden of wondering if she could have done more to save her son.

Bigley never wanted kids of her own. But when she got pregnant with Brien, she was delighted. She had recently become a believer and knew Jesus could redeem anything, including changing her heart toward motherhood. Brien was always a happy little boy, Bigley says, but over the years she noticed a sadness developing in him. It crushed her to watch her teenage son struggle with addiction as she tried several times to get him help.

Since Brien’s death, Bigley has channeled her grief into serving others. She’s volunteered with substance abuse education programs, and through her career at an assisted living facility, she cares for the vulnerable—elderly people who face declining physical and mental health. For many years, she has led a weekly Bible study there, letting God transform the pain of her past circumstances into grace for the residents she serves. Over time, she’s developed a deep understanding of the challenges facing seniors, especially toward the end of their lives.

Bigley still feels uplifted recalling when she met Dr. Stanley at a book signing event.

Through all of this, Bigley has relied on Dr. Stanley as a mentor. Once, in 2003, on hearing that he was speaking locally, she left the hospital where Brien had been admitted for heroin-related health issues. Bigley arrived to find that the event was a book signing, but she needed gas and barely had enough money to get back to the hospital. Thankfully, a kind stranger bought her the book; when Bigley made it to the front of the line, Dr. Stanley prayed for her, and an In Touch representative snapped a photo of their meeting.

In her weekly Bible studies, Bigley takes lessons from pastors like Dr. Stanley and applies them to the specific issues her seniors struggle with. She wants them to know it’s never too late to know God more—or to experience the joy of being known by Him.

Each time she opens her highlighted and underlined Life Principles Study Bible, she removes her bookmark: the photo of her with Dr. Stanley at the book signing. It never fails to remind her of God’s encouragement—and the call to lay her sorrow at the foot of the cross daily.

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