When Brad Franklin’s wife died suddenly, aged 37, she was pregnant with the couple’s seventh child. Four years on, Brad reflects on returning to ministry, widowhood, remarriage and glorifying God in our suffering
The story of Megan Franklin’s death is terrifying in its extremity and speed. Seven months pregnant, she was admitted to hospital on Christmas Day 2018. “We thought it was pregnancy-induced migraines,” remembers her husband, Brad. But on 29 December, she lost consciousness and had to be intubated. The next day, their seventh child, Euan, was delivered by emergency caesarean section.
Tests revealed Megan had contracted a bacterial infection, which resulted in a catastrophic swelling of her brain. All this had resulted from a scrape on her knee following a trip as she walked into a church a few weeks earlier.
“We prayed for a miracle,” says Brad. But a week after his wife was intubated, he realised that it “wasn’t going to happen”. On 6 January 2019, her life support apparatus was turned off.
Brad and Megan had moved to the UK from the United States in 2010. At the time of Megan’s death, Brad was a leader at St Giles Christian Mission, in London. Speaking of the care his church provided in the months following his
grief, Brad says: “I’ve never seen anything like it.” From making meals to looking after the children, their love and support was critical in giving him time and space to heal.
Working it out
As a church pastor, Brad was used to expounding God’s word for others. Now, he had to find a way through his own intense suffering. “I wrote down a list of topics,” he says. “I wanted to think about anger; about God’s sovereignty; I wanted to think about how to respond to the children in this time.” As he began to return to ministry, nearly a year after Megan’s death, he wrote a midweek Bible study on heaven “because I thought it’d be good for the church…and good for me”. Believing in the hope that eternal life in Christ brings “was a truth we went back to again and again,” explains Brad. “It has been a constant encouragement for us.
“We all grieve differently,” Brad acknowledges, but understanding how God works “even through hard things” was pivotal in helping him weather the storm. It also helped him support his children – the eldest of whom was just 13 at the time of Megan’s death.
“How do you handle those situations? Telling the children that Mummy wouldn’t be coming home?” he asks, before explaining that grief is an ongoing process. “We talk about Megan all the time,” he says. “That’s just part of our life now. The important place she had – and still has – in our family, that is a constant.”
There have, of course, been tough times. When one of his children expressed: “Dad, this is rubbish. I don’t want things to be this way,” his response was to simply sit together in the pain. “Let’s not rush too much to an answer,” he says, explaining his parenting strategy has involved slowing down and encouraging his children to be honest about their feelings.
Through it all, Brad believes God has a plan: “His sovereignty and his goodness can’t be uncoupled from each other,” he explains. Some may find his Calvinist views hard but, for Brad, it is God’s goodness, displayed through the suffering of Christ’s death on the cross, that allows him to sit with such apparent contradiction. Citing the old William Cowper hymn ‘God moves in a mysterious way’, he explains: “There’s a verse that says: ‘His purposes will ripen fast / Unfolding every hour / The bud may have a bitter taste / But sweet will be the flower’. Cowper was no stranger to hard times – he went through real bouts of depression – but I love that picture. Right now, this is rubbish, as my son said. But I know God is good. I can go back to that.”
His sovereignty and his goodness can’t be uncoupled from each other
Two and a half years after Megan’s death, Brad remarried. Despite the fact that they had talked this through before Megan’s death, some did not understand his decision, and honest discussion was hard. “I’ve never read anything on remarriage after the loss of a loved one [from a Christian perspective]. I don’t know of anyone that has ever written on that,” he says. So he decided to write a book of his own.
The title, When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll (Grace Publications), is lifted from another hymn, ‘It is well with my soul’, written by Horatio Spafford in 1873 following the death of his four daughters. Alongside the story of Megan’s death, the book contains 32 reflections, designed to act as “a guide for glorifying God through the loss of a loved one.”
It’s a searingly honest and, in places, hard read, which tackles – among other issues – his loneliness and battles with sexual temptation following his widowhood. It may not be the book for someone in the middle of their suffering, he acknowledges, before stating, with a mixture of compassion and honesty borne of great personal conviction: “God often uses hardships to grow us in holiness. That’s not to say, as a pastor, I’m gonna go in there, guns blazing, saying: ‘You need to glorify God in this’…But I hope that’s a conversation we have at some point. Maybe this book enters into that space. It’s meant to be a reflection of our grief that points us to Christ. I don’t think there’s much out there on that.”