Interview With Dennis and Debbie Jordan

Hope, Healing & Freedom Podcast: Episode 88


Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” I can’t think of any deeper waters than when your six-year-old son dies of cancer. Our guests on today’s podcast went through the tragedy of losing their son. We have asked them to share their journey with us today.

I’m Lee Whitman with Restoring the Foundations and in today’s Hope Healing and Freedom podcast we have some very special guests that are going to share a painful journey that they have been through to give you hope, to give you encouragement. I want to introduce my friends Dennis and Debbie Jordan. Dennis and Debbie tell us a little about yourselves and then I want to talk about your son Ryan.

Dennis: I’m Dennis Jordan and my wife Debbie and we have been married this past June for 50 years, we celebrated our 50th anniversary. We have three kids; we have two that are with us on earth, and we have one who is with us in heaven since 1985 at age six and we live in North Carolina primarily but sometimes we stay in California where our son lives.

Debbie: Not only do we have three children, but we have seven beautiful grandchildren and that has just been, I’m thrilled to be a Grammy.

Dennis: a unique part of these grandkids is that we have six granddaughters and one grandson. When our son died his brother was 9 years old and he said when I grow up, I’m going to have a son and we are going to name him after my brother. Well, this grandson we have is going to be 16 and his name happens to be Ryan Michael Jordan which is the name of the son we had pass in 1985. So quite a story of restoration, unique to say that we have all the girls and one boy, so we are very thankful.

Lee: Tell us about your journey with Ryan, his sickness and his passing. We will get into how you dealt with his death in just a bit, but start off by telling us about Ryan.

Dennis: OK, Ryan was a blue eyed blond headed little boy who was mischievous as they come. He was not a saint by any means. Our journey with Ryans health began in April of 1982 he was almost 3 years old, and I was in the Air Force stationed in Oklahoma and Debbie called me and said you need to come to the pediatricians office NOW. We were told that our son had leukemia. That was in April of 1982 we were air flighted to a major Air Force hospital in Texas and went through treatment. Ryan went through treatment for three years and he did really well. He had great success. We thought we were out of the woods that this boy was going to make it, and then in the fall of 1985, we were living in Maryland at the time we were told by the doctors that they had done all they could do so treatment was stopped on December 10, 1985 just before Christmas at age 6 ½ Ryan graduated to heaven. Needless to say that was not the outcome we were looking for, we were people of faith, we were people that believed in divine healing, we just knew that our son was going to not be one of the numbers that did not make it so for me it was very shattering to my faith, shattering to my trust in God, the Why questions that ultimately 38 years later I have walked a very different path and I am very thankful for a faithful God who is faithful when things are great and He is faithful when you are standing by the graveside of your six year old son.

Lee: You mentioned the Why Questions. Did you ever ask the Why Questions, why us, why my son, Why didn’t you heal him?

Dennis: Yes, for me some of the Why Questions also involved things like, Did I not have enough faith. Was their sin in my life and Jesus didn’t answer my prayers because I had sin in my life. The enemy of our soul really uses those things when you are going through something like this to hop on them and drive them home. And I am saying now these many years later what I have come to believe is that it is OK to ask the Why’s, it is not going to hurt. God is big enough to ask any Why that you want to ask Him, so I don’t have concerns about asking God Why. At this point in my life, I have learned instead of asking Why, please do that if you need to do that, to begin to ask What. What can come out of this, in other words, how can this be used even though it is a horrible thing how can this be used, what good can come. Now we lead a grief group in our home once a month called Healing Forward with Hope, we have been involved with Compassionate Friends. So, for me specifically I began asking what am I going to do with all of these “Why’s” that are trying to torment me, so instead of the Why start asking the What, and pursue the What.

Debbie: I can remember early on, one of my gifts is faith, and we believed to the very end, even after he took his last breath, Dennis being the surgical nurse that he is had his stethoscope and we listened to the final beats of Ryans heart, that we rebuked death and just like Lazarus we rebuked death and began calling life to come back into him, and of course God’s plan was different. I can remember one morning I was alone at home, and I knelt by my bed, and I had my bible and my journal and I remember taking my hands and sweeping them across the bed and just saying, Lord, I have my foundation, I know my foundation in You is strong. I have confessed my sins and You have forgiven me, and I know where I stand eternally with You, but I am asking you, I don’t want to depend on what the church says or my parents have said or my grandparents have said, or what anyone else says about You, I want to learn who You are for me. That was a pivotal point for me. I had to begin to believe Who God said He was, what His Word says He was. To begin to learn from Him and to be taught by Him, and I have to say He has done a marvelous job all these years. I am very thankful.

Lee: In your journey, what are some of the things Debbie that have helped you the most as you have gone through grief and dealt with your grief. What has helped you the most?

Debbie: For me it has been community. I think that was the difference in how we grieved. One thing I have discovered as we have walked with other people through grief is that just was, we all have unique personalities, so we are going to have a unique grieving. For me I was able to reach out to other moms. When Ryan was going through chemo there was a group of us whose children were going through chemo at the same time, so we formed a support group then. And as our children began to die one by one, which is so sad, so sad! We began to depend upon each other, call each other and meet with each other. One particular person, I didn’t really know her very well, but she was on our military base and she was in a bible study and I don’t remember if I was part of that bible study or not, but she came to me and said I just want to take you out to lunch because I want to hear more about your son Ryan. That was so healing. I told her all about our journey and about Ryan. While I wasn’t crying, she had tears streaming down her face. I thought she is crying the tears that I am not able to express right now. That ministry of presence is important. People who are willing to say I don’t know what you are feeling but I want to know what it is like for you. Just be willing to take the time and be willing to just listen. That was incredibly valuable and that helped me the most.

Lee: That’s amazing to have people like that in your life. You talked about getting together with people who understand what you are going through because they are going through a similar thing. But what can people in the church do, people like me who have never experienced the tragedy that you have experienced, what can we do to help?

Dennis: First of all, to be aware of what you say and what you don’t say. Things like, He is better off, You have other children, of you can have other children which in our case was not the case. Other things, what I want to say to people is sometimes the best thing you can do for people is go there, show up and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. God is more than able to handle the situation and comfort the hearts of bereaved people and they don’t need your little niceties of “God needed another angel” or another rose in His garden, Stupid things that for the person who is grieving it gives you more anger than it does anything else. Basically, just go there, be quiet, give big hugs. The ministry of presence that Debbie talked about is so important. To me the ministry of presence is just being there and keeping my mouth shut. When you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything.

Debbie: Many people will say we know he is not suffering anymore; we know he is in heaven. Well, shoot, we know that! That is not comforting to us. You can just say things like I am so sorry because there are no words that because there are no words. You can just say I am so sorry for your loss. That’s it. Just shut up. As Rick Warren says, Show up and Shut up!

Dennis: When you are dealing with people who have faith is one way to approach it, and to those who don’t have faith you really do have a tough time. Debbie: And please don’t quote Romans 8:28 (God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes) to those early on in their grief. Dennis: Maybe years later you can look back and see how God worked many things for good, but don’t say that to a newly bereaved person, you are trying to build up their faith not tear down their faith.

Lee: Dennis I know a little about your story. You were stuck in your grief for a long time and then something happened to set you free from being stuck. Can you share that part of your story about getting free from being stuck in grief.

Dennis: Gladly. Being stuck is putting it mildly. I was stuck for probably 20 years. I was in the military, I had a great career, I got promoted, I did my job well. But when I came home and walked in the door Debbie said it was like a black cloud came in with you because I was living with so much depression. For 20 years it definitely impacted my relationship with my son Chad, trying to be the best dad I could be. Many things in my life were impacted. So, we went to this great ministry called Restoring the Foundations, which we are part of, we went through that in 2008 with a wonderful couple in Santa Maria California named Herb and Cindy Sores, Herb is now with Jesus and Cindy is still pressing on. What a story it was for me, specifically one of the components of Restoring the Foundations ministry is the Soul/Spirit Hurt session. In the Soul/Spirit Hurt session that day in 2008, even at lunch before my ministry I was crying, what am I weeping for. As we got to Herb and Cindy’s house and the session began I began to sense strongly from the Spirit that when my son died on December 10, 1985 and I went to his graveside on December 12, I say myself literally crawl in the coffin with Ryan and I said, I’m done, I can’t do this, I am not able to do this, I don’t know how I can overcome this. So, I crawled in that coffin. During that Soul/Spirit session I began to see the Spirit like Lazarus the grave clothes were being unwrapped from my body. I was seeing that wondering what is happening here. And in the corner, I looked, and my son Ryan is just jumping up and down cheering saying, My dad is coming out of the coffin, My dad is coming out of the coffin. And I thought, Yea, I am coming out of the coffin. That was in the fall time of 2008, and we were told in the fall time that Ryan was terminal, so I hated the fall time. I could get through some of the seasons but when the fall time came, I would go into a deep deep hole (Debbie says depression), a deep depression, it was not pleasant. So, since 2008 Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. When the fall comes now, I love to go to the mountains to see the leaves. So, from 2008 to, here we are in 2024, I am a very different man because of what God did when we went through Restoring the Foundations, and Debbie can attest to that.

Debbie: When he walked in the door after that session, He was just radiant. He couldn’t wait to tell me, but I was saying ok, let’s see if this is real, if it really worked, if it has stuck. And it really has. It has been life changing. So, as we teach in RTF that temptation comes from the outside, so when depression tries to come back in, we just say, OK you are not coming back, your lies are not going to work. So, it has been great to have a husband who is no longer depressed.

Dennis: And I would say that it would be easy for me to get down on myself for living in the 20 years of that specifically when I know …. I encourage people to not be overly critical of people when they are walking through their grief process because you don’t know how you would do in a grief process. I would say withhold your judgements and assist the person because we never know how we would respond in that same situation. I am so thankful that Restoring the Foundations came along in my life (Debbie: Me too!) and my wife is very thankful. Would I rather it was different? Yes! But I am thankful that God didn’t leave me there and in 2008 I came out of that coffin. I will go to another coffin when it is my time, but I am no longer in the coffin with my son.

Lee: The last question is about your family. You have other children, how did you as a family deal with Ryans death?

Dennis: I did not deal with it very well. I was so grieved by Ryans death that my older son got the short end of the stick for many years because I was so fixated with Ryan. I am happy to say now that my son and I have a beautiful relationship. He calls me his hero and he is definitely my hero, and much reconciliation has taken place. People, when you are going through grief, don’t beat yourself up because of what happened in the past, I cannot change the past when I was having challenges and struggles of being a dad and a father to him any more than you can change the time of day or whatever. So, for me it was tough, and we were not able to have other children, so we adopted a little girl when she was 12 days old. Her name is Abby, which is a source of joy, and she has been a source of joy, and we love her very much. We actually live in North Carolina close to her where she has four daughters, and we will get to see those daughters grow up. One side point for me very early on the grief was so bad that I had a suicide plan, and I was going to kill myself. Fortunately, I did not kill myself. Sometimes when you are grieving you feel like you can’t go on, that you are not going to make it, I don’t know how I am going to do this. How you do it is one minute at a time. Don’t try to take it one day at a time, or one hour at a time. There were times when all I could do was take it one minute at a time. For me I was a nurse and take care of other people who were complaining about their big toe, when my son just died. It took a lot of self-control. I encourage you to take it one minute at a time. When you think, I am just going to end this, I look back and I think about what would I have missed. I would have missed never seeing a baby daughter. I would have missed being married to this wonderful woman for 50 years, and I would have missed 7 grandchildren. When you think you can’t go on, just think “I can go on for just one more minute.”

Lee: Thank you Dennis and Debbie for sharing the story of your son Ryan with us and for sharing part of this painful journey. I want to end this podcast by reading something from Debbie’s book called Grief’s Deception. This was written by your son Chad: “The hero in my story is not my resilience; the hero is my parents. Their vulnerability, raw and unfiltered agony in the midst of trying to survive a living nightmare, is what shaped me the most.”


Father God thank you for being our comforter who comforts us in all our afflictions. But your comfort does not mean that we don’t go through deep waters in this life. I bless each and every one that is listening to this brave and overcoming couple share their story of grief, who is also going through grief of their own. It may not be the loss of a child, but we will go through things we need to grieve in this life. Send your comforter to them to help them to grieve well. In Jesus Name.

If you have been blessed by Dennis and Debbie and would like to get in touch with them, their contact information is Join us on next week’s Hope Healing and Freedom podcast as we talk with the Jordans about Debbie’s book called Griefs Deception.