Local woman shares survival skills

"It's not a life I ever imagined in a lifetime. As a parent you always fear something could happen but when it happens to the next child and the next child -- it becomes unbearable."...

"It's not a life I ever imagined in a lifetime. As a parent you always fear something could happen but when it happens to the next child and the next child -- it becomes unbearable."

Brenda Houts is describing what she repeatedly went through as she lost one son after another to death -- all three sons within 12 years. It began in 1990 with the death of Javis Ronning to suicide; in 1995, Caleb Ronning to drowning; and her remaining son, Zach Ronning to an underage drinking and driving crash. The fifth anniversary of his death is May 4.

Houts will speak at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18, in Grace Lutheran Church, Detroit Lakes. Dessert will follow in the new church fellowship hall served by the Grace Lutheran Youth.

"I think about the boys all the time. It just doesn't stop you from everyday life, but my grief is still intense." Brenda says she appreciates it when people send cards during the year and on their birthdays and anniversaries of her sons' deaths because "they haven't allowed the boys to disappear into history."

The 49 year old also keeps their memories alive by giving inspirational speeches that are honest with emotion but also hopeful as she shares how her trust in God picked her up time and again when she thought she couldn't go on. April 18 at Grace Lutheran Church, she'll present to the general public in hopes of giving others strength and insight.


Brenda Oelfke Houts grew up in Frazee; married at 17, she soon began raising a family. She says as a child, she went to church because that is what her family did, but it wasn't until tragedy began to strike that she fell to her knees and drew on the Bible passages she memorized as a teenager.

Four times she went to the door of the building where the local Compassionate Friends support group was meeting before she finally had the nerve to walk in. She found the participants had learned to obtain a new normal in their lives after losing their loved one and that became her goal, too. Within a year of the death of her first born, she started speaking out about suicide, hoping to warn other families of the dangers that claimed Javis.

"The fact is, I didn't die, even though at times I wished I had. Some days I argue with God, but it always has the same outcome -- I have things to do." She says as bad as her life has been, she has heard worse stories from others so she keeps reaching out to try and help.

She continues her involvement in Compassionate Friends, which meets the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in Emmanuel Nursing Home's Chapel, except in the summer. She says she doesn't have a 1-2-3 step answer to handle grief.

Instead, she says, "What it comes down to is God has big shoulders and he can handle my emotions." Although she is quick to say she was never angry at God, adding, "This is life. There are no good enough answers why this happened."

Now when she looks back over the past 17 years of heartbreak, she wishes she had worried about her kids in a different way. "I wish I had taken more time to share my faith with them. I think they had it all, but when you have to bury them, you don't think about whether they were on the football team. Instead you wonder if they are going to heaven."

She encourages parents to spend more time with their children participating in church-related activities and discussing the Bible.

Brenda shares her talents working with youth by serving as the Sunday School superintendent at Grace Lutheran Church and team teaches confirmation classes. A free-will offering at her upcoming speech will benefit the church youth program.


It is a speech she has shared with audiences in a number of states. A woman in South Dakota told her she almost didn't attend her talk because she thought it would be depressing but instead she described it as uplifting. Brenda says as horrible as her life has been at times, she likes the person she is becoming, especially in regards to how her faith has grown. She hopes parents, teenagers, and others who are interested will come to hear her reflections.

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