To the Parents of Otto Warmbier

Our prayers are with everyone grieving the tragic loss of Otto Warmbier.

My blog this week is in response to the recent release by the North Korean government of imprisoned University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier. Otto, who arrived home on June 13, passed away Monday afternoon. This is an open letter to Cindy and Fred Warmbier, Otto’s parents.


Dear Cindy and Fred,

My heart cries out over the unspeakable pain inflicted on you by the death of your precious son, Otto. By all accounts he was a smart, articulate, handsome young man. He valued family and friendship and was an inspiration to those around him. Yes, he was a “remarkable person.” I can’t help but think that having spent a great deal of time over the last five years on the grounds of the University of Virginia with our children, that perhaps we saw Otto in the line for Bodo’s Bagels or maybe stood by him in the student section at a football game. His dazzling smile would have brightened anyone’s day.

I admire your courage in saying that at this time you choose to focus on the blessing of 22 years of memories made with Otto, and not on the milestones that will be missed. I did not have the wisdom of those words in my heart years ago when three of my children were killed in a car accident. And while the circumstances are not the same, the fact remains, there can be no greater tragedy in life than the death of a beloved child. As one who has been on the journey through grief that you now embark on, I want you to know that you are not alone. People all over the world bear the pain of your grief and are praying for you. And the sighing of your heart is not hidden from the Lord. (Ps. 38:9) Unattended milestones will come and go, and silent tears will mark the passing of time, but I pray you will find comfort in a God who is sovereign over all Creation and whose arms are reaching out to lift you up and carry you through this profoundly sad time. Even in the face of the greatest tragedy, “we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.” (Rom. 8:28)

I know the days ahead will not be easy, so I hope you will be kind to yourselves in your grief. There is no set timeframe or foolproof prescription for reaching the grace of acceptance and healing. But, I can promise you that faith and trust in the Lord will be your freedom song. When we feel weak, Ephesians 6:10 tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” God weeps with you over your loss of Otto and walks alongside your every step as you venture forward.

I hold you close in thought and prayer. May the love and peace of Christ sustain you always.

Donna Berger

5 thoughts on “To the Parents of Otto Warmbier

  1. Kristen Scarola Kirk says:

    This is beautiful and uplifting! Thanks for sharing your words of empathy and encouragement in such an open way so that we can all learn. Prayer and shared faith is a beautiful connection for all of us.

  2. Jodi says:

    Wow, Donna. This is such a touching, heartfelt and beautiful letter, full of love, comfort and encouragement. Thank you for reaching out to them. I pray somehow, and some way, they will see this letter. I will share this on my wall and pray to that end.

    1. Donna Berger says:

      Thank you dear friend. Together we know how much it means to those who feel so all alone, to have someone to reach out to them.

  3. Carolyn says:

    WOW is right! That was a stunning article. I am in awe of the power you draw from the Holy Spirit, Donna, to encourage others and to share in their pain and grief as well as to nudge the reader closer to Our Father’s healing light. To lose a loved one is tragic that may continue to bring waves of pain and emptiness that no words can articulately express to those left living out their journey. It is even more so compounded, if it is a young child or even a young adult. May all of us continue to lean in to Our Dear Lord and Savior for the unending grace, mercy, salvation, comfort, protection and guidance and may He surround us by those refreshers in our lives that can help make taking that one step at a time manageable. xoxo

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