When I learned that my friend’s newborn son was in critical condition, I had every confidence that he would be ok. Maybe I was being blindly naive, but in my mind his would be a medical success story.
I followed along on the CaringBridge site and waited with great expectation for the happy ending I was sure this family would enjoy.
But the happy ending didn’t come. He died in his parent’s arms.
I was devastated for this family. Grief hit me in waves, compounded by the fact that I knew exactly how his mother was feeling. I don’t have to say things like, “I can only imagine,” when a mother loses her newborn. Because I don’t have to imagine.
I know the suffocating feeling of helplessness that washes over you when your baby is gone for good. I know the crushing blows that come in the days and months to follow. I know about emotional exhaustion felt clear to the bones. And I know how you have no choice but to get up each day and live when all you want to do is curl up and loose yourself in grief.
And my heart broke for her in the knowing.
It’s uncanny how an old wound can shift shapes. Sometimes it’s a faded bruise that life pushes on, causing a dull, smarting ache. Sometimes it’s a poignant memory so far removed from my reality that I muse the whole ordeal must be a figment of my imagination. And sometimes a flash of pain strikes so swift and fresh, I’m left baffled that something that happened years ago can feel so vivid and near.
We drove four hours up for the funeral, which gave me a long time to reflect on my loss and hers. I admitted to my husband that I wasn’t sure how I would react to another newborn’s funeral. He raised an eyebrow and asked if I was ok.
I thought about it and reassured him I’d probably be fine. After all, our loss was thirteen years ago. And besides, this wasn’t about me.
But my spirit had other ideas.
My heart started pounding as we pulled into the church parking lot. Subtle waves of terror coursed through me, leaving me anxious and slightly nauseous. It was the familiar and foreign feeling of grief so raw and palpable that it threatened to carry me away.
Though I was a little surprised by such a physical expression of what surely was emotional memory, I’ve had loads of practice in keeping it together. So I painted a neutral expression on my face and willed my legs to move as I climbed out of the car and started for the church. I mechanically made small talk with the other mourners and forced my lips to smile and my head to nod.
As I inched forward in the receiving line, I slowly crumbled underneath the veneer of calm. I didn’t want to see another baby in a coffin. I didn’t want to have experience in such matters. And I didn’t want my friend to, either.
But along with the grief, I felt the familiar presence of God with me in sorrow.
He was in that place, filled with friends and loved ones eager to minister to this family as the hands and feet of Christ. And as I reached my sweet friend, I felt Him with us as I hugged her tight.
I saw in her eyes grace, light and a new depth of wisdom borne of sorrow that I have recognized in so many others. She was so beautiful and so strong.
It was my undoing.
After a moment shared with my friend, whispering love and assurance of hope into her ears, I rushed out the back of the church. I headed straight for the parking lot, thanking God that we had parked in the very back where I could have some privacy.
Not trusting my legs for one more second, I leaned against the van and wept.
I tried to steel myself, gulping the air as I let the breeze whipping through the lilacs soothe my soul. I admonished myself to get a grip, chastising, “This is not about you, Tammie!”
But as my spirit quieted, I realized that isn’t entirely true. My tears were and were not about me. Of course being there triggered a longing for the son I lost. But my grief was also for my friend … informed by understanding of the complexity and even the beauty found in what lies ahead on her path to healing.
I knew that this flash of grief and longing for my son would soon dull. And as it did, my mind turned to what I know is true about sorrow.
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalm 30:2-5
I have the perspective of time and healing and distance. And I have lived the promise that weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Joy that knows the depth of sorrow is fascinating and beautiful. It is an amalgam of suffering and wisdom and truth and peace and memories and gratitude and healing and mercy and God’s endless grace.
But while this joy does come, it comes by degrees. And lingering in the agony of night is part of the process.
Our society is keen to rush, skirt, and avoid pain. But I’m convinced that healing is found only by walking straight into the rawness of grief.
Because it is in the valley of the shadow of death where you realize just how far God’s love reaches. He fills even the deepest canyons with His loving presence. He is the great comforter who never leaves us to languish in our grief. He grips us tight and leads us through the dark of night, knitting our hearts back together and pointing us to the morning.
My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. ~Psalm 119:50
For anyone finding themselves in the night, know this: you can trust in God’s promises of hope and healing. His promises are true in the deepest places of pain as well as the highest heights of healing. They are even true years later in moments when your heart aches in memory of loss and swells with gratitude for His mercy and healing.
He will meet you wherever you are. He is always there. And He will lead you to hope, to healing, and to joy.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. ~Romans 5:3-5