I posted on Facebook already but thought I’d throw it up here as well. I went about this little project for selfish reasons, but was pleasantly surprised by how much Charlie and Nora love it! They have always enjoyed pictures and video of themselves as babies, and highlighting the shared experiences they have with Graham has brought a strong sense of connection and a fun way of remembering.
Strange. Weird. Unnerving. My grief these days is dull. Achy. He was just here! Just a moment ago he was here… and now he’s not. How utterly bizarre. How impossible.
It still feels like he belongs here, with us – like he could just pop back into our world, and we wouldn’t miss a beat. I still know him completely – ready, just in case he should show up one day.
I could wake up, tomorrow maybe, and just walk to his room, lift him out of the crib, cuddle and snuggle on the way to the bathroom for his morning diaper change. I can smell him still. I can feel the weight of him in my arms…
Perhaps the very last time I spoon-fed this child of mine. I can’t help but grin while watching this one… which is nice because I have sobbed a lot of lonely tears this weekend.
A couple of weeks before Graham left, I was working through life with a group of girlfriends, practicing what it looked like to ‘give my children to God’. Though I was committed to the principle, I continued to wrestle with day-to-day realities.
A friend and fellow mother validated my concerns but encouraged me with the simple phrase, “Jesus loves them more than you ever could.” At face value, this sentiment could border on spiritual platitude… Only, it proved tremendously meaningful to me because I knew it was true. And on that night, so many months ago I longed for truth. I was afraid of what was coming, and I most definitely knew something was coming…
I don’t believe I have a direct line to God, that he whispers secrets to me that he withholds from others… It seems presumptuous and prideful to stand on this side of tragedy and claim that ‘I knew’. But I did, somehow. My relationship with God has always been practically accomplished through discernment and sense. So when, I heard her words that day, I knew they were true, and I knew it was exactly what I needed to hear. God was preparing me.
“Jesus loves them more.” A perfect mantra for my fearful heart, a tangible truth for my restless spirit. I wrote the phrase in big colorful letters on a large chalkboard near my desk. I looked at the words everyday. I meditated and memorized the simple statement. I placed the sentiment into my prayers and in my conversations.
“Jesus loves them more.”
He is worthy of my trust. His plan may not be my plan, but if he loves my children more than I do, I will trust him. Somehow, despite all my weakness I will trust.
On the day Graham died, I dropped off Nora and Graham at daycare, while Charlotte stayed back with her Daddy. As she waited for school drop-off, she secretly copied those chalkboard words onto a small piece of paper. Charlie was still too young to read, and though she enjoyed the stick-person family I had drawn to embellish the message, she had little interest in the words themselves. Until that day in particular. On the day her brother died, she noticed the words for the first time, she studied them and in large block letters, wrote down the truth of God.
The small note was carefully folded up and hidden in the pocket of daddy’s coat, where it remained undiscovered for days.
On the morning of Graham’s memorial service, Evan absently reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the small piece of paper from his daughter… from God. He unfolded it open and together we deciphered our 4 year old’s writing. In a flood, we realized what it said, and who was saying it. We realized how big God was. How all-knowing. How trustworthy. It felt awful.
To be honest, this truth never ‘felt’ good. To have the immensity of my love overshadowed by a love more perfect? To have my sacred responsibility undermined by an authority more worthy? It doesn’t feel good playing the pawn in the great purpose of God… You love Graham more?? So what! I loved him with everything I had – and for what?? So you could come in and prove that I was never enough? That my son was better off without me?!?!
The words remain on my chalkboard, and the small note is still tucked away in Evan’s pocket. I still speak the words into my prayers, for his truth is true regardless of my circumstances. But it doesn’t lessen the ache, the terror… the rage. It doesn’t feel good.
I’ve struggled about whether or not to share this video. It highlights my vulnerability on many levels. Although the act of sharing has become an important part of my mourning … and healing, this project was more about the process. So now that it’s finished, I find myself waffling on what exactly to do with it.
I can still hear the words of a favorite college professor ringing in my ears, “Never apologize for your work. Let it stand as it is.” So I hope the following serves as a prologue of sorts rather than a defense:
I recently came across a moving piece of prose on the internet that stirred my shadowed spirit. I took the liberty to embellish and rework the foundational truth of the words, and in the end, craft a very personal letter to Graham. I journeyed through my own understanding of God’s plan, and Graham’s part within it. It was excruciating and healing.
Studying God’s word and laying out his promises through art provided a meaningful way for me to worship the God of the universe, which, I am saddened to admit, has been difficult lately. That being said, I worry that it will seem too ‘christian-cheesy’ and the tremendous power of who and what I believe will be trivialized or misunderstood somehow.
I also chose to use incredibly intimate photographs of myself and Graham, including moments from his birth and his death. Although some of the heaven-day photos are admittedly horrible, I do cherish them – and somehow, the more I rest in Jesus the more captivating they become. In a similar way, childbirth is full of unpleasant moments that are not typically shared, but are important for me to remember… and honor.
I absently listened to my children play outside with a neighborhood friend, while I busied myself in the kitchen. Suddenly I heard the words of Charlotte’s friend pierce through the lighthearted conversations and giggles, “If you don’t do what I say then your baby will die!”
The girls were playing, and her threat came from a place of pretend – a make-believe world where death is bad somehow, but unfathomable. The little girl who spoke those words had no idea what she was saying and truly meant no harm, but as I cocked my head to catch a view of my daughter, I watched as her little body subtlety slumped. “I don’t want to play this game anymore,” she mumbled quietly.
To be fair, Charlotte’s sullen response was unanticipated and her playmate plowed forward, “I said! Your baby is going to –” I quickly called out to Charlie and opened my arms as she ran towards me, crumpling into my body. “Let’s take a break for now,” I suggested. “Say goodbye to your friend, you can play some more later.”
Charlotte nodded in agreement, and we watched together as her friend skipped home – perhaps a little surprised, hopefully not offended. Taking a deep breath, Charlotte collected the plastic baby doll that the girls had been playing with. Tucking the toy under her arm she asked me casually, “Can we watch some Graham videos now?”
I took a call from far away friends only hours after returning home without my son. I remember the voice on the other end of the phone, hundreds of miles away, asking “Do you want us to come?”
It was the first question anyone had asked me, and I didn’t understand really… “Come?? No…” Why would anyone want to come here? There is nothing but wreckage here… a barren landscape save for the flood of tears and milk spilling out of me. Grab your kids and run!! You don’t want to come near this thing!
“Can we come, please?” He pressed.
“Yes.” the word simply drained out of me along with any pretense of wherewithal. “Yes”. I wanted to say no, but I said yes.
So they packed up their family of five, found a flight, and were in my home the next day. They weren’t the only ones that dropped everything and just showed up. My house became full with precious people. Over the next few days and weeks I couldn’t think to invite anyone or schedule anything, but I somehow managed to say, ‘yes’ over and over again, and the blessings kept coming.
When friends offered to clean my house or stay to eat the dinner they brought I said, ‘yes’. I said ‘yes’ to playdates, gifts, and acts of service. To be honest, ‘yes’ wasn’t easy, and it carried its own sort of torture – it couldn’t fix me, and it sometimes uncovered pain that a ‘no’ would have avoided… But I no longer believe ‘pain-free’ is the same thing as ‘right’ or ‘good’.
Granted, most people tried to give us options, Would you prefer we come or go? What can I do for you? What do you need? Only I didn’t know what I needed, so I simply refrained from responding to anything that required more than a ‘yes’. I ‘yessed’ my way forward, and marveled at the path that God and his people cleared for me.
I wonder how God would direct my path if I just keep saying, ‘yes’?
God has lavished comfort, community and teaching through the ministry of Nancy Guthrie and her husband David. I find myself unable to fully comprehend the magnitude of what God is orchestrating through this couple’s personal journey through loss, but I am so very grateful for them.
We recently spent a weekend with David, Nancy and 10 other couples for a Respite Retreat. We became friends with other moms and dads who understand the deep pain of losing a child. Most of our time was spent cozied up in a large, comfortable room – the faces of our children adorned the end tables, mantle and nearby bookshelves. Graham’s smile was there, and he was in good company – all of us were. We laughed and cried together. We connected and healed.
We uncovered joy and then together, as a bonded group of warriors, fiercely protected its flickering light.
To be honest, I didn’t trust that the risk would be worth the reward. We left our girls behind, we spent money that wasn’t ours, Evan took off time from work, again… I hoped it would be meaningful but I knew better than to put too much hope in more grief tools or tricks – things that always seemed to leave behind an aftertaste of bitterness.
However, with a deep sense of hope and satisfaction, I left the weekend with the welling sense of fullness. Fullness of Christ in me, with me, and for me. It’s been a long time… To be honest, what I can feel now was never possible before.
Please, for those that have lost a child… Would you consider attending a Respite Retreat?
And for those of you who know parents heartsick with loss, would you help send them to a Respite Retreat?
Recently, I came across a news exposé on the dangers of drowning children. In the beginning of the video story, grainy security camera footage showed a small boy wade out into a busy water park and slip under the water. Stunned, I watched as someone’s precious child drowned on the screen in front of me. I was unnerved and saddened, but in quiet tones I self-talked through the heaviness. I know no child is truly safe from death, I know babies die – oh God, do I know… They’re just trying to scare people into listening to important information… That’s justified, right?
These days, I can stand in solidarity with the grief of others. I don’t know what to do for others anymore than for myself, but you will not find me running in confused terror due to someone else’s ugly. My scars, though still tender and aching, are an effective fortification. I can look into the eyes of babylost mothers and cry with them and ache for them and say, ‘I know’. I can watch a small child drown on the screen in front of me and shudder with pain and regret but still somehow say, ‘I know’.
Except the boy in this news story didn’t actually die. The reporter, after ensuring her audience’s fear and sadness long enough to teach them a lesson, flippantly revealed that the lost child was actually saved. Additional footage showed him being scooped from the waters… someone pumped his chest, breathed into his lungs and he came back to life.
He came back from the dead.
A piercing shriek escaped me and then morphed into full body sobbing as searing pain overwhelmed me. I have been desperately trying to heal – vigilantly nursing my vulnerable, tender heart. I have grown strangely proud of my scabs and encouraged by my scars… for what? I am shamed to accept that I wasn’t crying in relief or joy, I wasn’t feeling gratitude for a little life saved…
I was angry. I was jealous. I was so, so hurt. To be honest, I’m still not really sure what happened, but I am unnerved at my response… I don’t want to be a person who is wreaked by life – resentful of joy, jealous of all the little children who could be dead but are not. I don’t want to be comfortable in this landscape of loss and death, but I am somehow. I don’t want to be where I am anymore than I did that first tragic day, only… I don’t think I get to just leave.
So, I’m living a horrifically flawed existence… and my redemption, though promised, is not possible on this side of heaven.
It’s one thing to be confident of these truths… It’s another thing entirely to know what to do with it.
So… How now shall I live? Why live at all? Who am I and what am I doing?? Do I try harder or surrender more?
I really don’t know just yet. I believe I am capable of unearthing the answers, but the discovery lies beneath layers of difficult battlegrounds.
I’m so tired.
I praise You, Eternal One. You lifted me out of that deep, dark pit
and denied my opponents the pleasure of rubbing in their success.
Eternal One, my True God, I cried out to You for help;
You mended the shattered pieces of my life.
You lifted me from the grave with a mighty hand,
gave me another chance,
and saved me from joining those in that dreadful pit.
Sing, all you who remain faithful!
Pour out your hearts to the Eternal with praise and melodies;
let grateful music fill the air and bless His name.
His wrath, you see, is fleeting,
but His grace lasts a lifetime.
The deepest pains may linger through the night,
but joy greets the soul with the smile of morning.
When things were quiet and life was easy, I said in arrogance,
“Nothing can shake me.”
By Your grace, Eternal,
I thought I was as strong as a mountain;
But when You left my side and hid away,
I crumbled in fear.
O Eternal One, I called out to You;
I pleaded for Your compassion and forgiveness:
“I’m no good to You dead! What benefits come from my rotting corpse?
My body in the grave will not praise You.
No songs will rise up from the dust of my bones.
From dust comes no proclamation of Your faithfulness.
Hear me, Eternal Lord—please help me,
Eternal One—be merciful!”
You did it: You turned my deepest pains into joyful dancing;
You stripped off my dark clothing
and covered me with joyful light.
You have restored my honor. My heart is ready to explode, erupt in new songs!
It’s impossible to keep quiet!
Eternal One, my God, my Life-Giver, I will thank You forever.