Four weeks ago today my life changed...forever. A sweet little 23 month old passed away unexpectedly during her nap leaving behind her mommy, daddy, grandparents, and a multitude of extended family that loved her so much. I wouldn't say I was particularly close to angel Elyse but I've found over the years that it doesn't matter my level of closeness -- I am always touched by the death of a sweet baby or child. There is a sense of a connection between those that have loved and lost. Kind of like God is knitting our hearts together in order for our souls to truly not break.
Just before Elyse's passing I was giving a talk in church and shared from my journal an excerpt from when I was really struggling with trusting in the Lord and increasing my faith about seven months after the passing of our little girl Sara Elizabeth who died at 17.5 weeks gestation. I wrote, "Birch reminded me of something that [our friend] once told us a long time ago. She said that sometimes you have to put things that you don't understand up on your "shelf of faith." Sometimes I just feel like I have so many things up on that shelf that it might fall."
Three days later sweet Elyse died and again I find my shelf of faith being weighed down heavily.
The deep pain that I have felt for this dear family has pierced my heart once again. I am reminded of a favorite passage in the book "Grieving -- the pain and promise" by Deanna Edwards, "The expression of grief is not the evidence of a lack of faith. It is simply the evidence of our love and our need to find closure as we examine new ways to continue our lives in different directions."
When Sara Elizabeth died I wondered how I might ever be whole again. How could I love fully? Would I ever find laughter again? Would there always be a piece of me missing? Elyse's death has brought some time of reflection for me. Time truly does heal ones' soul but even more I have been filled over and over again with deep love and have created a new me that is complete. The anger that once filled me has dissipated, the questions...many that still go un-answered do not gnarl at my soul making it impossible to have a relationship with Christ. I have been touched by death, molded by death, but death does not define me.
About a month after Sara Elizabeth died I read another passage in Deanna Edwards book that jumped out at me...could it possibly be true?
"Those who grieve are well qualified to become our teachers. They have stood at the very threshold of life, and they understand the true meaning of love. They have a vision and awareness that far surpasses those whose lives have never been pierced with deep pain and suffering. They speak to us honestly and courageously from the heart of the refiners fire. They understand the importance of values and priorities. That are deeply sensitive. They will no longer trust in superficial answers or well-worn cliches. They guard against those who are afraid of their pain and too uncomfortable to communicate in an authentic way. They are impatient with those who have learned to use their faith in life after death as a reason to avoid doing the work of grief, or those who believe grief is unnecessary in the presence of faith. They do not care how much we know until they know who much we care. Once they discover that we are unafraid, that we are willing to learn from them and that we are non-judgmental, they will tell us what it is like to walk with pain as a companion. Though they may never receive a diploma from the school of suffering, they, both young and old, will teach us to live and love as we never have before. They will render themselves vulnerable for our sakes, and if we learn the lessons they have to teach us, our lives will never be the same again."
So is living with pain as a companion a blessing? Not a blessing that I would choose to receive but one that has served me well over the years. Honestly I am not sure that I could stand strong if another child (one whom I have made memories with on this earth) or Birch passed away. I look to my mother-in-law and other friends who have survived such tremendous loss and yearn to heal their souls and selfishly guard my own heart from such loss. The philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard said,
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.
I press forward knowing that trusting in the Lord is the only way. True love is meant to be felt on this earth and withholding such love in order to spare a broken heart is just not worth it.
Sweet Elyse and Sara Elizabeth's bodies lie in the ground but they will not be forgotten. They have each touched my heart eternally. I pray that I might walk as a companion for those that suffer and be God's hands in lifting others as they walk through the forest of heartache.