Good Friday and Easter Sunday are perhaps the most significant days of the church calendar, and yet, in a real sense, we live our lives on Saturday, the day in between. Philip Yancey

Friday, September 23, 2011

Storms and the Grief Baby

Just as my sky cleared, the bottom fell out over our city. Tuesday a rippling heartbreak occurred as an infant suddenly and traumatically died. The rain has pounded down every night since, dramatically concluding a summer of drought. The deluge of water pounding overhead and the fierce thunder has interrupted sleep. My abrupt consciousness begins with a racing heart as the sound immediately takes my thoughts to the young parents at the beginning of such a season of dark storms. I then calm as I imagine God’s tears mixed in that rain, washing over them...and us.

My storms kept getting shockingly stronger as the grief season progressed, until Lydia’s Birthday. That storm only brewed a week rather than a month. The focus was simply Lydia rather than the magnitude of secondary losses. Anticipation was by far the darkest aspect, during which I labored over the expression. Documenting a snapshot of our divided hearts, the part that left us and the portion that remains, was all I needed to release me to run out of the intensity into the storm shelter for the rest of the day. There we did as little as possible till the remnant passed. A long nap and a simple dozen purchased cupcakes with family were involved, unlike last year. Both extremes were perfect in their time. I’ve come out emotionally satisfied but spent. 

One aspect of the satisfaction is due to having a nagging conflict resolved. The local family I mentioned likely experienced their worst fear this week. No one would conceive of asking them in a few months or ever if their life has become easier because they are no longer caring for an infant. Everyone knows that grief will always be than raising their son.

I freely shared that the death of my child, had not been my greatest fear for years. I’d come to believe that a child’s suffering was instead the hardest thing a parent could experience. So each time I was asked if our lives were so much easier now, why did everything in me revolt? What is so wrong about this simple looking arithmetic? Hardest Thing Removed = Easier Life

A friend explained the answer to my not-yet-formed question with a tremendously insightful analogy. Kellie is a special needs mom still in the care giving trenches:
It has been a year since Lydia's death.  Oh how I remember checking the status of her condition each day last summer.  [My husband] was the one that told me the morning of.  He didn't want me to have to read it alone.  But I felt relief.  For her, for you.  I did not know that her death was just the beginning of sorrow.  That the dying part was the easy part.  I have seen you this year go from not feeling anything to being overwhelmed.  I sense your struggle and pain.  Life is not easy now that Lydia doesn't have to be taken care of 24/7.  It is HARD!!  I know that like I know that child birth is not the hard part....parenting is.  The job of child birth is painful, acute and intense, with a sudden burst of relief and joy that marks its definite end.  The job of parenting, with all its joys and blessings mingled about, is chronic worry, stress, feelings of overwhelming inadequacy and misunderstanding.  It never ends.  It's weight is felt from the moment you receive that little bundle until heaven.  Despite the struggle, God uses our relationships with our children to teach us about Him and to constantly remind us that we cannot do this well without Him.

Saying all this, I hope I can demonstrate my love for you.  I think you are in the early nursing stage of this grief. Day by day, hour by hour your learning how to deal with your newest addition.  Sometimes you just have to let it cry it out and get done the other tasks that demand doing.  And sometimes you have to feed it.  One day you won't have to feed it as often but it will always demand attention in some form.  And probably often in the most inconvenient of places.  I know that your grief is not just because Lydia has died.  I know it involves other relationships close to home and far away.  Isn't it strange how having a newborn isolates you for a time?  Your relationships with those you were so close to seem to dissolve overnight.  Remember what we learned from it all though.  This season will pass.  It will get better or at least easier to deal with or at least different in form.  Giving your husband and children a thread of you for them to stay connected through it all will pay off dividends in the future as your grief matures.  I don't know because I have been there; just like one that gives breast feeding advice has never really "been there" in the other person's body.  Just a collection of observations and projected assumptions.  Letting that baby cry it out is not easy on mama's ears or heart but is necessary for the household at certain times.  And then, giving in to that pressure to nurse quiets you and that fussy newborn like nobody else can understand."

The anniversary frighteningly felt like this year-old alien baby had reset to being a newborn. Do they do that??? It was so demanding that I had to strap it on and wear it most all the time to accomplish anything, since it refused to be left behind. I questioned if I would ever be able to put it down for a breather or sleep through the night again.

Then one morning I woke up, looked at the clock refreshed and realized there was quiet. It had just been a big old growth spurt, with perhaps teething on top. Our level of interaction picked up more mature and manageable than where we’d left off. I could even break away long enough to reengage in other aspects of life, woo hoo! When the birthday came I went into it recognizing another growth spurt, which is far less frightening than the thought of a reset.

The analogy has also provided a framework for my conflict when the friend repeatedly delights over my new outfit or fresh hairstyle and literally proclaims me "All better". (No she doesn't read the blog and always seems to say it when my storms dates are in sight.) Baby sleeping through the night does make you look different and it's a great thing. We can celebrate it as growth. The parenting gig isn't done at that point though. Growth actually involves a lot more hope and joy than premature "doneness".

Along the way, giving in to the keyboard quiets both me and the baby. Some appreciate it as natural and valuable while others wish the nursing would be kept to the bathroom or at least be weaned at a year. Some things are universal. Methods are not one of those things. The baby and I are maturing and hopefully the public forum is planting understanding and validation for a few moms that will follow through similar and very different paths.


  1. The insight and analogy here are profound, refreshing and encouraging - and yes, still heartbreaking when I think of those in the infancy of grief - from one who has walked thru the teen years yet still experience the maturing process. My prayer is that the terrible twos won't be as difficult as mine were. My only hope in 'wrestling with the angel' was "LORD, please bless me, too".

  2. Eunice, I figured out early on in Lydia's journey that the gift of truthful expectations allowed me to know my targets and recognize when we exceeded them. Your response and prayer are both very satisfying. The kids are resting and I am off to read now.