Dear baby (four years later),
It’s been four years since I was wheeled down the hallway under obnoxious fluorescent lighting by the insensitive surgeon and the nurse with kind eyes. I was thankful to be put under for the procedure, like a child pinching her nose to take a dreaded bite of peas. (Maybe losing you wouldn’t hurt so much if they took you while I was sleeping?) I didn’t know another way and it seemed right. I was sad—under the deep blue ocean type of sad—but I was also at peace. I knew you were no longer there anyway. I had seen your still heart the day before.
A mother shouldn’t have to say good bye to her child. It feels unnatural because it is. Four years later the sting is gone, but the ache isn’t.
I miss you.
It’s a myth to think a mother can “get over” the loss of her child. We don’t get over it. (I’ll never get over you.) But we do get through it. The best way through grief, I’ve learned, is to step into it. Or swallow it. Not swallowing it to make it disappear, but to let it absorb into us, become a part of us—change us and nurture us from the inside out. Some days the temptation is to run like hell away from it. Other days I’ve wanted to ignore it. Still other days I’ve wanted to conquer it as if it was a mountain to be scaled, a challenge to be won.
But it’s not. Grief cannot be overcome.
Grief is a companion and she won’t be boxed in for safe keeping. C.S. Lewis wrote of grief comparing it to the sky—hanging over everything, touching it all. I’ve found that to be true. Although I’m not consumed by grief anymore, it has touched everything I know. It’s changed the way I relate to others, the way I watch the news, the way I read the bible, the way I pray (or don’t pray). Grief has changed my expectations of myself, it’s changed my marriage, my work, my parenting, the way I see Jesus. It’s even changed my life’s metaphors. I think about the ocean much more than before.
I’ve been reading journal entries and letters I wrote to you all those years ago. Sometimes it feels like words are all I have left of you. I don’t have a photo of your sweet face. I have no gravesite to visit. But I do have my words—written to you and for you and about you. They aren’t fancy but they’re honest. Maybe they mean so much to me because they’re all I have.
I remember being mad at myself for not taking ultrasound images when we first saw your heartbeat at eight weeks old, as if the proof you once lived might have somehow validated the depth of my angst and sorrow when you were gone. But I didn’t want them. An eight-week-old embryo looks like… an embryo. I remember telling the doctor “no thank you” and that I would wait and take an image home from our next scan when you looked more like yourself. I had no reason to believe it was the last time I would see you alive. At my next scan a month later all we could see was darkness where your heart was supposed to be beating. I didn’t want to take home an image of that. Didn’t need to—it would be burned into my memory anyway. I’d never unsee that picture.
There have been times where I’ve felt jealous of others who have lost. Jealous of photographs, jealous of memorial services, jealous of their stuffed fridges and homes full of flowers, jealous of those I perceived to have more ‘reason’ to grieve than me, jealous of those I perceived to have less. But I’ve had to learn (and am still learning) that my pain is my pain, my grief is my grief, my suffering is my suffering, my sorrow is my sorrow. No glance to the right or left will make my heartache feel any greater or lessor than the next person’s. It just is what it is. Intellectually I know there’s nothing I ever could have received at the height of my grief that would feel like a “good enough” measure to meet me in my pain. The heart sometimes doesn’t listen to the intellect though, does it? And that’s okay, too—at least for a time.
I’ve realized in these four years how little I know. And yet I’ve also learned so much. My heart has expanded. My eyes have opened. I’ve had questions answered, which have led to many, many more—unanswered, mostly.
I don’t understand heaven or if we share the same space-time continuum. Are you a baby there? Are you four now? In the scope of eternity, these questions are small. They don’t change my longing, my grief, or my hope. I do sometimes wonder if you watch our family. Can you see me now, writing here by the window? Do you know that I’ve written your story over and again on three different continents and that even now I’m writing a book for other hurting parents, too?
You’ve changed my life, Scarlett. I always knew you would. Just a few short months together and that’s all it took to rewrite my entire story. What a powerful girl you are.
Since losing you we’ve said goodbye to Oliver and Ruby, too. Do you know them? Do they know us? I miss them. Sometimes I think of you all as a composite—my baby lost, three in one. Your absence—all three of you precious ones—the hardest loss of my life. Your absence has unraveled me and there are seams I can’t imagine ever being sewn back together. (And perhaps that’s how it should be?)
Most of the time I feel inadequate to write into such sensitive topics. My insecurities flair—can I actually help someone else? What if I say the wrong thing? What if my words are misconstrued? What if they fall short? It would be easier to remain quiet, obscure. I fear putting myself “out there” where people are free to judge me and criticize my words, my beliefs, my understanding of God and the universe. I’m not the smartest person in the room. Maybe we should find her and let her write the words of hope that a grieving soul needs? She might do a better job than me. Probably?
But then I think of you and all that you’ve taught me and I say to my own self: “Courage, dear heart.” If a little babe could teach me so much, maybe a tender heart like mine has something to offer, too. In my pride I’ve wanted to offer a hearty dose of “good theology,” but perhaps the greatest gift I can give is actually my vulnerability. It’s hard to argue a person’s story. It’s hard to argue a broken and healed heart. It’s hard to argue an actual life graced by Jesus.
Would you believe I’ve never struggled with writer’s block in my life until I signed a book deal? Some days the fear feels paralyzing. But I’m writing this for you, child. I’m writing this for us. I’m writing for her—the one buried in grief who’s left wondering where is God in the midst of her pain. I’m writing afraid and I’m writing brave (they’re the same thing, you know).
But today this isn’t about her, or even myself. (Though I want you to know how much your life matters to us.) This is about you and I need you to know: you are real to me. You are loved. You’ve changed my life. You’ve changed the world.
Thirteen weeks and four years.
I miss you Scarlett. I miss what might have been. But mostly I just miss you.
I still love you,