what spurred this entry is that i've made a connection with a friend of our family who just lost her sweet little twin boys at 24 weeks. i wrote her an email and in it i included the cliff notes version of our story, so i thought i'd post it here since i had it all typed out and everything.
jane (we'll just call her jane) emailed me with some of her struggles and some details of her story. i'm going to leave most of what i wrote in my email back to her in the hopes that if anyone reading this has had a loss that this post will be an encouragement to them.
so without further ado, here is our story...
Jane, thank you so much for sharing your story and your heart with me. I can't say and I won't say that I know how you're feeling. I've been where you are, but we all go through this experience differently. Oh, and don't let anyone tell you there are "stages" of grieving. It's more like spaghetti in my opinion. They don't all happen in little neat boxes. I remember thinking I was through the "knock you on your butt can't catch your breath, crying non-stop" phase only to have something trigger it again a few days later. Then I thought I had dealt with all of my anger issues until I thought of something else. It's a roller coaster, that's for sure.
I'm so sorry for your loss. I also want to preface this email with the fact that it's been over 3 years since we had Faith, so although I might sound like I've "got it together" the fact is I've had 3 years to grieve and adjust and work it out. So don't be discouraged thinking you're so far from where I'm at. At 2 or 3 weeks after having Faith I was a wreck.
I remember one of my very first ventures out of the house by myself a few weeks after Faith was born. I was home on "maternity leave" and having cabin fever, so I decided I needed to get out of the house. The weather was cold so I went to Target just to browse. And shopping always makes you feel better, right? Well I remember making it probably 40 feet into the store when I was confronted with the girls clothing section. All of these thoughts flooded my head about how I wouldn't get to go shopping for those cute girls clothes for my dead daughter. Needless to say I did a 180, bolted out of the store with tears streaming down my face, and then I sat in my car and bawled my eyes out.
So anyway, don't be too hard on yourself. And don't ever feel bad about feeling anything that you feel (that's a lot of "feeling") =) Sadness, anger, frustration... it's so healthy to be honest about what you're going through. That being said though I remember there were a few times when I would be so low, so depressed, I didn't even feel like getting off of the couch to go to the bathroom. And my husband Dave would come home and remind me that I had a choice. We heard this great message once about the fact that we get to choose our feelings. It's something that no one and nothing can take away from us. There's a saying: "people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be" and I believe that it's true. Sometimes our circumstances dictate appropriate behaviors and feelings often follow closely, but we truly have the ability and freedom to feel however we want to feel. I also understand this is much, much, much easier said than done. Dave would also often remind me that I could choose to either let this situation make me bitter or better. I could let it eat away at me and be a victim or I could choose to let this situation grow me, to see what God had in store for me, to be open to the possibility that God had a plan for my life.
So here's our story... Dave and I have been married since June 1999. We got pregnant with Faith in June of 2004 and the whole pregnancy went like clockwork. No red flags. No problems. We walked into the hospital at 38 weeks ready to deliver our baby (which we hadn't found out the sex of) and take them home. We had the nursery all ready. We had been blessed with three showers thrown by friends and family, so we were all set with "stuff" for the baby. So excited!
My contractions were about 5 minutes apart and we were admitted into the hospital. I got into the gown and settled into the bed. When the nurse put the monitor on my stomach she couldn't locate the heartbeat. Two or three different nurses tried and couldn't find it, so they called in for an ultrasound. It confirmed what I had been denying. No heartbeat. I knew it the moment they put the image on the screen. My world went black. The nurses left my husband and I to be alone.
Those first few moments were probably the darkest moments of my entire life. I felt like dying. I didn't know how or why this could have happened. I didn't understand. I wanted to wake up from this nightmare. I wanted so badly to believe it was a mistake. Our dream of a family had been shattered into a million pieces on the floor and with it my heart. For 38 weeks we had anticipated meeting this new little person, and now, too suddenly, they were gone.
For those first few initial moments, alone in the hospital room with Dave, I remember being surrounded by darkness. I don't know what the actual lighting level in the room was, but I remember it feeling very, very dark. Then out of the darkness, a spotlight. It felt like a light was shining right on me and all of a sudden I felt an inexplainable peace. Still overwhelming sadness, but not hopelessness. Now looking back on it, I know that it was God.
There's a verse in the Bible that says: The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
"The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds..."
Now I understand what that means. This is what I experienced. A peace which I cannot explain, both in the delivery room and in the days, weeks, months and years that followed.
There's a story in the Bible that came to mind as I lay there in that bed somewhere between wanting to die and denial. Looking back I believe this story is what helped me keep my sanity and eventually find a healthy level of acceptance with our loss. The story is about a man named Job (pronounced Jobe). I'll give you the summary, but if you want to read the whole thing you can read it here.
One day Satan and God are talking. God starts bragging about Job and how good Job is and how much Job loves God. Satan replies that of course Job loves God, God gives him everything that he wants. Satan says that if Job didn't have such a good life he wouldn't be such a great man and servant of God. So long story short, God allows Satan to take away all of Job's land and cattle and wealth and servants, Job's family is killed and eventually Satan even takes away Job's health. God doesn't do these things to Job, but he removes his hand and allows Satan to do these things. God knew that Job would pass the test and he did. Even after everything Satan could throw at him Job still proclaimed, "God, you give and you take away, but still I'll praise your name." Job did not understand why these things were happening to him. All of his friends told him to confess his sin, that he must have done something to anger God. Job's wife told him to "curse God and die." Nice. But Job didn't lose faith. He knew that God loved him and that God must have a reason for doing what he did.
This story has really helped me to realize that it's not necessarily "God's plan" when bad things happen. We live in a fallen world. God loves me and doesn't want to see me hurting. In fact he cries with us when we're in pain. Knowing this truth has changed my perspective on suffering. Maybe God's just testing me. Maybe he knows that when I go through suffering it draws me closer to him. So maybe he allows me to suffer so that I'll be drawn closer to him and in turn receive his richest rewards... which I have.
Throughout the months after our loss I felt some of the deepest sorrow and darkness I've ever felt in my life. But in that same period of time I also experienced that peace that transcends all understanding. My faith has grown immensely. And now God is using me to (hopefully) encourage others who have traveled the same path that I have.
I hope that some of what I've said has been an encouragement to you. I'm totally here for you. If you need to vent. If you need say something because holding it inside makes you feel crazy. If you're wondering if something is "normal". Anything! A friend of mine had a loss at 18 weeks just a few weeks after we had Faith. We used to talk on the phone for hours and we used to laugh at ourselves because of some of the crazy things we used to say. Losing a child gives you a new "normal". Most people can't talk about death the way you and I can now. It gives you a frankness about it.
(Jane had mentioned feeling guilty in her email, so I'm responding to that here...)
I felt such guilt for sooo long about our loss. Like if I would have done things differently we wouldn't have lost her. I spent months going back through every moment of my pregnancy that I could remember, searching for something I could have changed to save her. Going over and over in my mind my last doctor's appointment. Were there any clues that we missed? I remember I got my hair dyed and the fumes ended up making me sick and I had to come back another day to finish getting my hair cut. Maybe that triggered something. Faith was only 3 pounds 7 oz. at 38 weeks. And I'd only gained 24 pounds. Maybe if I would have eaten more. All of the maybe's. All of the what if's. Eventually I came to a place of peace and acceptance, but I'll tell you that was a long journey. And even after I thought I'd conquered them all, getting pregnant again brought up a whole new set of what if's. I ended up gaining about 60 pounds with my second pregnancy and I'm sure it's because subconsciously I was convinced that if I ate more this second baby would be healthy.
We do now have a son named Jonah. He's 20 months old and just amazing. It took us 10 months to conceive him and it was probably the longest 10 months of my life. I wanted so badly to get pregnant again because I thought replacing Faith would just be easier. I wanted so badly to be a mom, only for real this time, with a baby I could hold and take home with me. Thankfully God allowed me that time to grieve without my "replacement baby". At the time I was so angry and sad that we couldn't get pregnant, but looking back it was a huge blessing in disguise. It allowed me more time to heal, both physically and emotionally. My body was healthier since it had time to recuperate from a full-term pregnancy and therefore be ready for another pregnancy. And emotionally I was able to grieve and work through a lot of issues in that time instead of just sweeping them under the rug. I pray that you and your husband do get pregnant again right away. Each month that we didn't get pregnant it seemed like it just opened up that wound again and it brought with it so many questions and doubts about whether we'd ever be able to have another child.
I hope that by telling you all of this (the good, the bad and the ugly) that it doesn't discourage you. My intention is only to be totally transparent because I want you to know that I didn't and I still don't have it all together. But somehow God moved in my life. He helped me through it all. He met me where I was and he showed me his love, grace and mercy, and I want you to know that you can experience this too. It's a long road, but you don't have to walk it alone. God is here for you and I am here for you. Feel free to email me back or call me or we can get together in person. Whatever you need. I also want to invite you to my church. We go to Gateway and it's an awesome awesome church. We just moved to Austin in November and already these people are like my family. Gateway's website says: "Jesus never saw church as a place to go, but as a people who love him and who are learning to love others. At Gateway, no matter what your spiritual background or past, we want you to 'Come as you are.' From there, we'll all grow together!"
I know this is a ton of information to take in. Feel free to ask me questions about anything and please don't feel any pressure by my invitation. It's an open door, but don't feel any obligation.
Take care and I'll talk to you soon,
P.S. Below is an email I just received today. I thought it was too much of a coincidence that I received your email and this email with this topic in the same morning not to pass it on.
From: Proverbs 31 Ministries
Date: Thu, Jun 5, 2008 at 8:05 AM
Subject: 06/05/08/Deep Grief/Encouragement For Today
June 5, 2008
"You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy."
Psalm 30:11 (NIV)
Sometimes when we lose things it causes a temporary panic that rises and falls in a mini-tidal wave fashion. Like earlier this year when I lost my camera with all our ski vacation pictures on it. The panic escalated, crested with some hand wringing and mind racing, and then slowly ebbed away.
But sometimes a loss cuts into your heart so viciously that it forever redefines who you are and how you think. It's what I call "deep grief." The kind that strains against everything you've ever believed. So much so you wonder how the promises that seemed so real on those thin Bible pages yesterday, could possibly stand up under the weight of enormous sadness today.
I once stood at the side of a casket too small to accept. Pink roses draped everywhere. And I watched my mom as she lay across the casket, refusing to let go. How could she let go? Part of her heart laid within, so quiet and so still.
I stood paralyzed. Just days ago we were doing everyday things and assuming that all of our lives stretched before us in spans of many, many years. And then suddenly it all stopped. In the flurry of funeral plans and memorial services we all operated on automatic. People were everywhere. Soft chatter filled in the gaps that our stunned silence could not. And enough food was brought in to feed the whole neighborhood.
But eventually people went back to their own lives. The soft chatter dissipated. The food stopped coming. And we were forced to carry on. Only we had deep grief wrapped about us that made our throats feel strangled and our feet stuck in mud.
I remember I tried to go to McDonalds to order a happy meal. But I couldn't. I sat in the drive-through with the speaker spouting words at me I couldn't process. She kept asking if she could take my order.
Yeah, I had an order. Take away my bloodshot eyes. Take away my desire to hurt the doctors that couldn't save my sister. Take away my anger toward God. And then take away my guilt for being the one that lived. I'll take all that with no onions and extra ketchup, please.
I drove away sobbing. How dare they offer happy meals. No one should be happy today. Or tomorrow. Or next year.
This is the reality of deep grief. Even when you love God and believe in His promises. Even when you know without a doubt that you will see your loved one again. Even when you know hope is still there.
It takes time.
It takes wading through an ocean of tears.
It takes finding a possession of your loved one that you thought was lost, and realizing God did that just to comfort you. It takes discovering one day that the sun still shines. It takes being caught off-guard when you catch yourself smiling… only to realize it's okay.
It takes prayer. It takes making the decision to stop asking for answers and start asking for perspective. It takes telling people to please not avoid saying her name - you want to hear it, over and over again.
Then one day you take off the blanket of deep grief. You fold it neatly and tuck it away. You no longer hate it or resist it. For underneath it, wondrous things have happened. Things that could have only come about when Divine hope intersected with a broken world.
And finally you can see years stretching before you once again. You look up, blow a kiss, wipe a tear and find it's still possible to dance.
In light of their own recent loss, may we all keep the family of Steven Curtis and Marybeth Chapman in our prayers for all the time it will take them to shed their deep grief and discover their dance again.
Dear Lord, Thank you for assuring us that your principles and promises hold true even when life seems to betray us. We praise You that Your love reaches to any depth we find ourselves in. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Death is a reality of life. So, how can you live more intentionally each day with those you love?
2 Corinthians 1:2-4, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (NIV)
© 2008 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
616-G, Matthews-Mint Hill Road
Matthews, NC 28105