“We lost the baby.”
I heard those words coming out of my mouth, and they left a bitter taste. Of course we didn’t lose him. He was right there, still inside of me. There was no heartbeat, but he wasn’t lost. He was dead. Speaking in niceties felt like I was being unfair to this little person who never had the chance to be nursed or rocked or sung a lullaby. He deserved better than euphemisms.
But to say the words, “My baby died”? That was unthinkable. Babies aren’t supposed to die. They coo, they poop, they laugh. They grow up and say “no” too often and “I love you” not quite often enough. They infuriate and invigorate. They surprise you with insights about the world and about you. They are beautiful, terrifying people who make you lose your mind in the best and worst ways.
So I felt stuck in this world where I want to honor the truth about what has happened to our son and a truth that was just too harsh to say aloud.
I still feel stuck there.
I’ve heard about stages of grief. I’ve always thought of them as being somewhat linear. You experience them one at a time and move through each in an orderly fashion – not the same for each person, of course, but still something fairly predictable. But the past two weeks, I have found them to be more of a collection of grief experiences than stages. I’ll bounce between anger and depression and acceptance all within a few hours.
On Father’s Day, I was doing okay. I knew that it was particularly hard on Rich since he has lost not one, but two sons now in infancy. I wanted to be stronger for him, and was feeling peaceful in the morning. I was able to give to him through the day. We wanted to make fish tacos for supper, and needed cilantro to make our favorite marinade, so I offered to go to the grocery store to pick it up because I was feeling strong.
Near the end of my shopping trip, I saw a table that had various books on it, and among all of them was a copy of Goodnight Moon. Immediately memories came rushing back of receiving a copy of that when I had my oldest son, and of reading it to my kids through the years. I thought about how I had looked forward to reading that and so many other books to our new baby, and suddenly I found myself beginning to tear up in the store. I checked out, and then had a full melt-down in the car. Grief snuck up on me and leveled me in a completely unexpected way and at a completely unexpected time.
I said that we lost Elliott, but the truth is, I’m the one who feels lost right now. When I start crying around other people, I feel like I need to be holding it together more. When I’m not crying around other people, I feel like I am holding too much back. I hate feeling physically weak when I don’t have a baby in my arms to justify the weakness, but I don’t want to be pushed too hard because after all, I just gave birth. Whatever I’m feeling feels somehow wrong, like I should be feeling something else. I stumble around trying to grieve the right way, and end up feeling not only like a failure as a mother to safely deliver my child into the world, but as a failure for not honoring his death properly.
And my faith? That feels lost as well. C.S. Lewis’s words echo my heart so well right now.
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)
I read 2 Samuel 12, and my heart rips apart. What kind of God punishes an adulterous couple by bringing death to their child? I have to wonder if my grief might be quelled a bit if that passage was simply not in the Scripture – if I could trust fully that Elliott’s death wasn’t a punishment for my sins, perhaps then I could begin to lean on God, the way that so many have suggested. Can I lean on a God who has a history of stealing children away from parents because of their sins?
I don’t know.
For now, I lean on the kindness of those around me. I lean on friends who validate my son’s existence by asking to see pictures of him. I lean on family that sits quietly with me in my darkness. I lean on people who barely know us, but give generously to us. I lean on those who wrestle with the same questions.
My son is dead. I am lost.
I hope the second of those will someday be a little less true.