This is the first post I ever wrote. I wrote it just a couple of days after our daughter died. This post is deeply personal and not at all light or humorous. I’m not sure yet if I will even post it, but perhaps, in some strange way, it will help someone. Perhaps, if you are grieving someone or something, it will give you a tiny seed of hope.
I thought I’d start with a big one. Death is hard. There is very little that is funny about it. It challenges each of us and feels like the big cruel prize that rewards us at the end of life.
Life is easy. At it’s root we don’t even have to think about most of it. Your heart beats without you even thinking about it. You breathe even when you fall unconscious at the end of the day. No thought goes into it unless you do something insane, like running. If you sit and watch the average American eat you will notice that very little thought goes into that either.
This week my family has had to deal with death. On Monday I went in for a prenatal appointment. The doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat but he told me not to panic. I panicked. It was the last day of the second trimester so the heartbeat shouldn’t have been difficult to find. I knew that. I was sent down to ultrasound where I smiled and made pleasant conversation with the technician. Then back up to the doctor’s office where I faced the outcome; our baby had died.
I wanted to deliver that day and get it all over with but my husband, in all of his wisdom, convinced me to wait a day so that we could pray and process this whole thing.
Now let me be very clear about one thing: I do not believe that God kills babies. One more time? I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT GOD KILLS BABIES! All the same, as I was driving home in my car I screamed at Him. “How could you be so cruel?! I thought you loved me, but you refused to even protect my baby?” I then received a text. It was not an explanation from God or even a reassurance. It was a text letting me know that my grandmother was dying. Grandma is 98 years old. She had an amazing life but has been in a lot of pain lately and just wants to go to heaven to be with my grandpa. It was still more than I could handle. I pulled over so that I could hyperventilate and vomit.
When we got home, we decided to have a pizza and movie night. It’s a rare treat for our children to sit on couches in the living room and watch a movie. Before we started the excitement we sat the children down and explained that something was wrong with the baby. We explained that there was no heartbeat, but there is always room for hope. We were very honest. We prayed as a family and then cooked pizza and started our movie. I’m sure I cooked pizza. I’m sure I sat in front of a movie. I don’t remember any of it.
The next thing I do remember was arriving at the hospital. Our nurse greeted us nervously. She immediately confessed that she had never been a part of this sort of delivery. Somehow this made me feel better. We would all be going through it for the first time. The first thing we did was to check one last time for any signs of life. Miracles happen all the time. This was not one of those times. I don’t know why it wasn’t one of those times. I do not believe it was because my faith was too small or because of some sin I had committed. I do believe that I can only see a small part of the picture. I don’t know why some miracles happen effortlessly while others never appear. I do know this. We are God’s children. In the same way that I don’t want my children to suffer, God doesn’t want us to suffer. God wants good things for us, in the same way that I want good things for my children. What kind of a parent wouldn’t? I don’t know why every miracle I ask for doesn’t happen. All I do know is that there are a lot of things at play that I can’t see.
The next thing we did was to start the delivery. This involved a small pill. That was it. Then we waited. I had gone into this not really knowing what would happen. I knew that this kind of thing happened from time to time, but I did my best to not think about the details. I had always kind of assumed that, for the sake of the mother’s sanity, they knocked you out for this. In reality, for the sake of the mother’s sanity, they do not. Here’s why. Ever since I received the news I had been expecting to wake up. I had been trying to wake up. I had been begging God to just let me wake up. None of this could be real. It just couldn’t. This all just had to be some sort of horrible dream because none of it seemed real. I felt like I was floating through a nightmare. If I had been unconscious I could have lived in the fantasy that it was all just a terrible dream. I needed to experience the entire thing so that I could know, without a doubt, that this was a reality. It was something that had to become a part of me and change who I am so that I could move forward.
And so we moved forward. Labor happened. It didn’t wait for me to get ready. I’m not sure I ever would have been ready. Delivery was short and simple. The doctor had told me that it would be healthy for me to see the baby, but that the final decision was up to me. Because we didn’t know what had caused the death, I put that decision off. I wasn’t sure that I could handle some horrible deformity. If that was the case I would prefer to imagine a perfect child. After a quick inspection by the doctor, I was told that the baby was a girl (a surprise!) and that there were no physical abnormalities. He then proceeded to unwrap the cord from around her neck, one, two, three, four times. Somewhere in there he also had to untie a knot in order to get it all the way off.
She was then cleaned up, wrapped in a blanket, and handed to me. I wasn’t sure if I could look at her so i just looked at her feet at first. They were so tiny, but so perfect. Those perfect feet gave me the courage to look at the rest of her. She was beautiful. I was then reminded all over again how it doesn’t matter what a child looks like, they are all beautiful to their mothers, in the same way that we are all beautiful and precious to our Father. So I held her. I loved her. I told her she was beautiful. I felt the weight of her in my arms. Finally I said goodbye.
We named her Myrtle Hope. Myrtle was my grandmother’s name. My grandmother who died two days later. My grandmother who loved nothing so much as holding babies. The meaning of Myrtle is simply myrtle, as in the tree. The tree, however, is the symbol of eternity. This is because it takes a myrtle tree over one hundred years to reach maturity. Because of this, the wood is very precious. Eternal Hope seemed like the perfect name because, at the time, I felt like I didn’t have the strength for any more hope. But hope really is eternal. Even when we feel hopeless, like there is no room in our grief for even the tiniest seed of hope, it is still there. Waiting to be realized. It may take a hundred years to grow to maturity, but it is still there, giving us the courage to go on.
And so I went on. It took baby steps at first. At first I lived in a cloud of grief, numb to everything and terrified of interacting with other people. Eventually I was able to cry, to feel something. I am still taking baby steps, gripping tightly to that little seed of hope.