Shortly after we buried our baby, Annie, I turned thirty. She was six months old when we discovered she had a massive brain tumor. She died just four days later. The morning of my birthday I was with a group of women who didn’t know our circumstances of the past months, but they somehow found out it was my birthday. As they were saying all the things that acquaintances say to one another on birthdays, one older lady reminisced, “Oh those were the best years of my life. I was knee deep in babies then.”
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Because for me, the terrifying, overwhelming grief I felt at that point was so new, so raw that I felt like I was drowning. Along with the death of Annie was the death of what I had imagined my life would be like– the happy wife and mother of three. It had been so perfect. But instead of baby-proofing the house, I found myself buying depressing cemetery flowers and collecting books on death.
“I am dying from my grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Misery has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within. But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying ‘You are my God!’ My future is in your hands.” Psalm 31:10, 14-15
A few months later, when we took our two oldest kids in for their annual checkups, our dear doctor took our hands and prayed for us. He told us that the human brain will only process what it can, as it can. Eventually our mind-numbing tragedy would become clearer. In other words, the fog would lift.
The mound of dirt at Annie’s grave gradually sunk and as spring came, so did the new grass. The changing of seasons meant that time was marching by without her and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
Those days, as hard as they were, were also some of my most precious days. I clung to the words of the Bible, because in those pages I found others who had suffered. I found hope and healing. I saw Jesus in a new way– as a Savior who knew suffering and hurt intimately. And as I grasped at those truths, even if it was only a few words a day, Jesus enveloped me and gave me peace. The unimportant things in life were stripped away from me and were strangely hard to see. In my deepest pain, I was the most sure of who I was.
When you lose a baby, or overcome what seems insurmountable, others will tell you that you are strong, that they could never live the reality that you’re living. Only you know that the total opposite is true and most days feel like you are dangling from a twenty story building, sure that you’ll never make it through alive.
“When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains!” Psalm 84:6
I nestled into that fog of grief, wrapped it around me and breathed it in deeply. I went to bed at night, simply relieved that I was one day closer to heaven. My sadness scared me and my grief was overwhelming, but in the midst of it all, I had Jesus. And I knew that He was enough and I would be ok.
Today, five years later, grief is like a familiar friend. I can’t imagine my life without it, really. The work of grief is long and painful and it often comes in waves. Just when I think I’m making progress, another memory washes ashore and I’m undone again. But the work of grief is also full of redemption. Jesus brings a beauty to our brokenness that is unexplainable.
Nancy Guthrie says, “To be blessed doesn’t mean that you are untroubled, healthy, admired, or prosperous. It means that all is well between you and God, that you are deeply secure and profoundly content in God even though you may be weeping over the pain of a sick body, a deteriorating mind, a rebellious spirit, or a dysfunctional relationship. The blessing is not that He gives us what we want but that He gives us Himself, especially in our painful places.” (One Year Book of Hope, p. 331, italics mine)
God redeems our pain in a way that no one else can. He takes the broken parts of our story and breathes hope into them. Grief means a new set of gifts, if we are willing to open our hearts and accept them. The progress may seem slow or even backward. It will look different for you than it does for me – than it does for the next person. But when you feel that sacred fog beginning to lift, just let go and fall into the arms of Jesus. Watch how He takes your weeping and turns it into refreshing springs.
And may you fight for redemption of your pain so that you can say, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (Genesis 41:52)
You can find out more about Sarah Damaska on her blog Peanut Butter Jam (psdamaska.blogspot.com), where she writes about her faith, grieving and the everyday.