In the movie, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," one of the main characters makes a poignant statement that is the springboard for this entry. In his gentle, thoughtful, and intentional way of love, Mr. Rogers says to the family surrounding the bedside of a dying man, “You know, death is something many of us are uncomfortable speaking about. But, to die is to be human and anything human is mentionable. And anything mentionable is manageable.”
When my wife, Pam, was pregnant with our twin daughters in 1991-1992, we were blessed to have a doctor who had the “cutting edge” technology of a VCR connected to the Ultrasound. This allowed us to have live video of Amanda and Catherine as they grew in the womb. That now digitalized video was a part of an extraordinary gift our daughters, Bethany and Rachel, gave to us this Christmas.
Because their brief life and stillbirth have seemed so surreal at times, the half-hour video has been sweet consolation as Amanda and Catherine, who were stillborn at 32 weeks, would have turned 30 years old on January 9.
Pondering that "mentionable - manageable" quote and reflecting on our 30-year journey of grief, a thought popped into my head in the form of a question. "What are 30 things we are learning about God, about ourselves, about others, and about our experience of grief?" And so I began to write.
To preface this list, I am quite mindful of the irony of sharing 30 things I am learning in grief when there is such uniqueness of loss, uniqueness of individuals, and uniqueness of life experiences among readers. I share this not as "30 Tidy Tips to a More Meaningful Grieving Process," but more as "here are 30 of our 'mentionables' that we continue to learn in our unique journey of loss that may or may not be meaningful to you."
I share them, not as a brazen warrior showing off battle scars, but as a tender sojourner sharing his personal experience. May these unpolished thoughts give voice to the murkiness of grief you may be experiencing. And as you read them, please eat the meat and spit out the bones.
- God is faithful and lavishes new mercies day by day, hour by hour, second by second... and year by year and decade by decade. "How enduring is God's loyal love; the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion. Here they are, every morning, new! Your faithfulness, God, is as broad as the day. Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need. My soul boasts, 'Hope in God; just wait'" [Lamentations 3:22-24 VOICE].
- Grief is the master of disguise. It manifests itself differently in each one of us… and that is okay. You are unique (and beautiful and precious) and your loss is unique.
- There is no timetable for grief. “I should be… by now” is a debilitating self-imposed yoke of expectation.
- You will be able to rejoice for others who have what you don’t. In time, subtle, bitter resentment will be displaced by authentic “rejoicing with those who rejoice.”
- Grieving is not a tidy, efficient, sanitized process. Sometimes it is snotty ugly-crying, stone-cold numbness, screams into your pillow, and want-to-punch-something fueled walks to cool you down.
- Amanda and Catherine are not just something we cling to in our past, they are the anticipation we embrace in our future. As a dear friend said, "We grieve with hope as our companion."
- Understand that out of compassion, well-meaning people will feel a need to say something. It may… or may not… be comforting or helpful.
- This stillbirth was not punishment for sin in our life. We rest in God’s unchangeable nature of agape love, in the sufficiency of Christ’s death and resurrection, and in the kind intention of God’s will toward us.
- Sometimes you worship through your tears… other times you worship with them. Tears are a precious offering of outpoured love.
- Some days you can… and some days you just can’t. And that’s okay.
- There will be moments when you know you are to share your story… and other moments when you know you are not to. Sometimes you need to share for you and other times for the other person. You’ll know the when and the why.
- There are generations for whom this kind of loss was swept under the carpet and they were never given permission to grieve. Your story may be a key that sets people free from their prison.
- Future children are not “replacements for what you lost.”
- You have the freedom to remember and to celebrate in your own unique way. For us, it has been personalized Christmas ornaments. From miniature cradles to teddy bears to ballet slippers, each ornament gives us a moment to reflect and say, "You are not forgotten."
- Though you may be lost in your own grief, sometimes you need to be aware that your family, your church family, and your friends all uniquely grieve with you and for you. They may also "see" things that you are unable to see because your eyes are blinded by tears. In our case, it was a young girl who saw and exclaimed, "Their eyes are sparkling, their eyes are sparkling!"
- Grief comes in waves. Some you see coming… and some you don’t. And while you can brace for the ones you see coming, those blindsiding waves can knock you off your feet.
- Every loss is unique and your story is your story. There is no cookie-cutter experience where one can say “I know exactly how you feel.”
- God is not offended by your anger nor shocked by your language as you process your experience. He’s a big God and He can take it.
- Asking questions of God is not a lack of faith, it is an expression of it. Don’t apologize, God delights in talking with you!
- God wants to minister to the deep and unspoken thoughts you have about your loss. One divinely spoken phrase, “It’s not your fault,” released years of unvoiced guilt.
- More people remember and grieve with you than you know. The joyful discovery of these personal remembrances has been a precious gift to us along our journey.
- Grief is a journey, not an event that you “get over.” Loss is a complex tangle of physical, emotional, and spiritual connections.
- God is more interested in nurturing relationship with you than “teaching you a lesson.” Keeping an open line of communication with God along the way has offered freedom to exchange our limited perception for God's eternal perspective.
- In loving-kindness, God will lavishly supply what you need in your journey of grief. For years, I carried with me the unspoken desire to actually feel what it would be like to hold infant twin girls. Through a dear friend, God granted the unforgettable gift of the fulfillment of that longing.
- Journaling sometimes helps clarify thoughts that are swirling around your heart and your mind. Sometimes it is paragraphs of flowing sentences and other times a list of bullet point random thoughts.
- God is the God of unanswered questions. I am discovering the joy of releasing my grip on "my right to have an answer" and receiving the peace of God’s presence as He takes my open hands in His. I spent a lot of time bowing down and worshiping at the altar of my intellect unwittingly forfeiting the grace of intimacy that could have been mine. As the hymn says, "I'd rather have Jesus" than have the answer to all my questions.
- Along the journey of grief, there will be moments of joy as you discover the myriad of ways that God was at work when you were completely unaware of it. God has been moving behind the scenes in countless acts of generosity toward us through the kindness of others. From flower arrangements sent to our home after the funeral to bouquets laid on Amanda and Catherine’s grave 28 years later… we are overwhelmed by Love.
- Grief is not linear and there is not a checklist that you work through. The timeline of our grief looks more like a preschool magic marker scribbling than a tidy back-of-your-Bible multi-colored graph.
- God is tender, kind, loving, patient, and gentle with you every step of the way. No eye rolls, no sighs of disappointment, no passive-aggressive suggestions, and no “I told you so.” Instead, steadfast divine companionship… when we are aware of it and when we are completely oblivious to it.
- There’s more. We rest in God’s “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace” [Julia Johnston] that lavishly supplies peace, comfort, consolation, hope, joy, rest, clarity, wisdom, understanding, healing, eternal perspective, and _________: all that you need, without reservation and without limit.
As I write this, more come to mind... the value of books on grief, photographs after stillbirth, Empty Arms support groups, and your relationship with a spouse or significant other after loss. Again... eat the meat and spit out the bones.
Ultimately, Beloved, if you have experienced stillbirth or infant loss, we pray that our choice to give voice to Amanda and Catherine’s life and loss gives you permission to do the same in your own journey.
You are seen... you are remembered... and you are loved.
And now, "All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort. He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us" [2 Corinthians 1:3-4 TPT].
"Hope in God; just wait." Amen.
If you are interested in more about our journey with Amanda and Catherine, I invite you to view a sermon called, "Worshiping the God of Unanswered Questions" and an interview called "Grace to Grieve with Hope." I pray those videos would minister encouragement to you.
If this blog has been meaningful to you, I invite you to do two things. Subscribe to the blog. You will be one of the first to receive a heads-up via email when a new entry is posted! Then, I invite you to share this blog with your sphere of friends. You never know how God might sustain the weary through a simple word of encouragement.