The air was crisp and the jacket I was wearing did not adequately shield the chill of the wind, but I was being pulled to take a walk. This wasn’t just an ordinary walk. It was a Sunday morning at church during Sunday School and I needed to walk. As I walked down the drive toward the highway, I was led to our church’s historic cemetery.
I have done this a few times over the past year – walked among the final resting place of the bodies of the dead. Usually I walk to the grave sites of my grandparents and aunts and uncles who have made their way to heaven without paying much attention to the others buried there. But this time was different.
Walking by the grave sites, my eye was drawn to the smaller tombs, to the heart-shaped ones, the ones with little concrete angels perched atop them, the ones with lambs etched in the stone. As I noticed the dates on the markers I realized these were all graves of infants or children. Some had the same birth and death dates. Some only had one date. Others had birth and death dates that were only months or a few years apart. So many infants and children gone in the first minutes, hours, days, weeks and months of their lives.
Each of them have a story that I do not know. Each of them left mothers behind. I do not know the circumstances surrounding their deaths. I can guarantee that those mothers did not plan to have to bury their babies. That is not something you plan for when you find out you are expecting a child.
One family was buried together. The baby died in 1947 and the mother died in 2015. That mother lived sixty-eight years without her child. I have lived five without my first child and four without my second. The idea of walking around with a piece of my heart missing for sixty-eight years feels like an impossible task. Sometimes walking around with a piece of my heart missing for five more minutes feels impossible.
As I stood there thinking about all the babies and children and all the mothers left behind, I was reminded that we are not alone. Those of us walking this Earth with pieces of our hearts missing are not alone. Some of us grieve aloud, while others grieve quietly, but we are not alone. We are all missing our babies. God drew me to the cemetery and drew my eye to notice these stones to remind me of this.
I don’t know what it will feel like to live without my children for ten, twenty or even sixty years. I only know what it feels like at five and four years. It still hurts. There is still pain. I still long to hold them, to know them. Sometimes memories come and grief hits as hard and raw as those first days of loss. Other times I am left with a deep appreciation for my first two children. Their lives and deaths opened up the doorway to changes in me that may not have happened otherwise. God used them to change me.
I am still figuring out how to live fully after loss. I imagine I always will be on some level. I am learning that living fully does not mean living void of pain. The pain will always be there. I am learning to be okay with that. I am learning to use that pain for a greater purpose. Learning is the key word here. I certainly do not have it all figured out.
Walking back toward the church, I was drawn to a word in all capital letters on one of the gravestones: HOPE. I think after ten, twenty or sixty years of missing my babies I will be able to say that hope is what got me through. This is not a frail or questionable or unstable hope. It is the hope described in Hebrews 6:19 – firm, secure, confident, unshakable hope.
I had to seek out this hope and grab hold of it. I prayed for it. I studied scripture to understand it. It did not come easily and now that I have it I am not letting go. It is a gift from God in the form of his son Jesus and without it I have nothing. Hope is how I get through the next minute, hour, day, week, month, year. Hope is how I live after loss.