It’s raining today. Which is unremarkable, here where it rains most every day. But sometimes, just sometimes, the rain feels less like a meteorological event, and more like tears from the sky.
Today, is a tears day.
I look out a window, at the towering pines behind our home, and watch the sky weep. And tonight, as the clock ticks on toward that fateful moment between 11:59 of one birthday and 12:00 of the next, more tears will fall. And even though I hate everything about this story, and certainly the timing of this pain, this is and will always be: The birthday week of our boys. Our sons’ birthdays. Which feels hard to even say, because I never ever use the term, “our sons’.” I have absolutely no reason to. They never got to be together in any way, except for one- our sons share this week. The best week of our lives…and the worst week. The moment I held Freddo in my arms and turned to Reid and said, “We have a son.” And then, the moment exactly three years later…when I held Charlie in my arms, and wept in the silence and stillness of the kind of hospital room that should never, ever be.
The other day Freddo asked me if all babies cry when they are born. As my mind flashed back to the utter silence of our birth room, I looked at his big brown eyes filled with questions and concern, and tears filled mine. He’s been asking lots of questions like this lately. Some of his questions are because, seriously…he is a brilliant little being. Like the other day when he asked me, “Mom, do identical twins have a “split-wire” placenta,” followed by a peppering of questions about the exact nature of “the sack” where babies are carried by their mommies. I’m trying to keep up with our little Doogie Howser MD, but honestly, I’d rather play legos…than fight to sort out these mysteries of life. And so, we sort while we play.
Some of these questions, are because of our story. Questions that most children will never have to think through and ask…ours do. Questions about cemeteries, and procreation, and suffering. This last fall, after a solid week of Emma’s incredibly deep, excruciatingly painful questions about the cause of suffering, I finally just broke down and told her the whole story of Job and his family. Not the cutesy, children’s-Bible version…the real thing. I figured if she has to be in a Job story, she deserves to know the truth about these things.
I know our children are suffering, and in ways even deeper than they did in the days that followed January 28th, 2013. They are reliving our story, through eyes that can finally see and hear and feel the pain. And in that, there is new pain. When we lost Charlie, it was the most agonizing sorrow of our entire lives. The actual person of Charlie, gone forever from our story. His little hands. His sweet cheeks. His name, and narrative, and uniquely-fashioned soul…irreplaceable in every way. But in that very moment, we also lost the hope of Charlie…the hope of having a baby brother exactly three years younger than his hero Freddie.
And eventually, slowly, in future moments, written on pages deeper into the story…we also lost the hope of anybody. For some people who lose a child, they get to have more. They will never replace the unique person lost…but they do get to replace the hope of having a new little person join their lives. The hope of having a different ending to the story. The hope of a rainbow, and not just this endless, drowning rain.
And then, we lost that hope too, as baby after baby died. The one we wanted and what we wanted, gone forever on the same day. Both losses horrific, and both needing to be grieved. And though we big people suffered through the loss of all of that at once…I realize now, that our little people have only truly grieved the first thing. Now as they grow, they are beginning to grieve the entire package of our suffering. And though I have tried fervently to protect them from the depths of our pain, by talking about Charlie mostly only when they initiate, this is the first year where they are beginning to lead us into the pain.
At least once a week, usually while we are playing together in his room, Fred will ask me, “Mommy, if Charlie were here…how old would he be?” This is the question he asks when he is lonely. When the girls are in the other room playing dolls or Nail Salon, and he is alone, in the quiet of his bedroom…another silent room much like that hospital room from three years ago tonight. Another room I had thought would be filled with Charlie’s life and cries and joy and voice…but isn’t. Freddo is alone in his room, and in that silence, the questions come. And I say, “Well, if Charlie were here, he would be almost three.” And then we both sit there, silent again, with our Lego creation growing between us and our hearts breaking inside. Both thinking of what it would be like to have the daily joy of a wild and wonder-filled, three-year-old-boy who looks just like Freddo, tearing into his precious things, and driving him bat-crazy. And…hugging him tight at night. And…asking for another bedtime story. And…filling this death-ache with life.
I know just how deeply he is hurting right now, because our Freddo is generally regarded by all who know him, as one positive little fellow. In a childhood filled with the darkest storms, he has had a remarkable ability to see silver linings. And yet, there is a sadness creeping in, that is real and completely reasonable, and so deeply devastating. Like the other night, when he asked me again how old Charlie would be and what crazy, little-brother things he would be doing. We chatted a while longer about several other I-don’t-want-to-go-bed-so-I’m-stalling-type-things, and then he leaned back into his pillows, and said softly, almost to himself, “I have had such a hard life. I have lost my little brother.” And suddenly, it didn’t feel like 1,096 long days ago, it felt like Charlie died yesterday.
And in those moments, days when I might have even been having an “Ok-I’m-almost-surviving-the-suck-that-is-our-life”-kind of day…suddenly I am so not ok. Because half my children are dead in the ground, and the other half are hurting. Deeply. And I can’t take any of it away.
He doesn’t know how much it hurts my mommy heart to see his grief, and I don’t want him to, because my greatest fear is that the grief would be buried, and that he would learn to manage his pain in an attempt to manage mine. Or even worse- that our kids would learn, through our response to their grief and pain- that grief is not ok. That the unspoken sorrows of death, and suffering, and unanswered prayers, are taboo subjects on this long road called life. And then, they would become so, so…American. They would become the kind of people, who most hurt us in our grief. The kind of people I still fear we will someday be…people who can’t live in pain. People ill-equipped for this spinning sphere we’re all stuck on- where everybody dies and every life is brimming over with seen and buried pain. And since I am more terrified of that, than even of suffering…we sit in grief together, and ride the waves of one another’s pain, as the sea billows roll right over our kid’s souls and stories, just as they crash on forever in Reid’s and mine.
Our children couldn’t possibly understand the new kind of hurt I feel, foreign in nature and yet familiar in agony, as I watch them relive my grief in their own tender lives. In those moments, I suddenly feel very, very old, and akin to God’s Father heart in a new way: The pain of watching as your child is suffering. I’ve heard He knows a thing or two about that kind of pain. I’ve heard He wrote the Book on it. And as today marks three horrifically long years spent being His children in suffering, somehow, in the midst of this, I am beginning to see God’s heart in new ways. How small I am as his child, and how little I really know about Him. I see this so much more clearly now, as I see myself through the new waves of grief in Fred’s life.
Because my Freddo- is the seriously the smartest little person I know, and yet you could fill a book with all he doesn’t know about…me. He doesn’t know…that for the last month whenever he would say, “Mom! It’s almost my birthday week,”…I couldn’t even breathe. So happy for him that his birthday was coming, and so deeply dreading the sorrow of this week. There are limits to what my child could know of my heart and my grief…and in those limits, I see how little I must know, of what these years have been like from God’s side of the sky. Just as I save most of my tears over Charlie, for the moments at night when our kids are asleep…does God perhaps, hide His tears from me? Might He, maybe just maybe, be hurting for us as His children far beyond what I can see? I don’t know.
My Freddo is seriously the most kissable little person I know. I am absolutely convinced that his cheeks are made of a special kind of butter cream. He knows I love him, and he knows I love to kiss him. He doesn’t know…that he gets a double portion of my kisses each night- as I sneak into his room like a less creepy version of the “I’ll Love You Forever” lady. He doesn’t know that I come in each night to put two extra kisses on those cheeks. I didn’t intend to, it just happened during that first agonizing bedtime after grief, when I had to kiss someone, and my Charlie was suddenly ten billion miles from me. But it’s got me thinking- just as I love Fred in ways He doesn’t even know because of the suffering in our lives…might He, maybe just maybe, love me in the same special way, far beyond what I can see. I don’t know.
And my Freddo is seriously, the most affectionate person I know. He says things that could melt pretty much anybody, and especially a very broken Mommy. But he doesn’t know…how much his affection means to me. Like this week when he declared, “Mommy, if you’re sick on my birthday, I’m going to cancel the whole thing.” Or how much it meant to me when he cried big crocodile tears about turning six, “Because it means that someday I’ll have to go to college and I won’t get to be with you for always!” Fred doesn’t know how those are the moments when I feel most loved by him. He knows I love him, he just doesn’t have a clue how much his love back means to me. And as I sit here, on this day, THE day every year when I feel the absolute least loved and cared for by God…it makes me wonder if I’m missing something. If…might He, maybe just maybe, be moved by even my broken-version of love back to Him, far beyond what I can see. I don’t know.
All I know, is that if there are limits to what my own children can know of the depths of my love and the breadth of my grief…maybe, just maybe, there is a chasm of unknown, between my Father and me. I look at the picture of our celebration of Charlie’s life, and I don’t feel the love. I don’t feel cared for by God, and I certainly don’t feel lovingly carried up to this very moment in time. I feel like we have limped here, with three blue balloons in tow, bleeding and broken, through all 1,096 days. Even this morning, as Reid and I looked at one another and said, “I don’t think I can do this day, ” what immediately came to mind was my new version of that chipper little verse. “This is the day that the Lord has made…and so I will suffer through it.” And I believe that. I absolutely do. I hate it, but I believe it.
But, I believe with all my heart that something else is also true. That just as Freddo will fall asleep tonight and wake up to a room covered in streamers and a sea of balloons in Seahawk blue and green…other surprises have been written into the story. Because what Freddo doesn’t know…is that we’ll be up late tonight, turning Daddy’s old t-shirt into a Jedi robe, and making the world’s most awesome Death Star cupcakes. He doesn’t know that tomorrow he is getting his first real hiking backpack, and his first Swiss-army knife. He doesn’t know that Daddy is taking him on a waterfall adventure, or that Mommy is planning the very best birthday breakfast surprise. He knows almost nothing. He just trusts me. He simply trusts that deep down, it’s going to be a really good day and a really good life, filled with really good things, in spite of it also being a life filled with pain.
And Freddo just wants, above all else, to be in it with me. Heck, he doesn’t even want to HAVE a birthday if I’m not coming. And that is how my Father wants me to be. I don’t need to apply my theological degree to this one, or even search deep in my heart through the university of suffering we have endured for the last 1,096 days…the deepest theological truth ever to be known, is already buried deep inside.
And best lived out by the little boy still in my life…
Jesus loves me.
This I know. And I don’t know much right now. Suffering and grief is messy and horrific, and in our case it seems, absolutely never-ending. But I do know this- Freddo is right. Just as a birthday isn’t worth having if the one who loves you most isn’t there…so too is life with God. I have no idea where He is some days, or if He’s hearing our endless cries, or if He sees our forever pain…but if Freddo and I are any indication of what I might not know as God’s child…I’m just going to close my eyes tonight, and try desperately to be a little more like Fred and a little less like me.
And so, I will go to sleep tonight, on my least favorite day of the year, during years upon years I don’t particularly like much anyways, believing that maybe just maybe, God comes into my room, and gives me a double portion of love just as I do for my Freddie. Even love that I cannot see. I don’t know. But I’m going to believe it by faith. Until the day when we no longer have to send balloons up to the sky, and finally get to celebrate our Charlie face-to-face.
In a place of no more tears, and no more rain.
Where maybe just maybe, becomes forever and always.