Three years ago, December 3rd was a Friday night. I was 20 weeks pregnant with our fourth child, and starting to feel it. Due to an anterior placenta, I had not felt my littlest one move much, but earlier that day, I had smiled at some big kicks. I have always loved feeling my babies inside me.
Three years ago, though, almost to the hour, I began to feel uncomfortable. I thought I had just been on my feet too much that day. I tried to sit. I couldn’t. Nothing felt right. I tried lying down. I began to feel worse.
And then came the bleeding. And the realization that something was very wrong.
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On December 4, 2010, our fourth child —our fourth son— was stillborn. I am continually amazed at how one little person with such a short life on Earth could touch so many lives, and change so many, especially mine, so drastically.
It’s been three years. Three whole years. Shouldn’t I be “over it”? To that, I would like to respond with a passage from C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed:
Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. (p53)
And so it is. “I shall never be a biped again,” Lewis continues. Granted, his grief is of losing a spouse, so it is different. Still, part of me is missing. As mothers, we grow our children and grow with our children. Our children become a great part of our identities. When a person who is part of our identity dies, so does that part of ourselves. We mourn the person. And we also grieve the loss of the self we were before the “amputation.”
Earlier in the book, Lewis comments:
What St. Paul says [1 Thessalonians 4:13] can comfort only those who love God better than the dead, and the dead better than themselves. If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild. (pp 26-27)
Of course this hit close to home. Here, what he uses as an illustrative metaphor is my reality. And within it, I realize my brokenness, my self-centeredness, my pridefulness. Yes, I am in fact mourning for what I have lost. Which is a challenge to my priorities: if “Do not mourn like those that have no hope” is little comfort to me, do I not love God better than my son or my son better than myself?
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Three years have taught me much, particularly about what I have taken for granted, about my limitations, and about love. Still, I have much to learn.
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John Blaise, pray for us who miss you.
St. John of Damascus, pray for us.
St. Blaise, pray for us.