Laying our son to rest is undoubtedly the hardest thing I have had to face thus far in my life. We had two weeks for me to heal physically, and during this time we had plenty of quiet moments to contemplate what we wanted Joshua’s memorial to be before we buried him. I found myself on many occasions completely lacking words – for how can I possibly say something that means anything? Some emotions run so deeply and painfully that all coherent thoughts are simply insufficient.
I’ve had to let this awfulness be exactly what it is – awful. There is no rushing grief. The outpouring of love and support from our friends and family has been astonishing and humbling. The picture of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ arms during a particularly difficult battle comes to mind. And yet, this experience has also been uniquely personal and private. In trying to think of how to express exactly what I feel, I fail and so am learning the art of quietness and the heartfelt meaning a look of loving empathy can convey.
Today as I gathered special items for the memorial service tomorrow, I remembered that I wanted to wash the blanket the baby came home from the hospital with before the process of anointing his body for burial. How entirely predictable and utterly normal throwing a load of wash into the machine is. I’ve thought nothing of it these past ten years of marriage and babies. I’ve done at least 3,000 loads. It has become one of those habits that barely breaks the moments in the day for the monotony of it. But today…today was different. That something so utterly normal could suddenly represent something precious that has been taken from me is like a stab in the gut. How can it be possible that I am robbed of all those endless washings of little boy shorts stuffed to the brim with rocks, sticks, and all manner of treasures from the backyard? His entire lifetime of laundry has been taken from me, and I want it back. I’d do just about anything to get a chance to lovingly scrub grass stains out of new Shabbat slacks, if only I could have those Shabbats with my baby. As this horribly painful realization washed over me, I grabbed his precious baby blanket and tossed it in for a quick load with all his sisters’ and brother’s stuff. Thinking about his little blankey rolling around with Ketziah’s lamb-lovey, 500 pairs of mismatched socks, and summer skirts and tee-shirts brought such comfort to me. It re-affirmed to me that he was a part of me, of us. I might never fold tiny clothes for him, but he was ours just the same. This was the only laundry I’ll ever wash for him. Folding it and squeezing the scented softness to my nose, I thought my heart would break in half with longing.
We chose a rainbow as the symbol for Joshua’s memorial service. A rainbow represents so many things – hope, promise, and trust, not to mention joy and celebration. These past several days have impacted me deeply as I’ve begun to finally realize that the truth of God’s Word cannot be affected by how I feel. It took me long enough, I suppose. My negative emotions change nothing He has said. And though this would seem to push me away from God, it’s actually pressed me in much deeper. I’ve found a thread of hope and trust that I didn’t know existed, and oh how much strength that tiny thread holds! It takes almost no effort to come up with a quick mental list of Scriptures and promises I’ve memorized and quoted to myself my whole life. But when I really NEED those promises to come through for me and the dark reality of this world threatens to suck all the hope-filled air out of my lungs, who am I going to believe? My own faulty reasoning? My extremely limited experiences?
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.”
“No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say again, rejoice.”
My baby died and I feel heartbroken. But God foreknew every moment I would cry over my beloved Joshua. Sorrow doesn’t change who He is, praise Him. God is not limited or changed by my emotions. I can’t even put into words how much a comfort His steadfastness in spite of my lacking the feeling of its truth is. I fear I have depended far too much on my feelings and experiences dictating not only my praise but my trust in the Lord. It took the loss of something dear to force me to look honestly at how little I’ve believed His own words. Who knows how long the process of grief will last? There have been and will continue to be lots of questions and wonderings in the days and months to come. There will likely always be a sharpness when I remember this baby’s short life. The biggest and most obvious question is WHY? It’s part of the healing to face these thoughts and then realize that I probably will never know what caused something like this to happen. I have to ultimately be okay with that. I trust my loving Father that if there is sin in my life keeping from receiving a blessing, He will show me. He will not cruelly make me guess if I’m doing something wrong – He’s my Abba and will reveal what I need to know when I need to know it. I know that the testing of my faith will produce endurance. Yahweh holds me close to Him even in the scourging of my heart. My faith is the substance of all the life I hope for and will experience in Him – both now and in eternity. Sadness only makes the joy more complete.
Before burial, as a family we anointed Joshua’s tiny body with oils of frankincense and myrrh. As we wrapped him in gauze and placed him in his itty-bitty casket, I felt such a tremendous appreciation and honor for life itself. How many thousands of precious bodies like Joshua’s are thrown out in the hazardous waste bins never to be acknowledged as children, let alone grieved? Life is a priceless gift, one never to be wasted. As I looked around the room at my beautiful children grieving for their baby brother and talking about what they wished and dreamed for him, I was filled to the brim with love so deep I couldn’t breathe. Who am I to be trusted with such treasures? May I never think of them as burdens, but only remember always in the back of my heart the sting of the loss of one of them.
The full experiencing of the joy and celebration aspect of the rainbow is harder to come by, but that’s also a working out of my faith. I trust that God is working this all for my good and this is true right now as much as it will be when my feelings one day are in agreement with His promises. We all had rainbow tinsel bracelets and each of the children had a different rainbow-colored pompom to wave as we said goodbye. We all wore bright colors and blew bubbles over Joshua’s grave. The bubbles were such a perfect reminder of the innocence and beauty of childhood. I wanted them at the baby’s burial because the sheer joy and giggles they produce in all my children during their seconds-long flight into the sky is the perfect reminder that our lives are a mere breath. In essence, compared to eternity, they are no longer than Joshua’s. Life is so incredibly fragile, and then we’re home forever. I find myself wanting to squeeze every drop of this experience into my mouth as a sweet nectar of LIFE – good and bad, painful and pleasing, it’s all possible because we are alive both today and forever.
As my heart struggles with reasoning and groping through this valley, I remember two things. The first is that during a significant prayer time only a few weeks ago, the Lord gave me a picture of going into a deep, dark mineshaft. I was headed straight into darkness, but as I looked at this mountain I was rolling into (for God is the One driving the mine cart) I could not see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” I was a little concerned, but Holy Spirit impressed on my heart that I was here to dig for treasures. Even in the darkest, blackest night, He wants me to dig in the rocks to get the gemstones He has prepared for me. As painful as it is, experiencing the death of my baby is already yielding a harvest of diamonds. These are the precious jewels whose worth is far beyond what I could measure. This is the refining furnace for my soul. The second thing I meditate upon is the fact that it’s okay to not have words. In fact, silence is probably good for me right now. There are times to cry out to God, and I’ve done this many times and often in the past. But that’s not my primary response right now. I have a much deeper need to be still. “My soul waits in silence for God alone; my salvation comes from Him.” Psalm 62:1 Silence because I know I can’t really trust my feelings right now. Silence because I know what He has to say to me is much more needful than my words right now. Silence because there aren’t any words to give voice to what my heart wants to say anyway. Silence because fear would only make me want to defend myself or try to come up with explanations for something that God allowed – end of story. Silence because that’s the place of trust in His nature. Silence because I don’t need to know WHY to experience healing. I just need to know that He IS who He says He is and that my salvation comes from Him. Silence because only then does worship and praise for Him explode out of my heart from a posture of such sincerity and true love for Him that I wonder if I even knew what worship was before this valley of the shadow of death was upon me.