Nancy Guthrie begins her new book, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow, by telling readers that she is facing the 10th anniversary of her infant daughter’s death. This anniversary will, at some point, be followed by the 10th anniversary of her infant son’s death. Hope and Gabe are their names. Lovely names, I think, especially the latter.
Nancy writes this about the first impending anniversary: “It feels like an ever-widening chasm as the years take me further away from her, even as they bring me closer to her.”
I so appreciate this thought, because when I think about how it will feel to not have held Gabe or seen him or heard him laugh for a decade, I panic and push the thought away. One day at a time, I tell myself, even though I have an idea of what the passage of time does to memory. It’s been more than three decades since my father died. I have no recollection of his voice and only the vaguest recollection of his manner. He is a stranger to me. One I look forward to meeting someday.
Obviously losing a child as a 43 year old mother is a completely different experience. Gabriel grew in my body and nursed at my breasts. I held him and soothed him and nurtured him with every ounce of my being year after year after year. I also died with him on March 28, 2008. Only I have to keep on living.
I’m quite sure Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow is going to be a helpful book, because it begins honestly and without platitudes. And because Nancy wrote to me after reading my last essay about my Gabe. She shared her story with me and told me about her hopes for this project. Thank you Nancy for remembering to send the finished product. I so appreciate it!
I may or may not refer to this book again. For now, I’d like to quote a passage from the introduction that stopped me in my tracks. I read it aloud to my husband.
I don’t know what has brought sorrow into your life. Maybe you, too, have stood by a grave and said good-bye. Or maybe you have had to bury your dreams for a future with someone you love or your plans for doing something you have longed to do. Perhaps circumstances have forced you to leave behind a position you thought you were made for or come to terms with a frightening financial problem or a painful medical condition. Perhaps you live with ongoing sorrow over a child who has turned away from you or from faith. Maybe you are living with regret over the sorrow brought into your life by your own bad choices, or maybe you are living with resentment over the sorrow brought into your life by what someone else has done.
I read this to Jeff because it is a list of possibilities and we are living all of them simultaneously. It made me realize that our lives are a kind of miracle. People can live through anything. I know that now. What happens in the wake of anything though is that each of us is faced with a choice. Every day, and often many times a day in multiple and varied situations, we are offered the choice to live rather than to merely exist.
Today Jeff and I went to church and worshiped. With the fullness of our beings we offered ourselves up to God. At the singing of the recessional hymn, I glanced down to my right to see my husband seated on the pew in pain, as always, but with eyes closed, hands upturned, a slight smile on his face—as always.
We exchanged pleasantries with our fellow congregants for a long time afterwards. An executive sought me out to tell me that with 32 forced retirements at his organization, there may be a spot for me. Other people’s pain could mean relief for mine.
Next there was a Starbucks run and a stroll through the local farmers market, where we bought a lunch of imported salami and provolone, olive bread, homemade sun-dried tomatoes and organic vegetables.
After that came our weekly visit to the cemetery to water the pansies—yellow, gold and white—and to tell Gabe how sorry I am for everything.
One day I was there fussing over the grave, saying I was sorry for this or that or something else entirely when I had an epiphany. I realized that my son is dead and I’m still fussing over him. How bad of a mother could I have been?
A therapist I saw briefly last year said it is easier for me to blame myself than to acknowledge that Gabe did this. She’s right, of course, even though, ultimately no one is to blame.
Going to the cemetery comforts me. It helps me to live. The same therapist, who buried a first-born son herself, said this is because the only way we mothers have left to care for our dead children is to take care of their graves. A friend of mine went every day for years. Before you dismiss such morbidity, you should know that The Compassionate Friends estimates that 19 percent of parents have buried a child. That’s 2-in-10.
After the cemetery, we stopped at the Sprint store to pick out a new phone for me, one with internet access. If I weren’t living, I wouldn’t care enough about what’s going on in the world to be a news junkie again.
At home, Jeff set about his daily ritual of beautifying my parents’ yard. Everything he does, he does with passion and precision. Everything. Still.
Our lives are tragic. They are also a miracle of sorts. By the power of the Holy Spirit, three things animate this miracle: family, faith and love. Without these, I would have no hope.