Over the past months several families close to us, some close by friendship and others close by blood and friendship, have lost a child, either by disease or tragic events. These recent losses have, of course, triggered memories of children lost in recent years.
In my own journey of loss, today, August 28, is a date that rings true in that it was the birthday of my late wife, Dana. So it seems fitting to share a story from the journey today that might bring encouragement and hope to those who’ve experienced one of the worst heartache’s this world can dish out, the loss of a child.
First, some necessary, and brief, backstory. This blog, A Journey Observed, is the chronicle of my journey of loss and recovery: the loss of Dana that left me feeling that I don’t need to love again, and the recovery that led to actually loving again. Loving again times three, in fact; not only as husband to Jessica but as father to Reade and Rachel…proving that God is not only miraculously redemptive, He’s also funny.
Dana and I didn’t begin thinking family until a few years into marriage. But, a few months after deciding to let nature take its course, instead of getting pregnant, we got breast cancer, which tends to mess up child bearing plans. And just to seal the deal, on our 5-year “all clear” anniversary from breast cancer, and at a time we could still consider a narrow window into parenthood, we learned that Dana would need a hysterectomy.
We grieved the loss of parenthood but eventually embraced our new position in life and, with a few longings here and there, were relatively fine with being the non-parents in our circles. Dana always had a soft spot for the babies and children in those circles, a spot that took on new significance once child rearing was completely out of our picture. She coined the phrase “baby holdies” as in “I need some baby holdies,” capturing the restorative, divine vibe that comes while holding a baby. When knitting became her forte, booties were a “must knit” for any new babies that came along. She certainly carried the nurture gene and I would get a little sad when I thought of her not getting to maximize that gene. To this day one of my favorite pictures of Dana is her displaying two freshly knitted sets of booties for friends pregnant with twins.
Within a few days of Dana’s passing, even before her funeral, I received an email from our good friend Karen Norval. I had known Karen for many years through youth ministry circles and she was serving on InWord’s board of directors at this time. She and Dana were good friends but had not spent a lot of time together. In her email, Karen shared that she had a dream about Dana the previous night. In her dream she saw Dana in heaven and then she wrote, “Barry, there were children everywhere.” Karen is a soulful, thoughtful, discerning person. I take her dreams seriously.
For many years I was comforted by that scene…by Dana getting to experience the joys and fulfillment of nurturing children in ways immeasurably beyond what she could imagine. Of course, it would only be the joys and fulfillment part of nurturing, not the frustrating parts of nurturing…this is heaven, after all.
But I had a specific epiphany (“spepiphany”?) while sitting in church a couple months ago that has melted my heart: I can now picture some faces in that scene of “children everywhere.” I don’t want to presume to know what God has going on for our little ones who’ve gone before us. But when I feel the pain of our friends and family who’ve lost their precious ones, I am comforted by the redemptive circle that is being completed in heaven. I share this in the hopes that it may comfort them, if maybe for just a moment.
In the months we spent in hospice mode, in the shadow of heaven’s gate, we had two very clear moments that reminded us of how thin the veil is between here and There…moments of assurance that all you believe about heaven is true, moments of assurance telling you that you can trust all your instincts and beliefs about hope, that God is indeed communicating with you through unusual means, including dreams.
So it seems that we can take heart in a particular reunion in heaven: children whose lives have been robbed of being raised by their nurturing, loving parents connecting with someone whose life was robbed of getting to nurture and love her own children. It’s God-parenting at the highest level. Literally.
Whether we feel like it or not, we are part of something that’s bigger than what we see.
I leave you with a picture from one of Dana’s scrapbooks, just sent to me by Dana’s mother, my mother-in-law for life, Mama Sue…a little something that might help us picture that particular reunion in heaven. This is Dana showing toddler Buzzin Cara (“beloved cousin”) how to play the harp. Cara, now married to Aaron, is a beautiful woman with two energetic boys of her own.