Within days of Sarah leaving, we as a family began dreading the upcoming Christmas season. We were certain it, combined with Sarah’s December 20th birthday, would be filled with devastatingly hard days. In the months leading up to December we tried to come up with a strategy to somehow reduce the pain of those days, all to no avail. In early December we finally accepted that we could not avoid the coming hard days and the pain they would bring with them. We resolved as a family to make our way through the season one day at a time.
I didn’t really sleep the night before Sarah’s birthday, I was instead reliving the hours leading up to her arrival. I arose early and wrote what had been on my heart through the night watches. I then spent some time reading her baby book and reminiscing, moments accompanied by both smiles and tears. Sophie needed me to take her to run some errands, so much of our afternoon was spent doing that. We were immeasurably blessed at 4:45 when some of our dear church family came to our home to pray with and for us. After they left, a florist delivered a beautiful arrangement from a precious family who also knows the pain of the death of a child/ sibling. After the florist left, a sweet friend showed up at the door with a stack of cards from other friends, acquaintances and strangers sharing their thoughts and prayers with us. Our birthday tradition for each of the girls is family dinner and dessert of their choosing at home. To break away from the sting of that tradition for Sarah’s birthday, Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie requested we go eat dinner at a restaurant instead, which we did. When we got home, Scott and I sat on the couch reading each of the cards that had been delivered by the friend, as well as others that arrived in the mail. What a blessing each card and note was to our aching hearts. The day as a whole was very reminiscent of the days immediately after Sarah’s departure. It was a day marked by a clear ebb and flow of pain and tangible grace. Multiple moments of stark heart wrenching reality followed by clear outpourings of God’s grace through the touch of His people, we were so richly blessed by our brothers and sisters in Christ this day.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we decided to push through our family traditions with the exception of Christmas stockings. The girls did not have strong feelings about what to do with stockings this year, so I elected to not get them out of storage. Whenever they come out again, they will all be out, Sarah’s included. But this year I didn’t think my shattered heart could withstand seeing hers alone and empty Christmas morning, so we had Christmas bags instead, and it was just fine. We played lots of games Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, both days being full of moments of special family time and laughter as well as moments of heart crushing anguish. Two more days characterized by the ebb and flow of pain and grace. Grace evidenced in special moments of love and joy with family, times which now more than ever, we do not take for granted. But more importantly we were also aware of the grace which we are celebrating, the coming of our Lord and Savior. The very reason we have confident hope we will soon see Sarah again.
Now that we have survived those dreaded “hard days”, more of the big “firsts” without Sarah, I am realizing for me it’s better to think in terms of moments rather than days. There were many exceedingly hard and painful moments within those dreaded days, but there were also moments where God’s grace and provision were palpable. There were moments of laughter and joy interspersed with moments of the overwhelming, indescribable acute pain of longing for our child. The reality is those daunting days we had dreaded for so long were not all that different from all the other days since June 8th, 2017. Each day has held moments of joy and pain, sometimes the balance tips to one side or the other, but both are always present. While it would have been very easy for the balance of these particular days to tip fully to pain, and there certainly was much pain, through fervent prayer and God’s grace there were also many moments of joy, laughter, love and peace.
The daunting days and dates may hold more ripe cumulative opportunities for piercing pain, but they lack the element of surprise. I expected them to be dreadful, and while they were in many ways dreadful, the depth of pain was not new or surprising. It was the same deep indescribable pain I have felt in waves regularly for months. In fact, in some ways I may actually struggle more when I am caught off guard on an otherwise nonsignificant day or date by an unexpected wave of the same pain. I was hit by such a wave when we took Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie ice skating a few days after Christmas. After we had been there for a little while and were enjoying our time together, a man came out to the center of the rink with his daughter. He was bald like Scott and she had brunette hair much like Sarah’s. They remained in the center of the rink for the majority of our time there. Seeing them together was like a living flashback of Scott playing with Sarah. Each time I passed them hugging and laughing together it was like the twisting of a dagger in my heart. I found myself skating faster and faster, partially to avoid focusing on them and partially to ensure the streams of tears now running down my face would dry before they were noticed.
I was hit by another such wave the next day when the girls and I were sitting in a waiting area near another mother and daughter. The mother looked our direction, but not at anyone specifically, and asked if the girls were three sisters. I attempted to change the subject but she asked again, this time looking directly at me, “so you have three girls?” I recognized the potential string of questions probably getting ready to ensue so I attempted to subvert them by answering candidly, “I have four daughters but we lost one in an accident.” She carried on with the conversation as if nothing out of the ordinary had been spoken, but my heart was rent, every ounce of energy I had was refocused into trying to hold back the wall of tears rising in my eyes. Those are just the two most recent among many unexpected waves of pain. Perhaps one or both are unrelatable in the absence of having lost your child, but for me both bore a similar sting to many of the stings of the dreaded days. As I write this I am reminded there is another moment that my heart is pierced on a daily basis, and that is bedtime. Bedtime brings a nightly aching of my arms as I long to hug my child and tell her how much I love her. Each night finds me seeking the balm of His Word as I go to bed missing that treasured nightly ritual of seventeen and a half years.
I share all of that to say, thinking in terms of moments rather than days casts out fear and brings hope. There are still many “firsts” to be trudged through without Sarah, and after all of them are completed, there will be the entire collections of “seconds” and then “thirds” without Sarah. Thinking of my time in moments rather than days guards my heart from despair. It reminds me that though each day continues to bring indescribably hard and painful moments, those moments will continue to be flanked by moments where joy and peace dominate. Each day will continue to have the ebb and flow of pain and grace. In the moments that breathtaking pain dominates I can remind myself it is momentary, and He will soon provide moments dominated again by joy and peace. No day, no matter how excruciatingly painful, is ever void of His grace and mercy. As I think of my days in terms of moments, I can acknowledge the often consuming pain in the midst of the painful moments, but cling to the hope that with the certainty of the ocean tides, a fresh wave of grace is coming any moment now.
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 [NASB]
“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:21-24 [NASB]