Tomorrow is the 6th time our family is forced to decide what to do on Sarah’s birthday without her, in the middle of our 6th Christmas season without her.
Thankfully, her birthday and this Christmas season are not the cutting of new wounds in our hearts, but more like the pressing of a still tender scar. The passage of time has allowed the experience of these days to shift from the excruciating pain of new sorrow to a throbbing of the deep ache of long sorrow.
The fresh wounds of new sorrow now come less frequently, but more unexpectedly. Not as much on specific dates, in predictable moments, or moments of willingly allowing ourselves to think on and mourn all we miss with her.
These days the sharp edge of new sorrow most often slices unexpectedly, camouflaged within everyday life.
I rarely allow myself to willfully ponder what Sarah would be doing were she here. But as her peers reach and share new milestones the sharp pains of missed experiences are unavoidable. I rejoice with them in each new accomplishment and announcement, but simultaneously my heart is pierced by the new sorrow of her absence in those specific moments.
Sarah was seventeen years old when she died. She didn’t turn eighteen, she will never be physically present in our earthly lives again, she won’t sit, eat and laugh at the table with us, celebrate holidays with us, graduate high school, attend college, graduate from college, be in her sisters’ weddings, date, get engaged, get married, celebrate the arrival of nieces and nephews and be known by them, or have children of her own. Since she died I have been unavoidably, acutely aware of each of these fully incomprehensible and unforgettable losses, as well as many others.
As a result, one of the largest surprises of grief for me has been experiencing the sharpness of the new sorrow that these long recognized losses still possess. Each time I am confronted by the reality that if Sarah was here she would likely be experiencing at that moment some specific new milestone, I am shocked by the weight and painful newness of the sorrow that the realization delivers.
It seems impossible that a well known loss can arrive years later as fresh hurt and new sorrow, and yet it does. As her friends graduated from high school in 2018, almost a year after she died, we grieved her absence as new sorrow. In 2019, 2020 and 2021 as her sisters got engaged and married, in the midst of the rejoicing there was the sharp pain of new sorrow.
This year Sarah’s friends graduated from college and are getting engaged and married, and her precious first nephew was born. All moments of great rejoicing accompanied by painful gashes of new sorrow.
I’m thankful Sarah’s birthday and Christmas are no longer new sorrows, but instead part of our long sorrow. I intimately know the sorrow these days hold, so they no longer hold the sharp pain of new experiences and daunting unknowns. Instead they are a throbbing of the now well known deep aching of long sorrow.
The bitterness of the pain of missing her sweet presence in our family on these days is ever present, but also familiar and known enough to allow room to more fully experience the sweetness of memories with her, and the hopefulness of our future together.
God has been ever-faithful as He has so graciously carried, sustained and strengthened us over the past five and half years without our child. We are deeply grateful that, though the long sorrow remains, each year seems to possess fewer sharp edges of new sorrow. We are also thankful that through God’s proven faithfulness we have confidence that each sharp new sorrow yet to emerge will invariably be met with His never-failing new mercies, tender compassion, and empowering grace, that have faithfully met every new sorrow already experienced.
If you are journeying behind us on the painful path of child loss, I pray it will encourage your heart to know the long sorrow is a gentler aching than the piercing pain of new sorrow. And if you, like me, have been surprised by the sharpness of the new sorrow that continues to emerge with long anticipated occasions, I hope you will find encouragement in knowing you are not alone.
And together we can find encouragement in knowing that even though new sorrows will continue to emerge until we are reunited with our children, they, too, will gradually merge into our long sorrow and no longer bear the sharp sting of newness they once held.
But may we always find our greatest encouragement and Hope through faith in Jesus Christ. Reminding ourselves that in just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay… For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord... And He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away...
Therefore comfort one another with these words.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
Hebrews 10:37; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18; Revelation 21:4; 22:20-21