I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth. – Psalms, Chapter 40
When my husband and I envisioned this year’s Christmas as our families sat around the tree opening gifts last year, we imagined two little six-month old babies crying for everyone’s attention. Three days earlier, on December 22, I heard a heartbeat for the first time. Two days later, on Christmas Eve, we found out we were having twins. That day, when my in-laws arrived at our place, we surprised them with pictures of our first ultrasound photos. On Christmas Day, as our families gathered around the tree, I remember so much joy and excitement in our home that if those feelings were tangible items our house would have burst. Everyone was so happy. And as we all imagined what the following year would look like, we pictured a much fuller house, crowded that much more by baby gear all over our small living and dining area. But limited space wouldn’t matter. Everyone would want to spend Christmas with us because of our two little babies.
Sadly, this year’s Christmas didn’t look at all like what we had imagined. Instead, as I sat in our living room a few nights ago taking in the scene in front of me – my two year-old niece, Blessing, opening her gifts and everyone else relaxing in their place – I couldn’t help but feel tremendously empty. Empty because my sweet angels weren’t with us this Christmas. Empty because every time I held my niece in my arms I wished so badly I was holding my girls. Empty because our house wasn’t bursting with the same joy and excitement as it was last year.
And yet, curiously, I also felt full. Full of endless, cup-overflowing love and support. Full because there is no denying that we have had so much to be grateful for this year despite our loss. Full of family and friends who have walked alongside us on this painful journey. Full of people sending us caring messages online. Full of random kindnesses like my firm sending us groceries when we got home from the hospital and a border official at customs unexpectedly mourning with us and showing us compassion at the airport on our way to escape for a couple of weeks a month after we lost our girls. Full of the laughs and giggles of little ones like my niece, Blessing, who could never replace my daughters, but fill my heart with an unspeakable kind of joy nonetheless.
I’m realizing more and more each day that grief is neither black nor white. It’s not here one minute and then gone the next. Instead, as is true of life generally, grief is … well, complicated. It’s a tangled web. It’s a spiraled mess. I think of the disorderly and colourful circles and lines, zigs and zags that my niece drew for me a few days ago and can’t help but feel that the seemingly senseless piece of art she made was symbolic of how complex life here on earth can be. It’s only later when we get older that we learn to draw more neatly and colour inside the lines. Maybe it’s when we get older, too, that we trick ourselves into thinking that life is more neat and tidy than it actually is.
I’m realizing more and more each day that grief is neither black nor white. It’s not here one minute and then gone the next. Instead, as is true of life generally, grief is … well, complicated. It’s a tangled web. It’s a spiraled mess.
I’ve learned that time does a funny thing, too, when you lose someone. You realize that it isn’t linear at all. Oftentimes, the past and present collide and you find yourself living in two worlds at the same time. There’s utter despair and flickers of hope. There are rays of light and complete darkness. There is the heaviness of crying and the levity of laughing. There’s profound emptiness and overwhelming fullness, too. When you lose someone you love, it’s like learning to walk all over again – this time, walking in two realities all at once. Here on earth, you get both good and evil (Genesis 2:17).
It has taken me nine long months since losing my babies to touch this place: acceptance. I say ‘touch’ and not ‘reach’ because like I just finished saying, grief is complicated. I don’t think there is a final destination. You touch denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance all the time. Maybe even all at once at certain moments in your life. You go back and forth and there again. You learn to dance the complicated dance of grief.
In many ways since losing our babies, I feel like I have been pregnant again these last nine months. Pregnant with crushing disappointment and sadness, pregnant with loneliness and despair, pregnant with endless tears. And it has taken these nine months of carrying this enormous burden for me to finally feel like I have given birth to something new: another normal. Another reality. A reality where I accept what has happened to me and my husband; a reality where we wait impatiently to be reunited with our girls; a reality where we learn to dance this complicated dance of grief; a reality where I can honour my babies and live again; a reality where I feel empty and full all at once.
On this Christmas, on what would have been their first, our babies were fast asleep. Sleeping peacefully not in their cribs, but sleeping in Jesus. For Adventists like me, death is nothing but a deep sleep, a sleep from which you awaken at the second coming of Christ (Ecclesiastes 9:5a; Psalm 146:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 20:6). Although some may consider this to be a sad way of looking at death (not as romantic as believing that loved ones go straight to heaven when they pass away), for me what this means is that our daughters haven’t been looking down on us from heaven seeing how much pain we have been in. They haven’t seen mommy cry herself to sleep at night or see mommy aching for them and hurting over them. They haven’t seen daddy shed tears before going to work in the morning. They haven’t seen the rest of their family broken over them. In other words, they don’t know the feeling of being separated from us. And if there is anything I want to keep from my children, it is the painful knowledge and experience of being separated from the ones they love.
For the time being, while I sojourn here, my girls live on in my imagination. I imagine the sound of their voices, the texture of their hair, the softness of their skin. I imagine them running around the house chasing my husband with glee. I imagine them embracing me with their little arms and giving me wet kisses. I imagine us tucking them in bed at night and being woken up by them jumping on us in the morning. It’s not enough to imagine my children – it’s not fair, but it’s all we have here. It’s what we have for now. So I wrap that imagination up in hope that one day, some day, I will find Jesus carrying them in each arm, walking up to me and my husband, and handing them over to us in a way that lets us know This is it, this is permanent; you’re never losing them ever again. And I imagine that emptiness fade away into nothing.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. – 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 4
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