Walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, A Mother's Journey of Child Loss
I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.
If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.
I spent this past week down at our family farm and for a day my dad, my son and I dug through decades of dust and memories in an attempt to rescue items that are of little monetary value but are priceless to us.
My son found my granddaddy’s forge-something we thought might have gone the way of so many old things, hauled off for scrap or sold to the highest bidder. It still had coal in it from the last time he fired it up.
I don’t think any Christmas morning can hold a candle to the excitement and surprise and absolute delight we all felt when the door to an old bedroom was shoved open to reveal this treasure.
Julian is a blacksmith. Skilled with his hands. Patient in drawing out the useful in materials. Just like Granddaddy. I can’t wait for him to fire that forge back up and make something beautiful.
I found remnants of my distant childhood.
Bits of years gone by that had been sent “down home” when the decor or the space in a new house dictated things be passed on to someone who might still be able to use them.
Jars.Oh my!Dozens of jars documenting decades of women putting up summer bounty to provide for lean times in winter.
Old blue Ball jars with rubber gaskets and a metal latch to hold them down along with generations of more modern variations on the same theme brought back memories of shelling peas, snapping beans and scraping every single bit of sweet goodness off cobs of corn.
Even though most visits to the farm included what folks today would call child labor, I never left my grandparents’ home thinking I’d been abused or overworked.
I learned so much from the hardworking, God fearing, frugal, community and family oriented people that lived on those dirt roads!
We have several boxes of beautiful things we found stashed inside that falling down clapboard house.
But my very favorite-the piece that is already in my china cabinet-is my great-grandmother’s whetstone.
I imagine most folks don’t even know what a whetstone is.
But where I come from it’s a time-honored method for sharpening hand-me-down knives that pass from generation to generation.
I have no way of knowing if she got it from someone else or if her hands were the first to draw the knife across its surface. In any event it is worn smooth from decades of use. Honestly, I’m not sure how useful it might still be in providing the necessary friction to sharpen another generation of knives.
It reminded me we all start out a bit rough around the edges.
Youthful pride and exuberance convinces our hearts that we’re invincible and infallible.
But time and experience expose that lie.
I hold the stone my great-grandmother held-the woman who buried more than one child-and I feel the connection with the women of my family. I feel the strength it took to work long hours in the summer sun knowing that if they didn’t their family wouldn’t eat that winter.
I feel the courage required to carry and bear another child when the last few breathed only a few days or a couple of years or were born straight to Heaven.
And the weight of it in my hand reminds me that life can be more than a little heavy sometimes.
It helps my heart hold on to know I come from a long line of survivors.
Most folks want antiques that can fetch a high price or at least an envious look from those who wish they were so fortunate to have them.
I want the things that have passed through the hands and speak to the work of those I’ve loved-the worn down, worn out relics of lives well lived and hearts poured into the next generation.
Someone else might mistake this fist-sized stone for something found on the side of the road but I know its story.
I first shared this last year when I was reflecting on half a decade of living without one of my children beside me. I’ve now had another year to think about why or if I’ll continue to write.
And this year has, in many ways, been one of the most difficult since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. Today marks nine months since my mother joined him. Fresh grief has once again visited my heart.
The whole pandemic thing has wrecked havoc around the world and death fills the airwaves. My family has faced several unexpected changes and we are still trying to sort those.
But I find that writing still brings clarity and comfort to my soul. I still have things to say and I hope what I say still brings some small measure of light, love, life and hope to other hearts.
If someone had said, “Pick any topic to write about”, child loss wouldn’t have been in the first million choices.
No one CHOOSES child loss (Thus the name of the blog: The Life I Didn’t Choose).
But untold numbers of parents EXPERIENCE it every year. This very day, parents somewhere got a knock on the door or a phone call or sat next to a hospital bed as life slipped slowly from their child’s tired body.
Since I was already journaling and had walked this Valley for nearly a year and a half, it dawned on me that the ramblings I’d put down might be helpful to another heart. So I started THIS blog in September, 2015.
I think it was somewhere around two months from Dominic’s departure when my heart realized life was moving forward whether I granted permission or not.
Not only folks on the fringes and the “bigger world out there” but close by-in my own family, my own circle of intimate friends-people were making plans, having birthdays, going places and doing things.
Today is thirty-six years since we said, “I do” and had absolutely NO idea what that would look like.
I first shared this a few years ago on our anniversary because I wanted other bereaved parents to know that while it is hard (and isn’t marriage always hard?), it is not impossible for a marriage to survive child loss.
We are definitely not the perfect couple. We fuss and we struggle. We sometimes retreat into our own separate worlds as we process some new aspect of living this earthly life without one of our children.
But we have learned that we are stronger together and that we are willing to do the work necessary to stay that way.
Today my husband and I celebrate 33 years of marriage.
Our thirtieth anniversary was a mere two months after we buried our son.
Here’s the last “before” anniversary photo (2013)-unfeigned smiles, genuine joy, excitement to have made it that far: