She lost two children during her lifetime, one in infancy and a two-year-old. I imagine her sitting there, looking out the window and wondering what they’d be like all grown up, her heart torn to pieces. She would never know, but the thought keeps coming back to tease her, images of little girls in ruffled dresses running down the hall.
What would they look like? How tall would they be? It’s the wondering that gets her every time. It’s the mirror life of what could have been—a house full of giggling girls, but now there was just one. Only one.
My mother tells me stories about this woman I never knew—my great-grandmother, and how she lost two children and a husband by midlife. She grieved hard for the children, especially the two-year-old who died after having what they suspected was meningitis. She eventually remarried, but only one daughter of three lived, my grandmother. Back then, the pain of losing a child was rampant–too many birth complications, too many illnesses without medications.
It puzzled me how these women got through the pain, how they accepted it. I wondered what sustained them through the hard days, the mountains of clothes to wash by hand, the chickens to feed, the bare-footed children running wildly through the yard. Maybe it wasn’t acceptance at all—maybe it was just grit.
My mother once asked my great-grandmother how she got through it all—the pain and loss of two children and a husband. She replied,
You just do the best you can.
How do you explain such heartbreak to a young woman fresh to the complexities of adult life, raising her first baby, full of so much idealism? You can’t explain the tangled web of grief, so you speak the truth about all our suffering in life:
You do the best you can.
When I was a child, I would dash across the street to the small graveyard after church and run wild between broken tombstones, smoothed over by time and weather. It was warm and bright and the cemetery didn’t seem sad, only a familiar place full of stone and grass and laughing children. Grief was unfathomable at that age, like so many bad things.
I didn’t understand that it could pull you to your knees as you sobbed or that it could physically crush you in pain. I could never understand how my great-grandmother got through those long days of sadness over an empty bed or the missing patter of feet she would never hear.
I know now. No longer am I the little girl running through the cemetery unaware. Now I see every grave and know the sorrow that must have accompanied it.
The question isn’t whether we will suffer, the question is how do we accept the brokenness in our life story?
How do we accept the suffering written all over the human story?
I think of the good women who have gone before, burying their children and working the land and understanding that to live this life is privilege and pain. There are no easy rides, fast passes or get-out-of-jail-free cards here.
There is only Christ and his grace and mercy.
There is only accepting His will as Christ did in the Garden.
As James Macdonald puts it,
We accept what He allows in order to reap the good.”
When Jesus faced suffering head-on at Gethsemane, he anguished through the night, pleading to have this cup taken from him. He was pleading for his life, but he was also praying to accept the suffering, saying Not my will, but yours.
Through the dark night he knew the truth about God, that his unchanging nature and promises will not alter, not on the cross, not in the tomb and not for the rest of eternity. Jesus accepted what God allowed in order to reap the good.
He accepted the pain and suffering in order to save us from ourselves.
Like Christ, someday we will find ourselves suffering and pleading for something different than what we’ve been given in our life.
But in our suffering we make this choice: We either accept this pain or we spend the rest of our lives wrestling with it.
All of us are scarred and scared. What we do with those scars and fears are what matters.
Are we God-wrestlers limping through life or Christ-adorers accepting this brokenness?
Some of us walk with a limp because we’ve finally accepted this life, brokenness and all. Our scars make us human.
As I look out of the window of Silas’s old bedroom, fleeting thoughts fill my mind: I wonder what Silas looks like now. I wonder how life might have been different if my son had lived. I wonder what his voice sounds like, not the baby laughter I once heard, but the voice of a boy.
But this is a life I will never get to live. It is a mirror life of choices not made and suffering never planned for.
Yet I feel the freedom of letting go, of accepting what He allows, even though it might not have been what I wanted. Like a train that leaves slowly, I watch my mirror life leave, fading away slowly into the night.
In the end, I do not lose heart because I have resurrection hope,
the very thing that revives all our old dreams.
I have resurrection hope that everything will be made new
because this hope does not fail.