Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Faith not built on circumstances

I remember sitting in the NICU/PICU waiting room the day after we found out that Abigail would not live. I had been pumping colostrum for her every few hours ever since she was born. Now I knew that she would never get to have it. Sitting there in that room full of people I didn't know, I felt my milk let down for the first time since she was born. My other children were playing a video game a few feet away, and my parents were standing with them. I sat there alone, feeling a very physical tie to my newborn baby girl. I wanted to hold her in my arms. I wanted to let her nurse. I wanted her to just live. I felt invisible as I sat there and cried. Why couldn't I shout to all these people in this room that my baby was going to die? I didn't want pity. I just wanted everyone to know...to care. I wanted them to think about her. Does that make sense?

Our children had been staying with some friends because we couldn't take them to visit Abigail since it was cold/flu season. But once the doctors knew Abigail was not going to make it, they told us we could bring her brothers and sister to meet her. We brought them into her little room and let them all see her and touch her. Joshua got to hold her for a little bit. Here is her swollen foot against his hand.

We explained to them that she wouldn't be coming home. It was so hard. They needed to understand that there was nothing more to be done for their baby sister, but they couldn't understand it. Couldn't the doctors keep trying? Couldn't they give her a bandaid?

Joshua, the oldest, was only 5. He had a basic understanding of death, having seen dead bugs and such. He realized that it was final. But he couldn't understand why a baby would die. Daniel was 3, and he really just wasn't very interested in the new baby. He never did really grieve her at all. Rachael had just turned 2 the month before. She was so excited about having a little sister. She didn't understand death at all. For weeks after Abigail passed away, she would come to me and say, "Mommy, wanna go see baby sister. I get my coat, ok?" I had to keep explaining to her that we could not see her again. I had to hold her as she cried. She just thought I was saying no. She couldn't understand that Abigail was actually gone.

The grief counselors at Egleston (Children's Healthcare of Atlanta) had explained to us that the children would have to go through the grieving process over and over again as they grew. They would reach developmental levels that would cause them to reevaluate their whole understanding of death, and they would have to grieve again. I was thankful that they had prepared us for this, but nothing prepared me for Joshua's question a year after Abigail had passed away.

We were driving to a friend's house, and I looked back and noticed that Joshua had tears in his eyes. I asked him what was wrong. There was a look of accusation in his eyes as he said, "Mama, I remember you telling me that if Abigail was born before Christmas she might not live. Why did you let them take her out of your belly? You knew she could die!" Earlier in my pregnancy, I had been trying to give him a frame of reference for when she would be born. I had told him it would be after Thanksgiving, after Christmas, and after New Years. He had asked why it had to be so long, and I had explained to him that she needed time to develop and if she came too early she might not live.

So now he wanted to know why I had let the doctors take her early. He thought I had not protected her the way I should have. I was prepared for all the questions about death. I was prepared when Joshua would walk up to perfect strangers in restaurants and tell them that his baby sister had just died. I was prepared for their not knowing what to say. I was prepared for nightly tears on Rachael's pillow. I was prepared for Daniel's apparent lack of concern about it all. But knowing that my precious little boy was grappling with the idea that his mama had caused his sister to die...it caught my breath. I had to swallow away the choking feeling in my throat. I had to blink back the tears. I had to stop the car.

Now Joshua was 6 years old. I explained it all to him all over again. Abigail was very sick in my belly. She was bleeding, and they had to get her out to try to save her. She would have died much sooner if they hadn't done it. They did everything they could do to save her.

"Well why didn't God heal her? We all prayed for her so much!" I took a deep breath. I asked God how I was supposed to explain this to him when I wasn't sure I understood it myself. I told Joshua that God had a plan for Abigail's life. His plan had been for Abigail to live a short life, but we had been so blessed by it. I told him how I had been able to minister to other women whose babies had died. I had been able to share the hope and peace that God can give in times of crisis. He began to grow into an understanding of how we can pray for God's will to be done and for His name to be exalted even when we don't get what we want. His understanding of God grew away from the idea of some genie who grants wishes when we pray. He also began to learn to trust that God's ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. It was the foundation of a faith not built on circumstances, and for that I can never be grateful enough.

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