My children know what none their age should have to: that babies do not always move, and breathe, and cry, and come home from the hospital. It took them a while to grasp this. I remember, painfully, the day my daughter asked me why I was sad. I told her it was because I missed Simon. She tilted her head at me, small face alight with hope, and said, “But we can go to the hospital and see him, and then you’ll be happy again, right, Mom?” Once she announced cheerily that we would “go and get Simon in a few minutes.” And each time, many times over, I had to meet three pairs of shining, trustful, wistful eyes with the terrible finality of what we lost. Heaven is real, I believe, but it is a long time coming. My children know this.
I see that knowledge reflected in the way they treasure their new baby sister. They cherish her. I knew they would love any new baby we brought into our family—but there has been a special sweetness in watching them soak up every second of her babyhood. They want to talk to her; to pat her silken curls; to show her their toys. They sing her their own favorite lullabies and read her books, holding them up for her to see. Her big sister is anxious for Petunia to fix on a favorite color. They clamor to help me put her down for naps and wake her up afterwards. (Waking up, with three eager noisy friends peering into your bed, is easier than falling asleep). My children know that these delights are not guaranteed. They waited for this; it was stolen from them before; they don’t take it for granted now.
Baby Petunia does not replace Simon. That was no part of our intent in pursuing adoption—it would be horribly unfair to both children. They are each beloved in their own right, but the tragic loss of Simon deepens our gratitude for the treasure that is our sweet little Petunia. Counting her toes, catching her smile, stroking the curl of her ear: these things are even more precious because we know what it is like to miss them. And one of the things that touches my heart the most is watching my oldest three being big brothers and sister to this baby they longed to love.
My six-year-old, loose tooth sticking out of his smile, bends over the bouncy seat and croons to Petunia. “I’m watching over my baby,” he says, proudly. My eight-year-old tells the baby all about baseball and asks if she likes the Cardinals (she’d better). He also reads books to her, displaying the pictures for her perusal and ending with a teaser for the chapter he’ll read tomorrow. My four-year-old keeps baby entertainment and endearments at the ready. I asked her to talk to Petunia for a few minutes and she darted to the bouncy seat, exclaiming, “Ohhhh, baby, I LOVE you, my little love! You’re so full of IDEAS!”
I watch all this with a joy that reminds me of the progress of a small spring stream, cool and life-giving, curling and bubbling among the rocks. It eases and softens my heart, touching me with hope. But loss also runs in that stream, and always will. I rejoice in Petunia and I miss Simon–not as a comparison, but as two facts that live together forever. I delight in my older children’s delight in their sister, and I grieve that they didn’t get to love on Simon, too. I wish we could have both babies, at once, but we can’t. Life is a tangle of sorrows and joys. Gladness is laced with the knowledge that many things are broken. I am very aware now that many of us walk wounded and scarred, with hurts this world will not see wholly healed.
I think of this as I post pictures of Petunia. I thought of it when I announced the incredible gift of her arrival. I know that some people may read about these joys from the thick of their own pain, and I know how alienating that can sometimes feel. In the wake of Simon’s death, I unsubscribed from a lot of blogs. I slipped away from social media. The view that those windows offered felt one-sided: all happiness and accomplishment while my own life had shrieked to a halt. The blogs I kept reading were those that captured a more complex and nuanced picture of the world. They rejoiced with an awareness that others might be hurting, and they mourned while acknowledging that was not the last word. And sometimes they just talked about books, or offered gluten-free muffin recipes, without making those things markers of a perfectly curated life.
I want to live, and write, with a tone that leaves room for darkness and light, laughter and tears, doubt and hope. I don’t want to be a person whose happiness makes the hurting feel excluded. Because I know what it feels like to receive the worst news in the world, and you don’t ever go back to being the same person who walked into that room. Even when I’m announcing good news, I remember. I know that there may be people reading who are still waiting for anything good to come from their own rubble. And there may be people reading whose wreckage is so recent that it isn’t yet time to even think about the future–to do anything but hurt. Sunny pictures of my children might be like wormwood. That’s okay; I get it. If I could say just one thing to every aching soul, it would be this: there is room for you. There is room for your experience, your pain, your response. You are not excluded; you don’t have to slink away and keep your hurt to yourself. The world is not reserved only for the children of good fortune. Your sorrow is part of what is common to man (and woman). There is room for you here, among friends and in books and music and art and the green, breathing world.
If you are hurting today, I wish for you a community where there is room for you. And if you are a person looking on, sadly and helplessly, at the sufferings of friends, I would say this: make room. Be a safe place. Let your loved ones know that their experience, whatever it is, is seen and not silenced. Bear it with them. Welcome them in, pain and all, ugly brokenness and all. Be that community for them.
These are just words on a page, but I hope they carry the flavor of that kind of community–the kind with room for the intertwined emotions of the human heart. I am learning to make that room in my own life day by day. I help small eager hands cradle a beloved baby sister, and I look into solemn eyes that only saw their baby brother once. We live with our tangle of sorrow and joy, smiles and tears, and try to make room for it all.
Photo credit: First image by the amazingly talented Katie Fenska. All other images mine.