The new year looms. I've never been much of a fan of new year's celebrations. I'd rather my whole family stay in, lights out at 8, rise early to greet the new year at daybreak, embracing the possibility. But we are surrounded by youth in this house and getting dressed up, joining friends is fun and full of anticipation. I wouldn't begrudge them the hope of a new year. They've graciously and gracefully navigated challenge beyond their years, wiser than their peers, but still innocent and lovely. I love who these children of mine are, but I wonder if there would be a difference if Phoebe still walked with them. There is so much we don't say to each other. We've learned a new language that carries weight and heart without words ...we urge each other onward ...we choose forward without forgetting her. This Christmas season was full of reflection, taking stock and recognizing the gift of who we've become as a family after our shattering loss. We are survivors because of each other, because of the family we are. The greatest earthly gift we could hope for.
For years, even as a young child, I looked to other families and wished my own was more like this one or that one. I grew up with a good bit of chaos and no extended family; I wanted joyful busyness with lots of people coming and going. An image took hold in my heart and mind, and it was my quest for a long time to build that family of my own. I took examples and emulated this or that of people I've loved and admired. But their families were never mine, as warmly hospitable and inclusive they may have been, or continue to be.
Our family is our own, separate and distinct from others. I see it now for who we are today, what we value, how we treat others ...and I am proud of each one. It's been a long struggle, day to day, to carry forward what my husband and I started nearly three decades ago. Phoebe's death ruptured us and might have destroyed us, seriously, as such a thing does many, many families. We felt destroyed, smashed to the tiniest fragmented pieces. Fragment by fragment we began to rebuild, but only after learning again how to breath ...sounds so simple, but it needed relearning. Truly at the core is our faith, which salvaged the wreckage. And God works in our family every day. I try to see the graces sent our way. I wonder how many I miss? I wouldn't want our family to be any different than it is, and know no other that I strive to be more like.
Christmas cards come in, and the kids open them, giggling at their friends, happy to see them captured for a card that we can post next to others in our home. Sometimes they chatter about having our own done; they've even gotten all dressed for the pose. But none of us push it, none of us want to take that picture without Phoebe. We are joyful, but we are not whole. We are together, but missing one. We are hopeful, but sorrow begs. Still.
As the world has moved on, even forgotten, remembering her is part of who we are, part of our story, our script. The calendar will turn another page, into another month ...another year. We march on. You might not even know, unless we told you, and we are weary of the telling ...because it's not a story that can be understood really, unless you've lived it. And it's not a story any one of us wants you to ever understand ...its simply too horrible and we pray it happens to no one else. And it happens often enough that time and heart goes to tending parents so new to loss, blind with pain. Whether they know it or not, God works in them, through them. That's the bittersweet, hard to grasp ...that God's plan remains at work, even in the most wretched of pain. We remain present as best we can, mostly wordless, to assure them they have another shot at living...in time ...even if that seems impossible, or maybe even undesired. It's a long road to travel, lifelong. Knowing there are others who are travelling too makes a it bit more bearable at times.
I think of the journey giving example to us all that began in a manger. Christ's journey from birth to death, in human form, gives us contemplation. It was not an easy path. Accompanied by His mother, she bore the weight of it too. Why would I expect my travelling through this life to be different? Together, they taught us the beauty and value of suffering ...real, true suffering. Keeping my eyes on them steadies me and lightens my loss, if only for a moment.
Gathered at Bethlehem, the holy family, infant Jesus, drew people from near and far. The scene is sweet, satisfying, worthy of our gaze, our rest. I go there a lot, to Bethlehem. It's where I like to believe Phoebe is, with the holiest of families. I can turn the page of our calendar, welcome the new year knowing she is safe with the Word made flesh. I consider what the new year might be like, but I don't expect magic with all sorts of superlatives clinging to events and experiences. It's another year without Phoebe, but another year closer to reunion with her ...and that lifts my heart, without rushing the days.
Please pray for all the families who have lost a child this past year. They need every prayer possible.
May you found peace and grace woven through each of your days this new year.