The Melody of my Grief

In fragile grief moments, I find it best to be alone.

To weep. To think. To remember. To pray. To just “be”.

And when nothing else seems to release the emotional pressure building up inside my heart, the Lord sends a song. Music is the safety valve to my sadness. While I don’t understand the mystery that connects a sound wave to my soul, I know it’s real because I’ve experienced it.

Where words fail, music speaks. But take a profound word joined with a beautiful melody and it creates really extra powerful stuff.

One song in particular that has been a lifeline for me is an old hymn by a gentleman named Horatio Spafford, titled “When Peace Like A River”, though it’s more widely recognized as “It Is Well”. The abridged story behind the song goes like this:

He lost many of his investments in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
His wife’s health took a turn for the worse, so he thought a European cruise would be therapeutic for their family.
He arranged for his beloved Anna and their four children to travel to England to connect with their dear friend Dwight L. Moody, but a last minute business situation came up, so he sent them on ahead, planning to join them a little later.
Disaster struck again when the ship encountered a terrible storm, dragging all 307 passengers into the water. Anna was one of the 81 survivors. All four of their children drowned.
When Horatio heard news of the unthinkable tragedy, he immediately boarded a ship to reunite with Anna. As he was passing over the ocean at the site of the wreck, the words to this hymn flowed into his heart and mind.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Lest this blest assurance control:
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And has shed his own blood for my soul.

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross,
And I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day
When my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound
And the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

These beautiful melodic words are salve to my hurting heart. They draw my attention to Jesus, the One for whom these lyrics were written. They remind me that whatever my circumstances hold, I can declare that my soul is well, because Jesus has ultimately and forever rescued me. So now, even in my deep sadness, I can have hope. And peace. And reassurance that one day all things will be made well.

It’s also sobering to think that some day my children will face trials of their own. It’s my earnest prayer that they will know the great love and peace and hope that Jesus gives in our suffering.

At nighttime when we sing before bed, Caleb’s most requested song has become “It Is Well”. It’s nearly impossible to keep my composure when I hear his squeaky, off-key, two-year-old voice sing these words back to God. And, oh, how I pray that he hides this song in his heart and one day truly understands and believes its significance. (This video was taken while singing in the dark before bedtime. Sorry not sorry. May need to turn the volume up just a bit.)

Parenting Win: Kid Quote Book

Every parent in the history of forever (hyperbolic-ally speaking) has said to write down the things that your kids say because you will forget. Science has proven that parents’ memories function worse after having children than they did before children. Actually, I just made that up. But the proof is in the pudding. Whatever that means.

So I figured, what the heck? I’ll buy a spiral bound journal on clearance and make it my officially unofficial Caleb quote book.

This might be one of the best parenting decisions that I have ever made.

Some of the entries are funny:
Mommy: I like your imagination. You have creative ideas.
Caleb: I’m going poop in my imagination.

Some of them make my heart melt into a puddle on the floor:
I tucked Caleb in and shut the door on my way out of his room. He cried for a few minutes (which is unusual) so I went back to check on him and he said, “I wanted to tell you that I love you.”

Some of them make me realize he’s “getting it”:
Mommy: Good morning buddy! What did you dream about last night?
Caleb: Jesus!
Mommy: What did he do?
Caleb: Save us!

I try not to give parenting advice unless I’m asked. But to all the parents out there, this is so worth it. Whether your child is a toddler or a teen. It’s such a treasure. So simple to do. It requires paper and a pencil. (Or an iPhone or tablet if that’s the way you roll.) Unless it’s not your thing, then that’s okay. There are lots of wonderful, meaningful ways to document special moments from your child’s growing years.

But this has definitely been a winner in our house.

What creative ways does your family document stuff to remember it years down the road?

The Most Painful Question

{ This is hard stuff to share. Vulnerable stuff. Complicated grief at its best. But it’s part of the process. And the process is messy. I don’t always know how my faith and grief fit together. But I do know that God’s grace is sufficient in my weakness and confusion. He is faithful to love me in the midst of the hard stuff. } 

My husband says that I could make friends with a brick wall. I love meeting people. Love hearing their stories. Love relating. Love creating heart connections. Crowds? No problem. Strangers? I embrace them (quite literally). Having meaningful conversations? Yes, please.

But lately I feel guarded. I feel a lot less like a social butterfly and much more like a wallflower in certain situations – hiding, avoiding, averting… Fearful and paranoid that an acquaintance or a stranger will ask me the most painful question of all.

How many children do you have?

I freeze. It stops me in my tracks, leaving me with a seemingly eternal split second to decide how to answer. I battle internally, never knowing what to say.

Do I answer honestly? Do I tell them that Caleb is my oldest but my second child, my precious daughter, fought bravely for 20 days until her struggling body ceased to work? Do I tell them how beautiful she was? Her deep blue eyes. Her squishy cheeks. Her wispy hair. Or that she fit perfectly in the crook of my arm and she loved to snuggle on my chest? Do I share about her injuries and the countless times we suctioned her secretions because she didn’t know how to swallow? Or talk about the tubes that permanently tethered her to a plastic bed because she couldn’t breathe on her own? Do I try to explain the gut-wrenching decisions we faced when considering her prognosis and quality of life? Do I need to justify our decision to a stranger?

Honesty is always the right choice.

Isn’t it?

I should see it as a beautiful opportunity to share about the hope and peace that we find through Christ.

But instead, I lie.

Because it’s easier to lie. It spares my heart the agony of saying the worst words that have ever left the mouth of a parent: My daughter died. And there’s no euphemism that softens the blow. Believe me. I’ve tried to think of a “polite” way to say it. I have a child in heaven, while a true statement, feels too fluffy to me. I have one child at home and one in my heart doesn’t do it justice either. The bottom line is, there’s no gentle segue for such crushing news, and there’s definitely no way to repair the conversation after such news is shared. Moreover, I don’t want to become a sobbing mess at the playground while I’m pushing Caleb on the swing. Or have an emotional breakdown in the grocery store checkout line.

So I lie.

And every time I lie, I feel like I’ve dishonored Evelyn, treating her as if her life didn’t matter. I hate that. But my heart cannot withstand the pain of answering the question honestly and reliving my darkest reality with someone that I don’t even know.

A few weeks ago, I met a wonderful lady at a community event. We enjoyed pleasant conversation, and as she was telling me about her two children, she also shared about her stillborn child and her ten miscarriages. The world stopped. I wanted to wrap her in a hug and cry and say, I can relate. My daughter died. You’re not alone.

But instead, I told her how sorry I was for her heartache.

Maybe some day I’ll find the courage, the vulnerability, the strength to share honestly with anyone who asks.

But for now, I feel like all I can do is pray for God’s grace to sustain me as I fumble through an answer.

And maybe some day when Caleb asks me to draw a picture of our family on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, I’ll draw Evelyn too.

But in this present moment, it’s not always clear how her life and memory fit into some of my everyday moments. I don’t know how to translate my love and grief into chalk pictures and answering strangers’ questions.

It’s not easy. And I guess that’s okay. Grief never is.