Grief, Grandbabies, and the Gift of Life
It’s been easy to be sad in 2020. As the pandemic set upon the earth along with political and social upheaval, sadness invited herself into our lives. I’ve been experiencing a depth of grief like I’ve never known. It began before the pandemic, before my dad passed into heaven, before my mother and step-dad needed full time care, before my friend was diagnosed with cancer to slip behind the veil within the year.
My season of grief began in 2019 just days before Mother’s Day when I held my granddaughter whose spirit had just departed this earth. I cradled her in the crook of my elbow and marveled at her beauty. She seemed almost weightless—-twenty weeks of perfection though her lungs could not breath earth’s air.
The grief of not really knowing Emma Kate and the grief of watching my son and daughter-in-law grieve was a heartache like no other I had known. The compounded losses that accrued over months required digging deep. It meant sitting long with God’s Word---and believing it.
As I reflected on the losses and potential losses to come, I was confronted with my need. Where would I turn for comfort when grief could not be ignored? I have turned to Jesus and his tender compassion.
“Sing for joy, you heavens! Shout, you earth, and rejoice with dancing, shouting and glee!
Burst into joyous songs, you mountains, for Yahweh has comforted his beloved people. He will show tenderness and compassion to his suffering ones.” (Is. 49:13 TPT)
Compassion. The word lifted off the page when I was meditating on Isaiah 49:13. It is one of those words most of us only minimally understand. “Compassion” comes from Latin, meaning to “suffer with.” It intimates a heart of empathy, a holding of pain or burdens beyond sympathy.
In Hebrew, specifically in the above verse, the word compassion is “racham,” meaning womb.
A womb is a place to grow; it is a part of another. To be held in a womb is to be carried.
In her womb, a mother carries a child, sharing the burden of the child’s life. The baby is not trapped, but held---held until new life can be birthed. A fragile human is being nourished for another kind of life, a life beyond the child's awareness or imagination. The birth process will bring pain for mother and child, but once life is conceived, the reality of how very precious life is becomes apparent. This life is so precious the child will want to hold on to it as long as possible.
We know in our bones that life is sacred.
The mother bears the weight of life in her womb knowing that she and the child will endure together the birth of life into new life.
Each of us, mothers or not, both women and men are invited to respond to God as he offers to be with us as we move through life into eternity. When we receive his life, our joys are his joys. And when we suffer---and we will, He suffers with us. He carries us and we are held.
Lilias Trotter, (1853-1928), missionary to Algeria who had no children by birth, understood how we are meant to grow to live with a mother's heart:
“It is the poured out life that God blesses---the life that heeds not itself, if only other souls may be won. ‘Ask and it shall be given unto you is one of God’s nursery lessons to His children. ‘Give and it will be given to you comes further on.’”
A mother gives of herself to her children so they can flourish. Taking the long view, she does not give them everything asked for, but what is needed, and that filtered through the prism of love.
But what of the birth of life into eternal life?
Jesus’ death was given to release blessing upon those who would be “born from above.” With compassion, Jesus knowing we were like sheep without a shepherd, determined to carry the weight of our needs upon himself. Ultimately through death, he could birth new life in us.
"Yet he was the one who carried our sicknesses and endured the torment of our sufferings...
Like wayward sheep, we have all wandered astray. Each of us has turned from God’s paths and chosen our own way; even so, Yahweh laid the guilt of our every sin upon him. (Is. 53:4a;6 TPT)
Jesus bore the burden of our sin with compassion and love. The “Pioneer and Perfector of faith” blazed the trail through death into life for us.
“Yes, there is such a thing as a good death. We ourselves are responsible for the way we die. We have to choose between clinging to life in such a way that death becomes nothing but a failure, or letting go of life in freedom so that we can be given to others as a source of hope. This is a crucial choice and we have to `work’ on that choice every day of our lives. Death does not have to be our final failure, our final defeat in the struggle of life, our unavoidable fate. If our deepest human desire is, indeed, to give ourselves to others, then we can make our death our final gift.” (Henry Nouwan)
We are most like Jesus when we give. Our transformation into Christ-likeness is centered around this truth. To be like Jesus is to be a giver. We share this holy calling. It seems impossible, but we can be assured. He will not leave us helpless.
The void Emma Kate was meant to fill will always be mine. I won’t pretend to understand why her path was to grow up outside her mother's care, but I do believe the Giver of Life acts only in love. He knows what I do not know. I’ve trusted her to his care. He is faithful.
A year had not yet passed when we got the news that a new life was growing in Jessica's womb. The trauma we endured caused us to turn and trust Jesus. Faith worked to overcome fear during the stifling days of summer.
On a bitter cold afternoon, the last day of November, Hudson Andrew was born. When his first photo appeared on my phone, my heart rejoiced in a way that surprised me. My joy, it seems, had been bottled up and burst open into laughter with the news.Hudson will not fill the empty places this season of grief has left me to process, but his birth fills the place of longing created when Jared and Jessica, and me and Jeff, let hope rise again from the ashes of our grief.
The parallel with the Advent season is not lost on me. When I lit the candle called Hope, I reflected on the longings of the earth and the people of God. In these troubled times, we are desperate for a Comforter. And it is the mysterious incarnation, a baby birthed from the womb of a woman, that we find our great need met in Jesus the Christ.
The Advent practice is a means of grace, a path to the light in this year of loss, a time to draw near to the One who caused us "to be born again to a living hope..." (I Peter 1:3b). A Day like no other sits over the horizon. Until then, we wait.
"O come, O Emmanuel."