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A Journey Through Grief

julia

My guest writer is Christine Shipman, my cousin's daughter...five months after the loss of her beloved Julia 

 Mother's Day 

The love left behind is worth all else. What a gift to love and not be afraid of the consequences.

– my great-aunt Eileen

This Mother’s Day was a strange one.  I read beautiful messages on Facebook, conveying heartfelt sentiments directed to women who are not mothers and want to be, and to mothers who have lost children.  I forgot to put myself into that category, and then it hit me: this sentiment is for me.  This past few months...

I have been to hell:

            I know the torment of waiting for a daughter whose life will not be typical, and wondering what she will be like.

            I know the isolation of caring for her.

            I know the constant anxiety of monitoring each milliliter of milk that she has taken, wondering, “Is it enough?”

            I know hope deferred, waiting for a lifesaving surgery.

            I know deep separation, handing over my precious baby to medical personnel, watching her cry as she observed my tears.

            I know the agony of hearing hospital machines scream that something is wrong, and no one can fix it.

            I know the utter “from dust to dust,” as I leave a hospital room splattered with my daughter’s blood, and leaving her behind.

            I know an abyss of grief, wondering, “Why?” 

I have been to heaven:
            I knew the prayers of thousands that covered us during the time that we waited.

            I knew the meals and gifts that came to us as we were so isolated.

            I knew the doctors’ gentle encouragement that we were giving Julia exactly what she needed.

            I knew an extra month of time with my little girl.

            I knew that she was in the best of hands at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, that the hands that took her from me loved our little girl.

            I knew a deep, abiding sense of God’s presence with us as those machines screamed and mocked us, and I felt His sorrow.

            I knew a supernatural reality as a man prayed with us over Julia as she passed in to the arms of Jesus, and as we experienced the same sorrow as God Himself experienced when he watched the agony of His Son on the cross.

            And I know that the answers to the “whys” don’t exist for most of us who have suffered: who have cancer, who have lost children, who starve, who have no hope, who are hurt by an adulterous relationship, who are addicted, who are abused, who are mentally battered. Instead, the kingdom of heaven comes as we mourn together and become more like Jesus through suffering.

            I knew hundreds of encouraging notes and letters as we grieved.

            I knew Julia's first giggle, just a few days before she died.

            I knew the joy of watching Natalie love her baby sister.

            I knew the perfect peace that surrounded little Julia, as she patiently waited.

            I knew the way she loved me, with her eyes following me everywhere I went, though she couldn't vocalize or move in the way typical of infants.

            I know that Julia was rescued, that she was saved from this world and its limitations.

            I know that Jesus has overcome this world, and His resurrection offers hope that my Julia is safe and restored.  

            I know that Julia Christine is His, with her name literally meaning “Young follower of Christ,” and her first two initials reminding me of my savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s not the heaven I wanted.  No, I wanted heaven to be simple and happy and peaceful – and full of the things that I desired.  But I was instead given an enlarged heart and soul, and a love for people with Down Syndrome.  Gradually, I was given a deeper appreciation for life, though at times it did not seem to be worth living.  I was thankful for a God who did not expect me to feel a certain way, but embraced my sorrow as I sought Him. 

Mother’s Day marks exactly 5 months since Julia died…and also marks that Julia has now been with Jesus longer than she was in my arms.  This is a heavy moment, but also in some ways lighter than I anticipated.  I’ve realized that, for me, it’s not so much the anniversaries that are hard, but that every day is hard…with each day getting a little easier.  Today is no different than yesterday or tomorrow…I’m just one step further along in my grief journey.

And this little light?  She is doing beautifully.  She experienced deep confusion as she grappled with what it meant to lose her sister.  She worried about her mom and dad, and these anxieties caused her to develop a stutter and lose some of her hair.  The stutter is gone, and her hair is growing back now, and all of our spirits are growing back, too.  Natalie has forgotten some of what has happened, and now it’s just a fact in her memory, detached from the emotions: “Julia’s in heaven with Jesus. Because He wanted her to be with Him.  I want to go there, too!”

Amen, little one.  But, not so fast!  You're staying here with us, as we've reassured you many times.

Laughter: Good Medicine for the Soul
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