A guide

I'm sure by now most of you have heard that the Christian artist, Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter Maria died yesterday after being run over by a car.  Josh brought this to my attention this morning and it has occupied my thoughts ever since. It makes me feel such empathy for this family, knowing what they have ahead of them.

The overwhelming void that filled my entire being was all I could think about. I didn't dare shut my eyes because of the images that filled them when they were closed were too horrifying to recall. The loneliness while surrounded by all our loved ones did little to ease the pain. Eating was out of the question.  I decided to drink black coffee because I liked it with cream.  I wanted to do things differently, observe my pain in some inadequate way.  I have read of another person doing this after grief. Guess I'm not so odd after all.  Life took on a before and after era.  Before Ava's accident and after. I remember watching Josh sleep the first night after she died and being amazed he could sleep.  I was thankful that he could have a few minutes of escape. I recall sitting upstairs around 4 a.m., at my parent's house, with my mom, Holly and Josh's mom and just sitting there not knowing what to do.  At times this desperate feeling that I needed to just DO something was overwhelming.  I would pace and just yank at my hair, trying to make things right in my head. I wish could words could do justice to an emotion that I pray none of you will ever have to face.

Right now, I know what a family is experiencing, to a certain extent. Every story is different. Every person is different. But every Christian needs to make a willful decision to trust God. No matter how angry I go, no matter how little I understood, I knew deep down that my getting through this was not going to be successful if I didn't just lean on him. Those first few days, it was very hard to pray. It became more like guttural cries to a heavenly father who knew I was hurting. It meant acknowledging that God knew this was the plan for Ava from the start, but being really ticked. Ticked just doesn't do it any justice. Pissed, I was pissed. Why would God do this and what kind of a God was he to allow this to happen. I knew he could take my anger and my questions.  But could I?  Was I willing to really hear the truth if it wasn't what I wanted to hear. I can say that nearly three years later that I still don't like the plan, nor do I like how it has affected my life, but I trust in an Almighty Father whose desire is to bring other's close to him. 

There are various times when I realize that the memories are growing hazier, easier to deal with. Losing Ava is not the very first thing I think of when my feet hit the floor. I would say rarely does 10 minutes go by when I don't think of her after waking. Just recently, I got out one too many bowls for the dinner table (I got out 5 and only needed 4. Ephram is not eating out of a bowl just yet). It's been three years, and we didn't have her with us too long, but it shows how much a part of us she still is.

It is my desire for Ephram to realize that he is not a replacement. God knew from the beginning that he would be part of our family.  I want him to grow up feeling like he has an extra special place in our family- that he was God's gift to us, out of pain and suffering came joy and restoration. Who could ask for a better gift?

As time has passed many of my friends said how they were so unsure what to say and what to do.  I thought I may be able to give some words that may be helpful if they are anything like me.  Number one, I knew Ava was in a better place.  I didn't need people telling me that- I wanted her here with me.  That comment came as a slap in the face many times. That whole "she's in a better place" could well be saved for a few months down the road. Number two, "you can always have more children."  At this point, I didn't want more children, I wanted Ava. Number three- "I lost my grandma (aunt, uncle, cousin 68 year old mother) last month, I know what you're going through." I hated that one. Until you have lost a child, you don't know. Just like I don't know what it's like to lose a mother or father at a young age, or be a child who has lost a sibling. Don't claim to understand unless you really do.  I clung to those who had lost a child and the knowledge and advice they could give me. Lastly, I know Ava was young. Those who had had early miscarriages cannot possibly know the grief of losing a living child, or of a having a birth where the baby was too young to survive.  We held our babies. We saw their faces, Saw the potential for life. Don't get me wrong, I know miscarriage is heartbreaking, but please don't compare it.  Comparisons are nasty, especially at the beginning of the grieving process.

So, what can you do?  The day that Ava died, people started pouring in.  All of these people needed to be fed and it was the last thing on my mind.  One of my best friends quietly showed up, ordered pizza, lasagna, and salad and had it out for those who felt they could eat. I got a huge box full of toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, cups, utensils and more Kleenex than we thought was necessary (only to find out it was).  We used up every last one of those Kleenex. Someone brought treats for the kids, juice boxed, frozen kids meals, kids movies and easy toys for the kids to stay occupied with. Most of the time you want your living children around you but you are not really concious of what they need all the time. These things helped a ton the first weeks. 

So, what did people say or do that helped and didn't hurt?  It seemed like the less they said the better. Not because of what they said may offend me but because the hurt is so great, words often seem inadequate. Hugs, hugs, hugs.  I just needed to feel the comfort of those around me. If you're a praying person, tell them you'll pray for them, but only if you really will. :-) Start calling them.  We screened more phone calls than you can imagine but seeing your name pop up on my caller i.d. made me aware that you were reaching out. A few weeks out, some people stopped calling, the uncomfortable feelings of what they were going to say became too strong (the only reason I know this is because of conversations with friends over the past three years). Call anyway.  I spent numerous days wondering why they didn't call and so I didn't call. Didn't we have a closer relationship than I had thought? Err on calling too much. They won't call you back if they really don't want to talk.  Thank goodness for the 21st Century blessing of caller i.d. 

I hope this hasn't come off as harsh or as though the ones that helped us after Ava died did it all wrong. That could not be further from the truth. We had an incredible support system that continues to this day. I know so many of you pray for us as we continue down this journey along with the new journey of Josh in a wheelchair. 

Yes, life is complicated. But it is so short in the grand scheme of things. I know I will soon again be with my little girl and all of this grief and trusting will be truly worthwhile.
Posted on May 23, 2008 .