As I sit here thinking about the 18th anniversary of the birth and death of my son Maddux in 2005, so many memories and emotions flood over me. I can honestly say that this year, I am at a loss for words about what to write. What can I share with you that I haven’t already?
Can I talk to you about my faith, without fear of offending someone? Can I talk about being 6,564 days closer to being with him instead of being without him? Can I tell you that a simple reverse countdown has comforted me in ways nothing else could?
During a recent church service, I felt like Pastor Josh Howerton of Lakepoint Church in Rockwall TX, was speaking directly to me. He said “God will take your greatest misery and turn it into your greatest ministry.”
I look back at the creation of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and those early days after Maddux died. I was never angry at God. I never placed blame upon Him. But I wanted to know why. Why did this happen to Maddux? Why did this happen to me? Why did this happen to my family? Why did my children have to experience death in such a personal and intimate surrounding? And the scariest question of all? How was I going to survive this pain?
I felt that death had beat me. All the emotions I was feeling, was centered around one word… Grief. I was sad. I felt guilty that my body failed him. I was anxious, confused, frustrated, fearful, numb and resentful. I was envious of pregnant women and healthy babies and these feelings confused me, because I would have never wished this type pain on another human being.
I yearned to hold my baby in my arms.I even yearned to have another baby…but a tubal ligation after Maddux’s birth literally crushed all hope of ever having another child. Then there was anger…at my doctor for even performing that procedure when (right after his birth) we all knew something wasn’t right.
Then there were the feelings of relief, and this one caused confusion also. Relief that Maddux wouldn’t live a life filled with uncertain circumstances…breathing machines and feeding tubes. We knew so little of Maddux’s condition at the time. And 18 years later, there still are no answers and no available cure.
There were feelings of gratitude. Grateful that it wasn’t one of my older children who died. Grateful that my husband didn’t blame me for Maddux’s death. Grateful for the small support network in my community.
Then there was hope. I felt hope the night of Maddux’s death. Strange as it sounds…but yes, hope. Such a beautiful word to me now. After holding my child for the last time, and gently laying him in the hospital bassinet, my husband guided me through the halls of the hospital and out an exit door. We walked out of the hospital with arms void of my son, a broken heart and very few precious items. How, you might be asking, can one feel hope in such debilitating circumstances?
Little did I know that night I would be taking my first step toward Healing. The Hope came from knowing I was going to see my son again through the medium of photography. The Honor would come later, after viewing his photographs for the first time. Healing, Hope and Honor. The mantra for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
The past few years I have been honoring Maddux by adjusting the focus of my grief. I have replaced anger with feelings of gratitude. Resentment by counting my blessings. Envy with grace. Confusion with compassion. I have learned the difference between empathy and sympathy.
One of the most important lessons I learned is how to make friends with my grief. With all respect, grief will live with me for the rest of my life…I have accepted this. My love and grief walks hand in hand with me.
I want other bereaved parents to know that the death of their child isn’t a lifetime commitment of pain and grief. Slowly but surely, you will become stronger to carry this grief with you. Somedays you won’t even know it’s there. And other days it might have you pinned down. But you will smile and find joy again, and when that happens, it will be such an odd feeling.
Acknowledge that. And then do it again, and again and again.
And make friends with your grief.
With the recent passing of David Crosby, I am reminded of the song Turn Turn Turn inspired by Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
There is one particular part that stands out to me in Ecclesiastes 3:4.
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
My prayer for every bereaved parent is that you find your season of hope again. Find your reason to laugh and dance.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
With Healing, Hope and Honor