May 4 marked the one-year anniversary of Hope's death. On Monday we went to Miranda Cemetery (which is connected to Huntingtown UMC in Huntingtown, MD, where my parents worship and where Laurie and I were married) to remember our daughter. The weather was cool and damp, certainly not very spring-like. A light drizzle fell as we stood at the graveside, but somehow it seemed fitting. My wife commented that it was almost as if God was weeping along with us.
I think there may be something to Laurie's analogy of tears from heaven because I think God stands with us when we experience sorrow and in some strange way that defies human understanding, experiences the same emotions we do. I still don't, and probably never will, know why we had to go through all that we went through the last couple of years. I struggle with many doubts and questions, but deep down I know that God has been, is, and will continue to be with us in the midst of all that we do. Though I've struggled to "recognize" God recently, God has never left us.
Sandy Taylor (the pastor that mentored Laurie when she entered ministry, married us, baptized both Hope and Becca, and presided over Hope's funeral) was present, as well as both Laurie's and my parents. We placed flowers on Hope's grave and the arrangement included two pink roses. The story behind the roses is that on the day the girls were born Laurie's mom bought two pink roses to the hospital. One of the roses opened and bloomed beautifully, but the second did not…
Sandy shared a prayer, which was a modified version of words we prayed at Hope's funeral last year. She also lit a candle in Hope's memory—yes we got it lit despite the dampness and wind. (My father noticed that Becca's eyes seemed transfixed on the flame almost the whole time it was lit, as if she knew it was for her identical twin sister on some intuitive level.) I also read something that I had written (words printed below), and we let Brady "send a pink balloon to Jesus" for Hope. It was not a long gathering, especially given the weather, but it served it purpose to honor the memory of our precious daughter whom we continue to grieve even as we move forward with life.
While it was a difficult day, it was also good to have this opportunity to pause and remember Hope. We actually went to Annapolis Mall afterwards and saw the new Earth movie, and did some shopping. It seemed fitting to do something fun after the time of remembrance. Somehow, it seemed to us that Hope would have wanted us to… We went to the Cheesecake Factory (yum!) and all (including Becca!) had a piece of blueberry cheesecake in Hope's memory.
That night as we looked through Hope's "memory box" we both found ourselves shedding tears—yes even me! Reading the words Laurie had written for Hope the day we buried her was very moving, as was seeing the tiny bits of her hair that we had saved. Brady was with us in bed (yes… he sleeps with us) and saw that we were sad and seemed concerned, and we did our best to explain to him that he had another sister Hope who is "with Jesus," and mommy and daddy loved her very much just like we love him and Becca, and sometimes it makes us very sad that she is not with us. I'm not sure how much a 3-year-old comprehends that explanation, but we feel it is important that he and Becca know about Hope, and understand as best they can that her loss has made us sad, and it's okay to be sad sometimes and to ask questions about Hope if they ever wonder about her. We also told Brady that when he expressed concern for mommy and daddy being sad, it almost instantly made us feel better—which is quite true. We seem to have a compassionate little boy who gets upset when others are sad, which is a good thing to see!
Not surprisingly we shed lots of tears this past weekend as we marked the girl's birthday and the anniversary of Hope's death, but I hope they were healing tears. It seems like this one-year anniversary kind of marks another milestone as we walk this dark journey together and continue to seek healing and wholeness. No matter how much we try, there will always be an empty space in both of our hearts where Hope should have been. We have to learn to "live with" that empty space and adjust to the reality that loss of a child is now a part of our story. The passage of time helps… but it is a difficult road to travel.
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Lord of all creation, we know that you rule over all things—even death. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to be born and a time to die… I think as human beings we expect the pain of death to be softened by the passage of time. When someone lives a long life we still grieve their loss, but we can celebrate their long life and rejoice that they now have passed to the next phase of life. It seems like the natural progression of life.
But when we lose a child, none of us know what to think or feel. (In fact, we'd prefer not to have to think about it at all! But it's there… the empty place is palpable and I can't ignore it!) How do you reconcile someone's time to be born and time to die being so close at hand?! It doesn't make sense! I have said many times this past year that when you lose a daughter two days after her birth: "the very cosmos seems out of whack!" The pain of searing loss is much more harsh…. and the pain I feel is often difficult for me to put into words. I echo Paul's words from Romans, my Spirit "groans inwardly." A Great Sadness permeates my life and I've had to learn to function in the midst of it…
Almost six years ago now, Laurie and I gathered at the church across the way to begin our journey together as man and wife. What a beautiful day of celebration as our family and friends—including all of you—gathered together to celebrate our marriage. On that day I spoke of a cord of three strands that would be formed by our union—God, Alan, and Laurie. But I can honestly say that when I stood on that altar that day, I could never have imagined what lay ahead for us. We've had many exciting "chapters" of our story that have unfolded that past six years. Some of these "chapters" I would not have chosen (that's the thing about life stories, is you don't get to read ahead and find out what will happen, and you can't exactly skip "chapters" you don't like either.) But of all the "chapters" to date, none has been more difficult and painful for us than the last year since our twin girls were born.
It still sometimes seems a little surreal to me. No parent should ever have to bury a son or daughter, and yet one year ago, we gathered in this cemetery to do just that. Friends and family surrounded us that pretty spring afternoon as we said goodbye to our darling Hope. Since that day, Laurie and I have had to begin to weave this tragedy into the fabric of our cord of three strands. It has been extremely difficult year to say the least; our cord has certainly been stretched and strained by what we have lived through but by God's grace has not broken and I actually think it is growing stronger. We have survived this ordeal together and I pray that in time we will find the healing and wholeness we seek and grow stronger because of what we've lived through.
But today we still grieve. In some ways the wounds are barely scathed over and very easily opened up again. Today, we pause to remember the anniversary of Hope's passing and we bring our grief and sorrow before You O God…
Lord, we grieve because we got so little time to have Hope Marie with us… Two days after she was born… she died… While we rejoice that Hope has passed from life support to life eternal, we confess that we would rather have our daughter here with us today… We don't understand why this has happened to us and perhaps we never will… We're perplexed by what we have lived through this past year… We grieve because we will not get to watch Hope grow up… We grieve because her brother, and especially her twin sister, will not get to know Hope… We grieve for so many reasons…
We pray that You will be with us as we continue to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Help us to give ourselves space and time to grieve our loss, and lead us to healing and wholeness. Help us to find the seemingly impossible balance of celebrating Rebecca's life while at the same time continuing to mourn the loss of Hope. We thank you for the support of our friends and family—both those here today and those who have surrounded us this past year.
We ask that You take good care of our precious Hope—keep her safe in Your arms. Though our heart hurts that she is not celebrating her birthday with her sister, we find some consolation that she is free to run with the angels. We envision her smiling down on us today and we will always see her image reflected in the beautiful smile of her twin sister Rebecca. We look forward to the day that our whole family will be reunited—a day with no more tears… no more pain… no more suffering. We thank you for the promise that death is not the end of our story. Resurrection has the last word. In the last "chapter," good will win—life will ultimately triumph over death! We cling to that HOPE today. As much as we mourn the loss of our darling daughter Hope, we know our true HOPE is alive and well! Confident in that reality we will do our best to carry on. I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. AMEN
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