These were the last words my wife said before an avalanche of sadness and disappearing expectations settled over our life. My wife had gone in for a regular ultrasound to determine the gender of our unmet child growing in her body. Instead, we were notified that the baby’s heart had stopped beating and any potential for this life we were anxiously expecting had ceased. I was at work and raced home to embrace my emotionally crumbling wife and the small baby she still cradled in her womb.
We both fell to the floor and cried together.
My wife had experienced crippling morning sickness and she had just moved well into the second trimester. By all accounts, we had a healthy baby and were well on our way to growing our family even more. However, the news of the “fetal demise” (that’s what it’s officially called) introduced us to the truly sacred mystery of what goes on in the womb of a pregnant woman. It is a place of glorious and terrifying mystery with the power to bring both earth-shattering joy and heartbreaking sadness. We chose to induce the birthing process so we could find out the gender of our child and give him or her a name and officially make them a part of our family. This has also been met with frustration as issues beyond our control at the hospital have caused us to wait almost a week before we could go in and begin the inducement process. For the past week, my wife carried close to her heart the tiny body of the first member of our family welcomed into eternity. Life and death both held together behind the veil of her womb.
Tuesday night we were finally admitted. After many rounds of drugs to induce labor, Wednesday night we met our tiny, eternally sleeping, fragile but still beautifully formed daughter.
Zoey comes from the Greek word meaning life. We chose this because even in the sadness of death, we still believe deep in our hearts that this little girl was once a living and active part of our family. Grace because, well…we have needed double portions of grace during this whole experience.
My grief has found an odd counterpoint in this Advent season. In this season when we hope and wait for the light and life of the coming Christ, I have instead found shattered hope and realized the dimming of an already faint light of life. The Old Testament reading for this past Sunday, the second Sunday in Advent, reached to the deep, open wounds, of my soul.
Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!
Isaiah 40: 1-2 (CEB)
We are just starting to feel the whispers of that comfort right now. The week of living with death residing with us has felt a bit like existing in this weird liminal space. In a place between both life and death and not being able to move between the two. It is a place of extreme discomfort because there is no resolution and no answers. We know what to do when someone is born and we know what to do when someone dies. But, how do you live in that space where somebody has not been born but you know they are also dead? How do you answer the well-meaning questions of, “How are you doing?” when you are not sure where you are at or where you are going? You buy someone flowers when there is a birth or when there is a death. We’ve learned it’s hard to know what to do or buy for those who are in between.
I’m pretty sure these are not concepts or questions the ancient authors of the Bible had answers for.
Now that we have met our daughter, the tender and compassionate voice of God is starting to break through. In the words and hugs of friends, in the caring touch of nurses and doctors and in the loving embrace and free-flowing tears between my wife and I. Honestly, I never lit the second candle of Advent earlier this week. I could not bring myself to do it because I was having a hard time feeling the light or seeing the hope.
When we go home, I plan on lighting the candle. Light is beginning to break through again and seeing our little Zoey Grace helped us find it.