This past week was our oldest son’s birthday.
What I don’t share very often is that our three-year-old daughter, Becca, was diagnosed with cancer on my due date with this baby. I went ten days overdue, with my water breaking around 3AM while sleeping in a chair next to Becca, who was going to be coming home from the hospital that morning after her first round of chemo. (She had not been home for two weeks since the testing and her diagnosis.)
The labor was only about forty-five minutes from the time my water broke, and the delivery was very rough. It was discovered the baby was coming feet first, but he came so fast there was no chance to do a C-section. They almost lost both of us because he was so large (8 pounds 10 ounces), and the cord was being pinched as he got stuck coming out.
My doctor did some heavy duty yanking and pulling to save us both. I was in so much pain during those life-and-death moments and so weak and sick afterwards, since there was no time for an epidural or pain meds. We did not realize how close we came to death until a nurse talked to us about it the following day.
For the next nine months, I hardly ever saw my newborn son, since much of my time was spent an hour away, staying with our little girl at the hospital while getting her chemo. Her amputation made her stays there even more of a challenge.
It was years later when we found out that the long-term effects of one of the drugs Becca had been given was heart damage, which is what eventually caused her death.
All of that to say, it is next to impossible to think of the day our son was born without thinking of Becca and what we were going through with her during that time, which ultimately caused her death, twenty-six years later.
So, what do we do when our child’s death date falls during a time when we should be celebrating something important? Or a celebration is a trigger to our deep loss?
I make time to acknowledge the pain of the “bitter” however I need to. Each time it might look different, but it almost always comes with tears at some point. (My eyes are filling with tears right now as a matter of fact as I type this.) After allowing myself this time, I then do my best to lean into the “sweet” instead of the bitter. I put my attention and focus on whatever good thing is in front of me.
I need these event reminders that even though there will be bitter times for the rest of my time here on earth, my life isn’t only bitterness. There is still sweetness and there are still good things to live for and enjoy.
I have found that the more often I choose to put as much focus as I am able on the sweet, the bitter becomes more tolerable and happens less often. That does not mean it is easy, but with determination, it can be done. I have also discovered that it eventually gets easier to choose the sweet most of the time, but I admit that I still have my moments of leaning into the bitter, and sometimes I still just need to have a good hard cry!
Yes, there may remain an undercurrent of sadness, but I refuse to let things like my son’s birthday be overshadowed by something in our past that cannot be changed, no matter how painful a reminder it may be.
He needs to be celebrated and loved on. Not only does he need it, but I need it as well!
Bittersweet… that is us for the rest of our lives. Which one are you going to choose to focus on, as often as possible? I hope you join me and choose the sweet. The bitter happens enough on its own. Let’s do our best to ask God for the desire and the strength to lean into the “sweet” during those times. Are you with me?
Let the sunrise of your love end our dark night. Break through our
clouded dawn again! Only you can satisfy our hearts, filling us with songs of
joy to the end of our days. We’ve been overwhelmed with grief; come now and
overwhelm us with gladness. Replace our years of trouble with decades of delight.
Psalm 90:14-15 (TPT)
This was taken from Laura’s newest book of daily readings for bereaved parents, which will be available in December. If you would like to receive weekly emails of encouragement (which will also let you know the progress of this book and to know when it comes out), let us know below.
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