We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
Housed as they are in the same body. -Mary Oliver
When I read this excerpt from a favorite poet, I was reminded of a time these two feelings were very much housed in my body. A time when grief and joy were so intertwined, there didn’t seem enough room for them to coexist. I felt both life and death pulsating in my heart and yet I needed to embrace both.
My husband and I always imagined having two children. It just seemed to make sense to us and all the dreams we held for our family. At first, we didn’t have any vision of boy or girl and truly didn’t sway one way or the other. However, as time went on, we felt as if God was telling us through many avenues that we would have a girl and then a little boy.
Well, 7 years passed and we now have three little girls whom we could not imagine our lives without. After our Bella came, we naturally assumed our little boy would follow. At the next ultrasound, “It’s a girl” was announced. And a few years later, another little girl filled our womb. After that last ultrasound, I felt the ground crumbling beneath me. It felt as if I had lost the compass of his voice and I was aimless. I had just witnessed the miracle of life inside of me yet felt death all around me. The life of a little girl was realized yet it felt as though I experienced the miscarriage of a promise. Where was our little boy? When did I lose the ability to hear his voice?
After those two ultrasounds were some of the hardest moments I have experienced. It was a type of complex grief I didn’t know how to navigate. I should hold joy yet I felt sadness. I should be grateful yet I felt disappointment. I even had to sit with a friend struggling with infertility and try to tell her my story without feeling overcome by shame. I had no words for my grief, and as it didn’t seem like an “acceptable grief” I also spoke few.
When held in the grips of grief, at times others offer little solace. Room is not afforded to make sense of our own loss. The process of embracing loss is often stunted by humble words of God’s control or His power to turn the bad for good. Words can contain truth yet hold little comfort in the moment. So often when we experience discomfort, we want to rush others’ process. But when we shortcut grief, we forfeit the depths of joy to follow its journey. Sitting with others through the grief is both a struggle and an honor. It is a struggle when the depths of grief seem so fragile. I heavily rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me when listening to another’s story as a counselor and friend. It is an honor because the place of vulnerability at the heart of grief is sacred. It holds the promise of joy when all the person sees is fear and sadness.
So many tried to comfort me in that season, but when the depth of my fear was that I had lost His voice, I knew it was His voice I needed to hear to pull me out. I harbored lies that He no longer trusted me and manipulated me into having three children with the empty promise of a son. That fear and pain needed to be uprooted but with tenderness. In the midst of my pain, God asked me: “Jen, when do you take freedom away from your children?” I responded, “When the cost is too high.” His tender words: “Jen, Wren River (our third daughter) not in this world was too high a cost.” At that moment, acceptance washed over me. Fear dissipated. The lies slinked away with the darkness that had seemed to loom over me. I chose to walk the path of grief, and I stumbled upon stones of joy. Joy came as I gave way to grief’s journey.
The moments of grief still come over the words I thought I heard. I still wonder if the miscarriage I had was our little boy. I question the feeling that our quiver is full but the promise remains empty. But the lasting peace of His words is still so real. He spoke when my heart was postured to listen. He sat with me in the pain until I was ready. He waited to speak truth until I could be comforted by it. Beauty cannot rise from ashes if blown away with empty breath.
Learn to sit with people in their pain. Be slow to speak and eager to listen. Allow the pain to wash over them in the safety of embrace. Make space for the freedom to put words to the loss, a space to question without the fear of appearing wayward. Hold the hope of better days and trust joy will come, but don’t allow that to stunt their time of grief. Be still and wait until He speaks. Only He knows the truth that holds their comfort. Only He knows the path ahead.