True love is found in the tears, the touch, and the presence of just being there.
On Thursday, March 16, 2006, my wife Amy had an ultrasound. We found out that our little baby was a girl. There was no doubt about it. How exciting that was! Our daughter Lily would have a little sister to play with and she could have the same relationship with the new girl that mommy had with her three sisters. We drove home that afternoon and talked about names for our little daughter who would be visiting us early July. We liked the name Claire. Little did we know that she would be visiting us in just over a week.
Saturday morning, March 25, 2006, was the last time Amy felt Claire move. By evening, she thought that it was odd, so she told me. I am not a worrier, so I told Amy that maybe Claire was just sleeping. A couple hours went by, but no movement. So we got out our Doppler, an instrument used to tract a baby’s heartbeat. We could not find the heartbeat. Once again, I tried to down play the situation by saying things like: “Maybe she’s in a difficult position.” Or, “Maybe the placenta is in the way.” Or, “Maybe she’s sleeping and her heartbeat is really slow.” When you want to comfort your wife you sometimes say things that don’t make total sense. Amy kept asking me what I thought, and I didn’t want to tell her. I knew in my heart that we should be able to hear a 6 month old baby’s heart beat. But we couldn’t. The entire night, I wanted to tell Amy that everything was alright, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. I knew that everything was not alright.
Neither of us slept Saturday night, for we knew something was not right in Amy’s womb. So early Sunday morning, we went to the ER hoping to be told everything was fine and then be back in time for church.
As we walked into the ultrasound room, I understood that this room was going to bring finality to the answer that I already knew deep down in my heart. The ultrasound tech tried to find the heart beat a few times and then told us with kind, sorrowful words, “I’m sorry guys.” Our fears had not been in vain. Our second daughter was dead. When the doctor walked in and looked at Claire’s lifeless body, he confirmed it also. I didn’t want to accept it, so I asked him if he was sure. If he was one hundred percent positive that she was dead. She was gone, without a doubt.
A few days before we didn’t have a clue that March 26 was going to be our second daughter’s birthday. And death day. But that is how life works. We are rarely given a warning before a storm comes into our life. The pain was excruciating. The first several hours I was numb. Throughout the day, a verse kept coming into my mind, just comforting me and giving me a strength that could only come from the One who died for me:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness…. I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Up until that point in my life, I might have told you that I needed strength from God, but on that day I experienced it more fully than I ever had in my life. It was almost as if God breathed a supernatural strength inside of my aching heart and that breath from God gave me a peace that transcends all understanding. I am convinced that most Christians don’t understand what it means to be weak and strong at the same time. When this happens, the love of God wraps His arms around you and you fall in love with Him more than you ever knew you could. That is what happened for me. I know that this might sound strange, but instead of feeling angry or even asking God why this happened, I just wanted Him to know how much I loved Him. And that gave me strength.
Later that evening Amy gave birth to our little Claire. When a woman gives birth to a child, everyone expects her to have pain, but at the end of the labor, she has a cute little baby to hold and love for the rest of her life. What made it so hard for us and especially Amy, is that she had to feel excruciating pain and suffering which would result in a dead baby. And place upon that a fear of what to do with the baby once it was born. We had many questions race through our minds as we were waiting for a moment filled with anxiety and hopelessness.
What will we do when Claire is born?
Will I want to look at her?
Will I want to hold her?
I have to admit that when I first found out that our daughter was dead, I just wanted her to come out of Amy and then have them take her away. I wanted to try and forget about her. I wanted to act as if she never existed. I wanted my wife to be pregnant all over again with a new baby and have the joys that come with expecting. We knew that Claire was a human being from the moment she was conceived, it says it very clear in Scripture:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5).
But there was a part of me that just wanted to live in denial that I was actually losing a daughter. A daughter who would never get to play with Lily. A daughter who would never learn her numbers from mommy. A daughter who would never get to know her four godly grandparents. A daughter who would never know the joys and pains of life. A daughter who would never graduate from college. A daughter who would not walk down the aisle with her daddy to be given to a guy that would never be good enough for his little princess.
We did decide to hold her. And we are glad that we did. She was twelve and one quarter inches long and weighed one pound five ounces. All four grandparents were able to hold her. I think it made it more real for them to touch her little hands and feet.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006, at 4:00 pm we had a private family graveside burial for Claire. It was hard for us to see her in the little eighteen inch casket. My wife kept saying over and over that they shouldn’t have to make caskets that small. At first, I wasn’t going to say anything at the funeral, but I felt that I would someday regret it if I didn’t. I shared that we decided to only give her a first name and last name to symbolize that she had a beginning and an end, but never lived in the middle. She never breathed a single breath outside the womb. Therefore, we felt that it was only fitting that she didn’t have a middle name. I also shared that Claire means “clear,” or “pure.” Even though she was conceived a sinner, she never had a chance to sin, therefore giving her purity. Lastly, I told my family that we were not angry with God, or with any other human being. We were struck by an immense sadness. Sad because we had so many hopes and expectations for our little Claire and it was now lost.
Why did she die? Apparently it was an umbilical cord problem. The cord got twisted and cut off her oxygen. The death certificate stated that she died of anoxia. Anoxia is simply a lack of oxygen. Claire was a perfectly formed baby and the only thing that was wrong with her was a twisted umbilical cord. There is nothing we could have done differently. It was a freak thing.
Apart from the physical cause of death, why did she have to die? In the days following Claire’s death, I was told many different reasons why God might have taken her before she was born. I am sure that all of the comments were well-meaning. Also, I understand that it is hard for people to simply be silent in these kind of situations, so they say things that are well-meaning, but not really helpful to the situation. Here are a few of the theological reasons people gave us:
“God just wanted to be with her in heaven.” This was my response in my head: God has all eternity to be with Claire, why does He need to be with her before allowing her to live for seventy or eighty years on this earth. This is just not going to ease the immediate pain of losing our daughter.
“God has a way of getting rid of a deformed child before it is born.” I’ll have to be honest with you. I was offended the most at this comment. If you think about it logically, if God has a way of weeding out deformed children, then why are some of them born and live to maturity on this earth? Also, you are saying that a deformed or handicapped child is not worth a life here on this earth. I wholeheartedly disagree with that reasoning.
“It was God’s will that your baby died.” Technically you’re correct. But that doesn’t ease the pain at all. Was it really God’s will that a baby died before she could breathe a breath of air? Or could it be because of something else. Something that is not God’s will? Something God allows, but not necessarily is in His will.
Also, people have tried to comfort us with other well-meaning thoughts:
“You can always have another one.” In all honesty, when I first found out that Claire had died, I wanted to get pregnant again right away and just try to forget about this one. But over time I realized that we needed time to grieve the loss of Claire. She was our second child and will always be our second child. No one else will ever be our second child. She is irreplaceable.
“At least she didn’t have to experience pain or crying.” But isn’t that what life is all about? Life is full of pain. Pain is not such a bad thing. Pain shouts to us loudly that we are fully alive! I thank God for pain because when a week or month goes by and I don’t feel pain, I’ll know that my name is finally in the obituaries.
“Just give it a couple weeks and you’ll be fine.” I’m not sure that time ever completely heals. The pain of losing Claire so early in her existence will always be there. It has been eight years now, and yet when I allow myself to think about how Claire would be in second grade this year and probably playing a little basketball by now and maybe even venturing out into the woods to hunt with daddy, this brings an intense sadness to my soul. When these thoughts enter our minds about all that we will miss with her here on this earth, we become sad again. Time does not heal wounds. Jesus heals wounds. And the wound of losing Claire will never be completely healed until we get to heaven and see our second daughter face to face and have our tears wiped away by our Alpha and Omega.
Why did I share some of these comments with you? Those comments never helped us on our journey towards healing. In fact, some of the comments just produced more hurt. Just remember that what you say to people during their times of grief can either give them tremendous comfort for their soul or intense anguish for their minds. Here is what a grieving person wants to be told:
“I love you and I am so sorry for your loss.” That is it. Don’t try to fill the silence that might seem awkward at times. Don’t be scared to hug the person who is grieving. The most powerful moment of healing for me happened when a good friend walked into our hospital room and simply put his arms around me and started crying with us. That is what we needed. The shortest verse in the entire Bible has become famous for a reason: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus knew all the theology in the universe and He didn’t use any when comforting Martha and Mary. He simply cried with them. When is the last time you have cried with someone?
When you are visiting with a person who has just experienced a loss in their life, let your words be few. As a pastor, I see tragedy too much. Claire’s death has taught me that one of the most powerful gifts I can give to people when they are sorrowful is the gift of just being there. I have sat with people (sometimes for a couple hours) when almost nothing was spoken the entire time. In some situations, well-spoken words can have a healing effect. But there are some tragedies that makes words feel empty. And true love is found in the tears, the touch, and the presence of just being there.
Click here to read Part 2.