I was seventeen when I met her, the girl with the twinkling eyes, merry laugh and warm hug. She came flying down the stairs and almost ran right into me.
“Hi, I’m Hannah! You must be Renee?”
It was instant connection, the kind of friend you feel like you waited your whole life to meet. That week of Bible School no one could believe that we’d just met. We looked and acted like childhood friends.
I spent the night of January 1, 2012, crumpled in a tight knot underneath my covers crying.
Hannah had her baby boy and something was seriously wrong. No one knew what, but there were deformities and his condition was critical. The little New Year boy was being transported to Hershey Medical Center.
Almost two years later, on November 6, 2013, I made another phone call to my sister and said the same words. Little Tyson, who’d been to the doctor more times in his twenty-two months than I had in my twenty-six plus years, endured multiple surgeries, charmed his way into the hearts of many people and was most extravagantly loved by his mommy, daddy and miracle brother Ethan, stopped breathing and went to be with Jesus.
What else do you say when you call your sister in tears and tell her that your friend is going to bury her baby boy who never got to celebrate his second birthday? What else do you say, but “I just don’t get this.”
She never got to hear him say “Mama”, but she was right beside him while he learned how to walk.
I know she asked God questions and I know she never even once considered not loving her son. Tyson was her angel and if I have ever seen mother-love shine in someone’s eyes, I saw it shine in hers.
People say she is such a strong woman and I know how she feels about this, and I know that the real truth is not that Hannah is especially gifted with strength to handle the trauma of birthing an unexpected special needs child and burying him two years later, but that Hannah is especially equipped with lavish mercy from God to give birth to an unexpected special needs child, to love him wildly extravagant, and to bury him at far too young of an age.
On January 1, 2014, I think of Tyson and the legacy of hope he brought and left, beating in so many of our hearts.
And two days later, I’m at this fire station taking pictures of this farewell party for another little two-year-old boy. His mother Carrie, who did the crazy thing I’m doing now and getting ready to kiss her son good-bye.
My heart all tied up and caught in my throat, and I walk around in a haze looking at all these pictures of a little boy so selflessly loved by this brave father and mother.
I stop still when I see the tiny outfit he was carried home in from the hospital.
The day we brought Leo home, I sat next to his car seat in the back of the car and held his tiny newborn finger. He slept and I sobbed.
I had just watched a mother give up her son…to me.
“How can one day be so happy and so sad all at the same time?” I’d said through my tears.
I took a sip of my punch and swallowed the pink liquid with a gulp. Someday this will be me.
Someday I will host a farewell event and the pictures on the table will be the pictures of my son.
Someday I will hold my child close those last seven days, as slowly my heart breaks into a million pieces.
Someday I will pack his bags and it won’t be a fun family trip, but a traumatic good-bye.
Someday my house will be frightfully empty of little boy growls and I’ll wish for him to spit up all over my clean shirt again.
I think all these things and I’m wondering how you start a new year when you’re experiencing agonizing loss and what you really want is to go back and relive last year again.
When your heart is splitting wide open and you’re clawing through grief, how do you face a new day, let alone a new year?
How do you get up in the morning when a crib is lying empty and your heart is hollowed out? How do you move?
At some point we’re all asking why, begging God for an answer, because there is no way on this earth we can think to live without some kind of hope.
I watch this mother and father, their faces twisting with grief at a funeral, and I see the lip quiver on the face of a strong man about to hand his son to someone else and walk away, and it all stirs deep inside my own heart as I think how someday I will kiss the chubby hands and cheeks of my own little man, hug him tight and let him go.
How do we live this life, loving and letting go, hands wide open to receive all that He allows?
What if the miracle is not that I would somehow get to keep my son forever, but that I’d get to love him at all.
What if the purpose is not a storybook ending, but an eternal redemption?
What if my heart-stopping anguish is the severe mercy of God on my soul?
Elisabeth Elliot, the warrior-woman who understood loss, said:
“Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.”
The only way I know how to live life and to love whole and to receive all, is to bow low.
I find Him on my knees and I am held.
I am sheltered.
I am kept.
When there are no cut-and-dried theological answers for the tearing of our hearts, we can get up in the morning and live because we are saved from utter desolation by Immortal Hope.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.