The day I accompanied my daughter and son-in-law to a local funeral home, it’s hard to say why my nerves weren’t like a sprung watch, coming apart in pieces. Two days had passed since the 11 p.m. call the night my daughter lost her son, Garrison Isaac, at 5 months of pregnancy, and I was still being held by invisible hands. Looking back on the mundane mechanics of phone calls, memorial planning and reception prep that followed, I am amazed still at the peace that prevailed.
After receiving the news that dark January night, we began a walk through time where days washed into each other.
What carries any of us through the darkest times we face with our children, especially adult children? It is a different role, this parenting a child who is now a grown-up. The ache is still there when their hearts are shattered, but the hands that hold them are often not our own.
Hence the great-heartedness we feel for people who love our children in our stead. No—not in our stead, but as an extra added cushion, a way of expanding the care, softening the blows of life, enhancing the conversation of what it means to make one’s way in the world.
It began with the gracious grief counselor who walked us through shoebox-sized casket choices, then drove us in the brutal February chill to find a spot for Garrison to rest. How tender the man was with my daughter and son-in-law as we traveled the lanes between grave sites. His loud silence matched the quiet, gray-green view out the car window.
What an exquisite kindness to my children, this speechless gift, knowing the pain was too much to bear, that any conversation would tax their ready tears.
The counselor also had to ask unthinkable questions. “Will you be carrying the casket as we proceed from the chapel to the graveside? We could have one of our staff do that for you.”
Managing the emotions of broken parents while guiding them to their child’s resting place takes a remarkable kind of human being. His gentle manners prompted a desire to hug him like an old friend, but I resisted.
We are now past our second January since the enveloping grace of those days met the great need in my daughter’s life. But wounds that deep take a long time to heal.
I am no longer down the hallway, a door away with a box of Band-Aids at the ready, nor available to hold her when the tears break. While we live only 40 minutes away from each other, our face-to-face time is limited and precious.
When my arrow prayers arise, “God, soften the hurt places in her heart, massage life into the emptiness of her dreams,” I must trust that He will indeed love my daughter in ways only He can orchestrate.
His most recent orchestration includes a new church home and a warm and welcoming small group. Leah has told me about the peace she and her husband feel in this new place, how the church’s philosophy, friendliness and family feeling are such a good fit for them in this season of their life.
And the pastor and his wife have gone out of their way to know them well. I was able to thank them both in person on Christmas Eve when we attended that special service. It was a great joy to share my appreciation for the way they have loved my daughter well, to validate her fears of being 36 and having no living children. To thank them for crying alongside her at the loss of Garrison’s life and the grief that followed. Hugging them gave me a chance to look them in the eye, thanking them for their sensitive hearts, their spontaneous prayers and the space they’ve given her to heal.
Leah recounted the small group time from the previous week, how they’d studied their lesson in relationships, finished their time together and then the pastor said, “I don’t usually do this but I really feel compelled to pray for William and Leah right now.”
“His words hit me and I just leaned against William, covered my face and let out a huge sob,” she told me. “I lost it, Mom. I completely lost it; couldn’t even speak for the sobs. But Greg got it; they gathered around, laying hands on me, holding me while I shook and God showed up. It was such a healing time.”
“Breaking down is the beginning of rebuilding, honey,” I reply.
As trite as it sounds, it does take a village to raise a child. But a village cannot love a child—only flesh and blood people, one by one, partners in our place, who reach out and care for them as our own.
The grief counselor’s words come back to me, so fitting in this season, a time of renewed hope: “It’s lovely, really; why, you could even have a picnic right here next to the spot. The view of the mountain is really spectacular. Wait ’til you see this place in the spring.”
How we love those people who carry our children into spring.
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