“We get to go to Heaven right now?” My two-year-old looked up at me, his eyes wide with a mix of delight and bewilderment. I could see the little wheels in his head turning as he added an excited follow-up question, “We get to go to Jesus’ house?”
My heart broke.
I had just finished explaining to him the plan for our day. A family friend had just delivered her beautiful newborn baby, and we were heading over to their downtown apartment for a quick visit. My son had watched this friend’s belly blossom and bloom over the past several months, but was understandably confused by the part that came next.
“But why didn’t the baby go to heaven?” He asks, as I load him into the car.
I try my best to correct his misunderstanding, but his confusion is valid. In his almost three years of experience, my toddler has learned that babies don’t get to come home from the hospital; babies are in mommy’s tummy one day, and with Jesus the next.
My husband and I have experienced five losses over our four years of marriage. Just half a year after the wedding, we discovered we were pregnant with identical twin boys. At 31 weeks, those boys made a very silent, early entrance into our lives—our first son was stillborn, and our survivor spent the next seven weeks in a NICU incubator. Our hearts were simultaneously broken and filled to overflowing; we wept by the grave of one son, and stood in awe as the tiny hands of another clung to our fingers and refused to let go.
Almost two years later, we decided it was time to give our son another sibling and began trying again. That baby disappeared from our lives almost as quickly as she had appeared. We tried again, and again, and again, but the babies kept slipping from my womb. I clutch their little memories tightly against my heart, these children that I never got to hold but will never forget; these bright moments of hope and joy in the midst of frustration and sorrow.
Our losses have piled up quickly, but it’s not a topic we shy away from. Amidst the brokenness and the pain, we seek vulnerability and open discussion; and with that, came the difficult task of learning to talk about life and death with our son. We have been gifted the incredible opportunity to grieve as a family, but it isn’t always easy.
Motherhood doesn’t look like what I’d thought it would.
It’s heartbreaking to see my son learn firsthand about grief, and it’s devastating to lose child after child. Motherhood is so much more messy and raw than I’d imagined. It’s rubbed away at the bits of me that were sharp and jagged, softening the edges and transforming me into someone who feels deeper and loves more intensely.
And as much as I desire to protect my son from the hurts and the pain of the world around him, these are important discussions to be had. We lessen the burdens that he has to carry, and we break down the language and concepts into simple, easy-to-grasp phrases; but we do not hide this part of our family’s history. As parents, we seek to role model healthy grief for our son. We stand by him in his pain, and as we do so, we point him to the God who makes us whole.
We will teach our son that death and grief are not things to be feared but rather, opportunities to draw closer to God in the midst of our pain.
We will teach him about the cross. We will show him that it’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to mourn; but that we do not grieve without purpose.
We will tell him of the great hope we have for tomorrow, and about the death that defeated all death.
We will teach him that in the midst of our heartaches and confusion and pain, God is here, and God is good.
And we will teach him that on that day, when we finally get to go to “Jesus’ house,” there will be such great rejoicing.