The phone rang.
I needed to answer it.
I needed to step away from my wailing newborn for a moment, just a moment. She was safely tucked into her bouncy chair, so I walked out of the room to answer the call.
“Are you OK?”
It was my older brother.
I’d recently given birth and I was struggling with postpartum hormones. My lactation consultant said baby blues were quite common the first few weeks and I shouldn’t worry. My life had just been turned upside down—albeit in a good way—but there were new challenges and the annoying hormones were so out of control and made me cry. And cry. And I was tired. So. Tired.
That day the phone rang, I was feeling better. It was the first day I’d started to feel somewhat like my old self again.
“I’m doing fine . . . the baby won’t stop crying though and I don’t know why,” I answered.
There was silence on the other end. Then I heard my dad’s voice, which I thought was odd. I wondered what had happened to my brother and why my dad was at his house on a weekday morning.
Tiredly, I listened as my father talked.
“Are you OK?”
It was nice of them to check in on me, I thought.
I gave my dad the same response I’d given my brother.
I don’t really remember much of the conversation after that. My dad started saying something indecipherable then that someone had died. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
“What?” I asked, as cold fear started to rise in my chest. I knew. Oh, I knew. But my mind wouldn’t process it.
There was a scream of denial. Then I hung up the phone and dropped to the floor. My cries mingled with my daughter’s angry wails, until they were one.
It was two weeks to the day since I’d given birth.
My younger brother Nathan had a fantastic sense of humor and a great big heart. We’d always been pretty close. However, the several years leading up to his death had taken a toll on his relationship with our entire family. He’d made poor choices that had led him down a sad path to heroin addiction, prison time, and, eventually, homelessness. We all tried to help him. Countless times. He tried to help himself, too. But the addiction monster had left too many marks and he couldn’t fully escape its clutches. My little brother died in early fall of 2016 at the age of 33, alone in a hotel bathroom, after accidentally overdosing on Fentanyl.
I was angry. Bitterly angry and profoundly sad. While I despaired at his death, I was mad at my brother for robbing me of the complete joy my husband and I should have felt those first months with our beautiful baby daughter. In addition to healing from the baby blues and facing months of hormones being haywire, I now had to battle the deep grief of losing a close family member. It was a double whammy and at times the pain seemed unbearable. I cried often and was exhausted mentally and physically. I did not know how I’d pull through. My husband was supportive, family was supportive, but we were all tired, all grieving, all in shock. I tried to be strong but I felt like I was a mess.
There were days I cried out to God. Praying helped me. Talking out my feelings helped me.
Yet I was sad at the injustice of it all. My last conversation with my brother had not been positive, and I felt guilty. He also had left behind two little boys and my heart broke for them. I also couldn’t believe the timing. I wondered why something so tragic had to occur at practically the onset of my daughter’s arrival into the world? I didn’t think it was fair and I didn’t understand.
The pain didn’t stop there. Two months after my brother died, my stepfather passed away from cancer. I continued to wonder why my family had to go through such terrible suffering. Between the hormones and the grief of losing my loved ones, I have to admit there were occasions I felt as if I was going to fall apart. I tried to enjoy my time with my daughter as much as possible, and I did make her my focus, but there was always the reminder of the losses and I still felt angry at the lot I’d been dealt.
Despite this, there were so many beautiful moments those first months of my daughter’s life. Her little smiles and cute baby sounds, her fascination with Chris LeDoux songs, her tiny hands and legs moving this way and that. Learning experiences with my husband. Precious memories with just my daughter and me. Our quiet hours together in the dark of night, as I held her close to my heart and her little hands touched my skin, as if reassuring me just as I reassured her.
There were those daylight moments when she found my eyes with her own, telling me how much she needed me. I had to be strong and sort through it all. For her.
The more I prayed and tried to make peace with all that had happened, things began to change. When my daughter was nursing, she’d sometimes have one index finger pointed up directly toward the ceiling. It was as if she were telling me right then and there, with her little hand as a testimonial, to look up. God was in control.
My anger began to disappear. Soon, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I turned the situation around and examined it with new eyes. I did not look back on the previous months and see only gloom. I reminded myself again of those many instances of intense happiness—all the smiles my husband and I shared with our daughter, all the little milestones and the joy she’d brought into the lives of our families.
I realized then that the timing of her birth had not been wrong at all. In fact, it had been perfectly right.
She came just when we needed her to arrive. She was with us through the grief and showered us with blessings. Because of her, it was much easier to put one foot in front of the other. Our little girl was illuminating sunshine during the rain.
For anyone going through a storm, it can be extremely difficult. It can be hard to see ahead in the midst of all the chaos. Sometimes it’s just too much to bear and we feel like we’re about to shatter into a million pieces.
However, I do believe if we hold on to faith and dare to gaze deeper into the turmoil, we will no doubt discover radiant light pushing back at the darkness. That light will pull us through, and, one day, we will understand how everything worked together.
For God always makes beauty from ashes.