“Thao is with Jesus now,” we told her, barely choking out the whisper. Jesus. This invisible being we sing about. Jesus. The baby in the manger? Jesus. How can we explain Jesus and death and loss and grief to a 3-year-old?
And now, how can we not? We live it, breathe it, and dwell in loss since the death of her brother, our son, Thao.
Here we are living a life we never wanted or dreamed of. Here we are navigating loss and death in a way our Creator never intended.
What words can I use to describe death to our little girl? Her best friend and protector. The one who dared her to try new things. The one who teased and antagonized her. This isn’t fair. There are no words to help her comprehend. Forever. Permanent. Heaven and hope. His body was broken. He was just so sick.
How can we teach her to not succumb to fear when fear is our temptation too? How can we teach her to spread her wings when I want to pull her close? How can I show her to live a full life when part of mine just died? How can we go on without him?
This isn’t supposed to be. This is too hard, Lord. Let it be a mistake, a bad dream. I loved him too much. We need him now. And tomorrow. And forever. This isn’t the right order of things. Life is backward. Dreams are shattered. Why try anymore? Why plan?
Next month? Who knows? Birthdays and holidays? How can we plan or know or expect to be here? What if we lose another child? What if I can’t survive this? What if my heart stops beating, or worse, stops loving? What if my mind stops working? What if I cannot breathe?
One foot in front of another, day by day, I bake cookies. I face his favorites and his friends. We make new memories and remember the old. Restored faith built on old promises, the Lord helps us through each day. All we have is Jesus, but remember, that is all we need.
Answer questions, fight back tears. No, don’t hide them. Let her see you cry, mama. This hurts hard and deep, and love is seeping through the salty tears. Fresh wounds as time passes and children grow.
If you’re reading this I’m sorry. I’m sorry because you probably have to explain death to a young child. I’m sorry because you have probably also gone through great, traumatic loss. I’m sorry because the grief is deep, the wounds are fresh. Your heart might still be full of holes and a bloody mess. Death leaves us that way. But hope redeems us. The Lord restores us. Jesus heals us.
Not completely, not here. This earthly life, as you’ve come to know, is full of messy, broken things. It’s full of pain and people who mean well but fail. That’s why I’m here though. I’ve walked this journey for 11 years now. And I’m here to tell you there is joy in the midst of sorrow, there is art from ashes, there is hope in Heaven, in Jesus. He is holy. Set apart. He is our Savior. And He is the only one who can redeem our stories.
He is inviting you into the bigger story, the one He wrote to restore all good in our lives. To give us hope again. To help us love again. To bring us to our knees and pull us up to our feet. To press on into hard and surrender and harder things, so that we remember He is all we have. And He is all we need.