I am a mum of two sons. One on Earth and one in Heaven. Zach is 3 and Joel passed away in July of last year at 3 1/2 months old.
He seemed to be a normal and healthy baby until the weekend before he died. He started vomiting severely so we were admitted to hospital with a suspected gastric bug. In the middle of our second night in hospital I was unable to wake him and a CT scan showed that he had a very large brain tumour. We were transferred to a specialist hospital where they informed us that Joel was already brain dead and there was nothing they could do. A few hours later we turned off his life support and he died in mine and my husband's arms.
It has been 6 months since Joel passed away and they have without doubt been the hardest months of my life. 'How are you?' is now a very hard question to answer. Sometimes I don't want to answer. Sometimes I am not sure my answer is appropriate or know whether the person really wants to hear it. Sometimes I just don't really know and cannot put into words all that's going on in my heart and mind.
I know that I miss my son. I think about him every day, throughout the day. I also miss who he would be now and what he would be doing at 9 months old. I'm aching to hold him and kiss him again. Wishing he could share in all the new memories our family is making. Feeling somewhat unsettled and incomplete. Knowing that however big our family grows there will always be a Joel shaped hole in it.
I am so thankful that we were given Joel, even for such a short time. Despite the pain, despite seeing my husband's grief and Zach's confused sadness; those short, sweet months with my precious boy were worth it. I wouldn't swap the pain of today if it meant not having him for the time we did. But God has helped me to realise that it is for so much more. His short life here on Earth was only the beginning, of his life and of our time together. From his very conception Joel became an eternal being and he will now exist as long as I will. He is already getting to experience the reality of Heaven and being in the presence of his Father God and will enjoy eternity doing so. One day I will join him there and get to spend the rest of my days with him. Those days, which seem so distant and ethereal now, will be just as real as these days.
Not long after Joel died I read this verse:
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." I Thessalonians 4:13
Since then I have prayed that God would show us what it means to grieve with hope and help us to do that.
As a Christian, the death of someone you love is no less painful than for anyone else. Your grief is no less real or raw. Sometimes my grief is overwhelming. The pain and anguish is so deep and strong I don't know what to do with myself. I still experience all the normal grief responses and feelings: fear, anger, questioning, guilt, sorrow, doubt. The difference is, under all that grief there is hope. I cling onto it and onto God. The hope that God is with us in our suffering, the hope that nothing can separate us from His love and the hope that death is not the end: Jesus has overcome death and we will spend all eternity with him in the new heavens and the new earth. A place more wonderful than we can comprehend.
These truths are more real and more important to me than ever before. In the daily struggles and low times I contemplate them, and Heaven and eternity in a way that I have not done before. Although there is still pain, they bring comfort and encouragement and hope.
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
That doesn't mean it's easy. I am realising like never before my total dependence on and need for God.
I am constantly trying, unsuccessfully, to do things in my own strength. A dear counsellor from our church helped me to recognise that I was trying to deal with my emotions and thoughts intellectually, attempting to rationalise them away rather than going to Jesus. Telling myself things like “You shouldn't be feeling fearful, trust God”. I realised I need to admit to how I feel and invite Jesus into those emotions and thoughts and into those broken parts of my heart. I need to ask him to reveal his truth to my heart and to help me. To reveal to me more of who he is. And I am thankful that He does. He is faithful.
"Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us." Psalm 62.8
Zach, who is three, has been amazing through this whole thing. He brings us such joy. The loss of his little brother has brought sadness, but mainly confusion. He still comments on how he misses baby Joel. We talk about him fairly often and how we miss him, but how he is now in Heaven and with Jesus and that one day we will see him again. I love the simplicity of his understanding: it is so sad that baby Joel died, but it is so happy that he is now in Heaven with Jesus.
I will continue to talk to Zach about Joel as he grows up and to any subsequent children we have. It is important to me that Joel will always be remembered as a part of our family. I hope that in doing so, it will also provoke them to grapple with the reality of pain, suffering and death, whilst also pointing them to Jesus, their creator, sustainer and Saviour and the eternal hope we have in him.