My upbringing taught me things that happened during our lives were for a reason. Sometimes the reason was quite evident. While other times, when it mattered most, the reason seemed to be just out of sight, hidden, never to be found.
The why went unanswered when my parents divorced. The why remained unsolved when my, then twelve-year-old son, moved away to Colorado with his mother. The why that followed us into every day and night while our youngest son fought for his life in the NICU kept its distance from our understanding. I suppose when the doctor said that our daughter was no longer with us, I never paid much attention to the why.
I don’t know if I neglected such a crucial question at such a crucial time out of habit or rather because I knew the really important things in life – the things that mattered – the things that shifted everything you had trusted in and believed – would not have a reason attached to them.
As I sat in the hospital room, some nineteen-months ago, a much more daunting and fearful question was emerging on the horizon of who I was. This question would not only demand an immediate answer, but also would demand immediate action on my part – on my crying wife’s part. Why was not on my mind.
That question was one word. How?
I remember posting to Facebook hours after we delivered our stillborn daughter. I wrote that I didn’t particularly care ‘why it happened’ but rather, ‘how will I get through this?’ How do I make my wife smile again? How do I explain it to my kids? How do I keep my faith in God? How can I even live without the little girl that I never met?
The clichés were thick and frequent early on. If I heard one more person tell me that the way I was feeling was normal and expected — I felt I was going to snap. Others chimed in that in time, the pain wouldn’t be as frequent or intense. I snarled at them. Then life continued.
The one consistent thing about losing a loved one is that life still continues. Time ticks away. A minute becomes an hour, which becomes a day and before I knew it, I was standing at a gravesite that used to be a large lump of loose dirt – now neatly framed and decorated with green grass.
So how did I get my wife to smile again? How did I explain it to my children? How did I keep faith in God? I simply took the next step. I wish I had some 3-step equation that would satisfy the longing that the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions long for, but I don’t. There is no diagram or manual. Much like the decision I made to love my wife for the rest of my life, I chose also to not stop living in the aftermath of my daughter’s passing.
Making decisions based on your feelings will be as consistent as a roller-coaster. There is no predetermined speed at how you must grieve but you must grieve. You must lean into the grief. Take one more step. One more step gets you one step closer to knowing how you keep going.
Some say that time heals all wounds; I prefer to believe that the distance between the days of our loss and where I am today isn’t simply covered with time, but rather grace — a grace that I wouldn’t have know had I not taken one more step.