This Tuesday, April 21, will be two years since my daughter died.
We named her Eve Frieda. She was so beautiful.
Talking to pretty much anyone about Eve, about how much I miss her and about how much grief hurts has been near impossible for me for the past year and a half. I marvel at people who can share their grief. However, the handful of occasions where I have been able to work up enough courage to share my heart has always left me with a deeper sense of appreciation for Eve, life, death and heaven. If speaking out my sorrow lightens my soul even the slightest, then why would it continue to be such a difficult thing for me?
A few nights ago, I had a dream. As soon as I woke up, I wrote it all down. Here is one part: “I was in a house I didn’t recognize, which was filled with happy, sincere people. I could feel their peaceful souls. Everyone began sitting down around this beautiful table looking at me. I realized all of these people are going to listen to me tell about Eve, about how she died, about how much I miss her, and about life with grief. I was so excited because I felt like for the first time, someone was going to fully understand all of the thoughts, terrors, emotions and memories I’ve been living with. The thought of sharing these heavy, but precious things filled me with peace.”
My reticence to speak is unreasonable; I am surrounded by unselfish, kind, compassionate listeners who have been gently leading me since the horrible moment when Eve left her mortal body. To me, grief is a solitary journey. I think this is especially true for mothers of babies who died at birth.
Solitary or not, my dream made me realize the importance of courage to share a sliver of our deepest distress. First, because I am learning the wisdom in Alma’s counsel to mourn with those who mourn. Second, because death is such an important part of having true, unshakable faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior. And third, because fear of death makes us susceptible to the snares of Satan.
For me, facing death never shook my testimony of a loving Father in Heaven, a Savior Jesus Christ and a Plan of Salvation for my family. That foundation that I’ve been building on since childhood held me steady when the cold, fierce wind of death blew frigid blasts at my sunny life.
But, death has also made me desperate for my Savior. A few months after Eve died, I wrote this in my journal:
I’m not sure how anyone survives the first months. I am not sure how I did. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t lay down and die. Then, when I was ready to ask for light, He sent it. As soon as I asked, He sent me some light. God cried with me. He did not leave me comfortless….but He didn’t fix anything and say ‘good as new.’ Fixing means putting something back the way it was before. That is impossible now. The way life was before was ‘okay.’ And ‘okay’ has less of a need for Christ. Less of a need for His Atonement. After living off of borrowed breath from my Savior for these months, how could I go back to before, when life flowed by, gentle and easy as a song? I have felt close to my Savior my whole life. But this desperation is new.
Living with death has also forced me to accept the view of what C.S. Lewis terms the “shadow lands”. All up until modern times, the harsh life left Earth’s wanderers longing for comfort in the arms of God and the idea of a better place. Now, modern life- with luxurious houses, indoor heating, solid walls of ‘safety’ around us, celebrities to pine after, free time for hobbies, super-cool technological gadgets, and all the wisdom of man at our fingertips– now, we think we are home. We actually think Earth life has something on Heaven. Then, in our state of superficial comfort, we view death as stealing something away from us.
The opposite is true- death restores us to where we belong.
Earth is in the shadows of Heaven.
Death is putting out the flickering candle because the dark night is over and a beautiful dawn is awakening.
Death reminds us that we are just visitors on Crusieship Mortality (or College of Mortality, depending on how we use our time); our exit date is already penciled in.
…but it was appointed unto men that they must die. (Alma 12:27)
After Eve died, many people told me things like “she is in a better place,” “she is in God’s arms now,” “she is with the angels of Heaven..” But, if we really believe this is all true, and we really think all the people we’ve buried are in Heaven, then why do we shudder at the mention of death? Why do we push away thoughts of our own death? Why do we fear our family members’ deaths so completely?
And yet..I know exactly why death shakes us….I hate death. Death makes it so my children are not all together, here, with me. Death makes it so that even the lighthearted, beautiful, rose moments have a piercing thorn. Death has made it so that in this life I will not know my daughter like I know my other children. Death has painted life a new shade of color. I wonder often if I will ever be used to this new view. And yet, I cannot remember how it used to look either.
In my journal the other day, I wrote this about grief:
My grief for Eve is not going anywhere. It will forever be on my shoulders, my backpacking pack. I am getting stronger to carry it. But even with my new-found strength, sometimes I still drop it all, crumpling to the ground under the weight of sorrow. There are very few people who ask me what is in my backpack. Most people notice it, are interested in it, but only a very few sit down with me and wait for me to unpack it all. Life as a mom is so busy and most days it stays on my shoulders. ever-present and heavy, but all packed up., It bumps and it jostles and it daily brings tears to my eyes…but I carry it. And I’m starting to appreciate everyone else’s backpacks and the wisdom and strength that comes from being a pack carrier. Grief is heavy and the realest thing I’ve ever felt in my life. Why did God make death so terrible? The vacuum it creates is un-fillable by anything here on Earth. Only Jesus saves us from this great sorrow. I miss the carefree girl I used to be. I miss laughing without wincing…but never again will I underestimate the pain of life. And that brings a depth of compassion, faith and hope that, for me, cannot be found without a backpack of grief.
For how unrelenting grief is, I am amazed at how many times I question the reality of my experience mourning Eve. The women of Earth who have buried their babies are my companions. I think often of specific women like Emma Smith and I think often of the unsung mothers whose names were forgotten as quickly as their child. I honor them for continuing on even with their unparalleled heartbreak.
In General Conference, one of my many questions was answered by Elder Bednar’s talk:
Truly, one of the great blessings of devoted discipleship is “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7)….
The peace Christ gives allows us to view mortality through the precious perspective of eternity and supplies a spiritual settledness (see Colossians 1:23) that helps us maintain a consistent focus on our heavenly destination. Thus, we can be blessed to hush our fears because His doctrine provides purpose and direction in all aspects of our lives….
Godly fear is loving and trusting in Him. As we fear God more completely, we love Him more perfectly. And “perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16). I promise the bright light of godly fear will chase away the dark shadows of mortal fears (see D&C 50:25) (Therefore They Hushed Their Fears)
Fear of death, however much we hate death, leaves us alone in the valley of shadows. Eternal perspective on death has not taken away my sorrow, but even in my hurt, I feel reverence for the Great Plan of Salvation for my daughter, for my family and for all of God’s children.
Writing to all of you about my little girl is harrowing to my soul. I hope that God takes my weak, insufficient words and makes something beautiful for you and your testimony of Jesus Christ.