Tonight will be one year that Fiona died. I have survived a whole year without my daughter. Just barely. There are many times I felt I was dying too or wished I was dead so I could see her again and be rid of this pain. But she is gone and here I remain. It does not feel right, natural or normal to exist after her life is over. My good health feels like an affront to nature. But that is my reality and my story, and I have to live with it.
I was at a children’s event several months ago, and was talking to a woman from my church while I watched Poppy play. The subject of how many children I have came up in the conversation, and led to me sharing that I have one child no longer with me. Fiona went to preschool with this woman’s grandson when they were only 3 or 4. I said he probably wouldn’t remember Fiona as it was long ago and they were very young. She offered her condolences and said that he may or may not remember her, but that she wouldn’t want him to know about her death, as he is the type of child who would not handle that well. I understand very well the fierce, protective nature of a grandmother for her grandchild. My mother would have gladly traded places with Fiona and given her life in exchange if she could have. She wishes she could shield her other granddaughters from the pain of grief and loss of their sister, their kitten, and anything else remotely uncomfortable.
Is the reality of death something so shameful and so terrible that we should shield our children from it? At this point of time in history, those of us living in a 1st world country may feel we have the ability to shelter our children from the realities of suffering and death. This was not always the case. One hundred plus years ago, life was much different in America. Many parents experienced the death of an infant or child, and medicine was far removed from what it is today. But despite medical advances, all things on earth that are alive will still eventually die. The rate of mortality holds steady at 100%. This is a fact that we all would like to avoid thinking about. If I could have kept Fiona’s death a secret from her sisters, I would have. I remember Poppy waking up and coming to the living room to ask if Fiona was home from the hospital yet. We had to tell Poppy that she wouldn’t be coming home, that Fiona died. There was no way to avoid telling her the truth. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do. Bringing my teenager to the hospital to say goodbye to Fiona after she died was just as horrible. For our family, this is our reality. Fiona’s classmates, cousins and friends did not have the choice to be shielded from the truth either. We can’t pretend it away. That would also mean pretending Fiona didn’t exist, which adds to the pain.
We had to put our kitten Eevee to sleep last week. She had an incurable disease, a virus from the shelter, that occurs in a small percentage of cats. She had been acting sick for the last month, and was no longer the playful kitten we’d all enjoyed. It was difficult to tell our girls, but necessary. There was no way to keep it a secret. If I’d told them Eevee had run away, they’d want to go look for her and always wonder where she was, and not have any closure. Instead I was forced to use it as a teachable moment, explaining that we could be thankful that Eevee had a loving home for the months she lived, and that we enjoyed the fun of having her. And that we can be thankful for our other cat Molly, who we’ve had for 11 years. They cried and were sad, as Eevee’s death is another loss for them at a tender time, the anniversary of Fiona’s death. It was horrible timing to lose Eevee, yet it also proved to me that we do have some coping skills in dealing with loss.
In Grief Share last week we talked about Heaven, and how our life on earth is really a series of trials to be walked through until we can finally find peace and rest in the paradise of eternity. Every life ends in death, but death is not the end of the story or something to be feared. We fear what we do not know. Pretending it doesn’t happen or trying to avoid thinking about and dealing with it increases the fear. Facing the reality of it and making sense of death in light of our faith and hope in Christ brings hope and drives away fear. Job’s wife urged him to curse God and die after he lost everything, and he responded “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Is our faith big enough to survive the loss of an innocent child? To accept the knowledge that this loss will leave permanent scars that will not be fully healed in this lifetime? I’ve had to also recognize that God in his sovereignty allowed it to happen, that we are actually not in control, and that His ways are often mysterious. I have to walk by faith, trusting in His love and goodness despite the suffering, and trust that He will provide the strength and ability I need to survive. I think instead of keeping this a secret, I will share these truths with my children. They are precious truths learned by walking with God through suffering. They are precious too because of Fiona. She mattered, to those who knew and loved her, and to her Creator. And she will be remembered, always and forever.