The upturned soil left a bare spot on the landscape, a tiny mound underneath the pine trees where a small aluminum marker vibrated in the cold winter wind.
Twenty-nine years ago, we were thrilled to be expecting our second child. Our oldest would soon be two; a blue-eyed strawberry blonde beauty with soft curls that framed her precocious face. The spacing seemed perfect. We were grateful for this pregnancy, as seven months earlier we had experienced a very painful miscarriage.
Having successfully passed the “weeks” marker, I felt I could breathe and begin to enjoy this life growing inside me. Right on schedule this little person became very active. Our daughter, curious of my blossoming frame and the movement within, hugged, read “books” and gave “Bay-bee” many kisses. My husband, Bob would lay awake at night, his hand on my belly, laughing as the “little soccer player” made moves that stretched its temporary home to the limits.
In January I turned my thoughts more intentionally to the spring birth of baby. I tucked all the newly received “Baby Whitaker” Christmas gifts into a special box to be opened when the little one arrived. The month was busy – we were moving the first part of February.
The end of January our little family of three returned from an exciting and whirlwind house hunting trip. Our soon to be new home was nestled in a neighborhood filled with children. Three of our immediate neighbors were pregnant with due dates closely clustered. It all felt so right.
At twenty-eight weeks pregnant, my body and emotions were exhausted when I knew something was wrong,
“I haven’t felt the baby move for a couple of days.”
Bob held my hand with concern in his eyes. We had no words.
My friends assured me, “Oh Robyn, you just wore that little baby out with that house hunting trip. Just rest and everything will be just fine.”
I knew something was wrong.
“Well Mrs. Whitaker, we will be seeing you in just a few days for your scheduled appointment. I’m sure you are just exhausted. But if you think you need to be seen, I guess we can try to make room to see you.” the nurse responded with an annoyed sigh.
I knew something was wrong.
The nurse squeezed me in last minute. Bob, was unable to get there for the appointment. After an ultrasound, I waited for the doctor. Our daughter played happily on the floor at my feet. The minutes seemed like hours in the bare examining room.
And I knew something was wrong.
“Mrs. Whitaker, you will be checking into the hospital on Friday.” My doctor announced flatly. No explanations, no words of compassion, only instructions. I would deliver a still born. How does a young twenty-three year old woman hold that kind of news with her daughter snuggled astride a hope that has died?
At first I held my breath. This was not happening – it couldn’t be happening. I walked silently to my car. Then, I cried all the way home as I drove. And I wondered….
What is wrong with me?
My body is broken.
Is my baby deformed? Monstrous?
What did I do wrong?
It’s all my fault.
Will Bob hate me?
I can’t move to THAT neighborhood!
Am I being punished?
My god, my womb is a tomb!
These thoughts would continue to haunt me in the days, weeks and months to come.
Outwardly, our son was perfect. We were in anguish, confused, un-counseled and un-consoled. Nothing in our young lives had prepared us for this. Bob and I cried together. But my pain and shame soon overwhelmed my being. I struggled to do my own grieving work. And I had no idea how to reach out to Bob and include his experience in mine.
And, no one knew what to say to us…
“Robyn, we know that all things work together for good to those who love God.” “He has another greater purpose and plan.” “Wow, God must really trust you and Bob to give you a trial like this.” “Trust in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” “You can try again.” “At least you have your daughter.”
Well meaning and convinced we needed a piece of truth, but no one addressed our pain, sorrow, or my shame filled aching heart and soul.
Several days after the funeral, I had to return. I needed to see once again where my tiny son lay. My heart felt bare, upturned, plowed under, stripped down and vulnerable in the harsh elements. I desperately needed someone to tenderly wrap me in a warm blanket of empathy and compassion.
With a tear streaked face, I pulled into the carport and something red caught my eye. On the back doorknob was a single red flower tied with white curly ribbon.
Once inside the house the phone rang, my friend Pam. “Robyn, did you get the flower I put on your back doorknob?” I’d like to come by later and take away any aging or dying flowers. Then, twice a week before you move, I will be bring you a new fresh flower to put in the bud vase that I gave you.”
They sat in our living room. Neatly displayed on the desk, elegantly scripted sympathy cards still attached with little plastic pitchfork stakes. Once beautiful, the sight of the aging wilted flowers and the smells that signaled their decay – nauseated me. My heart could bear no more death.
We delayed our move for my body to heal. As promised for the next four weeks I received eight fresh flowers. Pam knew. She had been there and spoke directly to the depth of my pain. Someone who could say, “I have been there.” She understood what was going on in my heart, body and mind. She acknowledged my pain and my shame!
Pam’s kind words of truth and thought-full gift brought the first glimpse of a possible future and a hope for healing. They were a warm blanket of empathy and compassion tenderly wrapped around my bare heart.
We had much to grieve, not just to suck-it-up and move on – finding the courage to experience death before resurrection can occur. Feeling and not numbing out, because one cannot be healed from a pain not consciously accepted and traveled.
Today, we still miss our son. Nathan Samuel Whitaker. We wonder who he would look like and what kind of heart he would have? I sometimes look for him in a crowd. No….of course not really him, but someone like who he might be.
God has given us much goodness. As I did the difficult work of grief, the bare upturned places of my heart eventually experienced warmth and lush new growth. And I do know the truth. It brings me great hope and joy. I will see Nathan one day! And we will sit together with God and tell our stories and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying – “nor bare hearts.” I imagine it an eternal spring full of sweet promise.
Because sometimes you need to know that some flowers don’t die.
Robyn Whitaker lives in Texas with her beloved husband of 32 years. She has an adventurous heart that is learning to breathe. Lover of truth, seeker of story, aspiring author and newborn dreamer, this mother of three is in search of redemption and living her Kingdom purpose.