We wore bright, colorful hues to my daughters’ funeral—my husband in a soft pink button-down, me in a periwinkle dress that danced with pink and yellow flowers. My heart wore sackcloth and ashes.
Somehow, it was the only thing to do. Although we had never endured a depth of grief so deep and dark and true, how could we clothe ourselves in the blackness that we felt? After all, our sweet Flowers had been the very pictures of perfection—their tiny, delicate faces decorated with the sweetest lips and button noses; their closed eyes already adorned with wispy blonde lashes; their lovely fingers already graced with dainty nails. These beings that we had grown to know and love within me, whom I had grown within my body and labored for so sacredly, could only be honored with beauty and grace—with color and flowers and sunshine—just as they had honored us with their own.
Even without any physical indications, I had known that something was wrong the Friday before. It had been too late in the day to call the obstetrician, but I did anyway, leaving a message that skirted along the edges of panic and “I’m-sure-everything-is-fine” calm. With my husband in the middle of a graduate school class, I crawled into our queen-sized bed alone, overcome with the inexplicable sense that my girls, Lily and Magnolia, were gone. My heart cried out to God with groanings too deep for words as I begged that they were okay, that they would be okay, that He would do something. “Please, please…” I pleaded through my tears, willing myself to feel any movement in my round belly, trying to convince myself that I had…
The answer was not an audible one, and yet in those moments, I was more certain and aware of God’s presence than I had ever been in my life. A calm settled into the midst of my panic. They were gone. And yet, He was there. That was His answer. It was Him. I’ll admit that it was not the answer I wanted, but it was the one that would sustain me through the agonizing sonogram that confirmed my deepest fears; through the sacred labor and birth of their quiet, beautiful bodies; in the moment they were taken away; through the lowering of those bodies into the warm Florida earth; through the days and weeks of painfully bare arms that followed; through all the “whys”; and through that persistent bitter feeling that there was so much “mother” in me that I didn’t know what to do with.
What did I have to show for their indelible workings on me as a woman besides breasts that were painfully gorged with milk that would dry up, never nourishing, and a body that felt so vacuously hollow that I ached? What did I have to show but Him?
My mom stayed with us for a time after my husband returned to class and work because I could not bear the thought of being home alone. For months, my girls had been my constant companions. On one of those long days, my mom sat down at the piano, and I vividly remember the melody of the hymn that flowed from her fingers. The words worked their way through me, and I continue to hear their echo now… Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide / When other helpers fail and comforts flee / Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
The days following our loss are a muddle in my mind, but there are some feelings from those days that still meet me in this moment two-and-a-half years later.
Humans have a remarkable capacity to feel contradictory feelings in the same moment; in my experience, grief can be a breeding ground for that complexity.
At the same time that I felt empty, hollow, and lost, I also felt incredibly loved and cared for by my community. At the same time that I had creeping feelings of bitterness, anger, and despair, I also marveled at the privilege of being Lily and Maggie’s mother.
At the same time that my heart was robed in black, it felt so right to honor our girls with beauty, color, and the sunlight of the hot Florida summer. At the same time that my fists shook in the face of a God who could allow such heartache, I could also rest in His abiding presence. I could look to Him, knowing there was room for all that I might feel, but also knowing that, however meekly, however broken, I could sing and believe that He had and does and would abide with me.
Although she’s lived a little bit of everywhere, Abbie Gottfried currently resides in the rolling hills of east Tennessee with her husband, one-and-a-half-year-old son, two doodles, six chickens…and a partridge and a pear tree. She spends a majority of her time playing with trains, reading board books, and watching “Elmo’s World” with Jack, but additionally she teaches high school English part-time. Abbie loves words and hopes you find hers to be powerful and full of truth. bs