“She’s Gone,” were the first words I heard when I woke up in the hospital bed. Not exactly, the kind of words any mother expects to hear after giving birth. It was March 2, 1996 when my family relocated to another state for my husband’s promotion. We arrived hopeful for our future on a Tuesday and by Friday, our family, along with the new job and new home, had to instead bury the hope that was at one time moving and breathing within me. It was a tragic event. Something went terribly wrong, my blood pressure spiked unknowingly, which resulted in the placenta ripping from the uterine wall, and I abrupted. They called it an abruption with fetal demise due to Preeclampsia. My daughter died just minutes before they could remove her in an emergency C-section.
My chances of survival were not good odds, as I lost large amounts of blood, which can cause multi vital organ failure. I woke up on respirators and blood packs, A-lines in my neck and beeping of monitors, which somehow all hushed while my husband told me “She’s Gone.” The nurses brought the baby to me immediately, as they lifted my head, held her to my chest, and lifted my arms to cradle her. I felt her toes and her hands, I rubbed her soft strawberry blonde hair, and I caressed her fair-colored cheeks. With every artificial breath within me, I said hello and goodbye all in 10 minutes before I was no longer able to stay awake. I woke much later to a Catholic priest and three nuns standing around my bed, praying over me, giving me my last rites, at the same time praying that God would spare my life. God answered them as I am here, well and alive 18 years later.
Experiencing the death of a child is the worst kind of pain anyone can go through, as it is the unnatural order of life. We are born, we grow through many developmental stages of life, including bearing and raising our children, so that at the end of our long life, our children bury us first. It is not supposed to be the other way around. The reason it is the greatest of all pain is that there is no greater love than a parent has for their child, a depth of feeling that is sacrificial and unconditional. It knows no depths too great and no external strength that can stop its powerful flow. After nine long days in the hospital, surviving strokes in my eyes that made me blind for 3 weeks, I was able to start the process of recovery, which happened to be the hardest life journey I have ever taken. Many lessons were learned in that journey that would drastically change my course forever. I could get into all the awful details for you, diving into depression, addiction, divorce, careless and reckless living, but I thought for now I could share with you the hope in her life, rather than the destruction that came due to her death. I wish I could tell you that I recovered without any fault, but that is just not true.
I did not particularly grow up in a religious family. We did not go to church together, we did not read any Holy Scriptures, and we did not pray together as a family. I remember though, my neighbor across the street when I was six, invited me to church and I would go with their family instead. I can still remember the smell of the wooden pews, the peacefulness of the sanctuary, and the warm greetings from smiling people every time I would enter. My favorite time was in Sunday school where the teacher explained in my very first lesson, Psalm 23. I cut out a cross with some construction paper and decorated it, and in the middle I wrote “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me”
Little did I know then, how much that would render true. I spent years angry with God, and I lived my life in a way that mirrored the depths of my pain. These were the darkest years, the ones that if I spend too much time looking back, I can become quite disillusioned and so therefore I choose to look at the present and hope to the future.
Recovering from the death of a child is different for everyone, I do not think parents actually recover completely, as the pain and loss is always there, though the sharpness of its cut and the rawness of its pain is not as prominent over time. It eventually heals and the length of time that it takes is dependent upon how a person copes through it. I wish I could tell a story that was not so self-deprecating; however, my journey and all of its darkness actually returned to me brightly the hope of life and a newfound respect for its fragility. I have learned that anything with value is fragile; it can break easily if not taken care of. Life is the most fragile possession we will ever hold. Recovery is finding out a way to balance the harshness of a chaotic world with the love that envelops it. I had to grow to a point that I could accept that some things I have no control over, and the only way to survive it, is to walk fearlessly and courageously, thru the valley of the shadow of death. I am not sure of your own walk of faith; it is all so personal and very different for each of us. However, for me, my belief in God was my only hope 1) to survive the pain, and 2) to have any assurance I would see her again.
Long ago, I was told of a story of a mother, a most blessed mother, blessed among all mothers, who bore a child and who had to go through the pain of his death. Nevertheless, in His death, the greatest hope came alive, in that we all were bought with a price. He died, so that we may have eternal life. I see similarities with the death of my own little girl. I see the value in her life, the darkness caused by her death, the depth of love that is possible between a parent and a child, and the hope that comes after when we realize who the giver of life really is. I survived and recovered because I have a God who walks in the valley of the shadow of death with me. He is there alongside of me, comforting me on this journey. He gives me rest and restores my soul.
Even now, He springs forth new life within me to spread the message of hope to those who suffer from addiction, depression, loss and grief, as well as other tragedies in this world, like poverty, violence, and disconnection. Interestingly, we named her Tiffany Renee, Tiffany meaning “appearance of God,” and Renee meaning “Peace.” I was not aware of the actual meanings of the names when we gave them to her. It gave me great comfort that even in her name, God reminded me that he is present with us and brings us peace throughout this valley of death.
If you have experienced the death of a child, or are coping though the intense grief and loss, I want to say to you, do not give up. There is hope and life does get better. I cannot tell you what to do; I just can share my own story. I had to reconcile my belief and had to either turn within myself, into the darkness and die, or turn around and dare to look at the light and do something that would bring honor to her life. I chose life; I chose to live in such a way that would bring me closer to her. It took a lot of work, much pain in searching for meaning; however, I guess the way through it, is to continue to walk toward the pain so that you can get to the other side of it. It is the only way.
The more I turned and tried to avoid it, I found myself going towards more darkness. It will kill you if you do not turn around and walk through it, that is why I responded to the truths that appear in Psalm 23, the one I read long ago. He is with us every step of the way, and if we keep walking…keep moving forward, we will see the brightness of a new day. We will have life and learn to love it, despite its sometimes painful circumstances. We are better people for it, and later on in life as you become stronger, you will find that there is much to be done in this world. People suffer great losses every day, and because I have made it through my own suffering, I am in a much better position to bring the message of hope to those in despair. This is recovery.