familiar with suffering
This morning Abby and I had a special opportunity to go back to Winnie Palmer and speak to a group of about 30 nurses who were attending a workshop called something like “Empty Arms, Broken Hearts.” Joan, our social worker from the NICU, had invited us to come and share our experiences of miscarriage and neonatal loss in order to help nurses better serve grieving parents.
(Since several of our readers are familiar with CakeWrecks, I will mention that its creators, our good friends John & Jen, are presently crisscrossing the country to promote Jen’s book and speak in front of loads of people queuing for her autograph. The closest I know to what that feels like is when Abby and I enter Winnie Palmer Hospital, where we are practically famous, or at least made to feel that way.)
The panel itself consisted of the two of us plus a doctor who had a two-year old daughter die of a viral infection. After we finished describing our journey, we were asked, “How did you get through it?” Abby answered by explaining James’s life verse, “for we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) and describing how we saw God work good things in us and him during James’s life and even as a result of his death. He taught us more compassion, checked our pride and ambitions, and directed us to value patience, bravery, and self-sacrifice, to name a few things. We felt a deeper connection with a God who had purposed and allowed His own Son to come and die, and a greater gratitude for His death that opened the way for us, our little children, and everyone who repents of sin and trusts Jesus to live forever in perfect joy.
I also shared about the healing in blogging, both the therapeutic quality of writing and how it spared us emotionally from communicating how James was and how we felt over and over to all the people who needed to know. Also, we have been well cared for by family, church, and friends. We struggled with why God would allow things, but our support network made it clear that we and our kids were loved.
It was an emotionally cathartic time, but also I couldn’t help feeling strange sitting at the front of the room as though we were subject-matter experts, and in this particular setting, the subject was grief. I guess it felt kind of strange in part because to us it was a memory, and two floors above us, it was a present reality for NICU parents whose worlds are turning upside down.
Providentially, I got a chance to visit briefly with just such a person. After the panel discussion ended, Abby and I went up to the NICU and got to see James’s neonatologist and several of James’s nurses and show off James’s little brother. It was there we saw the mother of a precious little Ava Winfield, who was born three months early at 24 weeks and weighing less than a pound. I don’t really know the Winfields directly, but John & Jen do, and at the Orlando Cake Wrecks party they shared that little Ava needed A+ blood donors because she required daily blood transfusions. Hearing stuff like that is like a time machine for me. I made a direct donation to her a week ago, and would encourage anyone else who is local and A+ (or O) to make a donation for Ava at the blood center on Michigan Street. Ava’s story is just getting started, and I feel a brotherly affection towards her parents in the sense that Proverbs 17:17 describes a brother who is born for adversity. Ava’s mother shared that Ava is having heart surgery tomorrow, and I’m praying for her as well as her parents.
After we left the NICU, we ate lunch at the Winnie Palmer cafeteria. Though we never blogged about it before, one of our first meals at the Winnie Palmer cafeteria included butterscotch pudding. Food is a strange thing. I’m sure it was probably in the first week of James’s life, and we were so stressed out and emotionally worn, but somehow this little cup of butterscotch pudding was the most sublime bit of “comfort food”—we enjoyed it intensely. And the weird thing was, though Abby ate lunch at Winnie Palmer nearly every day for four and a half months, they never served butterscotch pudding again. Peering into the refrigerated display case to look for the butterscotch pudding that was never there became as much a ritual as scrubbing our hands up in the NICU. We looked every single day and it was never to be repeated. And today, habitually, as though we’d never left, we made our way to the refrigerated case, and…
Incredibly, sitting there like a little bookend, there was a little cup of butterscotch pudding. And while Valor dozed politely in his stroller, Abby and I got to indulge in a little memory over a lunch date.