My husband and I recently planned a relaxing retreat to the countryside of Ireland. For the first few days we tucked away into a cottage by the sea feeling like we had stepped into the pages of Sense and Sensibility. A tragic downgrade for the Dashwood women was a charming escape for us. I found so much pleasure in the simple routine of opening the blinds each morning to reveal a quaint garden, a thatched roof and a grey sea and sneaking down the rickety spiral staircase into the little stucco kitchen to make coffee.
The windy weather didn’t allow the long breakfasts in the garden I was planning, or the leisurely walks. But one day the weather clears long enough for us to venture down the hill through a maze of paddocks separated by crumbling stone walls winding lazily down to the sea. Cows munch on their grass dinners and stare as we pass, their calves lying sleepily at their feet. At the bottom of the hill, daffodils and mustard flowers beckon us forward as they light up the rugged, rocky landscape in place of the elusive sun.
An old Celtic cross rests in their midst looking out to the sea. The cheerful little flowers juxtaposed against the jagged rocks are fitting though we don’t know it at the time. As we walk, we talk about heaven and a C.S. Lewis sermon I had just read. Alex prophetically snaps a picture as I pass. We later discover that this is the site where mothers said goodbye to the lifeless forms of their unbaptized babies, not allowed to be buried in the church. In this very spot, waves of pain crashed against mother’s hearts with each new thought of what their babies would never do, see or become, while happy little spirits, baptized in the surf, danced from the earth into the vast unknown, there to await their parents arrival. They happily wait on that other side, so feared by those who remain, now more familiar to them than their mother’s hug or their father’s voice. One day we will embrace again in a paradise lovelier than this amidst a love purer than even their mother’s tears. Then we will no longer pity them, but envy the extra days they had in eternity, held in the arms of love.
Winter began with an uncommon combination hope for the future and contentment with the present. Beckoned on by promises, I felt sure of our destination. Our masts were set and the wind was behind us. But a surprise pregnancy test changed everything and for five days, we redirected the ship and plotted a new course. But on the fifth day after a nasty cold and a fever, during which I refused to take medicine for the baby’s sake, I miscarried. Nothing could have prepared me for the pain I experienced as I grieved a child I hadn’t planned and hadn’t met. Sobs pulsed out of me that I couldn’t explain. They didn’t come from my mind because I didn’t understand them and they didn’t come from my heart. I hardly knew what I felt. I hadn’t had time to fall in love with our baby yet, though I was too ashamed to admit it. But I sobbed nonetheless, trying and failing to understand the wails from deep in my spirit, a spirit sorely grieved at the true loss of a person who I never met but was somehow a part of me.
Now spring has just ended and mothers and their babies are everywhere, filling both the databases of Instagram and the pastures of Ireland. A charcoal horse with a white freckled face like a mask runs to greet us with her auburn foal. They come running as though expecting treats. We have brought nothing but eagerly search for some mislaid straw, which they eat happily out of our hands while we pat their noses. We say goodbye regretfully. The journey uphill feels longer with no ocean view to beckon us forward, but eventually the thatched roof cottage welcomes us back from across the rose garden. We stroll past into the small but bountiful vegetable garden overflowing with produce that we are more accustomed to seeing wrapped in cellophane than perched a top their native leaves. Artichokes sit tall and proud, sturdy flowers on a spiky bush. Zucchini lay in their bed accompanied by orange blossoms. Tops of carrots peek out of a large bucket and luscious heads of lettuce set me salivating. I empathize with Peter Rabbit but decide against robbing the flowerbed as we follow the gravel path back into our borrowed home.
God is chasing after me with my healing. Even when I want to avoid the topic of my miscarriage, He kindly pursues me to tell me it wasn’t my fault or His will, answering questions that my spirit whispers against my will. He has been so kind, pampering me through the pain with surprises great and small that He knows will make my heart sing. And then, when I think I’m finished with my grief and weeks have passed without a thought of it, some photo, some comment, the simple inscription on a seaside grave sends me into sobs again as He kindly ensures that no poisonous pain or callousness remains. All of it must be extracted, even bubbling up out my writing, originally intended to be a light travel piece. But though it hurts it also heals. He continues to romance me and lead me into wholeness with little things like this trip, this walk, new revelation, new peace, new hope.
Even so, the journey has been uphill and I am tired. I hate admitting it even now, but my steps are not falling as lightly as they did on way down, the weight of gravity more noticeable in this direction. But I am learning to be okay with my weakness. To be okay with not being okay and to be okay with having less to give. To be okay with feeling like more of a consumer than a contributor to my environment, my fear of being too much or not enough becoming real.
I know it won’t be forever. It cannot. There is only so much uphill to climb. As long as we keep walking, eventually we reach the top. His kindness, love and mercy have no end and they continue to lead me forward. So though I am tired, I am also full of hope and eager expectation that this coming year promises a garden of refreshing for my tired soul. My refreshment begins even now, as I share my story in hopes of refreshing other grieving souls.
For those of you who have also been walking through grief, have grace with yourself. You you are not your pain. There will be an end. Surrender to the process and most of all, don’t avoid it. Be careful with the human tendency to find a numbing agent. Be patient and eventually, you will reach the end of your pain. But eternity will not be long enough to find an end to His love, His kindness, His goodness. They are bigger, stronger and more eternal than your pain. And so are you. Keep walking.