Our God is in Control

Today’s the day.

Three years ago today, it was Mother’s Day and I delivered my twin daughters by emergency c-section at 28 weeks and 2 days.

Fiona had died eight weeks earlier and Brigid made her way into the world silently.  She was whisked away to the NICU while I recovered from surgery.  I remember I had to beg to see Fiona because she looked so bad that they didn’t want to show her to me.  I am so thankful that I insisted. I had to tell them that I knew she was not going to look normal, but I still wanted to see her.  The morning before my in utero surgery was the last time I felt her move.  I needed her to stay alive until the surgery or else we couldn’t have it.  That morning, I cried and rubbed the spot on my belly where I knew she was, pressed up against my right side, praying that she had made it through the night.  And she gave me a little kick as if to let me know. Our sweet girl held on just long enough to save the life of her sister, and I wanted to hold her and thank her for that.  The nurse offered to take photographs of her for us.  I am so grateful that she did.

I was wheeled into the NICU to see Brigid and then back to my room to recover.  But that recovery did not include rest.  It involved visits from clergy and bereavement counselors and people asking what we wanted to do with Fiona’s body and NICU doctors giving me updates and packets of information about funeral homes.  It was so much to process – one tiny baby hanging on in the NICU and the other needing me to make decisions about how to “handle” her remains.  I was overwhelmed.

I can remember those feelings every year, trying to be strong and to navigate everything while feeling so emotionally and physically weak.

And this year is no different.  Except that, despite all of my could bes and should bes from the past week, I am reminded, kindly, gently, by a Father who has never been anything but loving and trustworthy and good to me, that He is.  There is no subjunctive with Him. No conditions that need to be met.

He IS.  He WAS then, and He WILL BE.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner, as I was looping my could be and should be thoughts around in my head earlier this week and trying to find relief in the indicative, but this song that we used in Brigid’s memorial service is such a good reminder.  It’s from Steven Curtis Chapman’s album, Beauty Will Rise, which he wrote after the tragic death of his own daughter.

This is not how it should be

This is not how it could be

But this is how it is

And our God is in control.

I believe He was in control from the very beginning, that He has a plan for us that included the death of our girls, and that we will be reunited with them again one day.

I can’t wait for that day.

Happy third birthday, my beautiful girls.  I love you so much.  It is an honor and a privilege to be your mother, and I try to live each day in a way that would make you proud of me.

xoxo Your Mommy

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What Could Have Been

My girls’ birthday is in two days, and I have had a pit in my stomach since the weekend.

They would be three years old this year.  We should be having a party with pretty dresses and streamers and balloons and bubbles, and they should be giggling and twirling and blowing out three candles on two birthday cakes.  Or one.   (I tend to imagine myself being overly ambitious in these daydreams.)

I was listening to NPR on Saturday afternoon as I was organizing our boys’ bedroom.  All three of our boys share a room right now and the mess can get out of hand rather quickly.  As I worked, the TED radio hour came on and they were talking about languages.  I heard this talk by a Vietnamese teacher of Greek and Latin named Phuc Tran. In it, he talks about how our language affects our perceptions.  Specifically, he talked about the subjunctive mood, which is present in English and several other languages, but is not found in his native Vietnamese.  The subjunctive is a verb tense that deals in the hypothetical.  In wishing, in hoping, in possibilities.  Phuc talks about a near miss that his family had when he was a child in Saigon.  They made a last-minute change that saved their lives, as a bus that they were going to take pulled away from the station, was hit by artillery, and exploded.  He implies that because of the subjunctive mood in English, he was able to spend time thinking about what could have happened while his Vietnamese-speaking family, with their indicative mood, could not.  The former French teacher in me was intrigued.  Le subjonctif and I have a love-hate relationship.

Whether or not the lack of the subjunctive in Asian languages prohibits them from being able to contemplate what could have been, this got me thinking about grief and loss and the subjunctive.  When a person lives a full life, grows old and dies, we are not usually left wondering what could have been.  It was.  They were.  They lived their lives and then they died.  But when a child dies, there are so many possibilities that are taken away, from their appearance to their personality to what they would have done with their lives and how our lives would be different with them living in it.  There are an infinite number of possible outcomes, each with its own subtle nuances,  and we will never get to experience any of them.  We are left with this void and wondering what would have filled it.

But is that a good thing?

That is the question that Phuc brings up in his talk.  The “dark side” of the subjunctive is that we spend time thinking about what could have been when the reality is that it just wasn’t.  But I can’t imagine that there are mothers out there, even without the subjunctive mood, who aren’t wondering what life would be like with their children.  Is that just my cultural – or linguistical – bias? It’s hard to imagine life without the subjunctive.  It’s the basis for so much of our film and literature.  Imagine reading an O. Henry story without wondering what would have been if something had not happened.

A particularly trying day with my kids on Sunday left me thinking a lot about those things.  The two hours spent getting everyone dressed and out the door for, and then sitting through, church leave me feeling steamrolled, and maybe it was because of the girls’ upcoming birthday, but on that particular day, I spent a lot of time wondering if I could have managed if my twins were with us. And if they were, would we still have our sweet youngest daughter?  If things are difficult and I feel overwhelmed with four, am I glad that I don’t have two more?  Did God know I couldn’t handle it?

You can imagine that running that loop of questions through your mind for a day is futile and defeating, and doing it while meeting the needs of four little ones is quite exhausting.  It was indeed a dark side and my mood matched it. So it got me thinking about what it would be like to live in the indicative.

Our twins died.  They are not with us.  I don’t spend time dwelling on possibilities because that is a waste of time and effort.

I have to admit that it was a bit refreshing, but I couldn’t maintain it long before the  thought of “Yes, but…” crept in.

So what do you think?  I’d love to hear from someone whose native tongue does not include the subjunctive mood.  How does one grieve the loss of a child without the subjunctive?  And for the rest of us, is the subjunctive why we “dwell?”  Does its usage reflect a lack of contentment or faith?  Does it help our healing or hinder it?

I think that on Thursday, we will be celebrating their birthday the way we always do: by releasing some balloons, having some cake, and imagining what life in our home would be like if Fiona and Brigid were with us.

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