Ten years ago I experienced a highlight of my short life. Not all that unusual and something most people experience. If you’re reading this… it happened to you. I witnessed the birth of our first daughter, Samantha.
Every year on March 13th, we celebrate the birth of our sweet-Sammy-girl. The seared images in the hospital room haunt my mind. Samantha’s chubby cheeks, wide-Pelton-nose, much like her brother Owen and great-grandpa, and lots of hair, thick locks of red hair. Watch out for those redheads they’re not messing around.
But while most people prepared to drink green beer and inhale Shamrock Shakes in 2009, we celebrated with heavy hearts. Those images of hospital rooms, beeping machines, visiting family members, and tears, lots of tears, had a different edge.
The entire pregnancy was one of uncertainty. Would Christy make it to full term? Would there be complications with Samantha? We had prepared ourselves for the worst. Most families are preparing a room with decorations and color schemes matching a boy or girl.
We were preparing our hearts for burial.
Samantha was born March 13th and met her Creator four days later, on March 17th.
Today is the day we met our baby girl, and four days from now, we’ll remember her death.
But we’re not without hope. Years and distance between the pain helps in healing wounds. Counselors and friends are helpful too.
Everyone is born and everyone dies. An inescapable truth. Like sin and taxes, always crouching at our doors. The passage of time heals wounds on an emotional level. But wounds are real and confusing. Memories don’t seem to die.
These memories heightened every year when spring bursts with new colors and new life. While many will drink oddly colored beers and tell themselves it’s okay to get hammered, it’s a holiday. I reflect on death and the dustiness and shadowiness of life. Life under the sun.
Maybe in the kindness of God he allowed Samantha to live and die in spring, and around Lent (of the Christian Church calendar). A time of reflection on things dying, rising, a time of reflection on our mortality and considering cross and resurrection. Not sure.
But without fail, as we celebrate the life and death of our sweet baby girl, new thoughts and revelations come to flood my mind. Not anything profound, really, just stuff I already know to be true.
One central idea these days is the line that represents our lives. What line, you ask? That dash between our birthday and death-day. A simple white line on our tombstones.
What will our lives say between these two lines? How will we live and love? Where will we invest our presence and time and money and energy?
As I creep toward forty, I’m finding myself more aware of people and life. The things that used to drive me nuts now rolling off my back. I’m more aware that everything is a gift and don’t miss the things right in front of you. You get older and you take stock of your life. Probably normal stuff. If you’re lucky to have years.
I’m not sure what Samantha learned in four days of life. Most of them spent in a hospital room with tubes and wires keeping her alive. Samantha pumped full of meds easing the pain of her broken body. If suffering creates faith, hope, and endurance, Samantha had a ton.
And yet Samantha’s story does not differ from ours. Her death forces me to ask questions: How will I manage my pain? Run to a bottle or fantasies on a computer screen? Throw myself into work?
Or, I can acknowledge pain comes for all. And in the midst of the pain, I will choose to live. Say: I Love You, more often, hold loved ones closer than the day before, and give people the benefit of the doubt because everyone has a story, and they’re not pretty.
The death of Samantha revealed a lot of stuff clogging up my heart and soul. A man who believed God owed him something. Like a healthy daughter and long life. Why didn’t Samantha get that? Why didn’t I get to walk her down the aisle? Hold her when she wasn’t feeling well in the middle of the night, and one day kiss her own children?
I don’t know.
But I’m a trophy of God’s grace. Forty years proves it. If the tape of my life rolled in full view, I’d be lucky to have two.
The wounds aren’t as raw as they once were. I can control my emotions most days despite the tears running down my face as I write these words. But they’re good tears, Spirit-wrought tears.
A reminder of the fragility of life with all its pain and suffering and joys. A reminder I’m dust, and dust I’ll return.
Samantha was a gift for more reasons I can count. She reminds me we’re alive, and still have a lot of living to do, and the whole thing is grace, so rejoice in it.
Don’t miss the little moments. Miracles are happening everywhere if we have eyes to see. Hold the ones you love and tell them they matter. Don’t hold grudges and forgive as much as it’s possible.
Your kid’s aren’t owed long lives. None of us are.
The whole thing’s a gift.
And when you have a gift, you share it with others.
Tonight we’ll gather at the cemetery, let off balloons, and eat a nice meal to remember Sammy. Cemeteries are no longer scary for me. Only settings for horror movies.
The cemetery has become a welcome companion. Where I sit with Sammy and walk along the other tombstones and think about lives cut short. Where I reflect on my dash.
My mind can’t help wander to a unique death. A death that was followed by resurrection. A tomb empty after three days.
A tomb where the woman said: he’s not here.
I believe in God and I believe in resurrection and I believe in life after life.
That’s my hope for Sammy, me, you, my family, and all humanity.
Death doesn’t have the last say and an empty tomb proves it.
I might be a mess, but I can look to something outside myself, and find hope.
And remember, the whole thing is grace.