Sylvia crying is a big trigger for me. On the day we told Sylvia and Valerie that their baby brother Elliot had died, precious Sylvia’s tears absolutely broke my heart. What we wouldn’t do to spare our kids that kind of pain, right, moms? My precious girls had been anticipating and looking forward to their baby brother for months, and much moreso since I had been hospitalized for eight weeks. During those weeks, the girls came to visit a few times per week, and we talked a lot about Elliot. They kissed my belly. They heard his heartbeat on the monitor. They saw him on the ultrasound. They knew I was separated from them because we needed to take care of baby brother, and it would all be worth it when baby brother and mommy were safely back home from the hospital.
I can never forget when Sylvia and Valerie came in the front door of our home the day after Elliot died. They were dropped off by one of their grandmas, and Valerie ran to me saying, “You had your baby!!!” Because that’s all she knew. There are moments in time that are almost as painful in remembrance as the moment they happened. That is one.
Then we went downstairs with the girls, and Sylvia sat at my side. I can’t remember who said what, but somehow Dustin and I shared the horrible truth with the girls: Elliot died. He wasn’t going to come home to live with us; he was going to live in heaven. Sweet little Sylvia had her moment of shock, innocently asking, “But why did he die?” And then, like she does when her crying is deep from her heart, she started rubbing her little eyes and wailing, nuzzling into my side. My already crushed mama’s heart was ground a little more into dust. Just like I would’ve done anything to save Elliot, I would’ve done anything to take that pain from my girl. We cried and held onto one another. Then, cute and resilient little Val ran in front of us and said, “Guys! Guys! Don’t be sad! When we die, we’ll go to heaven too!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Mommy was not very comforted by the thought of heaven at that moment. I don’t think Sylvia was, either. She wanted her little brother to be home with her, and I don’t blame her one bit.
A few weeks ago, Sylvia’s tears touched me again in a profound way. Valerie is very interested in my c-section scar, and asks to see it often. Sylvia seems disturbed by it. She doesn’t like that I had an “owie.” One morning, Valerie asked to see it and asked when it would go away. “Well, it won’t go away,” I told her. “Mommy will always have this scar.”
Sylvia’s tears. They welled up in her big eyes and shook her tender little voice, “But why won’t it go away?? I don’t want you to have a scar!” Then the sobbing came.
If you have been through trauma, you’ll know what I mean by triggers. You are suddenly transported into memories and emotions that previously were far from your thoughts. You can’t help it. It’s not a conscious choice. Sylvia’s tears that morning first propelled me to that painful day when we told the girls Elliot died. It was like I was hearing her cry all over again from losing her baby brother. And then my hand was on my abdomen, thinking of my baby who came forth from that c-section site. Who used to kick me right above that scar, where I can almost still feel him. My sweet son, who the nurses said cried when they took him out. All the weeks and months of worry, waiting, praying, hoping, believing. All the love for that little boy, and all the sorrow at my life-long separation from him. It was all there, swirling around me, making it hard to breathe, making the room spin. And seeing my child sad and struggling added a fierce level of mama anger to all those emotions.
These are the moments no one else sees. These are the moments that make up the reality of the death of a child.
Thankfully I was able to keep some perspective and focus on my crying child. The only thing I could think to tell her was the truth. I said, “Oh honey, we don’t need to be sad about this scar! Do you know why? Because this scar reminds mommy of Elliot, and how much I love him! I don’t want it to go away.”
She seemed a little calmed by that, but still disconcerted. I realized a parallel I could share with her. “Did you know that after Jesus came back to life, he still had scars? He still had the scars on his hands from being nailed to the cross, and a scar on his side.”
She sniffled. “Why?”
“Well, I think probably because Jesus wanted to remind everyone of how much He loved them, even when He came back to life and even in heaven. His scars just show how much He loved the world to die on the cross. And Mommy’s scar shows how much I love Elliot and would’ve done anything for him.”
She calmed down after that and, like kids do, and went to play with Play Doh or something. And though my stroke of spiritual genius may have helped her gain composure, she still doesn’t like my scar. And she doesn’t have to. I think the lesson was probably more for me.
I think about resurrection all the time now, after Elliot died at five days old in June. Even before that, I thought about it often after my two other heavenly babies, Avery and Everett, died due to miscarriage. I ponder its reality more than what the current state of heaven is like, simply because the Bible seems to make more of resurrection. Whatever happens to usher in the permanent beautiful reality of eternity, it seems to begin with bodily resurrection. My three babies are buried and I believe will be raised to life again. What will they be like when their bodies are raised from the dead? What will I be like?
If Jesus’ resurrected body is any indication, then I’ll still be a person with arms and legs, I’ll eat and drink, and I will be recognizable as myself (more or less). And after my conversation with Sylvia about my scar, it has made me wonder. If Jesus still had his scars of love after he was resurrected, will I? Will Elliot crawl in my lap and ask to see my scar, like Valerie does? If he does, I will tell him, “I love you this much and more, my sweet son.” Perhaps the scars of love on my heart will be visible, too. Becoming a parent puts you at risk for the greatest scars imaginable. And yet, I would never have held back my love from Elliot or any of my children just to avoid being wounded. I guess that’s what Jesus knows even better than I–that love really does mean carrying scars.
Sometimes I think that kind people in my life genuinely hope I will “get better” (see a previous blog on THAT, ha), or that I won’t always mourn Elliot, or that I will find a way to move on. I do need to heal in many ways, that’s true. But I would tell those people what I told Sylvia that morning: “I am not sad about these scars. The scars just show how much I love my son.” Of course the scars hurt, and of course I’ll never be the same. But they are the results of love, and I want to share my love for Elliot, so I bear the scars proudly.
There have been times over these six and a half months when Jesus has felt distant, like some Greek god who doesn’t understand the plight of mortal man. Thinking of his hands and side helped me remember that He understands what it means to love and sacrifice, and to be left with scars that endure. To Jesus, you and I are worth the pain and scars. Realizing this doesn’t make living without my boy okay–not even close. Elliot’s death still feels terribly unfair, stupid, pointless, and causes me tears every single day. But I realize that I would rather have loved Elliot and bear this pain and these scars, than to never have had him at all.
He’s worth it.