I couldn’t sleep last night. My neighbor’s to the back apparently were conducting search and rescue missions in their backyard, because a massive floodlight lit up the back of my house, a light so bright it was sufficient for identifying insects in their yard with the naked eye. From my patio. Over 300 feet away.
Anyway, since I couldn’t sleep, I powered up the laptop and checked email. There was the usual assortment of junk (mostly writing website stuff), but among the various vanities was a tiny little message from my father-in-law, Jim. The subject line took my breath: Ruthanne Awaiting In Heaven.
I wasn’t prepared for it, so it stunned me. Even though I mentioned Ruthie in yesterday’s blog, and even though my mind knew her birthday was today, I simply hadn’t been consciously thinking about her. Sure, when we visited my parents yesterday, my dad pointed out the flowers they’d placed in her memory at church. He asked Ella to tell him how old Ruthanne would be; Ella walked over to the plant, saw the preciously painted pink polka-dot nine, and informed my dad that her sister would, in fact, be nine years old. My dad grinned, turned to me and said, “Can you believe that? In just a couple more years she’d be a teenager!”
“Yeah, and only another couple of years and she’d have been driving!” my mom added.
I shook my head. No, I really couldn’t believe it. After all, I’m doing well just keeping up with a seven year old girl who thinks she’s seventeen and a four year old boy who enjoys screaming random bits of conversation when not actively giving his mother a hard time. In other words, I have no idea what the heck we would do with a third, older child.
I would imagine we’d lean on her to help keep the other two in line, or ask her to watch them when we need to get work done. I can imagine her being Ella’s best friend and chief rival, Jon’s mini-Mom, and Rachel’s sweet helper. It’s easy to think about those things. But it’s hard to imagine how she would relate to me. Ella is so much like me in her creativity and imagination (though she is very much like her mother too) that I can’t imagine having a daughter more attuned to this nerdy dad. I look at Ella and try to think about what Ruthanne might have been like – responsible, intelligent, socially aware, helpful, lots of the qualities that Ella exhibits by virtue of being the first surviving child – and I just can’t picture it.
Yet, that doesn’t make me sad.
Once upon a time, I would’ve felt tremendous regret for what I missed out on with Ruthanne. In some ways I suppose I still do, but it’s not as consuming as it once was. In fact, other than the occasional question about Ruthie from Jon or Ella, I really don’t think of her much at all. It sounds heartless, but here’s the thing: like David, I know she’ll never come back to me, but one day I’ll go to her. In the meantime, I have to love on Ella and Jon, pour into them my very best and cherish every moment we have together (even the stressful and annoying ones).
Like the past couple of mornings, when we’ve been watching the entire Star Wars franchise (even the horrid prequels). They run around the house, fighting with plastic lightsabers, knocking into things and raising a ruckus, but it’s life and it’s beautiful and I cherish it.
That’s not to say that today doesn’t hold meaning – it does. But what it says even louder is that the passage of time, the healing of wounds, is not only possible, it is inevitable. It comes whether we work at it or not; it simply comes faster when we participate and chase after healing. Everyday people come to this blog because of a search on the word “stillbirth” or the phrase “stillborn child.” I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a day in the last two years when that word hasn’t shown up in my stats information. That means that everyday for two years someone has either been curious about stillbirths, or wondered how to survive a stillbirth, and they’ve landed here. They’ve read our story. And they’ve seen that healing does come.
It’s painful at times. It’s sudden (or seemingly so) at others. But it’s persistent and it’s real, and that’s something I desperately wanted to know nine years, eight years, heck five years ago.
We’re still here. We’re still a family. Perhaps even more so because we have such a poignant reminder of the fragility and value of life.
And we also know what my father-in-law knows. His email was brief, but so powerful. Jim is a man who has lost much in his life – Ruthanne, his little brother Preston, other family members who didn’t have much time on this earth, but who live now eternally in heaven. And so his quiet, thoughtful, touching email grabbed me last night and reminded me that while we’re healing here, we’ll be fully healed when the day comes that we join our loved ones on the other side.
Here’s what he said:
Dear Rachel and Jason,
The most beautiful thing about Heaven is knowing that infants like Ruthanne, Preston, Gravis, and Helen who went early before us will be waiting to meet us there.
The closer I get, the more I am looking forward to seeing them!
Remembering Ruthanne in our thoughts,
Jim Paw and MeMe
Short. Sweet. Heartfelt. And for our family, utterly true.
Today, the sun is shining, and both my kids are foaming at the mouth to get out of the house and do something fun (which means, as it does with most children, going somewhere and spending money). Today, they’ll want to run all over a playground or go to Stone Mountain or see a movie or any number of things that incite their tiny little imaginations. And, as best we can, Rachel and I will chase after them, laughing and enjoying the day, forgetting our loss by embracing our blessings and simply living without the burden of regret.
This is what life is. It’s perpetual rebirth. It’s discovering each day that the greatest way to honor the memory of Ruthanne is to not let that memory steal our life. She was stillborn, but we’re still here. One day, we’ll see our loved ones and never have to let go, so let’s start that process today, with the ones closest to us. We’ve got a lot of living left to do.
So do you.
Now get out there and do it.