Years have passed since my friends experienced the loss of a child that every parent fears. I am reminded that time doesn’t actually heal all wounds. Some stay with you. But God can fill even the emptiest of holes in our heart.
Levi Lusko, pastor of Fresh Life Church in Montana, tells a story in his book “Through The Eyes of a Lion.”
Jennie and I were lying next to Daisy and Alivia in their beds, talking about how close we were to one year of Lenya being in heaven.
“Wait, how many days will that be?” Alivia asked.
“Three hundred and sixty-five days, ” I said.
She looked surprised and sighed deeply.
I asked, “How many days does it feel like it’s been to you?”
She thought for a moment and said, “Sometimes it feels like it’s only been two days, and sometimes it feels like it’s been a thousand.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Levi and Jennie Lusko lost the second of their four daughters just a few days before Christmas in 2012. Lenya was 5 years old. I had the stark realization recently that their first Christmas without Lenya was also Bob and Tania’s first Christmas without Lilly. Lilly wasn’t 5; she died just before delivery from Trisomy 18. But a mama’s empty arms are empty. A daddy’s grieving heart is grieved. No length of time, situation or scenario makes it hurt less to lose a child. If you got to see her smile or never felt her kick… If you danced with her in the kitchen or never learned her favorite color… When she’s gone, there’s a hole shaped like her. Days and years pass, but the hole doesn’t go away.
A year after Lilly’s birthday, after watching her mom and dad walk bravely through grief and trial, I wrote that IT never gets easier; YOU get stronger. It’s the kind of strength that you’d prefer not have. It’s a gift you want to give back. But it’s the battle scar that reminds you you made it. It’s what God uses to stand you back up when you think you’re incapable of another step. Days and years pass, and you realize that although you once thought it impossible, you have survived, even gotten stronger. But the hole doesn’t go away.
Last year would have been Lilly’s second birthday. Her mom, dad and brother have moved to a new house in a new city. Her brother started preschool. They’ve sang songs, played games and enjoyed sunsets. We all went to the circus and laughed. There’s a second (third, fourth…) wave of grief that crashes when you least expect it. You’re stronger, but it hits with incredible force. And this one comes with a side of guilt. You realize you can’t remember what it felt like for your belly to be round or to hold her hand. You try, but you can’t summon as clear a picture of her face. You look at pictures but they don’t cut as sharply as they once did. It feels like if you let the pain fade, you’re letting her fade. You beat yourself up for smiling because it means you’ve forgotten. But you haven’t forgotten. Days and years pass, but the hole doesn’t go away. It just doesn’t consume you. And that’s ok. It’s ok to be ok.
On the days when you feel ok and the days when you can’t get out of bed, the hole doesn’t go away. The question is what will fill the hole in your heart. There are a lot of things to try. Bitterness, anger and resentment rush to take up residence. Apathy, withdrawal and dissonance seem acceptable companions. But none of them are lasting solutions.
Bob and Tania, Levi and Jennie have let God fill the hole. That doesn’t mean the hole is gone. There’s no secret spiritual song to sing that makes everything ok. There’s no perfect prayer to pray or magic verse to recite. Their loss is still painful. Their hearts still hurt. But the emptiness is replaced with hope. What feels like a chasm that won’t end reveals an anchor that won’t break. And instead of drifting in senseless pain, you find sincere purpose.
Some of that purpose is when, as Levi puts it, you “let God turn your pain into a microphone.” The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Because her mama and daddy faced the fear, pushed through the pain and let God fill their hearts with His Love, this is Lilly’s legacy.