It’s been a good day and one we know we’ll likely never get again. This year’s Christmas was slow and lazy and filled with too much food, naps, and video games. It’s our last Christmas just the two of us and soon our little girl will make her entrance into the world and it’s unlikely that Christmas will ever be this calm and quiet again. Anticipating the arrival of our baby brings us joy and nervousness and every other emotion in between as we prepare to redefine and recalculate “us”. And so the lighted anticipation of that almost-ours joy hovers over us.
But something else resides there alongside hope. My hand over my belly I trace the outline of my little girl and at once feel the joy of her presence and the grief of her brother’s absence. Last Christmas we giddily announced to our family we were pregnant with our first baby and three weeks later we announced the loss of our first baby. As we unwrapped gifts last year we sighed with contented hearts at the thought it was our last Christmas without a little one there with us. This year we create the same expectation for next Christmas, but with tempered hope.
And that is how most of this year has felt – tempered with hope who holds hands with grief. Each doctor appointment has started with anxiety and anticipation of some sort of bad news and each appointment has ended with relief and some sort of limping hope. I think most parents who have experienced miscarriage can understand this feeling of waiting to get bad news again. It’s hard to settle into the full joys of pregnancy when you’ve done that before and had your heart shattered.
But the more I thought about this – this tempered hope, this guest called grief – the more I began to notice it all around me. I looked around and saw other friends and family and strangers who carried fragments on their faces. We can see it when we stop to look the other in the eyes and, though we know our griefs are different, we also know they are somehow the same. And we were all surprised by the same thing – our guest has unpacked his bags and moved in. No longer are we exchanging passing pleasantries over morning coffee and wondering when his stay will be over – we are all coming to learn that Grief now resides with us.
The quiet of Christmas morning reminded me of Grief’s residence with us, but the quiet of Christmas morning also reminded me of our other housemate Hope. Many of us are surprised to learn these two can share space as well as they do. They seem to have a good system, Hope and Grief, and have an agreement of mutual respect most of the time. Sometimes Grief can be a bit imposing with his presence, but eventually Hope catches on and shows up to politely asks that Grief give us a breather and most of the time he respects our wishes.
I’ve been learning to make peace with this new living arrangement. I think I’m too human to live otherwise. If I’m being honest, I can look back and begin to recognize how Grief has been with us for quite some time now. Our culture is easily embarrassed by Grief’s sometimes unpredictable behaviors and, like the unfiltered drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, we like to avert our eyes and try to quickly change the subject or talk over his boisterousness. Grief is often too loud and too demanding, but if we can learn to be okay with his being there Grief begins to settle down and maybe even feel more at home with us. And this strange thing happens when Grief begins to feel at home…he becomes family.
So Grief and Hope both live here and life keeps moving forward. And somehow I think that’s the grace of all of it – that both reside amidst life and all its demands. For those living with both in this season my hope for you is for you to know Grief isn’t always so big and loud and overwhelming. Eventually Hope quietly slips in, whispers something to Grief, and Grief calms down. Hope will remind you to keep moving forward and somehow these two will join in the synchrony of your life. You will be changed by Grief and his lack of subtlety, but you will also be changed by Hope and her quiet presence. And maybe that’s the best we can do – let these two change us and welcome us into a deeper sense of our humanity.