They say "time heals all wounds."
"They" are wrong.
Time doesn't heal. Time passes. Sometimes too fast, sometimes in slow-motion. But it does not heal.
I thought it would get easier. In some ways, perhaps it has. I don't feel Ben's absence every single moment of the day. I don't weep in sadness every hour, nor do I talk about him every time he comes to my mind. But I do feel a piece of my heart has been ripped out. A limb has been pulled from my body. Although it hurts at times, I am still functional. I still have the use of my other limbs, I still have a lot of life left in me. But I can never be what I had been. I will never be 'healed.'
Time hasn't healed our wounds. If anything, our pain has gotten deeper. Harder. With each passing day, we miss Ben more and more. Each new milestone reminds us that we are a "family of five, minus one, plus one." We lost one of our family members: a handsome, goofy little guy whose long eyelashes and dimples still make me go weak in the knees. The nights are hardest. And yet, the morning always comes. We still have three other kids here on earth. One of which that requires me for absolutely everything - around the clock. I can't give up. I have to soldier on. Be grateful for what I have, live for today and plan for tomorrow. Because I have no other choice.
After Ben died, Andy couldn't wrestle with Jack without feeling sadness over his absence. He could still see those fervent looks of determination as Ben would run up to tackle Andy and save his brother, yelling, "Twin power!" I still accidentally grab five forks for the dinner table. I still do a double-take when I see Jack wearing blue, his new favorite color, in honor of his only brother. Megan confuses the colors pink and purple, just like Ben did. And her goofy faces mirror his perfectly. Even the "Oooo-OOOO-oooo-OOOO-oooo" sound she makes when she's being goofy matches her brother's inflections to a tee. She reminds us of Ben in so many ways. And it is both beautiful and painful.
We grieve. We hurt. And yet we cannot wallow in self-pity. We are not the first to go through a tragedy of this magnitude, nor will we be the last. Andy and I talk a lot about Ben and how these past few months have changed us. We remember the vacation we took as a family last August, when he wasn't sick. We cry over the horrific ten days we spent in the hospital, painful memories that we wish we could forget. We are grateful for the decisions we made to have Ben at home until the very end and marvel that the whole thing happened at all. We extend grace to each other to go through our own grieving journey at our own pace. And yet self-pity is just not an option.
God has a purpose for us.
Jack and Meg playing with MagnaTiles, a family favorite
At this stage in our grief, we feel like we are in a sort of twilight zone. We are very aware of our loss. That Ben is gone. And yet, I wouldn't think twice if I saw Benjamin jump off the bus right behind his brother. There's a part of us that has felt Ben's presence over the past six months. And that if he were to come back, we wouldn't have missed a step. Perhaps that's largely because his twin has continued to do all of the things we had imagined they'd both be doing. But there are parts of us that still can't believe that this happened. That one of our kids is with Jesus. That he's just gone. Ben - such a good-natured, loving, healthy boy - is no longer here. I'm not sure that's ever really going to sink in.
And yet, time marches on.
This fall has brought many new changes to our family, but the most exciting has been the birth of Katherine Hope. What a sweet sweet baby. Good-natured, content, and very very loved. I knew that Megan would love her little sister because of her sensitive nature and love of baby dolls. But I honestly hadn't expected Jack to be so smitten. Such a protective big brother. He's convinced that she recognizes his voice and smiles or makes noises when he's around. There is absolutely no reason for us to correct him, though, because it appears to be true. "She really loves me," he tells me. I do believe you're right, Jack. The way she stares into his eyes makes me wonder if she really did meet Ben in heaven before making her big debut seven weeks ago. Kind of a deja-vu thing. And it's just beautiful. Kate has those light red marks on her face that disappear after the first few months. The doctors call them "angel kisses." Even though all of my kids have had them, somehow Katherine's "angel kisses" feel much more special. Megan's newest thing is to ask Kate questions, sometimes by holding up flash cards. "What's this, Kate? A sheep? A sheep? You're right! Good job, Kate! Good job!" and giving her an emphatic thumbs-up. Meanwhile, our seven-week-old is just gazing at her big sister with those deep stares, and kicking her legs in delight. I had no idea our baby was so intelligent! hehehe
We want to build again. Find our new normal, whatever that might mean. Try to enjoy what we have been given. To feel real joy in the moment: gratitude for the three kids the Lord has entrusted to us here on earth.
Jonathan Andrew, 5.5 years old
Megan Joy, 2.5 years old
Katherine Hope, 7 weeks old
As we rebuild, it also helps to remember. I'm glad that we've always had a lot of pictures of the kids around the house. And that we haven't made any plans to take anything down yet. That's been a big part of our healing as well as for them. I kept the picture boards from the funeral for a while, but grew frustrated when they all started falling apart with the kids' frequent viewings. Instead, I made a photo book for Jack with the photos, entitled, "Me and My Twin." I watched him enjoy the book again tonight, pointing and laughing at the situations in each picture. "Awe, remember this? That crab was HUGE!" and "Ha! That was a really fun day!" I wanted to cry. Knowing what he lost and will never regain. But I also had to smile. What a wonderful collection of memories to have. Such a blessing that boy was to our family!
Nighttime is the hardest for me. Probably because I'm less distracted, the house is quiet, and I'm left alone to my thoughts. After I've allowed myself to look at old pictures, cry, and vent with my husband, I always end with, "It's another day closer to heaven." The fact that I know my son is there, that I have been guaranteed a spot next to my Jesus, and that my family will be joining me... I can think of nothing more comforting. I can't bring him back. But I can be encouraged about where he is.
When I tuck the kids in at night, I've always prayed for each of our family members by name. After Ben died, it seemed silly for us to pray for someone who was so much better off. And yet, I just couldn't leave him out of our prayers completely. Never mentioning his name would be more painful than forgetting him. And so after I pray for each of us, we also thank God for being the One to take care of Ben in heaven. Even those few words remind me not to try and pity Ben. As much as we miss him, we can only envy his current state. He is with Jesus. What more could I want for my son? For anyone in my family?
The truth is, life here on earth is scary. Unpredictable. Short. Just a quick scroll through your Facebook page and you know that is true. There is so much hardship out there. People doing terrible things to others, people getting sick, people dying, people searching for Hope and meaning. In the Bible, the only guarantee that Jesus gave us about this life is that there would be trouble. But He also reminds us that in the end, He wins! Our bodies will eventually give out. They were not made to last forever. But our souls will have a home with our Savior if we accept His invitation! We need to spend time doing things that will have an eternal value. We need to spend time getting to know our God and align our thoughts with His.
I would be lying if I didn't admit that I'm scared. I am petrified! I wish I could say that Andy and I will always be here to protect our kids. That's not true. Our bodies are mortal. They were not made to last forever. Do you want to know the best thing we can offer our kids? It's the knowledge - that deep, personal, heartfelt knowledge - that they have a God who stays.
Our pastor talked about this truth a few weeks ago. And it struck a chord with me and Andy. We had been nervous about the future, our health, our overall welfare. How would we ever recover if something happened to our other three kids? How would they recover if something happened to us? We knew better than to assume our family had somehow become exempt from any pain we might encounter in the future. Andy and I had been having nightmares, nightmares that illustrated some of the worst-case scenarios that could separate us from Jack, Meg, and Kate. Fear was becoming our god. And we hated it.
But then Pastor Jerry reminded us of the fact that we serve a God who stays. Who never leaves. And we realized: that is the guarantee we want to give our kids. Because that is the only guarantee we can offer!
The God of Abraham, Moses, the apostle Paul. The God of our ancestors, our parents, the God who lived inside of Ben. That same God has always been there and will never leave. Ever. And He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I want Jack to feel His presence. To know His hope. To feel His peace. That even though he lost his twin, he will remember that God had never ever left him. I want Jack to know that the Lord cares for him with a deep, selfless love. And that He is the only One that will see him both take his last breath on earth and the first one in heaven. I want him to realize that we live differently because we have HOPE. That's what I need him to know. What I need all my kids to know.
Our knight, Cinderella and cowgirl
A good knight will do anything to protect his princess
So until that day when God calls us home, we will continue caring for our little family as diligently as we are able. We will get up each morning and look for ways to celebrate His goodness. Because even though we are walking through life without a limb, with a piece of our hearts missing, we still have work to do. And so we will continue to walk in a state of grief and joy, a world where the two feelings peacefully coexist.
One day at a time.
Because it's another day closer to heaven.