By Ramee Larson
When my third child was born with a rare and terminal brain disease, I experienced a year of anticipatory grief that was incredibly brutal. I didn’t even know that anticipating the death of someone you loved was considered grieving, let alone anticipating the death of your own child. I hadn’t thought of it, and truly, why would I?
Babies are supposed to be born healthy; they just learn naturally. I have prayed over my children-surely this couldn’t happen to me.
But I sure learned quickly. I walked right into a dense fog-tunnel of lifelessness, stayed there for an entire year, and one day, walked right back out again. Grief, even though my daughter was living, very much became its own entity in me.
For 2 ½ years, I searched tirelessly for my daughter’s diagnosis. I received the call in the summer heat, and six months later, when the world was suddenly grey and cold, my husband left our family. I had changed irrevocably and unashamedly, but it was devastating, nevertheless.
I was suddenly a single mom with three children under the age of six years old, and my baby was going to die—soon. But before she left me for the arms of Jesus, Mabel was going to endure days, months, and possibly years of unexplainable suffering. Seizures, vomiting, blindness, unending jerking of her body, sometimes days upon days of nonstop screaming, and extreme frailty were to come. Eventually, her entire body would reject all nourishment and would shut itself down completely. I knew it. I had done the research, and I had prepared.
I had purposefully and even intently grieved the loss of my sweet daughter’s abilities, the years that would be stolen from her, and the even the idea of a long life ahead. But I hadn’t prepared myself for the grieving of my marriage or the life that I had envisioned for our family too. It all seemed to be unraveling right before my eyes. At times I could hardly catch my breath.
But then I did. There is a part in this broken story that is remarkable, and it’s the part where I really did come alive again. I woke up one day (three weeks into living alone), opened my eyes and decided to live fully every single day.
“As fully as a person could live,” I thought.
I also vividly remember on this day telling myself that I would love again. I wanted to. I remember thinking that I had too much love to give, that I didn’t want to live this life alone, and that I had been handed too many grace-gifts to just lay down and die, though at times I very much felt like I could. I didn’t want to be a victim to my circumstances. I wanted to somehow trust God and find joy despite it all.
And so, I got up. Most days, I put my make-up on. I got myself dressed. I kitchen-danced with very small children and a screaming, dying (very much alive) child in my arms. I drank coffee and ate cookies and sang loud. I pushed my baby on long, long walks in her stroller. I laughed. And not many months later, smack dab in the middle of tragedy, sadness, and chaos, I even fell in love again with the man that would very much become the dad of Mabel’s heart. The dad who chose to show up and love her in a unique and incredible way.
Mabel died just eight months ago. Her death was everything that I had prepared for and so much more. It was a spiritual experience that awakened my soul and let me see our God in the most profound, intimate and beautiful ways. Laying in my arms, surrounded by the people who loved her most, my daughter took her last breath and met our Savior. I am still in awe. And I am still very much grieving. But in the pain and the bitterness of death, I have also found new life…again.
On the morning that Mabel died, I walked outside and the sun broke through the morning clouds with a brilliance I had never seen before. I breathed deeply, knowing that my baby would never breathe again and I thanked God for life; for all of it.
The days that have passed since holding Mabel in my arms have been grueling. There aren’t even words to explain the missing. But in the midst of those days there has also been joy. Goodness. Laughter. Love. Life.
Time is passing, which feels impossible, but the depth I have experienced through this altering, agonizing loss has made me a better human. It has ignited in me a passion. I feel grateful for all that we walked through because without every single piece of it, I wouldn’t know the kind of love that I now know or the kind of pain that somehow made it all worth it.
I don’t think I would ever have known what it meant to feel truly alive if it weren’t for the heartache of a broken marriage, the loneliness of tragic doctor appointments, the impossible decisions that had to be made along the way, the stretching of friendships, the finding of new love and new hope, the pure joy in my fragile child’s face, the extreme sadness of her dying, or the total helplessness of mending my other children’s hearts.
Without the despair and suffering, the sunsets would never have seemed so bright. Without the desperation and darkness, this joy could have never been truly experienced, let alone explained. Without the helplessness and surrender, I would have never known the kind immeasurable love and grace of an amazing Father who created me from nothing and breathed life back into this broken spirit.
But He did. He does. And He will. Whatever you’re experiencing; no matter the kind of pain-hear me today, friend…it is possible to come alive again. I assure you that you can.
And somehow, you will.