By Bethany St. Marie
I remember the first time I felt twinges of healing and life after Judah. They were unfamiliar; unknown. They didn’t feel at all like what I imagined they would: like blissful happiness, not a care in the world, being in a constant state of smiling and positivity about life, and the life of my son. That kind of healing seemed impossible. It seemed unrealistic. It seemed silly. I knew I could never be like that again. I had kissed my firstborn son, his tiny frame laying against my chest, and whispered “goodbye” thirty minutes after meeting him. His beauty and premature exit had shattered us, and the brute strength of our love for him had overcome the boundaries between heaven and earth. Surely healing was more than pretending, and also more than forever being trapped in hopelessness and breathtaking despair.
I will never forget the phone call.
We had gotten our anatomy scan for our sweet boy at 20 weeks pregnant, and were told something was very wrong with him. But how could that be? He was so perfect. So loved. So wanted. That meant he had to be safe and healthy, right?? But no. His bones were severely deformed. His arms and legs were far too short. His chest was small, his heart was big. Our hearts shattered, they were only shelled out remains. We had dreams for us, for him.
So we regrouped: life with a handicapped child. Oh how we would love him still! Even if it meant helping him eat and use the bathroom until the day we died. Even if his first steps never came. Even if he never spoke his first words. He was our perfect boy, so loved, so wanted.
But then, at 28 weeks we heard the darkest, most hellish of words: “lethal condition.”
Something in us died at that moment, but we defied death. We were brave. We kept breathing and walking though we didn’t want to and didn’t know how.
At 30 and a half weeks he arrived and was placed in our arms. Big open eyes, giant heart leaping in his sunken chest. Perfect nose. Perfect lips. Ears and fingers and toes like his Daddy’s. Head full of hair like Mama. We were in love even in the midst of our insides self-destructing as we watched his heart slow to a stop. It was too soon. It wasn’t enough time. It was not fair. It was so, so wrong.
Where in the world is healing as you stand on the earth that covers your buried child, when instead you should be peering down at his healthy pink body, sleeping in a crib, chest rising and falling rhythmically? I saw my whole future before me as I would lay over Judah’s grave: a massive hole, a part of me forever gone, forever my existence split into wanting to be in two places at once, absent-mindedly trying to engage in small talk while single-mindedly and whole-heartedly desiring to be holding him again in heaven, begging even just to see him again in my dreams. Life After Judah. Forever, he would be my measurement of time.
But as weeks blurred into months I learned, to my surprise, healing didn’t have to be the absence of sadness or grief. Healing was not forgetting or “moving on.” Thank God! Healing was so much deeper, it held so much more unearthly, supernatural beauty. It was so much greater, so much more powerful than pretending, than happiness and empty smiles and trying to ignore grief and pain. It held the depth, strength and perspective of heaven itself, where my son Judah lives.
Healing had not come easily, no. It had been a fight. A battle, that on most days felt like a failure. In fact it’s a battle I am still fighting.
Healing had come from allowing my heart to weep and rip open. It had come from times where I nearly drowned in my tears on the bathroom floor, begging God to let me be reunited with Judah. It had come from sitting on a bench, looking like a crazy person openly and tearfully whispering hurting, angry words at God… and then being surprised that He wouldn’t chastise me or “teach me a lesson” or tell me that it had “happened for a reason.” He would sit beside me, hold my hand and whisper to me that He understood grief. That I didn’t have to be or feel anything else. And then we would sit quietly together, knowing there were no words. And that was more than enough, more than I could have hoped for. His love really was more than enough.
Healing had come from my loving husband. There were times where our marriage limped. Where it completely wiped out. We could have easily chosen to stay down or crawl away from each other. Built the walls. There were times where it felt impossible to choose otherwise. But only in hearing those whispers from our Father that would fill and sustain were we able to help each other get back up again. We were able to teach and extend grace and healing to the other, becoming an unbreakably strong chord of three strands. We were able to hold each other just as we were: completely broken messes, and choose to say “I love you” and mean it. And choosing to love has been one of the most strengthening, healing things I have ever experienced. Choosing to love my husband. To love my son Judah. And to love Judah’s little brother, Zion, that would come 11 months later. Even though it hurt sometimes. Oh, how love can hurt!
Those first suspicions of healing felt like eyes shut tight, breathing in the humid, fragrant ocean air and allowing it to wash over my soul. It felt like falling asleep in the warm arms of my loving husband, tears dried on our faces. It felt like the foreign sound of my own laughter, uncomfortable and awkward after months of hellish aching. It felt like smiling at the green shoots of spring beginning to crawl out of the melting, frozen ground, breathing in deep the hopeful scent of new life. It felt like being able to sing, all the while a faint heavenly chorus around me; the reminder and presence of Judah, whose name meant “passionate praise of the Lord.” It felt like weeping over his grave after a knock-me-off-my-feet tidal wave of wishing he was here, and then getting back up off of the dirt purposefully, tucking away the incredible, heavenly thought of being able to hold him again one day. It felt like dreaming like I never had allowed myself before, without earthly limitations. It felt like letting go of all the what-ifs and finally starting our own business, pursuing what we were passionate about. It felt like moving into our very own fixer-upper and envisioning what it could one day be. It felt like walking away from Judah’s headstone understanding that his life was beckoning us to change everything about our perspective, about what we thought was valuable and important in life. To fear not.
True healing is feeling with more feeling than you have ever felt before or knew possible. Healing is unbreakable strength. Healing is being able to come to terms with the fact that joy and sorrow can coexist, and not only coexist, but allow you to see and understand the world and heaven itself with clearer, more confident eyes. Healing is letting that fact cause you to love and care deeper than you could possibly have fathomed. Healing is allowing the agony of sorrow and separation, sin and death to wash over you, to feel it in depths previously unknown, yet never in a million years ever desired. Healing is then allowing the hushed, quiet breeze of love, comfort and hope to stir within you. It whispers about eternity and vision for the future. Hope. It compels you to breathe that same breeze over those who also mourn.
It gives you determination to live completely differently than before, because you must. It honors your child, your little one who now bridges the massive expanse between heaven and earth. It speaks to the value of their little life. It may have been small, or short, but it shouted out the conviction of heaven itself to everyone watching and listening. His life was so strong and important and big that it even reached out to touch those who had never met him, and still keeps reaching after death.
Healing has brought me joy. Pure joy. My son brought me pure joy.
Not empty, temporary happiness. Not a shallow feeling based on an outcome or circumstance.
Joy. This was real joy. The joy of heaven I had heard and read about, but never been able to know until a tiny, deformed, perfect little baby boy named Judah Rees showed me.
Bethany St. Marie is a 23-year-old wife to Adam and mama of two beautiful little boys: Judah, in heaven, and Zion, who was born January 29th this year. She and her family live in Wisconsin and have been inspired by Judah to start their own business restoring old or run-down homes, bringing beauty to the forgotten and life and healing back into communities.