Remembering Well A Love Lost

Apr 14, 2013 by

“Take from me all that You please for all I have You have graciously given.  Strength and health my gifts and wealth all  Yours to spend for as long as I’m living.”

Nicole Walters, Yours to Spend

The evening was nothing but pleasant.  It was only seldom that Ryan got to extract himself from the rigors of college football to come home and share a meal, talk, and just be.  As usual, when he twisted the door open, our dog Jack was the first to meet him, wagging so hard he could hardly keep his balance on his four legs.   Over dinner, we talked about how practices were going, what was going on with his team mates and about his high school sweetheart Tara, or That Girl as we call her.  He regaled us with off color, on the field stories and updates of every kind.  Aside from the nervous glances that I caught between he and Cole,  there was no hint of the discussion to come.

The four of us moved to the couch and were seated for only a little while before Ryan stuttered that he needed to talk to us about something.  There was no hint of the bravery he displayed on the field within the fumbling of his words.  “Tara’s pregnant.  We’re going to have a baby.” Pause.  Silence. Tara wasn’t the only one pregnant, so was the tension in the air.

Tears welled up in my eyes faster than I had processed Ryan’s announcement.  I wish I could say there were tears of joy, but they weren’t.  I felt . . . sad.  Although I knew, first hand, that his life wasn’t over and that there was future yet ahead, I also knew that raising a child so young was no small task.  It had worked out for us . . . barely, but I’d never call it the preferred route or the easy one.  The tears in my eyes at the news blurred not only my vision of the sweet, handsome boy sitting before me, but also how I now saw his future before him.  Blurry.  He has no idea . . .

They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so I guess it should have come as no surprise, really.  In truth, despite our frequent and open conversations with the boys about sex, I don’t think our expectations for their abstinence were all that high.   This was especially true once Ryan and That Girl started dating.  In fact, on his 17th birthday, we gave him a standing ovation for having avoided fatherhood thus far, besting his mother by a year.  Still, Marc and I assumed the posture of indignant parents and said all of the things we should have said in response to our son making his life more difficult.

We assured him of our love and support and over the next few days I wrestled with my disappointment to make sure love and support was exactly what he got from me.   I carried my worry over Ryan’s impending fatherhood in the pit of own body where he, himself nestled when I was pregnant with him.  My faith and hope did their best to stand ground against the regret that threatened to take permanent residence in my mind.  Every time I mustered the courage to tell a relative or friend about the pregnancy my discomfort seemed to grow and not lessen.  Of course the reliable barbs that followed from my friends about what a “young” grandmother I would be and how “cool” that was didn’t help.  Yes, I know that they were only trying to sweeten the lemonade, but lemons still sting an open wound.

Me.  A grandmother.  At 40.  If I was unprepared for motherhood at 16, the 23 years that followed did nothing to equip me for grandchildren at that point in my life.   I didn’t know how to assume the role, but I knew I’d have to eventually. The kids had an ultrasound; a baby girl was on her way.  Even though every inch That Girl gained around her waist was a reminder of the new life coming, it wasn’t until one afternoon in Whole Foods did it become alive in me.

I was walking, hungry, toward the prepared foods when, from the corner of my eyes, I spotted the object that would be my heart’s undoing; a pair of pink and brown Robeez baby shoes, 0-6 months.  I knew better, but curiosity got the best of me.  Like some tragic Greek figure, I gave way to the siren call of the little leather slippers and walked helplessly toward them.  My hands, on their own, reached for the shoes at the same time that the moisture reached for my eyes.

As I examined the detail of every stitch surrounding the leather flowers and leaves that decorated those small shoes, I began to imagine all the ground my grand daughter and I would cover together.   In my imagination, I vividly saw her crawling on all fours with me alongside her.  I saw her toddling her first steps with my anxious arms ready to catch her should she fall.  I imagined sleepovers when she’d curl up with Marc and me and drift off in our arms.  And I began to rehearse the conversation in which I’d tell Marc that I had to quit my job because I just couldn’t see anyone else caring for our grand girl.

My heart started to ache at its expansion.  What, pray tell, is this?  I pressed those tiny booties to my chest like they were the most precious things I’d ever held, in practice for the baby soon to be within them.  I understood, in ways that words fail, that from that moment on my life would never be the same.

With those shoes drawn to my heart, newly opened and loving in way I had not yet known, I prayed for her . . . that every step she took, from booties to stilettos, would be one that Jesus walked with her.  A gasp of, what, gratitude escaped my mouth in a sob.  I could tell my reverie was disconcerting to the other shoppers who looked nervously in my direction.  But I didn’t care.  I was experiencing an awakening.  Until that moment, I didn’t even know it was possible to experience love “more”, “new”, and as yet “undiscovered”.  Right there, next to the jars of organic creamed peas, I became fully alive to the idea of being a grandmother.  And, I was going to be the best grandmother in the whole damn world.  She’ll call me La La.  It was settled.  I was in love.

I purchased those shoes and with them, I bought the freedom to give myself over to this baby who I was certain would wreck havoc in my already busy life.  I was a happy goner and couldn’t wait to experience the fallout of such a shameless love affair.  You can imagine, then, my concern when on the same night that we helped the kids finish the nursery we received a frantic phone call from Ryan saying that he and Tara were rushing to the emergency room.

Memories of the drive to the hospital are in shards, reduced to piercing snippets of hope and despair.  Me repeating into the phone “it’s going to be okay” to Ryan like a mantra, and him responding,  “no, no, no” with the same repetition; the mechanical phone calls to family and friends begging, pleading for help, prayer or whatever hope they could extend against the darkness waiting to consume us; “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” flowing from my lips as tears flowed from my eyes.  It was all so fucked up and unbelievable.

Less than four weeks remaining in the pregnancy and our grand daughter, Audrey Lynn Walters, had died in her mother’s womb though she was very much alive in our hearts – unseen, untouched, and unknown, but alive.   Before we even entered into the hospital room, sadness had already taken it over and strewn itself everywhere. Yet sadness wasn’t the only spirit present in that place.  So was the presence of God and the sometimes ridiculous, inappropriate and embarrassing hope He brings.

Through my swollen eyes, I saw the evidence of His fingerprints everywhere.  I saw my oldest son, usually so emotionally strong and physically sure, weak, broken, reduced to a lump of raw sadness with his knees to the ground, but his head toward heaven in grief, in sorrow, in petition, in surrender, and in just the slightest peace.

I saw my new daughter-in-love, unaware that anyone was watching, as she held her precious, lifeless baby girl to her body.  Her eyes closed and lips quietly moving with words only she and her Heavenly Father would know, demonstrating what a great mother she will one day be.

I saw my youngest boy, usually the recipient of brotherly support, carry the full weight of his older, bigger brother as he, broken and unable, leaned into him for the strength he lacked.  For the first time in their lives, a complete reversal of roles, but one that Cole rose to the challenge to meet and exceed.   As they cried together a fleeting feeling of pride brushed passed me as I saw how well we raised them to love one another.

I saw young men, team mates of Ryan, mostly over 6’2, and barely recognizable to me without their helmets on, with red eyes weeping with the brother in arms, exchanging their toughness for a minute with the tenderness of the moment.

I saw a group of young, 20-something women, four of them, standing guard around Tara’s bed; fussing over her hair, arranging blankets, recalling stories of mischief from their younger years, keeping one another’s history, and taking their place in the circle of love and sisterhood that has existed throughout time and history in defiance of the despair that this life sometimes tries to inflict.

I saw a full circle moment.  I saw the pain of my own loss of twin boys years ago, born too soon, gain meaning, significance, and purpose as I, recalling God’s grace for me then, comforted Tara with it now.

I saw my husband, ordinarily so quiet, hold our little Audrey in his arms and pray and give thanks for all that God had given in the dreams we all had for her.

I saw my mother-in-love embrace my husband, her baby, the same way I embraced Ry and marveled at the generational goodness of God as He blesses us, our children and our children’s children . . .

I saw my son’s encouragement at a text message from a teammate that read that though he hadn’t prayed for years, he prayed for Ry and Tara that night.

And I saw, held, and mourned my Audrey Lynn.  She was beautiful.  She was perfect.  She had long, elegant fingers.  She had hair that I just know would have one day been even crazier and curlier than mine.  And she was gone.

As I sat there rocking her little, empty body, I heard the Spirit of the Lord say what I already knew, she was not there.  The body that I held was not my grand girl at all, but it was who she used to be, where she used to be.  I allowed that truth to wash over me and I, if only for a while, rested in the reprieve from my anger, my sadness, and my void.  If she wasn’t there, then she was with Him, enjoying the fullness of His presence, experiencing the immediacy of His love.  Audrey was gone, and with her, not only my dreams for her life but for my own as a grandmother.

There were over 100 people at Audrey’s funeral; family, friends, teammates, all mourning the life that could have and should have been.  As I sat listening to people sharing, through tears, their love for our little angel girl, it was something that Marc said that spoke to me the loudest.  I was, admittedly, disappointed when Ryan told me about their pregnancy.  That disappointment certainly shaped my initial resistance to celebrating it.  I not only believed that Ryan wasn’t ready to be a father, I wasn’t ready to be a grandmother.  It felt so . . . old.  It was so . . . vain.

When Marc stood at Audrey’s funeral to share his thoughts, he confessed before everyone there that it was his vanity too that made him uncomfortable with the idea of being a grandfather.   Behind the protection of sunglasses, he said “I can’t believe how much time I spent trying to figure out what she should call me other than grand dad.  It felt so old.”  He paused, and gathered himself a little bit.  “The truth is,” he choked, “she could have called me anything she wanted to.  I just wish she could call me now. “  Yes.  Yes.

Here’s a blog I wrote two days after Audrey died:

April 16, 2008

      I’ve noticed that my forehead is tender to the touch. When I run my fingers across it, it’s sore, sensitive and hurts . . . like the way your skin feels before you get the flu, kind of achy. Curious. It wasn’t until yesterday that I figured it out. I guess that the motion my face makes when I cry uses muscles in my forehead that are rarely used otherwise, and since the loss of our grandchild this past weekend, I’ve done a lot of crying, so my facial muscles are sore, like when you go back to the gym after having not gone in a while and suddenly sitting in a chair feels like climbing Mt. Everest. That is what my life and our lives have been for the past two days or so; like climbing a Mt. Everest of sorrow, grief, confusion, pain, regret, disappointment, unbelief, prayer, petition, faith, and a host of other things that I didn’t realize could all be experienced at once.

     Audrey Lynn Walters, the name that they refused to tell us for fear that it too would be rejected like all the others they proposed, was stillborn Monday, April 14th at 1:00 in the morning. Her first name means noble strength, and my son and his lovely wife did her namesake proud as they, through their tears and sadness but shrouded in the thinnest veil of peace and faith, endured over 24 hours of labor knowing that the little girl being born to them actually belonged to God in the realest sense.

     I have tried to, in emails to my friends and family and in my own personal ramblings, communicate the glimpses of God and beauty which pierced through that darkest night, but words mostly seem stupid and clumsy and a poor vehicle to use, but they are all I have and I still can’t make them fit. All I know is that when your son has collapsed to the floor and you hear yourself whining “Lord, have mercy”, He does. Or that when your younger son finds himself holding the entire and massive weight of his older brother and needing the strength of God to do so, God gives it. That’s all I know. That and my forehead hurts, just like my heart.

When I picked up those shoes in Whole Foods that day, I also picked up the mantle of being a grandmother.  Just when my mind could conceive of nothing other than the joy of having my life ruined by a grand child, she was ripped away.  So was that part of me.  There were so many things lost with Audrey, including the new title that I was so eager to wear.  But faith, faith was not one of them.  Through experiencing the hurt, anger, and sticky sadness of letting Audrey go, the foundation of my belief in God remained firm and unmoved.  The familiar evidence of His love was as real to me as the hole in my heart.

Peace and Blessings,


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