Friday, November 30, 2012

Now We See Through a Glass Darkly

What do you do when the earth crumbles beneath you - when the future you planned for disintegrates and you are shoved onto a path you never thought you could go down? How do you let go? How do you move forward? How do you bury a child?

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We sit on the couch. She is in her robe. I am still wearing my coat. I take her hand and look into her eyes. It is only two days after she has buried her son and the pain in her usually steady face is so visible it breaks me, cracks me straight through. While we try at first to talk of other things, the loss is so heavy, so brutal and fresh, it is the only thing we can talk about.

There are no words of comfort for this kind of sorrow. Even the truest words sound trite, inadequate, out of place.

I listen and weep. I have nothing to say. No way to fix what has happened.

Many of you read my November 16th post about my best friend Kara and the expected delivery of her twin boys. The post was celebratory, light-hearted. But I pulled it down as soon as I knew things weren't going well. 

I have decided to re-post it (you can find it below) because I want you to understand the Kara I love so much. I want you to feel of her strength, her wisdom, her selflessness in pursuing another chance at children. And I want you to see why this loss is so great.

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We had been preparing for her boys for months, discussing which of our extra cribs she would use, passing down baby things, navy pea coats, tiny oxford shoes. I loved knowing she would understand this crazy twin-world of mine. 

When she reached 36 weeks with two strong heart beats, we assumed all would be well. Clearly, she was in the safe zone.

Oh, how unexpected were the events of Friday afternoon.

Caleb came into the world robust, healthy, and in perfect condition. But baby Isaac's arrival was intensely traumatic. Everything he needed to survive was compromised. Within 24 hours it was evident his systems were failing. I left the hospital Saturday, heaving sobs for Kara and Dave. 

I had bought two blue balloons for their children, Katherine and Parker. But with the finality of the news that day, I couldn't deliver them. So I drove and drove, finally stopping at an overlook where I tied the balloons together, said a prayer for Kara and her family, then let the balloons go. In honor of Caleb and Isaac, and the bond they will always share.

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I watched the balloons twist slowly into the clouds until a sudden gust of wind caught them quick and trailed them out of sight. I slumped into the driver's seat and cried.

I felt foolish I hadn't prepared myself for something to go wrong. I wondered why none of us had seen this coming, why I had assumed everything would come off without a hitch. 

My phone became an extension of my hand that weekend, as I waited for updates, changes, news. By Sunday evening, these words from Kara flashed onto the screen: "He is gone. So fast. Brave, beautiful boy."


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How Kara and Dave have managed this collision of emotions, I do not know. Joy in the safety of one boy, mourning over the other. A few nights ago, I rocked Spencer and Gordon before bedtime and sang them Christmas songs. I listened to them say each other's names, chatter happily, elbows bumping. As they quieted down, their bodies eased into mine and we moved as one to the rhythm of the rocker. Suddenly, I couldn't sing. I could only cry. Every day, I see what Kara has lost. It is right in front of me, growing, tightening, strengthening. The bond. And the ache I feel for her is so profound, so deep, I cannot shake it.

She is the first thing I think of in the morning, the last thing I think of when I fall asleep. She is constantly on my mind, a perpetual prayer on my lips. I worry, I feel helpless. 

So much of mourning is personal, something that must be worked out in closets, on knees, with a God who can wipe all tears.

And yet, I would do anything to comfort Kara.

One moment consoles me and I reflect on it often. Friday evening I went to the hospital to see Kara. When I slipped into her room, she was alone with Caleb, feeding him for the first time. We oohed and ahhhed over his darling face, his perfect hands and feet. Soon her Dad came in and sat on the bed. He had just come from being with Isaac in the NICU. He told Kara how Isaac looked, what the doctors were saying, what it was like to touch him, be with him. I sat in a chair and watched him take her hand. He was visibly emotional. Kara then took her father's other hand, and the two of them comforted each other. It seemed they both knew, even then, what would transpire.

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There were seconds of quiet until Kara's father said, "When I look at Isaac, nothing feels out of balance. It seems everything is happing as it should." Kara nodded and said she felt the same. I listened in awe. I was witnessing an expression of faith most of us take years to come to. A submissiveness, an acceptance that is almost always hard-fought. But I heard it spoken with assurance and trust. That all things were in balance, and a loving God was acutely aware.

Can life be in balance even when it is painful? When it is down-right awful? Can it be right when the hardness of it reduces you to nothing? I am learning the answer is yes. And if that is the case, it means this will be a blessing to Kara and Dave and their family. 

Kara told me yesterday, all she can do is give over her will. She has done this before. When she reconciled her inability to have more children, let go of her pleadings. But handing over your will is hard. So hard. It means learning to be thankful when your arms are full. And when they are empty. Kara told me how grateful she was to bring Isaac into the world. To be his mother. Even though their time together was brief.

We discussed my celebration post and decided, it isn't inappropriate to celebrate her boys. They may not cavort and explore together, shoulder to shoulder, but they are still twins. And she is still a mother of twins. Her boys will know an unusual existence. They will progress alongside each other in different spheres. Both gaining strength from the other. Caleb will have the blessing of an angel nearby, vigilant of his needs. And Isaac will move forward with an assurance that he is eternally connected to his twin brother, his siblings, his parents.

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Kara's father said again at the graveside service that he believes this worked out exactly as it should. He acknowledged that this understanding doesn't lessen the sorrow Kara and Dave feel. The sorrow will not go away, he said. They will laugh, smile, and enjoy a happy life. But there will always be a pocket of sorrow inside them. And when the noise and push of the world crowds in, that place of reverence will ground them.

The reason this is so hard, Kara said, is because our understanding is so limited. 

Remember Paul's words?

"Now we see through a glass darkly... we know [only] in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

There is so much we do not know. So much we do not understand. God gives us just enough to walk through the shadows. In all our walking, his staff comforts us. He restores our soul. He finds us in the darkness. 

But the point of hope in Paul's message is that we will not always see through the glass darkly. Eventually we will see "face to face", clear and unobstructed. We will see God's face, the faces of those we lost, the faces of those we've kept close. We will know things as God knows them. The whole of it, not just in part.

If anyone knows how to find God's face, it is Kara and Dave. They recognize his light and live in it. They are two of the most beautiful, steady people I know. 

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The Sunday evening Isaac passed away, I read these words in Isaiah, 

"The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces... Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us... [He] will keep [us] in perfect peace, [if our] minds are stayed on Him... Yea, trust in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." (Isaiah 25: 8-9, 26: 3-4)

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Isaac, I will always remember holding your perfect body, cradling your head, and watching your family kiss you goodbye. I will remember you had your mommy's toes, your daddy's face, and the immediate adoration of your older brother and sister. I will remember what a gift your short life was to all of us who hoped for and celebrated your coming. And I will count it all joy when I see you reunited with those who love you best. Those who are longing to hold you again.

Kara, Dave, Katherine, Parker and Caleb. You are present in all our prayers. We love you.


Isaac's obituary was written by his grandmother (Kara's mother), Nancy Hanks Baird.

Photos used by permission, courtesy of Andy Thomas

23 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry to hear this. My heart is breaking for this family. They will be in my prayers for peace and healing.

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  2. Thank you for your beautiful words and your wisdom. Eight years ago today I lost my son in a car accident. Although the years have eased the pain I still carry that 'pocket of sorrow' that you wrote of. My prayers are with the Carlstons.

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    1. Oh Carmen, my heart goes out to you too. A timely read for you today. I believe the most difficult loss in life is that of a child. I sorrow with you and will remember you tonight in my prayers. Thank you for your kind thoughts. Much love.

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  3. I had commented on your post below and could not have imagined such a story. Prayers for you and your sweet friend and her precious family.

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  4. Love you Cath. So beautiful. It was cathartic to read.

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  5. I am not even sure what words to write. I am so very sorry for the loss of their sweet son. I cannot even wrap my head around the grief that must accompany the death of a child. I loved the thought of the two brothers still assisting each other through these many years. The thought of an angel watching over Caleb is just beautiful. I will pray for Kara and her family.

    Catherine, you are such a kind, devoted friend. Love you.

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  6. Jen - I know, none of us could have imagined this happening. Thank you for praying for Kara and her family.

    Dearest Alex - it was cathartic for me to write. You know I love you. Your post was perfect. Still thinking of Isaac on loan to Laird. Most tender thought yet. xo

    Anne Marie - It's true. Words fail us in these moments. And sometimes silence says what we cannot. But thank you for your expressions of sympathy and love. I am blessed to have Kara in my life. And I loved your perspective on your boys' "twin-ness." I couldn't agree more. I will email you soon. Love to you friend.

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  7. I love you Catherine. Thank you for sharing your soul with us.

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  8. My heart broke for Kara and Dave - two of my favorite people - when I heard about sweet Isaac. I have only experienced the loss of a child with my sweet nephew. His 11 days of life taught our family more than perhaps all the years combined. What a blessing to feel an eternal tether pulling us to him and to heaven. Prayers and love to them and to you. This was a beautiful tribute to an amazing family and to enduring faith in the big picture.

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  10. I just saw down below that you'd linked that post of yours from Segullah where you tell the story of your girls' birth -- and realized you asked about me and the baby, etc., and that I never responded (I had forgotten to check back for an answer from you).
    That was part of why this post was so wrenching to read. I'm 39 weeks and all is well. Reeeeally want to be done, and everything seems great with the Little Miss. I'm doing a birth center birth this time around, because I want to do a waterbirth.
    It was hard for me to read thru this just because of the content. My heart goes out to your sweet friend and her family. You can't help but ache while reading it. And then it kind of freaked me out because I'm right on that brink of birth and it appears everything is okay, but things like this remind you that you're not in control. And that is so incredibly hard to accept sometimes. I guess it just reenforces for me that God is in charge, and that is really all I can trust in.
    Hugs, kisses, prayers, and lots of peace wishes to Kara and her family.

    And p.s., I'm now thinking about your query to us moms of twins about what is the best part of it. I'm so glad you asked that. I've been in frustration mode with mine lately (insert: feeling like a BAD mom), and I think this will be a good mental exercise for me to just think about how much I love them and why.

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  11. Thank you for sharing this. So many of carry burdens that we don't know the answers to, that life can be quirky, strange, contradictory, confusing. Thanks for reminding us that one day there will be light and understanding. And thanks for sharing about good people who remain faithful in the most trying of times.

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  12. My heart was so overwhelmed as I read this. My husband and I lost our first son, then struggled with infertility for what seemed like forever. We were then blessed with twin boys, and my heart is so full, as are my arms. I am crying for your sweet friend, and I will pray for comfort to come upon her. Even when you know, as her and her father said, that this is how it should be, it still hurts. So. Bad. I healed, but I still feel the scars. Thank heavens for eternity. Love to you and your best friend.

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  13. Don't know what to say. It's funny--I just never considered losing one twin as an option. How absolutely earthshaking for me to consider that after a healthy pregnancy Kara could have one but not the other in her arms today. Give her extra hugs from those of us who can't do it.

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  14. Oh Catherine! My heart has been breaking for Kara and her family. I am so glad she has you near. What a beautiful post about their beautiful family. They are continually in our prayers. There is so much we don't and cannot understand - thank goodness for a Father in Heaven who knows all things.

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  15. Catherine, I've been thinking about this post for so long. I have no words, but only love for you and for your friend and for all of those in mourning. Your beautiful post and pictures are a gift.

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  16. Lisa O - "eternal tether pulling us to him and to heaven" - beautiful.

    Elizabeth - it is wrenching. Terrible. And yet, we know our lives, all lives, are in God's hands. Wishing you all the best with this baby. This will make you happy. An amazing retelling of my friend, Saydi's water birth.

    http://bostonshumways.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-birth-story.html

    Liz - "So many of carry burdens that we don't know the answers to" - so true. Hard to trust. But eventually we will see and know as God does. You are a great example of faith and moving forward in the dark. Love to you.

    Chelsea - "I healed, but I still feel the scars." I suspect that will always be. Thank you for your heartfelt comment, for your compassion and prayers. Blessings to you and your sweet family.

    Lizzy P - "I just never considered losing one twin as an option." - Neither did I. Ever. And this did shake the earth, rock it right out from under those of us who love Kara. Thank you for those extra hugs. You are dear.

    Mimi - "thank goodness for a Father in Heaven who knows all things." Yes.

    Kerri - You know loss. Thank you for your words and kindness. Sending you love.

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  17. Dear Cath, thank you for this post and all the emotions and thoughts you manage to transfer even when words are about to fail... I love the thought of Isaac watching over his brother, there is so much comfort in that. My heart reaches out to your friend Kara and her family!

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  18. I truely believe that the connections between the world we see and the unseen world are much nearer than we imagine. My youngest daughter is SO like her dead sister. She was 5 when her sister died, so it's not like she can really remember what she was like, I think they were close in the life before this and that shows itself in their fysical apperance.
    When one of my older daughters was here she looked through my album about our dead daughter, Vendela, with her children and since then her 3 year old girl talks so much about Vendela, saying things like: "I love her so much and misses her." She wasn't born until years later, so where does these feelings come from in such a young child? Both her mother and I feel that they had a connetion before she came here. Maybe it's like when I first heared the gospel, it was so familier, I knew that I had heared this before though I had never heared it in this life. Maybe looking through the album woke up memories and feelings from a life before? I believe the desd and the unborn are very much engaged in our lives, though we can see it. I'm sure Isaac will walk by his brothers side.
    And yes, the Lord carries us through the hardest times and sometimes also makes them into our sweetest. As happy as I was that Vendela's hardships was over, as happy will I be the day I can hold her in my arms again. And as both myself and Linda, the mother of my little granddaughter, feels, we can never take a complete family photo in this life again, but we have a great reunion to look forward too.
    All my best to you and your friend.

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  19. My twins birthday is 11/18... This whole thing just hit close to home. When they were newborns, one of them (Jenna) had trouble gaining weight. At one doctor's appointments another doctor in the practice was seeing us and she commented, "You know in the olden days, you picked which twin was more healthy and that was the one you focused your nourishment on, since only one of them was bound to live." The thought just absolutely horrified me (can you imagine letting your other baby lay there and cry for hunger while you did nothing?) but has always made me hold them a little closer and ponder how different their lives would be if only one of them had made it.

    Oh, my heart breaks for your friend. What tremendous faith. And (as always) how beautifully written.

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  20. Corinna - Thanks for your kindness.

    Monica - Thank you for sharing your very personal perspective. The relationship you describe between two sisters in different dimensions is very touching. I agree that the unborn and deceased are definitely involved in our lives. And the thought of not feeling like you can take a complete family photo in this life made my heart go out to you. But yes, what a sweet reunion you anticipate. Comfort and love.

    Steph - I know, we live in a day when medical advances make so much possible, we rarely think of one twin not surviving. I cannot imagine neglecting one by necessity. Thanks for your goodness and compassion towards Kara. xo

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