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When Grief and Love Collide

Whiplash and grief. These two words were given to me by my therapist on my visit to her office last Spring after I shared with her all that went down in my life the previous two years. These two words accurately described those tumultuous years. When I first arrived at my therapist’s office, I felt disoriented. Not lost but definitely at a loss.

Judah was 6 months old at this time, and I was still reeling from his unexpected presence in my life. I fell in love with Judah upon his birth, but I did not fall in love with the turn in our family’s path that happened as a result of Judah’s birth. Everything changed as a result of his arrival, and I was still really hurting from that.

I grieved the fact that my lifelong dream to adopt was suddenly and permanently put on hold until further notice. I grieved the fact that our future adopted child whom I had already been praying for and writing to in his/her journal would no longer be joining our family anytime soon. I had loved that future adopted child of ours with a fierce love, and now I would no longer be able to put a face to that love until who-knows-when. There was no longer a timeline for our adopted child to come home. There instead was a time to make room in our home and in our lives for the little child whom I had recently birthed.

And instead of celebration, my heart was heavy with grief.

As a friend or family member of someone grieving, grief can be an uncomfortable emotion to deal with. Trying to figure out what to say, what not to say, or if you should say anything at all leads many people to say or do things that end up hurting more than helping. It’s hard to sit with someone in their grief without trying to push them towards healing. We hurt for them, so we want to help heal them.

But grief cannot be rushed. Grief cannot be healed by sheer force. Grief has its own timetable and its own journey. And no one but the person on the journey can say when his/her grief is over. There is no clean and tidy timeline for when grief begins and ends, even though I wish there was. Glennon says it best:

“Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.”
– Glennon Doyle Melton

It was hard for people to understand why I was so heartbroken over the loss of our adopted baby when I had a baby growing right inside of me.

Be grateful!, they said.
God allowed this for a reason, they claimed.

Then when Judah was born, most people assumed my grief was over. My regret done and away with. And I knew it would be neater, cleaner that way. That I grieved while pregnant, but upon Judah’s birth would be able to forget all my heartache and only see joy. And joy I did see, but through the eyes of my broken heart. I grieved my dream to adopt, my unexpected pregnancy, and the huge change Judah brought into our lives. I hated myself for still feeling sad, for still wishing things ‘could have been’. And thus why I started seeing a therapist when he was 6 months old. I needed help. I needed healing.

And that’s when I found…

Judah became my unexpected healer. My therapist didn’t become my healer; my adopted baby didn’t become my healer. But Judah became my healer. The very baby I didn’t want became the healer I never expected.

When everything around me – from John’s job to our finances to personal relationships to lifelong dreams to our nation’s treatment of the marginalized – seemed to be falling to pieces, being surrounded by what seemed like only ashes, I would look at my son and in that moment everything would be all right with the world.

For a moment I would forget the chaos and for once feel calmness. For a moment I would forget all the darkness and start to see the light. For a moment I would forget the storm surrounding me and see joy overtaking. Every time I looked at him, every time I soaked in his love, my broken heart healed a little. With every kiss I gave him, my shattered soul seemed to piece itself back together. Every time I inhaled his sweet baby smell, my insides would explode with light and love and hope. And so I kept kissing, kept inhaling, and kept holding.

It was a subtle but noticeable healing.

He made me smile when the world was so serious. He made me laugh when my heart heaved with tears. He made me see hope when the world felt so dark. He reminded me that redemption was real and redemption was here. He was the beauty rising from the ashes. The one thing I didn’t want became the one thing I needed.

What I thought were ashes became beauty.
What I thought was lost became gain.
What I thought was broken became whole.

Yes, Judah’s birth was unplanned and unwanted, but in the end, it was his life that healed me. His love that soothed my wounded soul.

So now I look at him and I can’t help but drink him in. I can’t help but hold him and smother him in kisses. He is the very thing I needed to break free from my remorse and enter a place of peace, joy and hope. Three things I so desperately needed. And I found them in the wriggly baby who lay in arms.

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