In Memory of Peter

When I was four or five years old my family was living in Northern Haiti on the OMS missionary compound. Our maid, who lived in the neighboring village, told my mom about a newborn baby in her village whose mother had just died of AIDS. The grandmother was caring for the baby now, but it was not doing well. My mom went into the village and found the baby: tiny, severely dehydrated and dying, the grandmother trying to keep him alive with sugared tea water. My mom brought the baby home. We had a nurse who lived on the compound. She tried to start an IV but the baby was too dehydrated. She instructed my mom to give the baby a dropperful of rehydration fluid every five minutes. My mom worked around the clock with the help of a volunteer missionary who was staying at our house. On the third day, exhausted, my mom asked the nurse if she could take a night shift with the baby. That night, under the nurse’s care, the baby opened his eyes, smiled, lifted his arms and then died. They had a funeral, people from the village came and this death ended up being the birth of my parents’ relationships and ministry in this village. 

I don’t really remember all of that. I had to ask my mom to get those details. 

What I remember is a blue blanket. A little dark head peeking through. I remember my mom made a baby bed in the living room out of a dresser drawer. I remember having to be quiet. And I remember the delight of having a baby in the house. The hope. Could this be my new baby brother? Do we get to keep him?

And then I remember the solemn conversation. Standing next to my big brother as the adults shared some important news. No images of the adults, no memory of their words, just information that was imparted. The baby had died. 

Peter had died. 

No one had bothered to name him, so our family named him Peter. 

It’s a wispy memory. A memory of What If. What if he had lived? What if my parents had decided to adopt him? What if I could have had a baby brother? 

I remember as a bit older child, moving to a different place, telling the new kids I met that I used to have a baby brother, but he died. 

As I was sitting here thinking about all this, it brought to mind another Peter who died. I had an early miscarriage in between my 9th and 10th child. I have no idea if the baby was a boy or a girl, but my heart said, this was a boy, and his name was Peter Elisha. Another wispy memory. What If? What if he had lived? A thought I shy away from. If he had lived, we would not have our last little boy who has brought so much joy to our lives. What ifs are too convoluted, confusing. A rabbit trail not worth pursuing. 

But, it is good to remember for a moment. Peter. Both Peters. You were loved for the few moments we knew you. 

Tears in Honor of You

It’s Tuesday evening. Time to write my blog for Wednesday. All afternoon I’ve been wondering what to write about. My mind circles around the thought and then instantly turns to something else. I think I’m going to read a bit more of my book. I think I’m going to practice piano a bit. I think I’m going to wash the dishes. And of course, the children are a constant presence of distraction, look at this mom, watch me mom, Mom he hit me, Mom I’m hungry. I allow myself to be distracted all day. And then, this evening I think, I need to go write my blog. And the thought comes to me, in order to write a blog, you have to think about something. Ah yes. There is the problem. I don’t want to think. Thinking is painful right now. A very good friend of mine’s grandbaby died this weekend. She was just a baby. A sweet wonderful baby. I didn’t know her, but I had heard all about her from her proud grandparents. I’d seen the occasional pictures scattered across Facebook. And I still feel paralyzed by the thought that such a loss has touched people that I know and love.

I don’t want to think because every time I let my mind focus on something, it comes back to this pain. Feeling pain and mourning are not things that I am good at. I am a missionary kid. I spent my entire childhood moving from one extreme place to another. Studies have been done on missionary kids and it seems to be a universal experience that we all struggle with mourning. We uproot so many times, have so many goodbyes to say to all that is familiar, and we rarely take the time to properly mourn all that we have lost. Mourning is painful. I think we naturally try to avoid pain. I know that for myself, my coping mechanism is to suppress it. Ignore it, push the thoughts down until they stop resurfacing. Drown it. Except that the pain doesn’t go away, it just lingers below the surface, waiting for a chance to reappear. And then it shows up in strange, unexpected places. Like the time I had my first miscarriage.

It happened while we were out of town, camping in another state. I was staying at a campsite in our camper with our children while my husband was working nearby, 14-16 hour days, working on a construction project. It was a couple weeks long project and the kids and I had gone with my husband so we wouldn’t be separated for so long. I was in a campground trying to take care of six children on my own and I miscarried. It was early on in the pregnancy. There wasn’t anything I could do. And I didn’t have time to mourn. I cried a little, but I was in shock and overwhelmed and trying to put a brave face on for my kids and my husband. And then, a month later, we were back home in Tennessee and I was sitting in church, the service had just ended and something snapped and I started sobbing. For a long time. And I am so relieved that this particular grief rose to the surface so I could properly mourn.

My friend who lost her grandbaby, she is special to me because many years ago she started me on a long journey of healing. I don’t know how to describe her relationship to me except as a co-therapist. We listen to each other. We provide a safe place for each other and other women as we dig down and resurface these stories that haven’t been properly mourned. And it seems that the only way I can honor my friend and her grief is to not let myself run away from the pain, as peripheral to my life as it is. To let myself feel it, mourn alongside her. Not suppress, let myself be sad. Give myself permission to grieve.

So, My dear friend, this is how I honor you and your ministry, your family, your devastating loss. I will allow myself to grieve with you.