Comic Books, Psalms, and Grief

It’s odd the way the mind makes connections.  A single thought or feeling can lead us down unexpected roads.

This happened to me recently.

A few weeks ago I read the graphic novel “Sisters” by the ever delightful Raina Telgemeier.  It tells the story of Raina and her younger sister Amara, tracking their relationship from Amara’s birth to a road trip taken years later in the midst of a family crisis.  Along the way we get glimpses of the joys and frustrations of family, creating a beautiful illustration of the unbreakable bond between siblings.

In the end, the love Raina and Amara share is big enough to hold all of the complicated emotions associated with their relationship.  Because that is what love does.

When I finished the book, I immediately sent a note to my sister Janelle, telling her how lucky I was to grow up with her.  My mind flooded with a million memories.  Playing in the snow together.  Attending talent shows to watch her dance.  Going out together for frozen yogurt as adults.  Chatting about our artistic ambitions and promoting each other’s work.  I felt indescribably blessed.

But I had another reaction to the book too.  It created a twinge of sadness that opened up old wounds.

I have two children, a nine year old boy and a three year old girl.  My wife Kara and I didn’t intend to have them so far apart.  In fact, we started trying to have another child after my son’s third birthday.  We’d hoped that we could have several children, close enough to grow up as close companions and partners in crime.

Getting pregnant the first time had been easy.  People told us to be patient, that it would probably take months, but it happened almost immediately.  We had no way of anticipating that the next six years would be filled with negative pregnancy tests, doctor’s visits, and miscarriages.  

At first it seemed like things would be just as easy the second time around.  It took a few months longer, but before long Kara was pregnant.  We breathlessly called our parents to share the good news.  We sat our son down and explained that he would be a big brother and he gleefully started calling the new baby “Peanut”.  Within a few weeks all of our friends and family had been told the news.

We floated on air for days.  I even scheduled time off from work so that I could be with Kara when she heard the baby’s heartbeat for the first time.

The day of the appointment we dropped our son off at my parent’s house and drove to the doctor’s office.  We waited in giddy anticipation as the doctor searched for a heartbeat.  

After a few seconds we noticed a look of concern cross the doctor’s face.  He continued searching for a beat, but told us that he wasn’t finding anything.  He explained that we would need to get an ultrasound to get a more definitive answer, but that we should prepare for the idea that we might lose the baby.

The days that followed went by in a blur of tension, fear, and near constant prayer.  We begged God for a miracle.

For a time, it seemed like our prayers were answered.  We attended the ultrasound and found out that, yes, we had lost the baby, but that my wife was actually pregnant with twins.  The second baby had a heartbeat.  We felt a mix of grief at losing one, but profound joy that God saw fit to answer our prayer in such an unexpected way.

A few weeks later we lost them both.

I remember alternating between rage, despair and a sense of dazed numbness.  I developed feelings of anger toward the people around me.  I couldn’t understand how their world kept turning when mine was crashing down.  I cried and raged at God, demanding to know what He was doing.  Why a miscarriage?  And worse, why give us false hopes with the discovery of the second baby just to take them both away?

We were forced into awkward conversations with friends and family.  They would call to ask how the pregnancy was progressing and we would explain what happened.  Each time the wound ripped back open, exposing the anger and grief associated with the loss.

A year later, it happened again.

There were differences.  We didn’t know we were pregnant when the next miscarriage occurred, but it was still devastating.

Well meaning people kept trying to comfort us.  They offered the typical platitudes.  It wasn’t the right time.  It was part of God’s plan.  It happened for a reason.  None of it helped.  In fact, it made things worse, as though we were supposed to be okay with our loss because it was part of some grand, beautiful design.  

As humans, we seem hardwired to look for these kinds of answers.  When tragedy strikes we immediately ask why, as though knowing the cause will somehow act as a salve.  It rarely does.  The entire book of Job explores why bad things happen, only to come to the ultimate conclusion that even if God explained it we wouldn’t understand.

We then compound the pain by making it unacceptable to feel the anger and doubt that come with loss.  We question God and then feel guilty for asking the questions, as though our feelings were somehow sinful.

I think the book of Psalms should help us dispel this illusion.  King David, whom the Bible describes as a man after God’s own heart, writes verse after verse alternating between praise, anger, doubt, and despair, all directed toward God.  He even accuses God of being unfaithful to His promises.  

I think David understood that God’s love is big enough to hold our anger, fear, and despair. 

If you are reading this, you’ve probably experienced loss.  If you haven’t, I’m sad to say that you will.  When it happens, you will probably ask ‘Why?’ and the truth is that you’ll probably never get an answer, at least not one that satisfies you.  I wish I could say something different, but I can’t.

I can tell you that it gets better, but it takes time.  Grief moves in fits and starts and never in a straight line toward healing.  You get there when you get there.

Along the way, my prayer is that you will remember that it is okay to question, okay to feel anger and doubt, to feel rage and despair.  The great God of the Universe is big enough to hold you and all of your emotions.

God is love.

That is what love does.

3 thoughts on “Comic Books, Psalms, and Grief

  1. Dear Shaun, I am sorry for your losses. Please accept my condolences. What a lot you and those you love have had to bear.

    As I read this, I am reminded of one of my brothers, twenty-six months younger than I and how we used to play and were best friends until I was nine, he was seven and our family moved to a different neighborhood and he abandoned me for the boys of his age. There were no gils my age and I missed my brother.

    When I was fourteen, mom had a baby and the age difference was such that I was more of a parent to him than his sister. But we loved each other. Of course, I went off to college and pursued adult life but we stayed close over the years until he was about fourteen. When I was nineteen, mom finally realized she just could not live with dad any longer. The family split. My youngest brother stayed with mom while my other brother stayed with dad. At some point, mom took my youngest brother across country and by the time he was fourteen he was so very mentally ill.

    Today, both of my brothers want nothing to do with anyone in the family. It is all so tragic. I pray for them every day.

    I rejoice for you that you and your sister are dear to each other and I pray that your son and daughter grow up to be adults who cherish each other.

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  2. I really needed this today. I came to your blog in a strange way but after reading I know it was not random. I found out today my brain tumor is back again. I have two small kids 6 and 2. I’ve been fighting for ten years but I’m sick of this beast. I know at the very end everything will be okay but until the end of time, I want more and I want it now. Job and I have become “friends” and his questions and rock solid faith encourage me. Thanks.

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    • Jessica – Thank you so much for sharing. I am glad that my post could help in anyway. I’m so sorry to hear about your struggle. It always feels paltry to say, “I’ll pray for you” in situations like this (not because I doubt the efficacy of prayer, but because it always seems like a pre-programmed response) Be that as it may, you will be in my prayers and I thank you again for your honesty and courage to share your story.

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