Toddlers, Babies and Bereavement

 

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About 18 months ago my Father died of bowel cancer. He was sixty two. At the time he was diagnosed, my son Sammy was eighteen months and I had just become pregnant again. I spent this pregnancy doing hospital visits and driving back and forth to my parents’ place. Jack was born in November, and my Dad died three months later. I was devastated.

Suffering bereavement with a baby and a two-year-old at home is about the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. While my Mother and siblings took turns in caring for my dying father, I was upstairs trying to settle a crying newborn. I couldn’t take ‘compassionate leave’ from breastfeeding day and night and entertaining a toddler. My siblings helped my Mum with all the practical jobs and phone calls, and I just visited with the boys and made a mess. I couldn’t grieve the way I wanted. I couldn’t help the way I wanted. I couldn’t catch up on sleep or take it easy. I questioned God’s wisdom and timing. What was he thinking?

And I wasn’t the Mother I had hoped to be. I wanted to be cheerful and consistent, but instead I was teary and irrational. I wanted to do fun things and go to interesting places, but many times all I could do was switch on the TV. I worried my tears would affect the boys, that they would be damaged by all the screen watching. I was angry that I had been robbed of the energy and stability I felt I needed to parent well. I leant hard on my husband, and took things out on him. I was doing a bad job and I wouldn’t be able to do this time over again. God was asking too much of me.

I’d never known weakness like it. Grief and exhaustion brought me to my knees, and I had no choice but to throw myself on the Lord. I had to ask for the strength to get up each morning, for help in every small decision. I asked God to help me get the boys dressed, to get them out of the house and pleaded with him to help me get through bath time without shouting or weeping. I didn’t manage to read much Scripture, or listen to any sermons. All I could manage was listening to worship music, and found myself being lifted up by hearing brothers and sisters sing truth for me. As I went, moment-by-moment, asking for strength, I would sing under my breath, Lord I need you, oh I need you, every hour I need you. 

But over time, I began to realise that on my knees was exactly where God wanted me to be. For the first time, I was learning to be truly dependent, to rely on his strength to do literally everything. And in doing that, I discovered that his grace is sufficient, and that his power is made perfect, not just despite my weakness, but in my weakness.[1] I had all these ideas about what I needed to be a good mother – energy, security, good sleep, parental support and a positive mental state. But without any of these things, I learned to rely wholly on the grace and mercy of God; day by day, hour by hour. And that was really all I needed.

And I can testify that God’s mercies really are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness![2] Friends turned up with meals when I couldn’t think about cooking. Others offered to look after the boys. Still others offered to take me places because I couldn’t drive. God provided us with a church family who carried us through some dark months, emotionally and practically. He provided people for us to talk to, to pray with, and to give good counsel. He gave us the gift of a beautiful, hot summer in the early months of grieving. He gave financial provision. I learned to give thanks for little things I would have missed before. But most of all, he gave me more of himself. As I leant on him, I felt Jesus so near and experienced an intimacy with Him I’d not known before. “The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul.” (Lamentations 3.24)

And okay, Sammy watched more TV than I would have liked last year. He didn’t always receive the most consistent discipline or get to bed on time. But he also saw me pray a lot. He heard me say sorry a lot, to him and to my husband. He saw that I am weak and sinful, and that I need Jesus. He saw how much I loved my Father. And he experienced, in his own little way, the pain of death and the brokenness of the world. He lost his beloved Grandpa, and through this I believe he is more able to understand why Jesus came. I have seen God working in his three-year-old heart already, as we talk about heaven and Grandpa’s trust in Jesus. And he has developed a beautiful sensitivity and ability to comfort others when he sees they are sad. You see, sometimes God has different ideas about what our children need. And we must trust him with that. But harder still, we must even trust him when we can see that something has negatively impacted our kids. Sammy probably is a little more anxious and insecure because of all my tears. But God loves my boys more than I do, he is their perfect parent, and he is infinitely wiser. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9).

We always think we know what we need, what our children need. And we think we know the best plan or the best way. It can even be plans to further the kingdom and honour God, and when things take a different turn, we can’t help but wonder, is this really the best way, Lord? But I’m so thankful that even though I make plans, it is only the Lord’s purposes that prevail[3]. My plan was to parent competently, and manage just fine with a fun, busy schedule and my parents around to help. His plans were different. And I’m truly thankful. My plan was to win at motherhood, to do it well and to feel good about myself. His plan was to show me my weakness, to humble me and to teach me a deeper dependence on Him. Our aim is for life to go smoothly. His aim is to transform our hearts.

And now? We’re healing. The boys don’t watch so much TV, we go out more and I don’t (usually) have to pray myself through bath time. There aren’t so many tears (though still some!) and I feel I’m able to give them more of the cheer and consistency I so longed to before. But I’m slow to learn, and so quickly find myself relying on my own strength and trusting in my own plans and wisdom. My prayer is that I would not forget my weakness in the joy of an easier time, and would continue to live in total dependence on Him, my infinitely wise Heavenly Father.

[1] 2 Cor 12:9-10

[2] Lam 3:23

[3] Prov 19:21

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