Everyday Grief

 

We are well over a year past Arthur’s passing, and life has become more normal again. I enjoy doing things together as a family and with others. I have a good time being spontaneous from week to week. I cook meals. I delight in my girls. I laugh a lot. The intense moments of grief that marked Arthur’s pregnancy and shortly after his death aren’t as commonplace in my life these days. We are past all the calendar “firsts” without him with us. While there is the occasion I am unexpectedly hit by the grief-train, I have generally experienced the truth that time does heal.

But it does not completely heal.

The pain is not so sharp anymore. And it’s not because I have “moved on” or think less of Arthur. No. I still think of him every day. It’s just that the grief has changed.

I am currently a stay-at-home mom, but that doesn’t accurately describe my day. I like to get out and do things – go to the park, run errands, participate in church bible studies, hang out with other mommas in their homes, visit Daddy at his office, take the girls to do fun things. There is usually one day out of the week that I actually “stay at home” for the day, and even if we are, we are outside walking around our neighborhood. I am extroverted. I love it. But the very social interactions I enjoy are also the source of my everyday grief I experience now.

Other moms at the park or gymnastics, the sweet old lady working at Chick-fil-a, cashiers at the grocery store, strangers standing next to me in line somewhere for something. It is nearly impossible for them to NOT say something when I have a curly-head, blue-eyed, tutu-wearing two year-old and smiley (or sleeping) newborn in tow.  Interactions with new people always lead to questions or comments that start a conversation between strangers:

“They are adorable. Don’t you love having girls?”

“Two and a half years, that’s a good age gap.”

“Daddy’s quite outnumbered at your house.”

“Two young ones, you’ve got your hands full.”

And the one I seem to get almost every day in some shape or form – “How precious. Are these your only two?”

The very questions I would probably ask people myself are ones that now pose for me an internal dialogue with myself.

Do I mention that I have a son? Do I tell them that there is actually a sibling in between them? That Daddy’s only slightly outnumbered? That my hands could be even more full?

Do I have the time to tell them the truth? It’s just an innocent question, would they even want to hear it? Or would it be easier to smile and move on? I just came in here to pick up something quickly, we’ve got nap time to get home to. Do I have enough time? I’m tired, do I really want to go there right now?

I wish it were easier. Maybe it would be if I had a shirt that said, “I have a son – he’s no longer with us, but is still a part of our family.” Then people could just know and we could avoid the awkwardness of their lighthearted questions bringing a few tears as I mention his existence in our lives. But that is not how life works.

But just as it was in the thick of heavy grief, as I felt deeply and pushed through it, I also experienced measures of joy. While it brings me a small amount of pain to have these interactions almost daily, I have found that it too has many benefits:

  • It feels good to speak the truth. I have never regretted answering those questions truthfully.
  • It honors Arthur’s existence, albeit shorter than we had hoped.
  • It helps me to move through the grief and heal, as opposed to ignoring it or stuffing those feelings.
  • It opens the doorway to genuine conversation about the hard things in life.

Telling people that these girls have a brother, that I have a son who was born, lived, and died has brought incredible depth to my conversations. It brings about empathy and compassion. It even brings connection as some people open up about things that otherwise would have taken years to know.

We bought some Girl Scout cookies from some neighborhood girls, and upon delivery of our Samoas and Tagalongs, when asked about my kids, naming Arthur among my children led to the revelation by the mom and child of an older sibling who was stillborn 12 years ago. How they haven’t forgotten him and how much they miss him. And all I thought I was getting that day was some overpriced cookies. But I stood there on my porch, having the first real conversation with this family, with tears in our eyes as we talked about our sons, their names, and the memories we have of them.

Walking this road of a parent who has lost a child is a complicated one, but has brought more depth to my life and interactions than I ever could have imagined.

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“Adele, who do anchors remind you of?” “My brother, Arthur.”

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Hope has no ability to understand she has a brother yet, but when we are sitting in her room, her favorite thing to look at on the walls is the banner with his name on it. Adele has one too, and Hope’s is currently at the church, but she always ends up staring at his. It warms my heart and makes me ache all at the same time.

 

New Years Blessing

It’s been a little over a year since we held Arthur in our arms, and we’ve now gone through our second Christmas and New Years without him in our presence. We are now past all the calendar “firsts” without Arthur here with us. But grief is a complicated thing. While it has gotten better with time, part of the sadness I experience now is that life has gone back to “normal” and the weight of grief isn’t so heavy on me. As time moves on, the memories fade and we even begin new relationships with people who have no knowledge of what we’ve gone through with Arthur. I didn’t quite know what to expect this time around this holiday season without a toddling little boy around. For grieving people, the holidays are something to just survive.

While there have been some tears shed, I have been caught off guard by how much he has been a part of these past few weeks. To kick off the Christmas season and his birthday, women from my church gave me boxfuls of yarn to give to the woman who makes hats for babies with anencephaly. I just sent those out this past week and the gift was received in great joy. I can’t wait to see what will be made and I know many families will be comforted by receiving one of these – all because a community of people remembered Arthur.

He was remembered through the Christmas holiday by our families. And he was included in the stockings, both in our home and in his grandmother’s home where we spent Christmas this year.2016.12.25_217.jpg

This New Years, I spent it like I have the past 10 years. At a conference with the ministry we work for, with hundreds of college students and staff seeking to learn more about what a relationship with the God of the Bible is like. 10 years ago, I was a junior in college. 10 years ago I was just beginning to be established in my faith. 10 years ago I was loving all that I experienced at that first conference and it fueled my faith as I returned back to campus that spring semester. 10 years ago, I had suffered very little – maybe some middle school and high school drama and small incidents related to sports. But the things I started to learn 10 years ago helped to prepare me to walk through the dark valleys I have over the past couple of years.

Arthur was a part of our conference in a special way this year. Artie was asked to speak on the topic of suffering and what the Bible says about it. As I listened to him speak to a room full of college students, through tears I was beaming with pride for my husband who had encountered more of God because of the trials he has faced since college, and for my son who was such a small, but mighty tool in the hands of God to teach us and others more about Himself.

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If you care to listen, you can find Artie’s seminar talk on the conference website. His talk is titled “Why Do We Suffer?” and you can listen to it here.

Missing my son is something I will do throughout my lifetime, and I can say the sting of grief has diminished with time. But as time goes on, I am continually reminded that although Arthur’s life here was short, it was and still is incredibly meaningful.

How do you measure a year?

I wish I had more time to write these days. My heart and my head have been full with so many things and I feel the need to get them out on paper (or screen). But the needs of a newborn are many, and they are needs I am happy to be busy with, because you don’t always get them with every child. We did our final balloon release of the first year of Arthur heaven-side. I took Adele to the balloon store a final time on his birthday. We went for the big balloon this time. A balloon with balloons on it seemed to be the perfect one. And because it’s been the year of the cupcake for Adele, I got a second balloon. We brought these to Arthur’s birthday party, but we saved these balloons for a final balloon release on his anniversary in heaven.

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How do you measure a year? In a child’s first year of life, its usually in pounds and inches, length of hair, steps walked, words spoken, photos taken, and foods eaten. I wonder what those all would have been for Arthur if things hadn’t turned out the way they did.

But our measurements have been different this time around. It’s been in balloons released, pages written, perspective gained, compassion received, friendships formed, relationships deepened, hearts encouraged, minds changed, and lives impacted.

When I think of what I ultimately want for my children, as a follower of Jesus, Arthur is a dream come true – he has arrived safely in the presence of God and he has impacted lives for eternity. His little life influenced a multitude of people to what really matters. While there are certainly things we are missing out on in regards to his physical development, there is so much more we have gained. What a privilege it was to be entrusted with such a life.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. (Psalm 127:3-4 ESV)

I’m not sure how you are experiencing time there, but whatever it is I know it’s wonderful. Happy 1 year in heaven, Arthur Neale Van Sciver!

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Arthur’s Birthday Celebration

We around surrounded by some of the best people. People who really get “Weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn.” It is so refreshing. One of the best things someone can do for a parent who has lost a child is to acknowledge their existence, to speak their name. Arthur lived long enough to have a birth date and a death date that didn’t land on the same day. So, to me his birthday is full of happy memories. I woke up yesterday morning ready to celebrate him – and celebrate we did! As the day went on and we gathered together for a little birthday party, and as people showed their anchors and sent off balloons, and as Artie and I received a constant flow of messages, we felt the love we needed as we faced Arthur’s first birthday without him here. For all of that, we say “Thank you!” Thank you all for loving our family so well.

We started the day with birthday cinnamon rolls.

Some friends of mine planned a birthday party and many moms and kids came out for the fun. We had milk and cookies – the nightly treat we indulged ourselves in the week leading up to Arthur’s birth. There were some Christmas crafts for the kiddos and people brought yarn as gifts to be used to make hats for babies with anencephaly. We ended the time with a balloon release, just like we have done every month. Adele had a fun time sharing in our celebration with friends. On our way home, she said, “Can we go to Arthur’s birthday party again?”

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And friends from all over wished Arthur a happy birthday. From here in Charlotte, to Florida and California, and even South Africa, here are some of them:

 

Happy birthday, my sweet Arthur! Clearly, you are SO loved.

On The Night You Were Born

On The Night You Were Born

by Nancy Tillman


On the night you were born,
the moon smiled with such wonder
that the stars peeked in to see you
and the night wind whispered,

“Life will never be the same.”

Because there had never been anyone like you…
ever in the world.

So enchanted with you were the wind and the rain
that they whispered the sound of your wonderful name.

It sailed through the farmland
high on the breeze…

Over the ocean…

And through the trees…

Until everyone heard it
and everyone knew
of the one and only ever you.

Not once had there been such eyes,
such a nose,
such silly, wiggly, wonderful toes.

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For never before in story or rhyme
(not even once upon a time)
has the world ever known a you, my friend,
and it never will, not ever again…

Heaven blew every trumpet
and played every horn
on the wonderful, marvelous
night you were born.


You can read my version of Arthur’s birth here.

You can see our Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photos from his birthday here.

11 Months

In all the excitement of your little sister being here, we have not forgotten about you, sweet boy! If anything, I have thought of you more. Wishing I could have held you longer. Fed you, burped you, changed you, snuggled you more. While your Irish twin has been a very content baby so far, you still win the prize for the most peaceful baby. Daddy picked your balloons this week, but Adele wanted to send an extra one – one given to us for Hope. Just so you know, its a girl!

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We got news this week that you have another girl cousin – we are so excited to love on another niece when she comes in April! You are WAY outnumbered so far, little man.

Happy 11 months in heaven, Arthur Neale!

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Just love all my babies! Top left – Adele, Bottom left – Arthur, Right – Hope

 

And She Will Be Called…

“Do you have a name for her?”

I’ve been dealing with this question for months now, and I am glad we have finally settled on it.

Girl names have been hard for us. It took us until a week before Adele was born to settle on hers, and even then, we didn’t share it until we were sure we wouldn’t change our minds – which was when we saw her. Adele is a family name, named after her great-great-grandmother on the Van Sciver side of the family. Her middle name, Joy, is a family name on my side – shared with her great-grandmother, aunt, and cousin.

Arthur’s name came pretty easily for us. We knew we would name our firstborn son after his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. You can read more about his name from a post I wrote shortly after we found out his diagnosis here.

We gave our first two children meaningful family names, and we wanted to have something special for this girl. But going through the family trees, nothing was sticking out for us, and as I poured over thousands of names on lists online, there were few that even seemed like distant options. In my reading of the Bible over the years, there are instances of parents naming their children based on the circumstances of their life at the time (for example, Leah in Genesis 29). For us, this girl’s name was born out of the journey we just walked through with her brother.

Hope

In this past year, we have learned more about this virtue than we ever have before. We just had to. It’s all we had left when our world came crumbling down with the news of our precious son having a condition that was fatal and could not be fixed. Jesus, the one who we follow, has given us the hope of heaven with him. “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf…” (Hebrews 6:19-20 ESV)

Elisabeth

One of the most influential Christian women of the modern age, Elisabeth Elliot, is where we chose this name from. During the months of carrying Arthur, I read her book, “A Path Through Suffering: Discovering The Relationship Between God’s Mercy And Our Pain”. She wrestles with the pain she experienced with the truth of God’s Word, and it brought great encouragement to my soul during such a dark time. No stranger to suffering herself, she offers a helpful perspective of why we can trust God even in the hardest things of life. 

We pray that this little girl will cling to the hope that is offered her in Jesus, and that no matter what this life brings her, she would be confident in her God’s goodness to her.

We love you so much already, Miss Hope Elisabeth Van Sciver. It’s a privilege to be your parents, sweet girl.