Sometimes this is what grief looks like: laying in bed in the afternoon crying as I anticipate the anniversary of my first baby’s birth and death. Eleven years on Thursday.
Every year I write a blog post for Caleb’s birthday. I used to write much more frequently, but the last several years have been sporadic. But I always post on his birthday. It’s our thing. Except this year I don’t know what to write. What haven’t I already written?
What happens when the words don’t come? Is Caleb’s life any less meaningful? Does it mean the grief is easier to bear?
With two kids here at home, life can just get busy. We have plans to decorate some rocks and put them by Caleb’s grave. Possibly mini golf party with some friends. Pizza and milkshakes for dinner. Things we think an 11 year old boy would love.
But usually around this time, I just want to be alone and cry and think of what could have been. Yet at the same time, I don’t want to be alone. I want hugs and words from friends. I want reminders that Caleb was special to others. I want people to remember that our family has three boys, not just the two they see.
Thankfully I do have amazing family and friends who have grieved with me and comforted me. Friends who will stand with me these days but also give me space for whatever I’m feeling.
After 11 years of this, I know it tends to be the anticipation of Caleb’s birthday that is worse than the actual day. But for today I lean into the grief. I let myself cry and feel the sadness. I know because I’ve lived it for 11 years, “weeping my last for a night but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
I might not have more words this year on Caleb’s birthday. But there’s a lot from past years that are worth reading again 😊
Tomorrow, February 24, 2021, will mark 10 years since our first baby was born and died. By the time we realized something was wrong with the pregnancy, I was already in labor but only about 20 weeks along. We had a few brief hours to prepare our hearts for the fact that our baby would not survive. Even if you had days, weeks, or months, nothing can truly prepare you for the loss of your child.
In the days that followed Caleb’s death, the question became what will I do with my grief? I had no choice in the life or death of my son. But I did have a choice with grief. Would I let it consume and overwhelm me, bringing me to a place of negativity, fear, and solitude? Or would I find a way to let grief motivate me to be more compassionate, to find the good despite the sadness, and to find joy in what I have been given?
Through God’s grace, I chose the latter. I’ve shared Caleb’s story countless times, writing about him here, talking about him at Bible studies, retreats, and fundraising dinners. I have sat with friends, or friends of friends, who have faced similar losses and we have grieved together. I found a ministry that I didn’t know existed or was needed until I was thrown into it. Just last week a friend texted, “Help! My friend just lost her baby. What do I do?” Although I hate that anyone has to go through the loss of a child, I am glad that I can help in some small way. For me, being able to help others is what continues to give Caleb’s short life meaning and purpose.
Now I have two boys, ages eight and five, who certainly keep me busy and entertained. I often post pictures of our adventures on social media. Sometimes people will comment that I’m a good mom. While I appreciate the compliment, I try to point out that I only post the good stuff 😉 But, if I’m being honest and a little less humble, I am a good mom. It isn’t so much about the fun vacations we take our kids on, or the gifts we buy them. I’m a good mom because I play with my children. I’m involved in their lives everyday. I have many friends who’s kids play mostly on their own, and that’s great! But for me, I know what it’s like to want to play with my son and not be able to. I know what its like when grief steals your dreams. That same grief motivates me to enjoy the life I have, the ability to play with my children, to make normal life feel like an adventure for them.
I have a few friends who have faced significant loss in their lives. The few I am thinking of each lost a sibling. Those friends are the ones that comment on Facebook, send cards of remembrance, and are the first to try to comfort others who are grieving. They know the pain of grief and it has motivated them to be compassionate to others.
Unfortunately, we will all face grief in our lifetimes in some manner. How will grief transform you? I definitely have moments and days (like today actually), where I just want to sleep and cry and not play with my children. But more often, I can choose to find joy despite the sadness, to share comfort with others who are grieving, and to enjoy the life God has given me.
“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14
Nine years ago today, I laid in a hospital bed unprepared for the news I would hear. “You have to deliver the baby today but he won’t survive.” Incompatible with life. Just a couple more weeks in the womb and the story would be so different.
We held our baby Caleb, remarking on his long fingers and fingernails, and how he had his daddy’s nose. While our eyes filled with tears we knew he was home in heaven. In those moments I learned the depth of a mother’s love and the depth of a mother’s pain.
The days and weeks and months that followed brought grief, yet hope, sadness, yet trust in God, heartache, yet faith. I had family and friends who surrounded me in prayer, hope and support. It’s called a Turtle Formation.
In Bible times, when Roman soldiers were under attack they would come together with their shields – as big as doors – and huddle inside with the shields facing out. The formation looked like the shell of a turtle. Each shield was so big it would cover one soldier plus the gaps on the sides between soldiers. The enemy would hurl flaming arrows, but the shields would extinguish them.
Ephesians 6:16 tells us that God gives us armor. “Take up your shields of faith with which to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy.”
On days like this I remember Caleb, nine years in heaven. I remember the sadness I felt. I remember leaning against the tree by his grave praying God would bring him back to life. I remember crying in the grocery store. I remember discovering that Kleenex shreds into pieces on my tear-stained cheeks. And I remember the faith-filled friends who stood by me.
Every comment on Facebook, every heart emoji, every text, every card, every phone call – they extinguish those fiery darts the enemy throws trying to make me question and doubt. Friends, your words have helped me stand firm taking up my shield of faith. I thank God for you!
Do you have friends like that? Do you have friends who hold up their shields of faith to protect you when you are hurting? When you face struggles and temptations, do you have friends to call? I hope you never need them. But I know that isn’t reality. We all need people to stand with us in faith when our faith is tested.
Be the friend who calls, who remembers, who cares. Take up your shield of faith and know that God is good, He is faithful, and you can trust Him.
At Christmas time we focus a lot on gifts. Making gift lists, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, receiving gifts. I wonder if you’ve ever had a time when you opened a gift you didn’t want. As you pull it out of the box you’re thinking, I don’t like this color or pattern. But the person who gave it to you is watching so you put on a fake smile and say “thank you so much …” Meanwhile you’re still looking for a gift receipt. At least you could exchange it…? But no. Your only option is to accept the gift.
Have you ever had to accept something in life you didn’t want? Illness, job loss, miscarriage, infertility, divorce, death of a loved one.
About 9 years ago my husband and I were expecting our first child. But halfway through the pregnancy something was wrong. I was rushed to the hospital where the doctors told me I had to deliver the baby that night, but that he wouldn’t survive. A range of emotions and thoughts filled our minds over the next few hours as we waited for labor to intensify. But our main focus was, we didn’t have a name for this baby. What do you name a baby who will go straight to heaven?
There was one Bible story that kept coming to mind. It’s the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had miraculously left Egypt, survived the plagues that God sent to Pharaoh and the people, they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground as God parted the waters.. and now they’re in the desert. They were on their way to the Promised Land. It’s called “the Promised Land” because God promised to give this land to the Israelites. That simple.
Moses decides to send 12 men into the promised land to spy on it, to check it out and report back to the people what they find. These 12 men come back and say the land is amazing. It’s exactly how God promised – flowing with milk and honey, filled with the best fruits. BUT 10 men said there are giants living there. And we can’t beat them. The other 2 men said yes there are giants, but God is giving us this land. Let’s go! Those two men were Joshua and Caleb. Unfortunately the Israelites caved in to the fear that the 10 men had. They were afraid of the giants. They didn’t believe God’s promise. They doubted God. And so God said that those people would not see the promised land. The entire generation would die, except for Joshua and Caleb.
They roamed around the wilderness, the desert for 40 years, waiting for that generation of Israelites to die. Then Joshua and Caleb, now in their 80s would lead the people into the promised land.
What does this story have to do with a baby? I knew there were going to be “giants” in my future. There would be fears about having children, trying to get pregnant again, losing more children. I did not want to live in fear. So I said to my husband, how about we name the baby Joshua? He said there was a Josh in kindergarten who punched him in the nose. So how about Caleb?
Naming our baby Caleb was a reminder – is still a reminder – to me to not give in to fear and worry, but to stand firm in God’s promises. God didn’t promise me a baby. But there are 3 promises I want to share with you today that we can depend on 3 GIFTS God gives us.
First, God promises to be with us. Immanuel – God is with us. Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” When a friend betrays you, when those who are supposed to love us walk away, when the world leaves us lonely, God will NEVER leave us. When you are walking through sadness, grief, despair, God is with you. Matthew. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.”
Second, God promises to give us PEACE. We live in a world where anxiety is a common word, a common ailment. You can get a prescription to fix your anxiety. And certainly there are a lot of things we can be worried and anxious about, IF we didn’t have God to call out to. Philippians 4 tells us that PRAYER is the antidote to worry. Verses 6-8 says “Do not be ANXIOUS about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Can you even imagine your heart and mind being so guarded, so protected by peace in Christ, that no worries, no anxious thoughts can even get in?!
The peace from God doesn’t make sense. Not by any worldly standards. When Caleb died, I was grieving deeply. Yet I had peace. When I got pregnant again months later, I should’ve been afraid and worried. But I wasn’t. God had given me peace that is beyond our understanding. He wants us to live in that peace. When we bring our worries to Him and we pray, He will give us Peace.
The third gift God gives is the promise of JOY. True joy does not depend on circumstances but on the presence of the Lord with us. This joy is not a continuous smile but a satisfaction in what the Lord has done and in his presence with us. Jeremiah 31:13 God says “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” There are a lot of verses about God turning our sorrow into joy. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And I read all of them after Caleb died. But I didn’t understand it. How is God going to turn this despair into joy? There’s never going to be a time where I am happy that my baby died, but there is a joyful contentment that God is in control. I’m thankful for the two boys I have at home, but neither of them replaced Caleb. You can’t create joy. Getting married won’t bring you joy. Getting divorced won’t bring you joy either. Your kids getting to a certain age won’t bring joy. Your bank account getting to a certain number won’t bring joy. A job promotion, a retirement, a cure… it won’t bring joy. It might bring happiness, but that’s not permanent.
Joy isn’t based on our circumstances. In fact, joy is mixed in with the other gifts God gives us. Joy and Peace are BECAUSE we have Immanuel. Because God is WITH us we can have JOY in any circumstance. Because He is a God who is faithful, who is good, whose love for us is beyond compare. We can trust Him. Because He is a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we who believe in Him can have eternal life.
Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you longing for the peace and joy that only He can give? Do you want God with you? Then you just have to tell Him. If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10:9). You will have Immanuel – God with you. You will have Peace that passes understanding. You will have Joy instead of sorrow.
These gifts from God are for you. You just need to accept them.
For 8 years, a piece of my heart has been missing. When my first son Caleb was born, 8 years ago today, he went straight to heaven. We held his tiny body. 10 fingers, 10 toes. Daddy’s nose. Eye lashes, finger nails. (Lord may I humbly suggest you work on the vital organs and lungs before nails and eyelashes.) Caleb was born prematurely and wouldn’t live on this earth.
The joy of being a new mom immediately replaced with the sorrow of losing a child. He never called me Mommy or told me he loved me. But the day he was born my heart grew so much. I loved Caleb more than I ever knew I could love anyone! Saying goodbye at his grave I buried a piece of my heart. A big piece.
In the years that followed, Jeff and I had two more sons Jack (6) and Parker (3). Some people say things like “sorry for Caleb’s loss BUT at least you have Jack and Parker.” I understand what they mean and their good intentions. But there is no BUT. I have sorrow and grief about Caleb’s death and no other child can replace him or fix the grief. At first I thought it would.
When Jack was born, I thought now I have my boy. But it was different. There should have been two boys. Then we had Parker and I had my two boys. But there should be three. Sometimes I’ll buy matching clothes for Jack and Parker and have this longing to buy a third set. There should be three.
Chasing Jack and Parker around certainly fills my time and brings me joy. But my heart will always be split. My heart and ability to love has grown exponentially with each child, more than I ever thought possible. But a piece of my heart will always be in heaven with Caleb until one day we are reunited.
Until then I rest in the knowledge that God is good, faithful, and trustworthy. He is near to the broken-hearted. He sees every tear I cry. He gives me peace that passes all understanding. Thank You Lord.
After helping in Jack’s school this morning, we headed out to have lunch at Grammy and Granddad’s and then visit Caleb’s grave. However both Jack and Parker fell asleep on the way. So I went straight to visit my Caleb.
It’s still surprising to see my son’s name on a gravestone. But I also smile when I see it because it stands out. The almost black stone with white lettering peeking over the hill as you drive up behind the church where I grew up.
What do you out on the grave for a little boy? Flowers don’t always feel right to me, especially since it’s hard to find blue ones. Sometimes we put a balloon there or those spinny pinwheels. Today I realized I didn’t have anything.
I figured we’d stop at the store and pick something up but since the boys were asleep I didn’t have many options. Hmm what’s in the car that might be appropriate? Trail mix? Jack begged me to get these trail mix packs but of course he only eats the M&Ms.
So while two of my boys slept in the car, I stood before Caleb’s grave and sprinkled nuts, raisins and M&Ms around it. The deer and squirrels will appreciate it. And we like feeding animals. I stood there and sang.
Whatever my lot, You have taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.
God I wish I could have all of my boys here. But I trust You, even when I don’t understand.
Thou Satan should buffet, thou trials should come. Let this blest assurance control: That Christ has regarded my helpless estate and has shed His own blood for my soul!
I know I’ll see Caleb again in heaven.
Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight…
Happy birthday Caleb. Hope you’re getting some M&Ms in heaven 😊
Five years ago I was laying in a hospital bed, halfway through my first pregnancy, shocked by the sudden, unexpected news that I would have to deliver this baby now. But I wouldn’t get to bring him home. He wouldn’t survive.
I wouldn’t get to introduce him to family and friends. I’d never sing him to sleep or buy him cute clothes. I wouldn’t get to watch him grow, to learn to walk and talk and run. I wouldn’t teach him how to play soccer or the guitar. All the dreams for his future, gone.
Mostly silence filled our hospital room as questions filled our minds. The nurses said he may live for a short time and we would get to hold him.
How do we hold such a tiny baby? You’ll know how, the nurse assured us.
What do we name him? Some people choose the name they always had in mind for their baby. Yet others pick a new name now that you know this baby won’t survive.
What would labor be like? Because the baby won’t survive, many pain relieving options were available. However since the baby might have a short time alive, I wanted to make sure I was completely coherent.
Our nurse who specialized in situations like ours, answered our questions before we even asked.
Our parents joined us in the hospital room. Tears, small talk played in the background as Jeff and I tried to secretly discuss a name. We didn’t even know if the baby was a boy or girl. This name has to mean something. I thought of some favorite Bible stories but needed a Bible. Of course since I landed in the hospital via ambulance, my phone wasn’t charged, I didn’t have a Bible or my iPad or anything. The nurse tracked down a Bible for me. Thanks Gideons.
Where is the story about Moses sending 12 spies into the Promised Land? After some scanning, Dad found it for me: Numbers 13. God had promised the Israelites this land but told Moses to send these 12 men ahead to check it out. They returned and declared to the people “It does flow with milk and honey and here is its fruit! But…” They were scared of the giants that live there. “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.'”
But the others spread a bad report among the people so they grumbled and wept and doubted God’s promise. But Joshua and Caleb believed in the Lord and were not afraid. Because of the others God said the Israelites would wander through the desert for 40 years until everyone in that generation had died, except Joshua and Caleb. “Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows Me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.”
Caleb believed God, followed Him wholeheartedly, and coincidentally was the son of Jeff, or more specifically “Jephunneh.” Good thing the baby was born a boy. We had no girl name picked out.
And so Caleb was born. His heart stopped beating. No first cry. No happy tears, only sad ones. Our first family picture – do we smile? We held his tiny body but his soul was already in heaven.
All the lost dreams, the won’t haves, the hopes broken have changed.
Caleb made me a Mom, even though he never called me Mommy. He taught me the incredible power of love as my heart burst with love for him. Because of Caleb my faith was tested and survived. I grew dependent on the Lord in a way nothing but heart-wrenching sorrow could make possible. The Word of God literally sustained me.
I could always list the “won’t haves” with Caleb – and often I do think of them. But because of Caleb, I have new dreams I get to fulfill every day with Jack and Parker. God has given me many blessings, and Caleb is one of the best.
Yesterday, on Caleb’s third birthday, I heard from many friends. A few texts and emails, many “likes” and comments on my facebook posts. Thank you. It was more than I expected. Waking up to a few emails from friends saying they were praying for me and remembering me was so comforting. I’m not alone.
Jack has been sick for a few days with congestion and a cough. His deep scratchy voice is both cute and sad. But it made for a strange day. I didn’t have any plans for Caleb’s birthday, but I didn’t picture sitting in the doctor’s office with Jack and watching more Cat in the Hat episodes than I can count.
As I thought of Caleb throughout the day, I found myself often with tears streaming down my face. At one point in the morning Jack came over, put his arms up for me to hold him, then he patted my back. He saw my sadness and he was comforting me.
After a too-short-nap-from-coughing and a few more Cat in the Hats, I decided we’d drive out to the cemetery to visit Caleb’s grave and maybe Jack would nap in the car. He didn’t. I devised a headrest iPad holder from headbands so Jack could watch a show on the drive (it didn’t cross my mind until we were on the road that the headbands might not be “safe”… so far so good). At the cemetery I told Jack I was going to leave him in the car for a minute (it’s a small cemetery, folks. I’d be about 15 steps away from the car). But Jack said no and wanted to come with me.
I’ve told Jack here and there about Caleb but I never know how much he really understands. So I took this moment to explain: Mommy had a baby before you but he died and he lives in heaven. Jack was nodding and responding “oh, yeah, baby.” Mommy is sad because I wish Caleb was here too. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a brother to play with? “No, no, no” while shaking his head. Haha! If you could see Jack saying “no” which sounds more like “mo”, you’d appreciate the cuteness. The boy is smart. He knows having an older brother means he wouldn’t have all of Mommy & Daddy’s attention.
Despite the messages from so many friends, there was a loneliness I felt today. I’ve talked about it before… a loneliness that reminds me someone is missing. A loneliness that reminds me that Jesus is the only One who can give me peace and comfort. No matter the circumstances we are each walking through, only in Jesus can we find what we need.
“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
I can’t count how many times I wanted to lay my sleeping bag next to Caleb’s grave and stay by his side. I know he’s not really there. I know he’s in heaven – no doubt in my mind. But since I can’t camp out in heaven, I guess this is the best I can do.
Caleb’s heart stopped beating just moments before he was born. He passed from the womb straight to heaven. I’m glad he didn’t have to suffer on this earth. Still we held Caleb and took pictures with him.
The day Jeff and I left the hospital and had to walk away from our little baby was one of the hardest days of my life. That switch from being pregnant to being a mom is immediate and automatic. I didn’t have to think about it. I just knew. Moms don’t leave their babies.
How do you say goodbye when you just said hello?
Caleb’s funeral was another difficult day. Laying him in the grave and then walking away… It just doesn’t feel right. It is so unnatural for a mother to leave her child. I guess that’s why I always picture myself camping out next to his grave.
So how do you say goodbye? I don’t think you do… I think you say hello to heaven. Hello to Jesus and please hold me close and mend my broken heart every day until I get to see my Caleb again.