the dark side of light

Listen closely. What I have to say is just as important – if not more – than this story. The one that started it all. And brought so many of you here.

Every single story has a dark side. And the dark side of the unexpected joy we found during Abby’s death – it matters just as much as the light.

Remember that father who came up to us in the parking lot after Mass? The one who teared up when he shared his own loss of a daughter to stillbirth?

Right before he turned to go, he added one last thing. Perhaps the most important thing. He said, “After I heard your story, I turned to my wife and asked, ‘What did we miss? Why didn’t we feel like that when we lost our daughter?'”

Standing in the freezing cold parking lot, March wind whipping around my hair, tired kids pulling on my arms to hurry up and get in the car, I saw that this stranger had shown me the dark side of the light.

Why didn’t we feel like that?

. . .

Grammar can help to clarify. We did nothing to “earn” the grace of joy when our babies died, any more than another family “deserved” the miracle of having twins survive from the same complications. Such verbs do not apply.

Furthermore, we were not given this joy “at” you. (Any more than people are now having healthy babies “at” us, despite my dark moments of suspecting otherwise.)

What happened simply happened. And it stunned us so much that we had to share the story.

But if you have had to sit in the dark and the worst and the terrible depths, and you wonder why it didn’t happen to you? I want to tell you that we know the anger of emptiness, too. We have been on the dark side of light.

When Maggie died, we did not experience light and joy. We were shattered. I felt like my heart had been physically ripped out of my chest and left to bleed.

When we lost a baby to miscarriage three years ago, there was no peace. No heaven. It was pure hell. Desolation without consolation.

So while some people have reached out to us and said that they have experienced something similar – a strange joy in a time of deep sorrow at a child’s death – I am still standing with the ones on the dark side, too.

The ones who wonder why them, not us?  The ones who ask why didn’t we feel like that?

So to that father in the parking lot – and to all of you who might have read these words and wondered why us and not you?

You did not miss anything. You did not do anything wrong. I do not know why there are unexpected glimpses of grace in certain places, not others. What happened to us was strange and shocking and unbidden. We still talk about it every day because it made no sense to us. It still wakes me up at night, and I do not understand what it means.

But believe me. I would not have picked this prize if given the choice. I would have snatched the miracle where our babies were saved and we brought them home. I would have chosen a thousand times to have them now in my arms and not hold this strange taste of heaven instead. I would not care if no one ever read another single word I wrote, if I could only have those babies back.

I did not get to choose. Part of me will always be angry that we did not get what we hoped for.

But we got a strange something else. And now we have to make sense of our lives around it.

. . .

In the weeks after Maggie and Abby died, I started reading all those Death and Dying memoirs that I had shelved on Amazon (mentally bookmarked over the years as Too Depressing To Read Right Now, But Supposed To Be Great – So Someday!).

In two days I poured through Richard Lischer’s memoir of losing his son Adam to cancer, Stations of the Heart: Parting With A Son

I have been thinking about this passage ever since:

When we talked about sickness, death, and eternal life, Adam approached those topics both with the confidence of a believer and the wrinkled brow of a seeker. He was like a man driving in the fog: he is certain there is a road out there and a way forward, but his headlights will only go so far. He complained to Tom Colley, our Lutheran pastor at St. Paul’s, that he never heard a preacher who was willing to admit, “I don’t know.” When he finally find one, it was only his dad.

“So, why did Jesus heal so many people in Galilee, and why so few in North Carolina?”

I said, “In my opinion, the healings weren’t intended as medical cures for us to duplicate. Think of all the lepers who just missed him when he passed through Capernaum, or the mothers in all the villages around Nain who had to bury their children. The miracles are like flares calling attention to the glory of God. They’re signs of the great redemption to come. I’m like you. I still find the meaning of God in the cross and not the miracles.”

“Maybe so,” he said, touching his own cross, but like a patient who is contemplating a second opinion.

This is what we saw. A brief, bursting flare of something we had never seen before. It shot up in the most unlikeliest of places: a NICU room where we held our dying daughter. And when the sparks ceased, we were left wondering what on earth we saw.

My brow is still wrinkled like Adam’s. I am not sure what to make of any of this.

But I find the meaning in the cross, too. Redemption came through the suffering, not through the miracles.

So with every story of light that I tell, I have to remember the dark side, too. Because we have all been there, in the shadows. And I want whatever story I share about Maggie and Abby to be a story that sees both sides.

The light side of dark and the dark side of light.

. . .

Think about your own stories. The light and the dark. The ones you tell and the ones you never share.

I used to believe that certain stories told about God and others did not. Now I see how God appears in light and in shadows.

God holds all things together: the life and the death and the tensions between that we cannot resolve.

This is not to say that the good-that-comes-from-bad justifies the tragedy or explains the evil. Neither does this mean that every joy must be tinged with sadness.

But it means that we cannot expect to find God only in one place or another. There is holy bursting with light and there is holy cursing the darkness.

And our stories can carry both. 

Photo credit above goes to the amazing Jennifer Liv Photography (a Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep volunteer).
If you couldn’t guess, I am holding Maggie. And my heart is breaking.

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  1. Ellie Augustin on 21 July 2017 at 9:29 am

    I am a firm believer of whispers from Heaven. I like to think our little ones that are in Heaven whisper to one another and they send us little pushes as they talk to one another. Saying hey which one is your mama? Somehow (or I like to think that ha) Some how or another I came across your blog. How I got here I can’t remember all I know is that it was what I needed. Thank you so much. I was upset (have been) as our oldest baby girl who passed to SIDS 11 Yrs ago at 2 1/2 mths site is down had as been for the past 2 wks & all it says the site will be back in a few days. As my house is full of squeals and talking with my other 4 children which I love dearly I look at Anjie’s site and it hurts that that little piece isn’t there? Silly it may seem but the messages and pictures of 11 yrs that I’ve given & posted not there. I know she must be saying Oh mom… and here I am. I truly believe that was a nudge from her. Thank you and may our Lord Bless you.

  2. Mariani Heyries on 28 March 2017 at 11:17 am

    I’ve had a missed MC a week ago and We are devasteited. It was our first pregnancy and our little miracle because I’m 43 years old but I believe in miracles and I’m hopping to get pregnant soon and waiting for our rainbow baby if it’s God will.
    Thank you!

  3. Mariani on 28 March 2017 at 11:15 am

    I’ve had a missed MC a week ago and We are devasteited. It was our first pregnancy and our little miracle because I’m 43 years old but I believe in miracles and I’m hopping to get pregnant soon and waiting for our rainbow baby if it’s God will.
    Thank you!

  4. Beth Orchard on 6 May 2016 at 11:09 am

    The light and dark, light and shadow side is something I’ve wrestled with for awhile. I think I fought out of darkness for so long I finally asked to fight out of lightness. I’ve been experiencing some renewal and peace but it is a different type of mourning. A mother who is alive but absent from my life and who’s story became mine to the point I lived for, in spite of or because of her and not because of God who created me. My son has a genetic condition I passed on to him which I also carry. I had to let go of the burden of guilt this year and mourn time lost as a new mom feeling grief mixed with joy. So much of life is just how we wrestle with God’s plan and things that happen out of our understanding that may not be part of his plan but we have to reckon with it anyway. Thanks for your words!

  5. Lindsey on 10 April 2016 at 7:11 pm

    This hearkens back to the Old Testament/ancient concept of God that He was both darkness and light since He encompassed all. He was a God of light and shadows. Something humans couldn’t fully grasp, like in the story of Job.

    On Easter Sunday, the priest at the church we attended gave a homily about how so many people claim to be atheist or lose faith in God, but perhaps this is because our concept of God is too narrow, too small. It needs to be bigger and more encompassing, surpassing our understanding.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, faith, and questions. You are blessed beyond measure, Laura, please do not forget that. Thank you for your ministry even when it hurts.

  6. Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde on 8 April 2016 at 1:27 pm

    “I did not get to choose. Part of me will always be angry that we did not get what we hoped for.

    But we got a strange something else. And now we have to make sense of our lives around it.”

    We let it in. We make a return of this strange, unruly path of Love.

    You are in my prayers.

  7. Claire on 7 April 2016 at 8:34 am

    My situation is different, so my issues are somewhat different…if my twins had lived, I never would have met or adopted my son (who was born 6 weeks before their due date). I mourn them to this day and I’m still I’ll mourn till I’m hopefully reunited with them one day. Just as I will always mourn my inability to experience biological parenthood (of a living child). Yet I know that if I had had biological children, and had never adopted, I would mourn that loss too, as I have always had a heart for adoption. And I shudder to think of my life without my son. So I feel guilty for mourning my twins and the lost opportunity to experience biological parenthood, and I also feel guilty for the part of me that is glad for how things turned out (because I feel like that’s saying I’m glad my twins died). And then I resent having this internal conflict on top of the grief that I have experienced. But you are so right that the dark and light go hand and hand, at least during this lifetime.

    • Elizabeth on 2 August 2016 at 9:16 pm

      I know it’s hard not to feel guilty over complex feelings, but I think this is where “God is in the tension” that Laura speaks of. You are not alone in having life contingent on death. My fourth child was a miscarriage, and my fifth child was born nine months after the due date of our miscarried child. So, basically, our fifth child wound not exist as the unique person that she is — biologically and everything else — without the miscarriage of the fourth. These babes are called “rainbow babies”, the ones born after loss. And their individual lives are contingent on the prior loss(es) since the biology would almost certainly not have happened or would have been impossible otherwise. It’s okay to mourn the loss and rejoice in the blessings. We don’t have to feel guilty about a reality we did not choose, nor do we have to embrace darkness as a good thing simply because God brought good from it. God is somewhere in all of that. I hope that helps, if even a little!

      • Claire on 9 August 2016 at 4:44 am

        Well said. Thank you Elizabeth.

  8. Nancy on 7 April 2016 at 8:23 am

    Thank you for this. Just thank you. Too emotional to write more…

  9. Kristen on 7 April 2016 at 7:57 am

    So much this. I’ve sought after each miscarriage and in the throes of primary and secondary infertility to feel God’s love and grace in every moment and while I know it’s there, the darker side, the anguish and the sadness is always there too. I remember a family member after a miscarriage saying, “Well, so-and-so was depressed for a good month after her miscarriage and then she was fine, you will be too.” Her well-intentioned words opened the wound further and mines of salt got in. The truth is, I’ve never been completely fine again, how I wish the depression lasted “a good month” (of course, the person to whom she was referring may just have chosen to not speak with her beyond that time regarding it). I wish I could see the loss as the blessing of many little saints in heaven, but like you, I would have chosen the miracle of having them here with me now if given the chance. ((HUGS))

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