Our daughters have been dead for longer than they have been alive.
This is a terrible sentence. It is also our new life.
Every day I live in the space in between.
I swing between extremes, a dizzying pendulum from possibility to reality. What I thought my life would look like – and what it is now. What the world expects of me as a normal adult – and what I feel as I try to function. How many children I have carried – and how many I tuck into bed at night.
I look back over the past six months, and I see each shade of grief bleeding into the next. Watercolors from where we were to where we are. Only when I look from the beginning – painful dark, unbearable to behold – all the way to the softer, open present do I see the sea change.
Grief’s hues lighten as time passes, but they also deepen. This permanent stain is now the color of my life.
For months I told friends it felt like my molecules had been rearranged. The metaphor made sense to me even if it made sense to no one else.
I had turned into a different person. When people expected the same me they once knew (maybe sadder, maybe more wistful, certainly they’d grant me that – but still the essential same) I felt like a farce. I could no longer be who I was, no matter what they wanted. I had become something new.
And it was because of my wounds, not in spite of them.
For months I have thought about this Gospel moment: the risen Christ meeting the wondering Thomas, showing his wounds as proof of his love, which is himself.
I never knew the importance of the wounds. Scars were not what he showed. There was still blood. You could see inside.
Do we see this startling truth, what it means? We are our wounds. And we are also our rising from them.
This is not healing or closure – far from it. His wounds were never healed. They remained. Proof of his life and his love. Work of human hands, gift of God’s mercy.
Wounds are not unblemished perfection. They are not miraculous healing. Both of these could have been proof of divine power, but that is not the point. Love is.
And anyone who has ever loved knows the wounds.
Wounds offer the only compassion that is true: I suffer with you. You are never alone. Reach out your hand. I am there.
. . .
If we know life is earthly and we believe life is eternal, then we are caught in between. Both/and. Already/not yet. Holding these two impossible, incompatible truths together – we live and we die; we are here, we go there – opens up a new place of tensions. The charge between changes, the spark between synapses, the silence before speech, the dawn before creation.
Here is what happens when you live in between.
Your view widens. You are here and there, stretching and staying.
You learn to move with greater agility. You bend instead of snap. You flex and hold rather than resist or recoil.
Your love becomes supple, its jagged edges smoothed by the crashing of waves and sand, the shifting place where water meets earth.
Your wounds do not scar. The moment when light and air meet flesh and blood keeps the wounds soft and open. This hurts even as they heal. But it keeps them from becoming hardened and hidden. They remain the proof of what makes you human and how your life has been shaped by who you love.
When people say “it gets better” or “it gets easier,” this is what they mean. But whenever we try to fold death into life or insert eternal into earthly, our language breaks apart. Words are too thin and brittle for the weight of such forces.
But if you can stay softened by sorrow and humbled by hurt, if you let the breath of time keep your wounds open enough to let another see inside, then you can glimpse God at work in ways you did not know before.
Truth is no longer black and white, but beyond binary – breath-taking in the light it shines upon thousands of facets.
And seeing the sides you never knew existed, watching light glide into corners and pulse with presence you never noticed, you start to see what grace and glory look like.
Golden goodness and richest warmth, savory and sweet and constant as nothing on this earth can be – except of course our longing. The yearning that convinces us (after we wrestle again to the hard ground our gnawing fear of nothing, the icy shiver that here and now might be the only ultimate, everything empty when it ends) that no – no, we were made for more. Every glimpse of beauty and taste of goodness and proof of kindness hums with this promise of more, so much more.
Beyond logic is love. Every time someone tries to explain away the death of my daughters – everything happens for a reason, God has a plan, you can try again – I realize how utterly we fail when we fear to live in the in-between.
Because to live in the tension is to live with the wounds. Christ called it the holiest place of all.
. . .
Every day for six months I have remembered this: I am my own worst nightmare. I am my own best hope.
I am a mother who has held two babies as they died in my arms. I am a mother who has carried home three healthy children.
Depending on the day or the hour, my life fills me with hope or despair, drawing deeply from the reservoir of my own story. It is what I have, always an inch below the surface.
Others try to comfort, assure, distract, advise, or encourage. The ones I love the most are the ones unwilling to pronounce any certainty over my uncertainty. The few and faithful friends willing to stay with me in the grey unknown, the liminal half-light between night and dawn.
In the in-between place, I can hold out my hands and show them my wounds. They know they cannot explain, hide or fix them. They surround me in love and it is enough.
I know now that the worst is as real a possibility as the best. I understand that never has a life emerged from earthly existence unscathed.
But I believe this is the fullness of humanity, what Christ took on and took to himself in love, what he showed when he stretched out wounded hands. Everything was there; he held it all; he never gave it up, let it scar or disappear; he offered it again, still today he offers it in love, he holds out hands that are wounds wanting us with him, all of us with him.
This is what wounds do: break us open. I am never so close to God as when I embrace this whole.