On special occasions or whenever the mood takes us, my wife, two children, and I drive down a gravel road north of our church and turn into a flat square drive that surrounds a cemetery. We park the car on the south side, before a sidewalk that leads to a section of grave markers much smaller than the others. Our children usually run ahead of us—they know the way—while my wife and I process solemnly, hand-in-hand, to the ground where our daughter Vivian rests.
Some days we come just to visit, to say a few words or to stand still and silent. Other days we bring replacement flowers and a new stuffed animal, which my wife ties to the vase to keep it in place. Sometimes, when the sun is warm and the wind is relatively calm, we set a blanket down for a picnic. Our children sit for a time and eat, but they’re usually quick to rise and run about the place.
We seldom meet other mourners when we come here, but we know they come. Signs of their own family rituals remain after them: assorted flowers, toy cars lined along the grass, baby dolls dressed in blue or pink, cuddly bunnies with only the wind and stone to cuddle. Most of the graves in Babylandhave a marker, made of bronze and marble, naming the deceased and telling, in too few words, something of their brief lives. We do not grieve alone.
I have my own ritual in these moments of quiet routine. Holding my wife and listening to our children play, I try to remember the day we shared with Vivian or to picture her close by, standing with us or running about, laughing with her siblings. I try to make her present, with memory or imagination, hopeful that our little remembrance will be for her a little resurrection. I don’t always succeed, but even when my daughter remains distant, the smell of the air, the caress of the wind, and the song of the birds usually leave me refreshed.
To me this place is holy and this ritual sacred, but strangely, however close I feel to Vivian, I feel distant from God. Maybe that’s not exactly right. Rather, I don’t sense the presence of a person or a being, the kind of God I hear about while sitting in the pews of the church across the field. When I contemplate God among the dead I find only emptiness and silence. I feel alone, and I do not like feeling alone, least of all here. I do not like this sense of God, this nothingness in which I now dwell. It’s dark and discomforting, and I blame it for my grey hairs.
In the months following the death of our newborn daughter, I had remained steadfast in my faith, devout and prayerful. I had not for years imagined God primarily as a figure of power, like some cosmic orchestrator of all that is, so I did not feel inclined to blame God for our loss and our sorrow. I didn’t have an answer for it, but I didn’t look to God for an answer. I didn’t expect such a response. I let God be.
The rest is worthy. It's raw, real and revealing. Read it.
I'd like to think I'm a faithful guy. I'd like to think that my belief system is grounded and strong and would persevere in any of life's storms.
But the loss of a child? God forbid.
The arrival of a child, beginning with the miracle that is birth, is one of the most divine experiences there is. The love that unfolds and envelops is tangible. One can nearly taste it. But with that love comes a certain amount of apprehension and fear.
I've never felt closer to Divinity than after the birth of both my boys... and now again, after the birth of my granddaughter Amelia. I watch her breathe in her sleep and it takes me back to the first few days in the lives of Ryan and Richard, when I used to do the very same with them. Watching their little chests rise and fall brings both comfort and terror. On the one hand, you recognize God's love in every little breath and yet, you can't help but pause often to ask Him to ensure that their breathing continues long after you're gone. It's a constant battle between trust and fear. It's what makes Mr. Cupp's piece all the more readable.
I pray that I never need to have my faith tested as Cupp has had his tested. Please dear God, none of that testing.
In the meantime, I press ever closer, in case that test comes, heaven forbid, so that I can soak in as much faith as possible, so that I can trust that He will walk me through that and any test and that my faith will sustain me and help me persevere. I pray the same, though belatedly, for Kyle Cupp.
Come Holy Spirit.