The enormity of all that she faced in those months was great, and she sometimes doubted if she would be able to shoulder all her burdens. The day my father had died she had only three dollars in the bank and the money that she had carried in her purse, with which to do the grocery shopping. Just a few short weeks later, on Christmas Eve, her own mother fell seriously ill, after suffering heart complications, which added considerably to the stress she was already under. Most challenging of all though, perhaps, was shepherding her three small children through their heartbreaking time of grief; needing to set aside her own, as she sought to provide them with much-needed comfort and a sense of security.
I have always been touched by the poignancy of one image, in particular, that she shared with me from those days. Since she had very little money she could not afford to buy a new car, so the car that my father had stood beside, as he said goodbye to her and my brother that fateful day, had to be repaired, rather than replaced. She told of going to pick it up after the repairs on it had been finished, and how, upon seeing it for the first time since the day of my father's death, her knees had buckled and she would have collapsed had her brother's strong arms not been there to catch her. Still, it was that car that she went and sat inside each night, after she had made sure her little ones had fallen asleep, so that she could rest her head upon the steering wheel and cry, because she knew that doing so would ensure that her children wouldn't hear her. Then, when she had finished, she would return inside the house, and make her way up to her bedroom where, on the bed beside her, she kept a shirt my father had worn prior to his death, so that the smell of his cologne which still lingered upon it, could provide her with one last tangible link, to the husband she so missed.
Finally the day came when she went into labor, and filled with worries about how her children would manage in her absence, her brother dropped her off at the hospital. In the moments before I was born she pondered the terrible possibility that something could go wrong during the birth and what would happen to her little ones if it did. Once again, she questioned God's wisdom. All went well though, and after several days she prepared to go home again. As she sat on the bed, anxious to be picked up and reunited with her children, she held me in her arms and softly spoke to me. She glanced up when she felt a presence in the room and saw her doctor, a family friend who knew of the tragedy she had just endured, standing close by. He was a tall man and his frame seemed to fill the whole doorway. With surprise, she noticed tears upon his cheeks, as he quietly gazed down at her as she held me. He spoke a few words of encouragement and then went on his way, but by then my mother didn't really need them, for she had realized that God had known best all along.
My birth, she told me, did not make life harder for her and her children; in fact, it was just the contrary. I was a distraction from the grief and loss that had enveloped them; a blessing swaddled in a blanket. It is God's gift to those who mourn, that sometimes grief must be set aside, so that life can once again be resumed, as we are forced to address all of our ordinary problems. It is within those moments spent busy changing diapers, comforting a crying infant or even cutting an overgrown lawn, that healing, quietly and inexplicably, can begin to occur.
She asked me later, if she had inadvertently hurt my feelings by saying there was a time, during which, she had not looked forward to my birth. I assured her she had not, for her sage observation has served me well during all those times in my life, when I have questioned if God has given me, more than I can bear. It has provided me with the strength to soldier on, for in my heart I know that what I perceive at one moment to be an obstacle, I will often view differently over time. As my birthday fast approaches, just as I do every year at this time, I find myself reflecting on her story, and her conflicting emotions concerning my birth. Once again this year, just as in years past, I am grateful for the wisdom of her words, and the comfort that they have provided me. That story has been a gift, that has lasted me a lifetime.