This week marks seven years since I buried my firstborn. In many ways it seems inconceivable that more than half a decade has passed since I held him in my arms. Yet in other ways, those events seem so distant that it almost feels like a different person experienced the devastating loss and overwhelming grief that followed. Maybe I’ve changed enough that you could say it happened to someone else.
Most of the facts about my life are unchanged – same house, same husband, same church, similar job. It’s shocking, however, when I think about all of the people who have come and gone from my sphere of influence in that time. I’ve lost grandparents, gained nieces and nephews, lost touch with friends, and made new ones. It saddens me to think about how many people are now in my life who don’t even know about Ethan, but a loss like that just isn’t something you bring up in regular conversation. I like to tell his whole story, but rarely mention him in passing.
I often wonder why it’s taken me seven years to write about Ethan. If my goal, in sharing, is to provide support and encouragement to others, why did I wait? I think the truth is that I didn’t want my writing to be a sort of therapy for myself, and I didn’t want it to read like I was trying to convince myself of the truths I professed. Instead, I want my words to come from a place of joy, where I can confidently say that God has seen me through my time of trouble – the place where I am now.
The person I was seven years ago would not have believed my life could ever again be filled with the joy and peace I have now. Not only did God give me the strength to get through my darkest days, he also used my experience to change me into a more loving and compassionate person. The way I relate to others has evolved as I went through the grieving process. When my grief was the freshest, I felt an empathy with the hurting and fearful that I had never experienced before. I felt called to action to provide solace and comfort where I could. Later, when my own sorrow began to take on a bitter tone, I felt an unfamiliar jealousy in response to others’ happiness. When two of my own nephews were born, instead of sharing in my family’s joy, my own emptiness and loss seemed to sharpen. Luckily, my emotions didn’t linger in the realm of jealousy and bitterness for long. Soon, I reached a healthy emotional balance where I could grieve with the grieving, and rejoice in blessings in a way I never did before.
Now that I’m truly on the other side of grief from losing my son, it’s easy to see that his life and his death have changed me for the better. Although I’ll never fully “recover” from the loss, I know that my faith is deeper, my appreciation of God’s blessings is fuller, and my ability to show the love of Christ is greater. I would never have chosen to bury my child, but I today am able to thank God for using Ethan’s life to make me better than who I used to be.