Today marks another milestone. Eighteen years ago today my wife and I said goodbye to our precious little girl. Our first child. We were so young and innocent. We had experienced the loss of a niece, and although we tried to be sensitive and were filled with sorrow, we did not get it. We had no idea. Until this point, we were teenage and college sweethearts. Married at twenty-two, we were enjoying life together as a couple. Already serving on a pastoral team in a local church, we served others who had lost a loved one, but we did not get it. The loss… oh the loss.
Loss of a Dream
No one dreams of losing a child. No one would ever wish this upon their enemy. When you think and plan about life, there are certain things that never come up. We never talked through many things as we considered life before us together. We certainly never talked through the loss of a child. We planned as if God would answer our every prayer and dream. We planned as if God would see our plans as important to Him as they were to us. Sure, we know that grandparents will die. Our parents as well. We even talked about unless Jesus comes back for us, one of us would die first too. But we never considered the loss of our firstborn little girl. Call us ignorant or innocent, but we never dreamed this.
Loss of Celebrations
Recently on the day of our local high school graduation and on the day of the local homeschool co-op graduation, my wife said, “Today would have been Kayla’s graduation day.” Families all over the area have celebrated graduation. They have congratulated their loved ones for earning a scholarship as they dreamed about college. Potentially they have taken pictures together as they marked the end of one season of life and rejoiced over the start of another. As we have had opportunity, we celebrated with these same people and are so happy for them. But not for us. Even though the pain is not overwhelming and the emotion not so raw, it still exists. As Kelly pointed that out to me, I just simply had to pause and pull it together. Yes, all those born her year are graduating. All those who have persevered through the first day of kindergarten – and thirteen first days, proms, big games, recitals, homework, acne, relationship conflicts, and so much more, they get to graduate. They get to start something new. But not us. There is a loss.
Loss of Feeling
As you can imagine, it took some time to work through our daughter’s death – if in fact you ever “work through it.” You certainly do not ever get over it. But time helps. God’s people helps. Family helps. God’s Word helps. Regardless of what we would call it, we get through days now differently than we did then. We essentially felt numb at first, but that changed over time. We hurt. In fact, we hurt real badly. But with the ever passing days, we faced a different crisis. We asked ourselves, “Does it mean we love our daughter less if we can smile again?” “Does it mean we don’t love her if we didn’t cry today?” “Does it mean…? Does it mean…? Does it mean…?” How were we to handle a new day when the pain decreases some? Are we betraying our parental love? These were real questions and brought additional real pain. But you mature and understand that part of God’s grace is to lessen the severity of the pain you feel.
Loss of Simplicity
As we have dealt with the loss of our daughter, we recognize the simplicity of life is gone. Before Kayla, everything seemed so simple; after Kayla, not so much. How do you respond when someone asks you how many children you have? How do you tell your future children her story? How do you help them remember and celebrate her life? What do you do on her birthdays? How much information do you share with others? How often do you take your family to the cemetery? What do you do once you are there? Where do you store your physical memories of her? Often people do not want the long story – many times people just ask out of curiosity or with a sense of kindness anyway. Then if you share, how do they respond? And in reality, to whom do you determine to share the story? Her story is too precious just to share on a whim passing in the hallway. Things are just harder.
Loss of Answers
Before Kayla’s death, I had all the answers. I was serving as a pastor, had my Master of Divinity along with other degrees, taught a Bible class, and “understood theology.” I remember having translated the book of Ecclesiastes just months before her death. Gratefully, God provided grace through these days. However, I was reminded how little I knew and how poorly I communicate it. My poor wife. Clichés do not work. Quick answers seem shallow. It was a time of immense growing; I recognize that God still grows me.
Loss of Me
As the husband to my wonderful wife, who is my absolutely perfect, gracious gift from God, our daughter’s death has been so humbling. There is no manual on how to help your wife grieve. There are no words to describe the heartache of hearing your wife cry herself to sleep. There is no way to communicate the utter sense of helplessness as you watch another person hurt. Oh how I wish I could have hurt for both of us. I wish I could have taken it all on my shoulders and bore it for her. I wish I could have been a wiser husband then. But, that is not possible. So instead, until we die, there is a part of me gone. As a one-flesh couple, we both have experienced a loss together that cannot be undone. On her best days, on my best days, on our best days, there is still something missing. On earth, right now, part of us is gone. We share loss together.
There has been and continues to be so much loss. So, on this eighteenth anniversary, right in the middle of graduations, weddings, and other celebrations, how do we respond? For what can we be grateful?
Jesus Christ. The presence of Christ, the comfort of Christ, the love of Christ, the grace provided through Christ, and the blessings of being in Christ – in all these things can we rejoice. Jesus is worthy of our praise. He walked on earth. He understands our sorrow, disappointments, and loss. He cares.
God. I’m so glad the Bible teaches us that we can trust God. I do not pretend to know the reasons God has allowed us to go through this. I do know that God uses our pain and suffering for our good and His glory. But I would be foolish to try to pretend that I understand completely the secret plan of God. I am left to trust Him and obey Him. Part of our portion was not in our dream; yet we must be satisfied with our portion as we have received it. This is not easy.
Change. I wanted my version of life. I had what I believed to be a pretty good plan. But God knew what I needed to change. He knows now that I am far from finished still. My wife, my children, my family, my church family, my friends, my students, my counselees, my neighbors, and my community have a better version of me. Not a version that came cheap or without travail. But I love better. I now have mercy. I tend to extend grace more. I am better. Oh how I wish that the changed person in Christ by grace would have started differently. But, I seek now to take advantage of life with the wife of my youth and embrace the opportunities before us together.
Children. Our other four children love their sister and wish they would have known her. They think of Kayla though without our hurt. Their simple love and heavenly anticipation have been helpful to us. They with child-like faith trust God’s plan. They ask great questions. They enjoy a trip to the cemetery to just pause life long enough to consider that our family is a bit larger than what we get to experience daily. We use sunbeams as providential reminders of those we love in heaven – including their sister.
Anticipation. I look forward to Heaven. I wish my wife had the privilege of living with and being served by that future Kevin. I long for the day I get to see my daughter reunited with my family – my wife especially. I anticipate God putting all of my life in perspective for me as I experience His presence, worship His greatness, celebrate the Savior, and live for His glory.
On this eighteenth anniversary of the hardest day of my life, I remember.
On this eighteenth anniversary of the hardest day of my life, I reflect.
In all things, I am grateful God uses those memories and reflections to help me become a better husband, father, and person in Christ for God’s glory. I have a long way to go.