Third grade; eight years old. I was standing at the classroom’s art table, completing my piece of a mural about Brittany. The rest of the class was doing the regular classwork. I had been allowed to finish my piece because I was leaving school early that day and would be gone the rest of the week.
It was cool, even for New Orleans, so it must have been in late November or early December. My parents came to the classroom to get me; the teacher smiled and nodded; and then we left. I had my book bag in hand. We headed straight for the highway that would eventually take us to Shreveport.
We were going to a funeral, a funeral for Debbie, my two-year-old niece, the first and only child of my half-sister and her husband. She had been born looking absolutely normal but had turned out to have severely messed up internal organs. The prognosis had been poor from the beginning, and it was something of a miracle that she had lived for two years. Her brain and everything else about her looked normal; she smiled and laughed and cried and talked like any other child her age.
The significant outward physical differences were that she never walked; she seemed to stop growing at about nine months; and her skin was yellow in color, likely a result of the jaundice she seemed to have had her entire short life.
I barely remember the funeral. It was at a Baptist church; the family sat in a large side alcove off the altar area. I can remember standing next to my mother when the family was called forward to the tiny casket. I don’t know why I remember my mother wearing a long green coat, but she was.
The funeral ended at a cemetery, and the casket was placed in a the same plot that held my grandfather and would some 25 years later hold my grandmother.
Afterward, the family went to the home of one my aunts, and it was a somber, quiet gathering.
My half-sister is now 76 years old. Debbie, had she lived, would now be about 57, possibly a grandmother herself. My sister would later have two sons, both normal and healthy. Somehow, she got through those first awful days after Debbie’s death. But I don’t know how she or anyone else would have “gotten over” the death of a much-loved child. One thing she clung to was her faith.
|Christa Black Gifford|
In Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain into Your Greatest Strength, Christa Black Gifford tells a story of pain, the pain of discovering that a much-wanted child was born with anencephaly, with part of her brain and head missing. The little girl, already called Goldie, didn’t live long after her birth. And Gifford knew in those first horrifying moments after her child died that this was one of those life events that could change everything, wreck a marriage, and destroy a family. That potential was fully there.
And she decided that she couldn’t let that happen, right there in that moment of awful pain. She deliberately chose not to let that happen.
“The very place of my deepest pain,” she writes, “miraculously became the starting point of my heart’s greatest healing.” And she discovers that this wasn’t only true about the loss of a child, but applied to all of the pain a single life can hold.
For the next several weeks, led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ll be reading Heart Made Whole. Consider reading along and join in the discussion. To see what others are saying about this chapter, “The Broken Heart,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.
Photograph by Kai Stachowiak via PublicDomain Pictures. Used with permission.